Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Strong Spring Cocktail Menu at Drago Centro

Drago Centro's bar had been in a limbo recently, when their bar managers/bartenders left one after the other and no one new was coming in, but now it's made a strong comeback with Kyle Ackley's new spring menu. His face and name was familiar to me and I finally remembered that I had met him at Lexington Social House. Kyle worked at The Bungalow at the Fairmont Miramar between Lexington and Drago Centro (and was at XIV prior to Lexington).

Kyle Ackley

Grappa cocktail
I went through the whole menu starting from the lightest, Bella Bionda: Grappa, kumquat syrup, citrus, orange bitters, club soda.
Drago Centro wanted grappa cocktail because, well, it's Italian, and Kyle came up with this drink. Here you can taste the grappa but it is not too strong. It's a very refreshing drink and great for those who want something lighter in alcohol.

There are a lot of long cocktails for the spring menu, while he plans on having many stirred drinks in the fall. He also makes his own pickles and syrups.

IMG_5222The Vibrante is made with Aviation gin, sloe gin, pickled grape skins (housemade, natch), tarragon, lemon. The cocktail is tart and herbal-y, tastes almost like a shrub.

There's no shrub in here, though.  His shrub makes an appearance in the All Dolled Up: Karlsson’s vodka, Campari, vanilla rhubarb shrub, grapefruit, lemon, egg white
This obligatory vodka drink looks like a girly drink but has more bitterness, a nice touch from the grapefruit and Campari. Ackley likes putting the two together, bitter on bitter. The Campari and the shrub are the stars here.

The Merchant: Smith and Cross rum, Velvet Falernum, fresh lime, chocolate bitters, pilsner
This is Ackley's take on a tiki drink. High alcohol content but less sugar and more bitterness thanks to the pilsner. He wanted a cocktail that was "boozy and refreshing". He didn't want all his spring drinks to be light, but rather to have something with more substance that you can still drink on a hot day.

Partitioning the menu is perhaps the simplest drink on the menu: Scotsman: Dewars scotch, Maraschino liqueur, honey syrup, lemon, mint. This is a play on the classic cocktails scotch smash. I'm a big scotch in cocktails fan, though, and this is a great simple drink to go with.

After that we get into some very interesting cocktails. The Nicolina is made with Casa Noble reposado, plum jam, lemon, rosemary, and a float of Cabernet Sauvignon.
He made this drink because his firlfriend told him to use plum jam in a drink. The first sip gives you the wine, then plum, then tequila. He also asks you to adjust the dryness by using the rosemary to stir. Tasting the menu so far, this was my favorite drink, both sweet and complex, but there's more to come!

Il Cocciuto: Bulleit Rye, Cynar, ginger syrup, lemon, bitters, pickled artichoke.

Pickled artichoke? I was kind of wary of that but it actually reminded me of ume, and it makes sense since Cynar is predominantly artichoke-based. I personally loved this one although it's probably not for everyone with the vegetal notes.

The Diplomat: Bourbon, honey syrup, apple balsamic reduction, lemon, fennel ice cube
The fennel ice cube is as you can see, an ice cube filled with fennel fronds and made with 1 part water, 1 part fennel extract. The cube releases more fennel aroma and notes as the ice melts, so the drink gets better as it sits. I love smelling it! Surprisingly, Ackley tried making this with eight different bourbons and liked Jim Beam the best. There's a little thick sweetness from honey syrup but the balsamic reductions cuts it.

Ackley wants to always have at least one strong stirred cocktail, so the last cocktail is the Old Flame: Mescal, bourbon, wood syrup, bitters, spice, citrus oil
Old Flame

What the hell is a wood syrup? That's what I asked too! He made a demerara syrup with mesquite. With this, the mescal, and the particular bitters he uses, this is one strong, smoky cocktail!

Since it would've been crazy to drink all those cocktails on an empty stomach, I snacked on the la polenta (creamy polenta, wild mushrooms, saltimbocca, $6 on the bar menu)
Can't go wrong with polenta and mushrooms. Did I mention that Drago Centro has an awesome all day happy hour menu, with plenty of cheap food options like $4 margherita pizza?

Later on, the chef also sent out some sweet corn agnolotti. I love sweet corn and always look forward for sweet corn agnolotti to make it back on menus all over town. I guess that time is now. This is my first time having this at Drago Centro and it is lovely. The subtle sweetness of the corn really comes through.
Sweet Corn Agnolotti

Without the constraints of pleasing the Hollywood crowd, Kyle Ackley has more freedom to play at Drago Centro. Pickles, fennel ice cubes, wood bitters are only some of the unique things you'll find here. His cocktails are "fancy" but most of the work done in the prep, while employing simple techniques during service so that it's fast, smooth, and consistent. I'm looking forward to see what he would create next - in the meantime, though, go check out the fun spring cocktails.


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