Category Archives: Restaurants

Cocktail of the Week: Filament’s Push It = real good

Filament
In the garden of gin and vermouth: Let Filament’s Push It tiptoe through your two lips.

COCKTAIL OF THE WEEK: Push It (Filament)

You may have heard about Filament, and by that I don’t mean the little thin fibers found in certain organic structures. No, this would be the new, industrial chic restaurant from FT-33 chef/owner Matt McCallister in Deep Ellum that’s garnered wide acclaim, including a glowing, four-star review from The Dallas Morning News’ Leslie Brenner.

The cocktails at Filament are well conceived and solid across the board, but for me the star of the bunch is this festive refresher from beverage program manager Seth Brammer.

NAME: Push It

KEY CHARACTERISTIC: Flowers

WHAT’S IN IT: Gin, Cocchi Rosa, citrus, pink peppercorn, sea salt

WHY IT WORKS: Cocchi Rosa, the lush and rosy vermouth variation from the fine folks at Cocchi, is one of the best things you’ll ever put in your mouth. Flowery and fruity with the slightest hint of bitter, it’s a sensational sipper on its own; go get yourself a bottle right this minute. I’ll wait.

Okay, so: In Filament’s Push It, the Cocchi Rosa is subtly supported by gin’s botanical notes with a splash of lemon to round it out. Served in a Collins glass with floating peppercorns and a rim of fine sea salt, it’s playful and spontaneous, and while it’s beautiful to look at, those little pink globules are more than decorative, adding a floral pop of their own. The drink is served with a straw but I enjoy it most from the glass, where the random salt-and-pepper mix unleashes a tango on your tongue. Basically, if Tom Collins and sangria had a little rendezvous in the garden, this is what would happen. Enjoy.

TBD Kitchen opens in Castle Hills: Are suburbanites ready for Latin cocktails?

TBD Kitchen
Bartender Daniel Guillen, now dropping drinks and knowledge in faraway suburbia.

 

CASTLE HILLS – OK, maybe Castle Hills isn’t really that far away. On a good day you can get here in less than a half-hour. Sandwiched between Lewisville, The Colony, Carrollton and West Plano, its regal label is intentional, with a 30-mph main drag dubbed King Arthur Boulevard and the sprawling development of king-sized homes described on its web site as “a majestic, 2,600-acre master-planned community.”

Castle Hills
TBD Kitchen, Guillen’s latest venture with owner Sean Conner at the Village Shops in Castle Hills.

It’s not the kind of outpost you’d expect to find a great cocktail, and yet, the very thought of being 25 miles north of downtown Dallas might make you pine for one. It’s a royal paradox.

Well, you’re in luck: With the opening of TBD Kitchen, Sean Conner’s latest venture (in partnership with Daniel Guillen), you and the villagers of Castle Hills now have two quality drinking establishments from which to choose.

TBD Kitchen, next door to Conner’s Pie 314, is the latest step in Daniel Guillen’s ongoing pilgrimage to promote Latin traditions via drink and food. Five of TBD’s nine house cocktails got test runs at the various pop-up events, seminars and South American-styled dinners that Guillen, the former beverage director for La Duni, has been throwing around the DFW area in the last year.

Castle Hills, Daniel Guillen
The Daisy — a cocktail category of which the Margarita is a variation — is a TBD staple.

Along with a bold selection of agave spirits and rums, those drinks complement a menu highlighting $2 street tacos. (Also, if anyone asks whether you want the off-menu chicharrones, say yes.) The décor is hip Mexican, with Day of the Dead skulls, Mexican movie posters and kitschy candles from Target. Cushy, bendy barstools are modeled after seats on bass boats.

“It’s not like Dallas here,” Guillen says. “It’s a whole different beast. People here have money, but they want comfort food.”

Situated at the Castle Hills Village Shops, nestled deep in the thicket of $500,000-plus homes, Conner has accommodated those tastes, offering quality pizza and now tacos, with decent cocktails to boot. “There’s three kinds of food that people eat all the time,” says Conner, among Dallas-Fort Worth’s pioneering craft-cocktail bartenders. “And these are two of them.”

Daniel Guillen
Guillen’s mission to bring Latin cocktails to the masses continues at TBD Kitchen.

