There’s little I pretend to know less about than cocktails. I think I’d have a better chance of fixing a busted radio. Then again, maybe I’m being too hard on myself. Just standing behind a counter within arms reach of hundreds of backlit bottles containing liquors of all shades doesn’t make you a mystic. Anyhow, most bartenders either flip open beers or pour wine.
And then you encounter those drinks which reveal your ignorance. A Sidecar at the Carlyle, “Tajmopolitan” at Surya, Lemongrass Iced Tea at Lani Kai, or “Bonded with Spice” at the Crosby Hotel. We discovered the Tajmopolitan on a snowy night six years ago. We were in the West Village and ducked into Surya to escape the cold. A handful of Tajmopolitans later, we were best friends with the bartender and decided to make it our signature wedding drink.
Cranberry juice, lime juice, Chambord, vodka, served in a martini glass and dusted with ground cinnamon. That’s the Tajmopolitan. Like a marshmallow floating atop the cocoa, the cinnamon makes the drink. As does the lemongrass in the Lani Kai iced tea, or the blast of cayenne in the Crosby’s apple drink (apple brandy/honey syrup/allspice/lime juice/hot sauce/cayenne/Granny Smith garnish).
Cocktails are tricky because everything’s mixed up in a glass. You can’t use a fork to fish out stuff you don’t like. And then there’s the alcohol factor: unlike real food, you have to work around a mandatory constant, the booze. With this one, I decided to stay in the comfort zone and take an hors d’oeuvre approach. As with any dish, I balanced the sweet and savory, treating the booze as a savory ingredient, countering the sweet with a blast of vodka. Or, in this case, vodka made spicy from Szechuan peppercorns.
The final touch, a few spoonfuls of red food coloring, is for visual effect. If you can’t mix drinks, you may as well fake it. We happen to have a jar of dark crimson food coloring in the spice drawer. It’s for tandoori chicken, with which I’m quite comfortable.
NOTE: Lychees aren’t in season (who knew?). Use canned. Chinese spoons look nice, but shot glasses would also be great. If you have neither, soak the lychees in vodka for a while, drain and serve inverted sprinkled with a bit of crushed pepper works well. Because Chinese spoons tend to fall over unless counterbalanced, lay down the lychee before the vodka.
Lychee Vodka Shot with Szechuan Pepper
Makes about 8 shots
½ cup chilled vodka
1 tablespoon crushed Szechuan peppercorns
2 tablespoons red food coloring (we used tandoori coloring)
8 peeled lychees
Lime zest garnish
1. Whisk the coloring and vodka in a measuring cup or small bowl. Place a lychee on each spoon and pour a tablespoon of vodka in each. Sprinkle with peppercorns and garnish with lime zest.