While the fine cuts of meat may get all the attention at Belcampo, barman Josh Goldman's innovative craft cocktails at the butcher shop's Santa Monica restaurant also deserve their day in the sun. Belcampo recently debuted Goldman's new spring cocktail menu, and it's filled with drinks that will blow your mind.
Goldman — who's worked at ink. and Church & State — has introduced more than a dozen new drinks divided into categories by flavor profile, such as "bitter," "vegetal" and "sweet and creamy." You'll find witty cocktail names, clever ingredients and lingering aromatics that stay with you long after you've left the bar.
Take, for example, the Lincoln County Detox — a drink that comes out cloudy and blackish-gray, and gets sucked through a cold metal straw. It's Goldman's play on the detox trend of activated charcoal drinks that you often see at juice shops (there's a belief that ingesting charcoal helps extract the toxins from your stomach). The drink is made with Dickel #12 Tennessee whiskey, which is filtered through charcoal as part of its process, and with KOVAL jasmine liqueur. The flower's essence is sprayed on the glass, so that its scent stays on your fingers and follows you. For being such a muddy-looking drink, it's surprisingly light, refreshing and — dare we say — cleansing.
Goldman approaches his I Don't Carrot-All in a similarly creative fashion. Along with the carrot juice, he uses a gomme syrup flavored with Queen Anne's lace — the parent flower of carrots, which is normally used as filler in bridal bouquets. Making gomme is slightly more laborious than creating simple syrup, and it delivers a silky mouthfeel. He uses gin infused with turmeric and miso, and while you can't really taste the latter in the drink, Goldman says he includes it because "it turns a period into an exclamation point."
The most impressive cocktail on this menu might be Goldman's clever reinterpretation of the dirty martini. Before he made his own deconstructed version of the classic cocktail, he had a bone to pick. "I never really liked the dirty martini as a cocktail," he says, "because at the end of the day I always thought it was a ripoff."
He says he's not a fan of how the olive brine dilutes the vodka, and that it's tough for a bartender to know just how dirty a customer wants it. His solution? Cold-steam olives and sea salt, then fill little teabags with the mixture. Before entering the martini glass, the tea bag is primed by dunking it quickly in hot water. Once in the teabag is in the glass, which is filled with Aylesbury Duck vodka, Goldman sprays live brine aromatics over the glass. A tag connected to the tea bag lets the customer know, "The longer it sits, the dirtier it gets." If the drinker wants to speed up the process, he or she can squeeze the bag or give it a good swirl. Rounding out the drink is a medley of olives served in a ramekin on the side. Goldman advises to just eat them.
He adds that he wouldn't have put his dirty martini on the menu if he didn't think it tasted as good as the original, if not better. Back when Goldman worked with Michael Voltaggio at ink., he recalls that the chef told him: "If you can't make it as good as the original, then why are you making it?"
The thoughtfulness of his drinks also carries over to his What 'Chu Oaxacan 'Bout, Willis?, a concoction made with elote that Goldman crafts in-house — complete with roasted corn, cotjia, ancho chile and Tajin — which is infused in El Silencio Espadin mezcal. The complex taste comes from bitter cacao and from orange and black walnut bitters. A garnish of cilantro flowers gives you a whiff of the herb every time you take a sip.
Goldman says his inspiration could come from a TV show, something he ate at dinner or a drink another friend created. It can start off as a witty name or a flavor or spirit he likes — and then he builds. Goldman, who majored in history at UCLA, has a library of more than 500 wine, spirit and cocktail books, which he references for ideas. His iPhone is filled with notes, a long list of drink ideas that he'll jot down whenever something comes to mind. "I’ve kind of gotten to that point — after doing it for 20 years — I can think about it in my head and relatively know if the cocktails are going to work," he says.
In the Port of L.A., Goldman uses white port wine as the base, mixes it with tequila, amaro, prickly pear juice and egg whites, then sprays on the surface foam a stenciled "L.A." in bright blue letters made from rhubarb. His S'mores cocktail is not identical to the flavors of s'mores (thank goodness), but creatively channels the sweet smokiness with a light taste of cacao and cinnamon, and a bit of honey and nut coming from orgeat. It's garnished with a pair of roasted marshmallows on a skewer.
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Goldman is partners with mixologist Julian Cox of the lauded bar consulting firm Soigné Group, and the duo has elevated L.A.'s cocktail scene through its work at now-closed places like Acabar and Brilliantshine. Cox left for Chicago earlier this year, but the two are still a team and are working on new projects together outside of their respective cities, including in Peru, Belize and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Goldman says he talks to and sees Cox more than he did last year when Cox was opening eight different projects with Sprout Restaurant Group. "There’s no getting around it — I miss him," Goldman says. "He’s an amazing human being. He’s fantastically fun to hang out and work with. Fortunately I [still] get to do both."
Belcampo, 1026 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; (424) 744-8008, belcampo.com/restaurant/santa-monica.