But are the people of Castle Hills ready for cocktails like the Chamoyada, a drink inspired by Guillen’s visits to the fruterias of Oak Cliff, or the Pachamama, featuring Peruvian brandy and not one, but two, Italian bitter liqueurs?

Or what about the Bolivar Old Fashioned, a nod to the influential Venezuelan leader, which mixes five rums, Angostura bitters infused with tobacco leaves and Brazilian coffee beans? The nicely conceived drink did well on a recent night, perhaps because of Guillen’s piece de resistance, a coconut water ice cube that gradually sweetens the drink as it’s savored.

Guillen says TBD actually stands for Tacos, Burritos and Daisies — the Daisy being a cocktail category of which the Margarita is a variation. A daily Daisy will be a staple of Guillen’s offerings. And in the (warmer) future, Guillen envisions half-price rum nights with cigars and dominoes, Cuban-style, on the patio.

TBD Kitchen
These guys: Conner, a veteran of Victor Tango’s and Whiskey Cake, with partner Daniel Guillen.

As TBD was being built out, Guillen did a smart thing: He worked the bar at Pie 314. That earned him a familiarity with local residents that will serve him as he aims to nudge less adventurous palates into unfamiliar territory. “If you like Balvenie,” Guillen told one guest as he slid forward a bottle of Cartavio XO, “this is a Peruvian rum. It’s finished in sherry casks, just like Balvenie is.” The guy was inspired to give it a try.

A couple at the bar was impressed with Guillen’s Margarita Pa’Llevar (Margarita to-go), whose presentation mimics the street-ready drinks served in plastic bags in certain South America countries. It was among the drinks Guillen featured with chef David Anthony Temple at a South American dinner earlier this year, sipped through a straw coated with chamoy – fruit pulp flavored with lime and chile – for some added kick.

So maybe he’ll earn the keys to the kingdom just yet. “People are like, ‘Why here?’” Guillen says. “Even I don’t know. We were just given the chance, so we’re going to roll with it.”

Beef and booze: A venerable steak house marks its 50th anniversary — with a twist.

This gin and tonic -- with rosemary and a bit of ginger liqueur -- will take you back to yesteryear at Ruth's Chris' 50th anniversary cocktail dinner.
This gin and tonic — with rosemary and a bit of ginger liqueur — will take you back to yesteryear at Ruth’s Chris’ 50th anniversary cocktail dinner. (Photo courtesy of Ruth’s Chris Steak House)

That name: It’s hard to wrap your mind around. Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Or is it Chris Ruth’s Steak House? Or wait a minute – was it the Steak House that Chris Ruth built?

No matter what it is, the place has longevity – 50 years of it, in fact. This year, Ruth’s Chris Steak House hit the half-century mark – and the national restaurant chain’s milestone means your good fortune.

Get ready for the 1965 Cocktail Dinner Party, a celebration of the New Orleans-based institution’s 50th anniversary. On Thursday, Aug. 20, Ruth’s Chris Steak House will offer a five-course dinner at 99 nationwide locations, including sites in North Dallas and Fort Worth.

There will be drinks, the type of which Don Draper would approve — modern renditions of classics like the Gin and Tonic, the Gimlet and the Manhattan. They’ll accompany dishes like seared jumbo sea scallops, grilled ginger shrimp and, naturally, filet mignon. The full menu is available here.

Tickets are $90 plus gratuity. Reservations are required, and participants are invited to share their experience on social media with the hashtag #ThisIsHowItsDone.

RUTH’S CHRIS STEAK HOUSE

North Dallas location: 17840 Dallas Parkway. 972-250-2244.

Fort Worth location: 813 Main Street, 817-348-0080

Twenty Seven’s cocktail game: Whatever it is, that thing put a spell on me

Moses Guidry, Twenty Seven
Hey. Smoke Ring: Let me stand next to your fire.

In Twenty Seven, I found Nirvana. And the Doors, Joplin and Hendrix, too. The recently debuted Deep Ellum restaurant from “underground dinner” purveyor David Anthony Temple has been open barely a month, but it’s not just the food that may take a little piece of your heart.

Twenty Seven’s compact bar, with barely a handful of stools, assumes the spotlight late Saturdays when the place burns the midnight lamp as XXVII Antique, with live lounge music from 11:30 pm to 2 am. But with a solid, just-launched cocktail menu from bar manager Moses Guidry, it shouldn’t be overlooked anytime.

