kelly magyarics

washington, d.c.-based wine, spirits & lifestyle writer / wine educator

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Museum of the American Cocktail Dinner at DC's Proof

Last evening's dinner at DC's Proof restaurant was to celebrate National Cocktail Week, as well as to raise funds for the upcoming opening of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans. The city's most inventive mixologists were on hand to create luscious libations during the cocktail hour, as well as to pair with Chef Haidar Karoum's five-course menu.

I had such a phenomenal time--it was definitely one of the top food and drink events I've ever had the pleasure of attending. I sat at a small table in the bar, so we were front and center to watch the mixologists in action. It was cool to see hundreds of glasses lined up, ingredients being added to shakers (no powdered sour mixes here--everything was made fresh), and concoctions being garnished. Komi's Derek Brown even invited me to the back bar as an extra set of hands to shake the last round of 'tails. And it was a thrill for me to finally meet in person so many of the bar talents I've interviewed or used as resources in recent articles--and to see some old friends.

Here is the rundown of the evening:

Cocktail Hour Drinks:

Lady Randolph's Revenge (John Hogan, Hudson Lounge): John reinvented the Manhattan, making it just a touch kindler and gentler, yet still with a warm, Bourbon-y kick (and great cherry notes). The drink contained Woodford Reserve Bourbon, homemade bing cherry and Madagascar vanilla vermouth, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, Fee Brothers Whiskey Bitters, and Maraschino Espuma.

Zenzero Apertio (Chantal Tseng, Tabard Inn): Light, sparkling and refreshing, this drink contained sparkling wine, Caravella Limoncello, ginger syrup and a dash of Absinthe.

PaRappa the Rapper Punch (Adam Bernbach, Bar Pilar): So summery and tropical, I could totally see myself sipping this all day at a Caribbean resort. Adam used Tommy Bahama Gold Rum, syrup made from strawberry, Szechuan pepper and Tonka beans, lime juice, tarragon and strawberry puree, and Peychaud bitters.

Tarragon Gin Fizz (Justin Guthrie, Central Michel Richard): Once I got past the bright, definitely-not-found-in-nature green color (which also evoked thoughts of shooters passed around in test tubes at college bars), I loved this drink--totally reminded me of my herb garden. Justin blended Hendrick's gin infused with tarragon, lemon juice, and Natakhari Tarragon soda.

Puffin du Velay (Rico Wisner, Poste Modern Brasserie): Rico used Vervaine du Velay, a liqueur similar to Chartreuse with some anise flavor, in this drink, as well as Reyka vodka, fresh sour mix with agave syrup, and sparkling wine. It was interesting...but I think the Vervaine is an acquired taste, and I'm not there yet.

Dinner Cocktails and Menu:

1st course:
Todd Thrasher of PX and Restaurant Eve was up first. His drink, The Dr. Who, used Machu Pisco, Celery and Jicama soda, and homemade celery bitters (which I tried on a spoon by themselves--so tasty.) The Pisco gave the drink a definitive kick, but the celery tamed it a bit. It was paired with Chilled Seafood and Hearts of Palm Cocktail--a gazpacho-like creation with fresh mussels and other seafood. A big old dish of this, some crusty bread, and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc would be a fantastic summer dinner.

2nd course:
Komi's Derek Brown made my other favorite cocktail of the evening. Very labor-intensive, the lovely Hibiscus Fizz contained Finlandia Vodka infused with hibiscus/rose hips/orange peel, Yuzu and lemon juices, topped with soda. It was bright pink, but did not taste at all frou frou. The second course was Sake Glazed Salmon with Pickled Honshimenji Mushrooms, Local Asparagus and Tamari-Radish Emulsion. The salmon's sweet glaze partnered incredibly with the drink.

3rd course:
Gina Chersevani of EatBar really pushed for this event to happen. She has garnered quite a legion of cocktail fans, as evidenced by the amount of clapping and cheering when her name was announced. Smoky, savory and funky (in a good way), her Cereza la Fuma contained Milagro Silver Tequila, Lillet Rouge, Cherrywood smoked white pepper meringuem(foam), agave nectar, lime juice, and was topped with fleur de sel. Chef paired it with Braised Shenandoah Lamb with Spring Pea-Tarragon Risotto and Grilled Ramps. The lamb was so tender and flavorful, it tasted like braised beef to me.

4th course:
Proof's own Sebastian Zutant took care of the drinks for the cheese course--and he also took the award for the evening's longest cocktail name. Medicine Man (aka Sebby Potter and the Teeming Cauldron of Booze) had Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Blandy's Madeira, Lillet Rouge, Lustau East India Sherry, Fee Brothers whiskey bitters, and it was topped with a prune soaked in Armagnac and Port. Dark red, aromatic and perfect with cheese and accoutrements, the Medicine Man was actually served from Zutant's own cauldron.

5th course:
Tom Brown from wine bar Cork finished the evening with the Truffled Amaro Flip. We all stood behind the bar, shaking Korbel brandy, Ramazzotti Amaro, eggs, lemon juice, truffle oil and Jerry Thomas Decanter bitters. It looked like a frothy Bailey's, but tasted anything but. The truffle oil added just a hint of complexity, but not the overwhelming, almost stinky scent that truffles sometimes can (thankfully...) It was a nice partner for the dessert course, Strawberry and Pink Peppercorn Shortcake with Creme Fraiche and Honey Lavender Ice Cream.

Whew. That was quite an entry. But so delicious to relive. :-)

Head here for more info on Proof. And here for info about the museum.