Monday, November 21, 2011

Go to PKNY

In the first visit to New York City of my adult life, I of course all but bee-lined it to PKNY, what people are already call one of the best tiki bars in the world.

The Shirt (myself) and the Skirt moseyed into the joint in the early evening of a Sunday night. We found that we were the only customers, and so we mused about all things tiki and otherwise with the bar's head bartender Valentin Gonzalez and a quickly-advancing minion of his, Kigan, who, I declare right now, will one day have a big name within tiki circles.

Considering the lack of thought needed to decide for myself that PKNY was on top of the list of places to visit in NYC, I found that it took a similar amount of thought to decide that my first drink would be a 1935 Zombie. PKNY serves several versions of the Zombie, with each one attempting to duplicate the minor recipe variations that came about through the years since its creation. The Skirt ordered PKNY's famous Pina Colada, which has been meticulously developed to be the highest quality Pina Colada that anyone's probably ever had. (Pictured below.)

We ordered other drinks, of course. They made a few off-the-cuff creations and were even able to work around my peculiar food allergies. We found ourselves the only patrons in the place for a good two hours, and so we simply drank and were merry with our tropical hosts. At the end of it, on the way out, the Skirt took a photo of me in front of the inconspicuous entrance... a photo I swear I can't even remember being taken. That's the danger when high proof booze is so freaking interesting to drink.

Go to PKNY. The breadth of their menu is the most impressive I've seen in a bar. They buy as few products as possible for their inventory, and they hand-craft the rest. Their recipes are more authentic than any bar I've been to. Their staff is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their work. Their rum selection impresses even the well-educated rum enthusiast. Their decor is authentic, right down to their tiki mugs and the long straws meant for the communal Scorpion Bowls. Their drinks are incredible, and are a lesson in tiki drinks, and in cocktails in general.

Go to PKNY.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Infusion #6: A Food Network Monstrosity

I love television. A great deal of my time watching TV is centered on the Food Network. I love the cuisine and personalities on the Food Network, but I’ve learned to disrespect most of the alcoholic beverage recipes that I see on the channel. Most of them contain some sort of soft drink (Sandra Lee is running out of ways to mix vodka and lemon-lime soda) and the rest are usually sweetened beyond balance and into the realm of mass commercial appeal.

But a few weeks ago I found my face even more contorted in astonishment than usual while I was watching Claire Robinson’s “5 Ingredient Fix”. Her show is a pretty good one: each prepared dish contains only five ingredients, and I’m generally pleased by her recipes, though I feel she dumbs her techniques down a bit.

Anyway, Ms. Robinson was infusing vodka. Normally I wouldn’t pay much notice, but this time she was infusing with squash. The recipe is for “Spicy Pumpkin Vodka”. I decided that it was so crazy that I had to do it myself.

The recipe is simple: one infuses 3 cups of vodka with 2 cups of pumpkin or kabocha squash, 2 vanilla beans, a stick of (cassia) cinnamon, and 3 pieces of candied ginger.

To prepare the squash, you lightly roast it in order to purge a bit of moisture and to get the flesh sweet, then cut it into small chunks in order to increase the surface area for the infusion. I used pumpkin, as I could not find any kabocha squash.

This infusion calls for an infusing time of 3 days.

At the end of the infusion, I was quite surprised with the result. I thought that the thick, dense flesh of the pumpkin would impart very little flavor to the vodka, but I was very wrong.

While the nose of the stuff is vanilla and alcohol only, the sip offers something more intriguing. The warmness of the cinnamon and the sweetness of the pumpkin combine immediately with sharp spiciness of the ginger to create a flavor very much like gingerbread, a flavor I’ve seldom come across in the spirit world. The cinnamon comes back mid-palate with the vanilla rounding it out. The swallow brings vegetal pumpkin and ginger notes that border on maltiness as it goes down.

Ms. Robinson insists that you chill this vodka and consume as a shot, but I found that doing so dulls all of the flavor into mediocrity. Sipping this at room temperature is quite enjoyable, and I bet it'd be great if you put a half ounce or so into a Manhattan.

This is a good little recipe, but it's not cheap to make. Depending on how cheap you can find your pumpkin or your ginger, and especially using 2 whole vanilla beans for 3 cups of vodka, the end product's value isn't high. Also, the yielded infusion is even less liquid than you’d think, since the pumpkin does a good job of soaking quite a bit up. But it’s a fun experiment nonetheless. Go out and make some now, just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas parties. You can still find pumpkins and kabocha in the markets – I promise.