“It’s a classic cocktail menu to go with the mystique of the place, the energy,” says Guidry, who works most nights at the Front Room Tavern at the Hotel Lumen near SMU. “(Twenty Seven) definitely has that classic, speakeasy vibe.”

The restaurant operates Thursday through Saturday, with four tasting menus and two seating times nightly. The space nicely reflects Temple’s animated, stylishly gonzo personality, from the dining room’s vintage touches to the barrage of art paraphernalia honoring rock icons Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain – all lost to the world at age 27 – in the restrooms and adjacent corridor.

David Anthony Temple
Twenty Seven recalls the iconic rockers of the so-called 27 Club.

Aside from a classic Old Fashioned and a slightly altered Aviation, Guidry’s drinks are off the beaten path, appealing to the earnest imbiber. Vodka is nowhere to be seen. Instead, there are variations on lesser known gems like the martini-esque Ford Cocktail and the A La Louisiane, a cousin of the Vieux Carre.

Guidry’s Smoke Ring, an agave-based spin on the Pisco Sour, is especially notable. Subbing mezcal and tequila for milder pisco, it enlivens the standard mix of simple syrup, lime, egg white and bitters with bracing cucumber. Cool and smooth with the faintest bit of smoky heat, it’s offered with a swirl of Peychaud’s bitters and a sea-salt-sprinkled jalapeno coin to entertain the eyes and nose. “It’s just a great way to introduce mezcal to people who haven’t had it or who think it’s too intense in other cocktails they’ve tried,” Guidry says.

The hardy A La Louisiana is another standout, pumping up the rye quotient and adding chocolate bitters to A La Louisiane’s classic formula of Benedictine, sweet vermouth and a bit of absinthe. The shade of summer tea, it breathes of orange peel and cocoa, with a warm rye finish tame enough to break on through to most palates. “I’m not a bourbon drinker, but I could drink that,” said the foxy lady sitting to my right.

Moses Guidry, Twenty Seven
A La Lousiana: For the La. Woman in you.

Less successful during one visit was the Night Rider, a bold after-dinner-style cocktail that marries the herbaceous French bitter liqueur Suze with an espresso-infused Cynar (an Italian artichoke-flavored bitter) and an attending party of vermouth, orange juice, egg white, vanilla extract and chocolate bitters. However, its potential was lost in a purple haze of aggressive coffee.

The list also features the Ford’s Cocktail, a blend of the longstanding Ford and Vancouver cocktails, but done with Ford’s gin; meanwhile, the Aviation sports the sweet Luxardo cherry liqueur and eschews the usual lavender Crème de Violette altogether. In all, there are 10 drinks on the menu, but that will grow by several in the coming weeks and rotate when called for.

“We’re going to keep it seasonal,” Guidry says. “David’s got the freshest ingredients in the kitchen, so clearly we’re going to use those at the bar as well.”

The drink list currently stands at nine but in time will likely hover around a dozen.  Among the additions will be the Purple Reyes, which will light your whiskey fire with bourbon, ancho chile liqueur, Cynar, cherry liqueur and chocolate bitters.

Excuse me while I kiss the sky.

Twenty Seven
Bar manager Moses Guidry stirring up smoke.

Driftwood has invented an even better way to eat oysters, and bacon is not even involved

What could be better than this?
What could be better than this?

True oyster lovers know there’s no better way to enjoy nature’s briny gift to humankind than to slurp them right out of the half-shell. Well, not unless you’re at Driftwood, the Oak Cliff seafood oasis that has possibly invented the perfect way to love our luscious little friends – slurped right out of the half-shell and then followed by excellent half-shell shots.

Imagine yourself sitting at Driftwood’s newly expanded absinthe bar. Imagine it’s Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, because those are currently the only days when this is available. Suddenly – because you’ve ordered the oyster shell shooter special – four delicious Blue Point oysters appear in front of you, gleaming in their little half-shell boats. Of course you’re ready to pounce, but wait: Here come four glorious bottles, a beckoning backdrop to your bivalve bonanza.

Driftwood
Um, this.

