There are some places I regrettably take for granted, that is until I am given a gentle reminder. When news hit that the bar at Foreign Cinema was getting a remodel, new bar manager Kevin Dowell (formerly of Rio Grande), and revamped cocktail menu, I had to check it out.
The concise list of nine drinks gets divided into three categories: Originals, Classics, and Friends. Not surprisingly, the Originals list is where some of the interesting drinks land, like the outstanding -- and totally different -- Lady Grinning Soul ($11, Reyka Vodka, grapefruit cordial, lemon, cucumber, Manzanilla sherry) and dusky The Black Lodge ($11, James E. Pepper Rye, saffron amaro, apricot liqueur, orange oil).
I enjoy stirred drinks and I like whiskey, so the Black Lodge on the menu is a welcome sight. It has plenty of heft and interesting flavors, but it's balanced enough that it doesn't weigh you down with bitterness or alcohol by the time you finish the drink.
Dowell designed The Black Lodge on the new/old style of Old Fashioned drinks where both orange and cherries get muddled into the drink. By substituting apricot liqueur for the fruit, amaro in place of the bitters, and adding a touch of salt water to cut the richness, Dowell has created a drink that's deliciously hard to forget.
Dowell says that the idea for the drink came about on a rare night off--one spent developing recipes for the menu. He fine-tuned the recipe by mixing up variations of the drink, making annotations on Post-It notes as he went along. "It was probably Post-It number seven when things got foggy -- Post-It number nine when things got sleepy," says Dowell. "I woke up early in the morning, fully-clothed, and with my dog looking at me... When I stumbled into the kitchen I saw about 13 different glasses lined up along the counter and stove, each drink recipe slowly becoming less legible, and accompanied by more and more sloppy tasting notes. Then there was this one single Post-It that was covered in stars and exclamation points... It won."
As illustrated by that story, stirred cocktails aren't really all night drinkers, which is what makes the Lady Grinning Soul so good. While I'm not typically much of a vodka drinker, the sherry and the grapefruit cordial make for a light and extremely food friendly drink that paired wonderfully with the kitchen's sesame fried chicken ($24 and big enough for two to share).
The Friends section of the cocktail menu is an interesting idea: Each month a pair of drinks end up here from people Dowell has either worked with or holds in high esteem. When I swung by, he was featuring the Vida Vida (tequila, mezcal, lime, green chartreuse, agave) from Joel Teitelbaum, who Dowell worked with a Zero Zero, and Laughing Water (rye whiskey, dry vermouth, lemon, cinnamon, pineapple, nutmeg) from Brooke Arthur, whom he worked with at Wo Hing.
Clearly, Dowell knows where he came from, and we know where the extremely talented bartender is going: straight to the top.
The Black Lodge
2 oz. James E. Pepper 100pf Rye
¾ oz. Amaro Meletti
½ oz. Luxardo Apricot Liqueur
5 drops Saline Solution
Combine all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice, and stir until well chilled. Strain into a cold cocktail glass with a large block of ice. Twist an orange peel over the drink, and garnish with the peel.
Foreign Cinema, 2534 Mission (at 21st), 648-7600