Late winter finds the hearty folks in Minnesota climbing over mounds of packed snow or dodging large puddles of melting ice. You must really want to go out when it’s not a necessity. Cabin fever was exactly what drew Jon and me out on a recent school night, arriving at Eat Street Social for their first ever Bittercube Cocktail Dinner. You know it’s going to be a good evening when you are handed an aperitif of sparkling wine with a Demerara cube, bark vanilla, and orange bitters even before you peel off your Michelin-man looking overcoat.
Two handsome chaps Nick and Ira, greeted us. Come to find out they are not only part owners of Eat Street Social but are also the masterminds behind Bittercube. As we made our way to our table, we knew we’d be dining with The Cake Diva and her husband (Mr. Cake Diva). However, to our pleasant surprise we’d also be sharing it with Tracy and Molly, the co-owners of Kitchen in the Market. From the get-go, it was clear we were going to have some fun!
Nick and Ira gave us the lay of the land for the evening. All five flavor senses would be hitting our tongues: salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami, each focusing on one flavor per course. In the middle of our table was a large platter of delectable spices, herbs, dried flowers, and several kinds of citrus zests surrounding a mason jar of eau-de-vie.
It would be the job of the table to come up with our own version of “bitters” that we would enjoy with our dessert cocktail later in the evening. Let’s put a few of each of the zests in the jar. Oh what the heck, we all piped in, put in all the zest as well as some tarragon and thyme.
I voted for the addition of a few jasmine flowers and a sprig of rosemary – so Provençal. After adding a half dozen other spices, some of which we crushed in a napkin and the bottom of a glass, we closed the lid and shook it periodically to “brew” it to perfection.
For our first course we enjoyed a beautiful presentation of Tuna Tartare with a beet vermouth foam and the cherry bark vanilla bitters. I was leery when I saw the word “foam” as it can look like something narely. What was presented wasn’t necessarily “foamy”, but creamy and light in texture and crimson in color. It was beautiful and tasted sublime. It was paired with a Cocchi Vermouth Rosa & Americano, with a Reposado Tequila, Meyer lemon, cherry bark vanilla bitters, and seltzer.
Our “salty” flavor was a Breseola Spring Roll with a “Cocktail Sauce”. The breseola was house cured and each thin slice rolled with shreds of Diakon radish, carrots, and cilantro. The “cocktail sauce” was a thickened version of the cocktail that was paired with this course: a Johnny Drum Private Stock, with lemon, simple Aperol, fish sauce, and grapefruit oil. The salty component was indeed present in both the spring roll and cocktail, but it was so disappointing that only one spring roll was served. And, whoever heard of adding fish sauce to a cocktail? I wonder how it would taste in a Bloody Mary?
I don’t recall whether it Nick or Ira that explained how the brandy was “sous vided” with hazelnuts and almonds. Regardless, it was used as part of our next cocktail that also included Benzinger Chardonnay, prune extract, honey syrup, lemon zest, and Bolivar Bitters. This cocktail was served with my favorite course: a seared scallop nuzzled up to a hunk of braised bacon atop a swath of jalapeno fig jam. Imagine on your tongue the sweetness of the scallop, then the saltiness of the bacon, throwing in a little heat and the jam’s fruit for good measure.
The winter evening was perfect for our next course of a duck breast and foie gras roulade with perfectly sautéed Hedgehog mushrooms, accompanied by cauliflower purée, and black brandy gel. Mushrooms are a classic example if one is going for the taste of umami. We enjoyed them not only with the duck, but also in our cocktail of Armagnac, Gamle Ode Dill Aquavit, lemon, porcini Infused Carpano Antica, and a porcini tincture.
Our dessert was a lovely Cara Cara Tart made with cara cara navel oranges, grapefruit, pink peppercorns, and barrel-aged blood orange bitters. Presented with it was a cocktail of Barrel-aged Rehorst Gin, Dolin Dry Vermouth, Lillet, Averna Amara, and the bitters we had created. The gents instructed us to first taste the cocktail and then enjoy a bite of dessert.
Afterwards we took an eyedropper of the “brewed” tincture, squirted it around the inside of the cocktail glass with any remaining going into the cocktail itself. What an amazing transformation a squirt of the tincture gave to our “naked” drink.
The best lesson learned of the evening is that anyone can make his or her own bitters. If you can’t find eau-de-vie use any high quality neutral vodka as your base then add the herbs and spices you have on hand.
While at dinner we all begged the boys to schedule their next Bittercube Cocktail Dinner. It appears they have for Wednesday, March 20 at 6:30 pm.
Eat Street Social, 18 West 28th Street, Minneapolis MN – 612.877.8111. We can’t be there this time around, but we’re sure hoping that they will have a Cocktail Dinner III.