1. Cocktails with foraged ingredients
The culinary trend toward foraging for wild ingredients—set off by Noma's Rene Redzepi and the rise of Scandinavian cooking—isn't limited to the kitchen. Bartenders are fast becoming modern-day gatherers too, taking a cue from Mother Nature rather than the grocery aisle.
Before he started tending bar, Chris Conatser was a gardener and naturalist, occasionally teaching classes on wild edibles at a botanical garden outside of Kansas City. At Terminus (603 NW 2nd St, Corvallis, OR; 541-286-4242, terminuscorvallis.com)—the Corvallis, OR, restaurant where he currently works—that botanical passion translates to drinks filled with local ingredients like Cornelian cherry-tangerine marmalade and Oregon grape-holly, as well as honeysuckle tonic water and bitters made with Pacific madrone bark. Likewise, Washington, D.C. bartender Josh Berner, while at Cleveland Park restaurant Ripple, used foraged pine needles to smoke gin for a savory take on the Rickey. Now that he’s ensconced at Zentan (1155 14th St NW, Washington, D.C.; 202-379-4366, zentanrestaurant.com), the modern Asian restaurant inside Donovan House Hotel, he plans to seek out straight-from-the-soil blooms to garnish punches this spring.
Nature is certainly in full force at Aska (90 Wythe Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-388-2969, askanyc.com), the much-buzzed about Scandinavian restaurant in Brooklyn where you can eat salsify with lichen from a $65 tasting menu. That into-the-wild spirit also finds its way into the drinks such as the Next of Kin, a funky, earthy concoction made with Pu-erh tea that’s been re-fermented into kombucha and paired with aquavit, caraway, and unrefined sugar. Manager Shiraz Noor, who helped create the drinks, describes it as “eating rye bread in a magic forest. Yes, a magic forest. Only it goes down like the best mojito ever.”
Any meal at Aska should also include a taste of the soothing Decanter Bitters, an herbal sipping tonic based on a recipe found in Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide from 1862. “We took a little gathering trip and found a great collection of birch saplings,” Noor explains. “After our giant Swedish cook Sebastian pulverized them with a sledgehammer, we infused it into whiskey—this is Brooklyn—and softened it with molasses.”