Now, then: You may proceed. Oyster No. 1, down the hatch. Your friendly bartender raises the first bottle – mild, sweet La Guita Manzanilla sherry – and fills your still-briny oyster shell with a mini shot. You drink. Above you, clouds part and a sunbeam envelops you in a heavenly glow. (Your mileage may vary.) Each bottle gets its turn in a half-shell as you finish off oysters two through four: Del Maguey Vida mezcal. Laphroig single malt whiskey. And finally, sweet licorice-y Pernod.

The order is deliberate, explains Dallas bar man extraordinaire Michael Martensen, who hatched the concept in collaboration with UrbanDaddy Dallas editor Kevin Gray. (Gray had been eating oysters in New York once when he was suddenly inspired to have the barkeep top off one of nature’s cups with Laphroig.) “The sherry is soft,” says Martensen, co-founder of Misery Loves Co., which owns and operates Driftwood. “The mezcal is the next softest, but introduces smokiness. The Laphroig has a burn; it’s a smoke bomb in your face. And the Pernod is a whole other flavor – it’s got a dessert quality, so you want to finish with it.”

Driftwood
And it goes a little something like this.

For those who haven’t ventured beyond more basic spirits, the four liquids might present a challenge, as several are generally acquired tastes. It’s a fine way to measure a companion’s taste for derring-do. But look, if you’re willing to put a raw oyster in your mouth, it’s not that much of a leap to consider accenting it with an intriguing alcoholic beverage, right?

The whole experience runs a reasonable 20 bucks. And just in time for National Oyster Day.

DRIFTWOOD, 642 W. Davis, Dallas., 214-942-2530.

Edgy, fun and sexy: LARK on the Park meets The 86 Co., and everybody wins

Jason Kosmas
The 86 Co. spirits line, shown here at New Orleans’ Gravier Street Social.

Perhaps you are accustomed to your wine and beer dinners being proper, stately affairs. Perhaps you are given to gatherings punctuated with string quartets and at which your only words to a total stranger might be “Check, please.”

Then perhaps you are not quite prepared for Aug. 18’s “86 & Noise” dinner that aims to infuse Dallas’ LARK on the Park with an experience that head barman Matt Orth calls “edgy, fun and sexy.”

Imagine realigned tables and a revamped sound system. “It’s going to be as brash as possible,” Orth says. “But in a good way. We want you guys to mingle and jump around.”

And, possibly, to jump up and get down.

The four-course dinner will highlight The 86 Co., the celebrated spirits line launched in late 2012 by a trio of fine gentlemen including Austin-by-way-of-Dallas-resident Jason Kosmas. Kosmas, co-founder of legendary New York craft-cocktail bar Employees Only, will host the dinner along with Orth and 86 Co. Texas brand ambassador Omar YeeFoon.

“It’s not going to be like your normal wine-tasting dinner,” YeeFoon says. “We’re gonna try to make it very communal. We’re going to try to get people who don’t know each other to sit together.”

Bombay Sapphire competition
LARK on the Park’s Matt Orth, who not only knows how to make a good drink but how to enjoy one too.

In other words, wear deodorant. But mostly, prime your palate for a 6 p.m. cocktail hour with cocktails and tastings of The 86 Co.’s signature spirits: Tequila Cabeza, Ford’s Gin, Aylesbury Duck & Weave Vodka and Cana Brava Rum.

Dinner – which will include grilled shrimp, steak tartare and grilled jerk chicken – will start at 7 p.m., with each 86 Co. spirit having its turn in a Matt Orth-designed cocktail to accompany each course.

“The whole idea behind it is to just be fun,” YeeFoon says.

Tickets are $75 plus tax and gratuity. I’d make reservations if I were you.

LARK ON THE PARK, 2015 Woodall Rodgers Fwy, Dallas. 214-855-5275.

Tiki brunch: Why not? Barter dares to ask

Barter, Dallas
Tiki: It’s not not-for-breakfast anymore. The Polynesian Pearl Diver’s Punch, from Don The Beachcomber.

Peanut butter and chocolate. Chicken and waffles. John Denver and the Muppets. So wrong and yet: so right.

Well, here’s another contender: Brunch and tiki cocktails. Wait, what?

Hold on: Hear Barter’s Rocco Milano out.

