Check out our annual restaurant issue, which this year celebrates desserts, out this Thursday, August 8.
The phrase "dessert cocktail" is likely to strike fear in the heart of any self-respecting bartender. Perhaps it's the immediate image of the TGI Friday's Mudslide in all its horrific, coffee/chocolate/boozy milkshake glory. Perhaps it's simply the idea of an overly sweet and therefore unbalanced drink, which is counterintuitive to great mixology.
The concept of the dessert drink, however, isn't a new one. Back in 1892, William Schmidt, who went by the definitive moniker "The Only William," was quite fond of dumping ice cream in his drinks. His book, The Flowing Bowl, instructs readers to "ornament" the Columbus Punch "with fruits and ice cream," while the Ladies' Great Favorite combines sherry, port and brandy, plus ice cream on top and a spoon on the side. One of the earliest references to the Stinger, that infamous combo of white crème de menthe and brandy (essentially an Andes mint in a glass), can be found in Tom Bullock's 1917 The Ideal Bartender. And historically, liqueurs sipped after a meal are a long-standing tradition.
Despite the bad juju, dessert cocktails are popping up on menus all over town. Los Angeles bartenders recognize when their audience is ready for the next taste sensation and, right now, dessert drinks share the spotlight with classic cocktails, offering sweet and savory combinations that are a far cry from the milky, syrupy, diabetic coma-inducing concoctions of yore.
Here is a sampling of five desserts in a glass, no fork or spoon needed. And not a Mudslide in sight.
The Nite Nite at Carson House
The Nite Nite cocktail has a little bit of everything -- sweet, spicy, savory. It's a combination of barrel-aged grappa, white chocolate liqueur, half-and-half and maple syrup. This relaxed, neighborhood spot focuses on both its dining menu and its specialty cocktail program, Carson House partner Steve Fowler says. "We just thought it made sense to create a couple of well thought-out dessert cocktails that could complement both programs, and that our guests could enjoy at the end of the meal with or without an actual dessert." There are plenty of familiar dessert-y ingredients in the Nite Nite, starting with the chocolate and cream, but the inclusion of pistachio and cayenne on top helps balance the drink's richness. 8635 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 289-2800.
Chocolat de Rigueur at Eveleigh
David Kupchinsky, head bartender at Eveleigh, a rustic, barnlike space with a constant, energetic hum, riffs on a classic Manhattan, digestif-style with his Chocolat de Rigueur. At the drink's center is rye whiskey, but instead of the usual sweet vermouth, Kupchinsky has integrated Barolo Chinato, an Italian amaro flavored with quinine bark, gentian and other spices, and Gran Classico Bitter, which blends elements including bitter orange peel and rhubarb. Both amari and bitters historically have been used to settle the stomach and aid digestion. Lest the drink become too bitter or savory, Kupchinsky adds crème de cacao, a traditional after-dinner drink ingredient that works beautifully here. 8752 Sunset Blvd., W. Hlywd.; (424) 239-1630.
The Limoncello Chocolate Souffle at Bigfoot West
The Limoncello Chocolate Souffle is probably the most unabashedly dessert-ish of the selections here, with its crème de cacao, egg whites and chocolate shavings. The West L.A. bar is a fun, casual place themed like a hunting lodge, but what makes this a serious cocktail is the house-made limoncello and the gin, which play off each other and the chocolate in unexpected ways. Despite the "cream" in its name, crème de cacao has no dairy in it; rather, that refers to the velvety texture of the liqueur. This element, combined with the egg whites, produces a frothiness in the drink that lightens up the richness. 10939 Venice Blvd., W.L.A.; (310) 287-2200.
Deux Framboises at Le Ka
Desperate for dessert downtown? Andrew Parish, bartender at French/Californian hot spot Le Ka, offers up the Deux Framboises -- bourbon, orange juice, Framboise raspberry liqueur and, making yet another appearance, (white) crème de cacao, topped off with a brûléed raspberry misted with absinthe. Says Parish, "I wanted to create a dessert drink that is nicely balanced without being overly sweet or creamy. So many dessert cocktails seem to turn out like this, so I started playing around with ingredients and came up with the Deux Framboises. The drink is mildly sweet, with none of the ingredients overpowering the others." 800 W. Sixth St., dwntwn.; (213) 688-3000.
Affogato al Negroni at Cecconi's
In what may be the most refreshing dessert cocktail of the lineup, the Affogato al Negroni is a far more sophisticated alternative to the familiar beer float. At Cecconi's, where classic Italian cuisine is ensconced in an airy and elegant setting, creative bar director Chris Ojeda was inspired by the sorbet cocktail that famed London bartender Ago Perrone made with Galliano. "I thought a dessert as a cocktail fit within the heritage of Cecconi's," Ojeda says, "as many of our guests enjoy a digestif after dinner, like a grappa or amaro. Having a fresh, house-made sorbet with our barrel-aged Negroni poured over top ... you get that fresh fruit from the sorbet and a slight bitter orange and herbal note from the vermouth and gin." 8764 Melrose Avenue, W. Hlywd.; (310) 432-2000.
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