As enjoyable as the evening was, good food and classic cocktails are difficult to mix. Eric Greenspan noted this was the first time James Beard attempted a dinner/cocktail pairing, and the overall consensus was that rich, complex drinks sometimes cancel out the nuances of food. Whereas wine complements with its capacity for drawing out flavors, cocktails of such caliber beg to be experienced on their own.
The night truly belonged to the bartenders, with the boys kicking it off and winding it up in their uniquely fashionable ways. Richie Boccato of Dutch Kills had the girls cross-eyed with his straight outta Queens accent as thick as his pre-maturely silver hair. A Mean Streets era DeNiro in short, fitted blue pants, his creamy tequila and orgeat cocktail was made for a lady but strong enough for a man. He was nowhere to be found at closing time.
Milk & Honey's consummate and energetic Michael Madrusan made a Campari and absinthe sipper that would have been lovely under a hot, Tuscan sun and if need be, paired with olives and Italian cheese in lieu of Doug Psaltis's Loup de Mer.
L.A.'s own “Mick Jagger of the cocktail world,” Eric Alperin of The Varnish, represented with an almond infused cognac that was a dessert in and of itself. To be paired with Zoe Nathan's peach crostada was a bit of overkill – on their own, each was wonderful, but the sweet food and sweet drink were like two little kids duking it out on the playground.
The Foundry's Dan Bayha's cocktail of calvados, apple and celery juice would have made a lovely soup. Paired with Eric Greenspan's appetizer of yellowtail sashimi with sea urchin vinegarette made it difficult to know which to eat and which to sip.
The pairing that worked best was Walter Manzke of Church and State's dish of braised beef short ribs in a foie gras/black pepper sauce, served alongside Jeff Hollinger of Absinthe's (in January 2010 he'll open his own joint – Comstock Saloon) mushroom-infused Rittenhouse Rye. But still it was power to power – the cocktail and dish ensconced in a lover's quarrel – two strong personalities trying to make it work but ultimately destroying each other.
As the jazz band played, Greenspan ran the room like a proud father, and downtown's rainmaker Cedd Moses waxed poetic about the time his babysitter, the infamous Chris Burden, tied himself to the top of a moving car as a way to entertain the kids. When asked if he ever thought about being an artist himself, he responded, “I am an artist. A con artist.”
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