“Brunch really lends itself to the tiki experience,” Milano says. While traditional brunch cocktails like Bellinis and Mimosas are marked by fruit and effervescence, tiki drinks likewise complement breakfast-y foods with fresh juices and refreshing, vibrant flavors. “They sparkle and pop in the same way,” Milano says.

If that’s about all the convincing you need to try a Mai Tai with your eggs Benedict, then you’re in luck: Barter debuted its tiki brunch this weekend, and it’s a welcome wrinkle to the whole morning-after routine.

Tiki brunch at Barter, Dallas

Despite its “Dallas cuisine” theme, both Milano, Barter’s beverage director, and bartender Brad Bowden had been looking for a good reason to launch a tiki brunch menu at the newly opened restaurant. They spent hours scouring old cocktail books for viable recipes, and among their research materials was a recently published tome of tiki-dom, Beachbum Jerry’s Potions of the Caribbean. Inside, they found a reproduction of a 1940s-era tiki menu from an old Dallas hotel – drinks like the Navy Grog, Bird of Paradise, Samoan Fog Cutter and Polynesian Pearl Diver’s Punch. “We were kind of blown away by that,” Bowden says.

That, plus the fact that patio weather is just around the corner, was all the inspiration they needed. All four cocktails are among a half-dozen on the new brunch menu. (And at $7 apiece, not a bad deal.)

Barter, Dallas
Ice, ice, baby: The Navy Grog and Hula Girl are among Barter’s tiki brunch lineup

Tiki cocktails flourished in the 1930s and 1940s, a California-born craze popularized by bars like Trader Vic’s that gave us fruity rum classics like the aforementioned Mai Tai and the Zombie. Though tiki would fizzle within a few decades, the re-emergence of craft-cocktail culture revived interest in the trend; places like Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco and New York’s PKNY breathed life back into a genre borne of rum, brandy, fruit juice and kitsch, giving tiki drinks a modest, if still mostly a niche, footing.

Tiki reappeared in Dallas a couple of years ago, with The People’s Last Stand crushing ice and whipping up flaming punch bowls on Sundays; meanwhile, the now-defunct Chesterfield had a handful of Polynesian tipples submerged in its menu’s oceanic depths. Early last year, the resuscitated Sunset Lounge on Ross Avenue became the first of the area’s new craft-cocktail bars to embrace a full-on tiki identity.

Barter, Dallas
The Samoan Fog Cutter: A lot of good stuff going on here.

Barter’s mini tiki production gives the often-underappreciated cocktail genre a new stage, one worth adding to your brunch tryout roster. The rummy Navy Grog and acai-liqueur-based Hula Girl, with their flamboyant ice cones, are solid; and I grew to love the heady Samoan Fog Cutter, with its aggressive mix of brandy, sherry and a trio of rums. But the star of the bunch may be Bowden’s favorite, the Polynesian Pearl Diver’s Punch, which requires a pre-assembled “Pearl Diver’s mix” of clarified butter, allspice dram, cinnamon and vanilla syrups. Tasted alone, the goopy mix has a candy-corn-like taste, but it gives the cocktail – including three rums, orange and lime, plus the nutty, spiced-citrus liqueur Velvet Falernum – admirable depth.

The drink is also referenced by Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie in Django Unchained, though it technically wasn’t invented until 70-plus years after the movie’s time period at the pioneering Polynesian-themed Hollywood bar, Don The Beachcomber. But apparently even Quentin Tarantino knows a good drink when he sees one, and now, 70-plus more years after its invention, you can judge for yourself. It won’t be served up in a coconut, but isn’t that a minor quibble when you can pair rum with your breakfast hash?

BARTER, 3232 McKinney Ave., Dallas. 214-969-6898. Brunch starting at 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Pairing spirits with dinner: More of that, please.

 

Whiskey Cake, Plano
Plays well with food: Last month’s whiskey-paired dinner at Plano’s Whiskey Cake.

More than three years later, the memories linger. Five courses at one of the city’s best restaurants, each paired with cocktails made by five of the city’s best bartenders, and all featuring Maker’s Mark whiskey.

The scene was Seattle’s Spur Gastropub, and the chefs were rocking it as usual. (Example: sous vide pork belly with sunchokes and Bing cherries – whut whut?) The all-star bartender lineup cranked out an assembly line of original cocktails like the Pine Box, with its grilled-pineapple garnish. There was even some Maker’s 46, which was about to hit the market in summer 2010. We were a happy bunch.

