Cocktails. Ah, cocktails. Portland is a hipster cocktail city. Somebody is always trying to “house infuse” some vodka with some new and exciting ingredient – spicy things look to be popular currently, now that bacon has started settling down. Thai chilis, peppercorns, chipotles, whatever. You can’t throw a bike lock in the air around here without hitting someone holding a drink with some crazy infused liquor in it. Some of these are done exceedingly well (see Genie’s jalapeno vodka Bloody Mary) and some not so well (see the Maiden’s Trunk Monkey, with chili infused vodka, pineapple, cherry and lime juices – it’s really confusing). The point is- everyone’s trying to set themselves apart with interesting, inventive cocktails, and mostly I’ve been finding them unimpressive, until recently. Linda and I went on a date to the Observatory on Friday night, a very cute, very well reviewed place in SE Portland. The food was delicious – we shared pate, Linda had snapper with discs of sauteed potatoes and wilted arugula, I had sirloin, with pasta in garlic cream sauce with mushrooms and snap peas, everyone was happy. The cocktails, though, were the real standout. I thought I took pictures of all three- but evidently not, and excuse the quality, I took them on my magic phone.
The first: the Capricorn, featuring fresh strawberry puree, vodka and peppercorn infused simple syrup, with a salted and crushed pink peppercorn-ed rim. The peppercorn syrup was enough to lend a little heat to the drink, but the sweet, strawberry-ness of it married really well with the heat. The salt and crushed pink peppercorns on the rim was inspired, the salt stopped the drink from being too sweet, and the pink peppercorns made it all the more attractive. It’s just very well thought out. Nothing overdone, no flavors in competition with the others, just gorgeous, boozy harmony.
Linda had the Tom Kah, featuring Thai bird chili infused vodka (see?), cilantro and lemongrass simple syrup, coconut cream and lime juice. This is the restaurant’s most popular drink- from our table I could see about 10 people drinking it, and it’s easy to see why- the thing is genius. Original, Thai flavored (Portland loves Thai food), including a spicy vodka. Again, though, it was really well thought out. You could taste each individual ingredient, but nothing was dominant. The lemongrass and very light cilantro flavor of the syrup balanced nicely with the heat from the chili vodka, and the rich sweetness of the coconut cream made a nice pair with the acidic, tart lime juice.
My other drink, the one I forgot to take a picture of, was called the Pear Rosemary Martini, and included gin, pear brandy and rosemary simple syrup. Elegant, beautiful, amazing. I thought the pear flavor would get lost in the gin, and rosemary, being a pretty potent herb, but it was more of a pear flavor supported by the rosemary than anything. It was pale and pearl colored, unadorned but for a floating sprig of rosemary.
There were myriad other cocktails to choose from, it was a feat to decide on the two I had. There was an interesting cherry infused bourbon cocktail (if I drank bourbon, which I don’t), a sort of standard lemon and lavender cocktail that still looked tasty, and a variety of others that are very likely as perfect and well thought out as the ones I did have.
This experience inspired Linda and I to make a fancy at home cocktail the next day, as we already had most of the ingredients. Adapted from Bon Apetit – the Leland Palmer:
Honey syrup, 1/2 c honey, 1/2 c boiling water – exactly like simple syrup, a 1:1 ratio, let it cool before using
2 cups fresh brewed jasmine tea – we used 3 tea bags, it was too many, use 1 or maybe 2
3/4 cup gin
3/4 cup limoncello
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice
top with club soda
Make these- prepare to be drunk really fast, they taste like jasmine-y, citrus-y candy.