When I go into a bar, the first thing I do is scan the menu for the drinks that define the house style. In that pursuit, I usually scan past the classic drinks and look for original ones -- except if I am at one of Thad Vogler and Eric Johnson's bars like Bar Agricole and the brand new Trou Normand.
Nobody has the ability to alchemize old drinks with the same kind of skill that this duo does, like their manifestation of the Jersey City ($11, calvados, pineapple gum syrup, absinthe) cocktail. The presentation is dramatic and unusual in that the drink is both stirred and built in the glass. Watch as a squared spike of ice starts off too big to fit into the glass gets stirred for a few seconds and melts just enough to descend, snug, to the bottom.
With only three ingredients, the drink can read minimalist, but the absinthe and pineapple are crucial elements, serving to showcase aspects of the custom-sourced apple brandy. Somehow the drink conjures the flavors of a fresh, ripe, golden apple from each juicy sip.
Brandy is the name of the game here, with Vogler and Johnson making regular trips to France to buy barrels of Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados, which then get bottled at proofs designed to mix well, but also sip neat. The tropical Hawaiian ($11, calvados, chartreuse, pineapple gum, lime) coaxes Tiki out of the Calvados, like a summer on Saint Tropez.
That said, not all the great drinks are brandy-based, like the gin-focused Fruit Cup ($11, gin, lemon, pineapple, vermouth) that is refreshingly light --making us long for the arrival of warmer days and the soon-to-open patio seating.
The cured meats at Trou Normand by chef Salvatore Cracco are the other stars. At lunch, some get offered in sandwiches, but we prefer to roll our own with the Charcuterie Plate ($19, chef's selection) served with shaved fennel, mustard, and aspic, along with a decent length of crisp epi baguette.
Trou Normand, 140 New Montgomery (at Natoma), 975-0876