I moved to Dallas soon afterward, and since then I’ve been to barely a handful of spirit or cocktail-themed dinners, though not for lack of want. Last month some friends and I hit a Hudson Whiskey-themed dinner at Whiskey Cake in Plano. And as I do every time I go to one of these events, I wondered: Why doesn’t this happen more often?

Wine and beer dinners have long been a thing, but bartenders like J.W. Tate – formerly of Tate’s Dallas – at first faced resistance to the notion of making a one-stop night of cocktails and food. That’s starting to change as DFW’s cocktail culture comes of age – a welcome and logical step in the scene’s continuing evolution.

Tate’s offered two spirits-paired dinners before J.W. left Dallas earlier this year to head up a company venture in Winston-Salem, N.C., and places like Dallas’ Libertine Bar and La Duni have experimented with the idea too. “People are trying it,” says Libertine’s Mate Hartai. “It’s just going to take a while for the wheels to hit the ground.”

Seattle
Among a cocktail dinner’s challenges: Quickly producing drinks en masse. At Seattle’s Spur, an assembly line of bartenders churn out pairings for a Maker’s Mark dinner.

One reason for the slow going is that these dinners — which generally run from $35 to $100 — aren’t easy to pull off. Cocktails are time-intensive and demand smaller groups; achieving drink consistency can be difficult when produced in a bunch. And the kind of patron who embraces the idea of a cocktail dinner isn’t going to tolerate pre-batched drinks.

On the other hand, the ever-broadening assortment of quality spirits, cordials and apertifs give bartenders a grand palette to work from.

“It’s rewarding when you do it right,” Hartai says. “But it’s much more difficult than people think.”

***

The glasses are set, pretty orbs in a row, when a legion of Sazeracs appear in our midst. The classic cocktail is the evening’s first volley at last month’s Hudson-themed dinner at Whiskey Cake. The Plano restaurant’s dinner showcased the Hudson line’s various incarnations, from its New York Corn Whiskey, well paired with chef Brent Hammer’s charred octopus; and Four Grain Bourbon, solidly supporting an extraordinary, In-N-Out-inspired dry-aged-sirloin burger; and more.

Whiskey Cake, Plano
Whiskey Cake’s Hudson dinner kicked off with a classic Sazerac.

Sean Conner, Whiskey Cake’s beverage director, tackles pairings the way he does cocktails, dissecting courses’ flavor profiles to match. “Certain things go with blackberry or cinnamon or basil,” he says. “It takes six weeks to plan out four or five different cocktails and make them really special.”

Pairing cocktails with food offers some of the same challenges that went into creating, say, sweet-and-sour chicken, with its mix of sweet and savory. “You try to figure out how someone else solved that puzzle,” says Libertine’s Hartai. “To me, that’s really fun. It takes a lot of out-of-the-box thinking.”

Last year, when Tate’s offered a cocktail-paired dinner with chef DAT (David Anthony Temple), “DAT sent over a menu, and I riffed on that,” Tate says. “We talked a bit, and I threw out a cocktail menu, and we each made changes as it got closer…. It’s a lot like making music, with two people jamming – you throw something out there and the other person runs with it, and five weeks later you’ve got something.”

When Temple said he was doing garlic soup, Tate immediately thought of Campari and came up with a drink called the Italian Resistance. On its own, the drink’s various elements struggled to mingle, but fared much better as a pairing. Similarly, a chanterelle-and-pink-peppercorn-infused vodka drink went nicely with Temple’s speck and arugula salad but its savory character made it less pleasurable as a stand-alone cocktail.

The bar’s whiskey-themed dinner in April was a treat, pairing peppery Buffalo Trace Single Oak Barrel whiskey, for instance, with corn soup with fried pig ear, parsley crème fraiche and house-made hot sauce.

J.W. Tate, formerly of Tate's Dallas, among spirit-paired dinners' early adopters.
J.W. Tate, formerly of Tate’s Dallas, which was among spirit-paired dinners’ early adopters.

And last year, at Libertine’s whiskey-and-beer-paired dinner featuring three Scotches and two hefty beers, Hartai wanted to echo the flavors of Lagavulin. “I sat down with the chef and said, `I need smoke, earth and some kind of heat.’ He did a mushroom compote with this awesome smoked-pork thing and some vinegary thing for a kick. It took the whiskey apart into its larger flavor components.”

