Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Everyone's Gone to Mercadito

Mercadito, the well-known NYC restaurant group, just opened a branch here in Chicago. I had a chance to visit last night and try a couple of cocktails.

My expectations were high, given that a number of Chicago's most notable mixologists left other gigs to go and work there. I was a little surprised at just how many people went to work there either full or part time (Jen Contraveos, Dan de Oliveira, Maura McGuigan, Casey Sullivan, Daniel Love, Kyle McHugh), especially since the well-known Tippling Bros. had been brought in to do the cocktail menu.

So how was it?
In short, I was impressed. Although all the cocktails and mixed drinks use an agave spirit for the base, they offer a range of options - from the accessible margarita (made the right way, with fresh juices and fruit) to more esoteric offerings with mezcal.

Here are the drinks I tried, both of which had insider-y names (which was entertaining to me, but I wonder if the general public cares and how they respond):

Misty's Sleeve
  • Named for Misty Kalkofen from Drink in Boston (or more properly, her tattoo). Misty's a fantastic bartender and advocate for the industry, a founder of LUPEC Boston and a heckuva lot of fun too.
  • Made with Blanco tequila, ginger, hibiscus, fresh valencia orange juice, a touch of serrano chile, and a half rim of hibiscus salt.
It was delicious. Spicy, complex, and fresh - very well balanced. Jen Contraveos, at left, made it for me.

Tres Coops
  • A salute to three liquor industry folks who have the last name Cooper - Ron Cooper from Del Maguey, Rob Cooper who owns St. Germain, and John Cooper, who owns Domaine de Canton. Rob and John are brothers, from a long family line of liquor industry professionals, but they're not what you'd call close, according to word on the street. Ron is not related to either of them, but is a heckuva fun guy and he imports fantastic mezcals.
  • Made with the Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal, St. Germain, Domaine de Canton, Averna amaro, egg white and grapefruit. Casey Sullivan, pictured at left, made mine.
Apparently this drink is polarizing among the staff, some love it, some think it's a bit too dry and a bit forced - trying too hard to make the three Coopers idea work. I thought it worked really well, and the drink was delicious. It was also well balanced, with the creamy texture from the egg and deep complexity. It was drier than the first, but I like 'em dry so I enjoyed it very much.

One other thing I thought was great at Mercadito was the lineup of flavored salts and spices for the glasses. Rather than the stacking trays that could have been there for months with who knows what in them, they have small dishes out for each options that they clean & refill often.

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