Monday, April 6, 2009

Spring Cocktails, Progress, And Making It Happen!

I've been at the new restaurant for about 6 months now. I have made a lot of progress in terms of educating our staff, who in turn educates our clientele. We've turned a lot of folks on to the fresh fruit cocktail. We muddle a lot of fresh, seasonal produce (herbs like thai basil, mint and rosemary; fresh berries, citrus fruits, even cucumbers and jalapeno peppers) into our cocktails. As much as I love classic cocktails and the unique flavors of "culinary" style cocktails, we have to remember that Bijou's food, drinks, and style of service is a new thing for this city and the surrounding areas. I try to balance some of the culinary cocktails and the good 'ol classics with drinks that--for lack of a better phrase--have mass appeal. But don't get me wrong, they're great cocktails! Fresh kiwi, fresh apple puree, fresh orange juice, agave nectar...they are a bit sweeter and definitely fruit-forward cocktails, but they have broad reach (and did I mention they're delicious?!!?) Hey, as long as I can sway someone away from a Vodka/Red Bull (or a boring Vodka anything) and into an amazing, fresh fruit cocktail made with a base spirit like Gin, Rum, or Whiskey, then I am one happy guy! And when someone comes in and orders a Noccino Walnut Manhattan or an Aviator, it puts a smile on my face. And this is exactly what's been happening at the restaurant.

Our staff does a pretty good job explaining our approach to guests: "fresh, local, seasonal produce. Locally distilled, artisan spirits. More of the crisp/tart cocktails, less of the sweet/syrupy, chain-restaurant style drinks." And it seems to be catching on here in Hayward, believe it or not! Slowly. The French cuisine is even catching on, and our Chef (with a French/Vietnamese background) has put together a wonderful menu of items like Escargot, Filet Mingon, Duck Breast, Spring Rolls, and Foie Gras. I'm so glad to see it coming together! I'm not a big fan of buzz words like "mixologist" or "mixology bar", but that's certainly more in line with what we're doing with our drinks, and the kitchen is doing an equally fantastic job with the food: interesting flavors and impeccable presentation. Our servers and support staff are excellent as well.

I really try to balance our menu, knowing that we need that one, sweeter, "fruit-flavor-in-your-face" cocktail on the menu to draw some folks in. Once they understand our approach and our mission, they begin to learn that great-tasting, properly balanced cocktails should never be cloying and syrupy sweet. When this happens, we can then begin the process of educating them and exploring the craft of the cocktail in more detail. Maybe even expose them to a few classics and more "spiritous" cocktails (usually about 3 ingredients, all alcoholic, like a Manhattan, Sazerac, or classic Martini), or perhaps a culinary cocktail with fresh herbs (savory) or crushed berries (fruit forward, but never overly sweet).

We're still not quite to the point where folks palates are appreciating savory cocktails using fresh herbs, or drinks that are more tart than sweet. Some do, some don't, but we're getting there. I'd say our clientele has shifted quite a bit since we first opened, and people are drinking better. Sure, we still have to add a little more sweetner to some of our drinks than most bars in the meccas of Mixology would like (cocktail destination cities like San Francisco, New York City, and London), but at least we are exposing our guests to good drinks, even the occassional novelty cocktail, like the one calling for fresh Jalapeno pepper on our current menu! The heat from the pepper and the spicy, vegetal notes from the Tequila are balanced out with some crisp tartness from fresh lime juice, and a dose of sweetness from the agave nectar and Grand Marnier. It's totally unique and quite tasty too!

Progress. It's a process. I know we can't be all things to all people, but I really feel like we have something for just about everyone on our menu. While not everyone appreciates America's first cocktail, the Sazerac (Rye whisky, Bitters, Herbsaint--which has a strong anise flavor--and a tiny bit of sugar), some folks truly appreciate this simple yet sublime cocktail. It's history in a glass! We make it at Bijou, and we make it the right way. It's a beautiful thing.

And then we have something like the Spring Fling (cucumbers and strawberry) or the Kiwi Royale (fresh kiwi pulp and apple puree) which goes in a completely different direction. While both the Spring Fling and Kiwi Royale are intended to be more on the tart side & bursting with fresh spring flavors, they can be sweetended up. And I'm learning that I need to be ok with that (this coming from a guy who enjoys Single Malt Scotch, classics like the Sazerac, really tart Margaritas, and savory "culinary" cocktails with fresh rosemary and tarragon!) But I've learned to accept it to a certain degree because that might be what it takes to bring this crowd in and expose them to great cocktails and food. But once they're here and they understand what we're doing...the process begins!

We even started up a Sunday Brunch last week, and we're all really excited about it. From 10am to 4pm on Sundays, you can come to the restaurant and get crepes, eggs benedict, omelettes, and more. We even have a special list of 6 brunch/early afternoon libations: Ramos Fizz, Bloody Mary (made from scratch of course), Bellini (peach puree and Champagne), Mimosa (fresh orange juice and Champagne), the Breakfast Martini (Earl Grey Tea-infused gin, orange marmalade, hand-pressed lemon juice) and the Champagne a la Fraise (fresh strawberries, honey, hand pressed lemon juice and Champagne). Nothing like sitting on the patio on a warm Spring morning/afternoon, sippin' a Ramos Fizz or Bloody Mary, eating some smoked salmon Eggs Benedict, and watching the world go by.

So here's to Spring. CHEERS!!


Anonymous said...

That Breakfast martini knocked my socks off! I absolutely adored it and wish I could start off every morning with it!

Ivan Chan Studio said...

I have to get my arse up there! These cocktails sound delicious and if I weren't such a lightweight I'd try every one of 'em all night long.

Thanks for sharing your passion!

May the allergies of spring pass us by quickly.