More recently he did what he called an Italian dinner, but by dinner’s end he had unveiled it more precisely as a vermouth-paired dinner. “The whole point was to change people’s minds about vermouth,” he says. “By the end, people were drinking straight glasses of vermouth and saying, `This is great!’ Well, yeah, it is.”

Hartai likes to save a palate-testing curve ball for the last course. “I want to jar people, give them a reason to talk,” he says. “If you realize you’re putting together an experience aimed at creating lasting memories and challenging palates, you can make an awesome dinner.”

Tate's Dallas whiskey dinner
At Tate’s whiskey dinner, Buffalo Trace Single Oak Barrel was paired with this delicious corn soup with fried pig ear.
Whiskey Cake's dinner featured this tasty sirloin burger alongside Hudson's Four Grain Bourbon.
Whiskey Cake’s dinner featured this tasty treat alongside Hudson’s Four Grain Bourbon.

Looking for a cocktail or spirits-themed dinner? Contact these spots and see what’s on the schedule, or follow them on Facebook.

WHISKEY CAKE KITCHEN AND BAR, 3601 Dallas Parkway, Plano. 972-993-2253. Offers quarterly alcohol-paired dinners.

LIBERTINE BAR, 2101 Greenville Ave., Dallas. 214-824-7900. Does dinners monthly, generally beer.

LA DUNI LATIN KITCHEN, four locations in Dallas/Fairview. Offers cocktail-paired, three-course dinners. Join the restaurant’s “inner circle” at one of its locations or at www.laduni.com to advance notice of such events.

KOMALI, 4152 Cole Ave., Dallas. 214-252-0200. Offers occasional tequila- and mezcal-paired dinners.

Counting on Abacus: This five-star restaurant is ramping up its cocktails

Abacus' Blackberry Smash is among the acclaimed restaurant's new bar offerings.
Abacus’ Blackberry Smash is among the acclaimed restaurant’s new bar offerings.

AND JUST LIKE THAT, sweet things are already happening behind the bar at Abacus, the five-star fancypants restaurant that has long wowed critics with its Pacific Rim cuisine. The recent addition of bartender-slash-apothecary Lucky Campbell to its staff of able libationists was a sign that the Knox-Henderson landmark was ready to boost its bar program too.

Hint one that change is afoot: The barrel flanking one end of the swanky bar’s bottle stash. Mid-afternoon last Friday, that barrel was filled with Old Fashioneds and presumably destined to age, but by 10 p.m. Campbell was already positing that the bar had sold more Old Fashioneds in one night than in the past two months. By weekend’s end, he said, the barrel was nearly empty.

This is Abacus, people. Wine, Martinis and Champagne cocktails are the rule, right?

But witness the new, Asian-flavored menu (priced from $12-$14), set to roll out today: A deliciously gorgeous Blackberry Smash made with Maker’s Mark bourbon. A Brandy Stinger featuring Tempus Fugit’s top-notch crème de menthe. And preparing to float lava-lamp-style in the extremely dry, Champagne-driven Femme Fatale: pearls of effing Violette.

That’s right: little spheres of lavender-y Creme de Violette, one of Campbell’s lab projects. A jasmine-tea cordial and five-spice tincture are already bubbling in a back room, and even the Martini menu has been primped, with one knockout version offering Islay-Scotch-and-cracked-pepper blue cheese olives, stuffed in-house.

Said bartender Jordan Gantenbein: “I’ve been waiting three years to do this.”

The sensibilities that guide Abacus’ renowned kitchen are seeping into the dimly lit bar.  So it wasn’t surprising to find Chef de Cuisine Daniel Burr himself on a stool late one night, helping the black-clad bar samurai as they brainstormed an Asian-themed Margarita variation and suggesting matcha green tea powder as a component.

There are some real curiosities on the new menu, like the clever Banksy with “spray-paint spices,” a Yuzu Collins with Bing Cherry soda and the “Ninja Rita,” with its foam of Togarashi, a Japanese spice powder.

Abacus is having some fun now. This is a place worth keeping an eye on.

Lucky Campbell
Abacus’ grapefruity Rio Star is one of the standouts on its redone cocktail menu.