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Central Michel Richard

If you remember back a while, we went to a dinner for the Museum of the American Cocktail, where Justin Guthrie, bar manager at Central Michel Richard, made a tarragon gin fizz that I loved.  After the dinner, he sent me a message, inviting us down to visit the bar at Central and to check out some of the goings-on that he has, uh, going on, down there.  It's been a hectic time of year but yesterday Marshall and I finally made our way down there.

And it was a scorcher out!  Coupled with a train breaking down on Metro right in front of me, I was in dire need of a refreshing libation when I made my way into Central.  Justin was right there, explaining how it's gin rickey month here in DC and offering me up a black pepper and lime gin rickey made with Zuidam gin.

Talk about refreshing.  There's a competition going on between several of the bartenders in the area for their gin rickeys, a drink that Justin informed us was invented here in DC.  At the end of the month several celebrity judges, in the cocktail world at least, such as Jeffrey Morgenthaler and Eric Felton of the Wall Street Journal, will see whose gin rickey will reign supreme!

Which makes me disappointed that I didn't try a gin rickey over at PX on Wednesday night, but alas, maybe that's an excuse to go back.

Next up was an apricot sour.  An interesting thing about how they make them at Central is that they use powdered egg whites.  There are several reasons for that, including less questions from customers about safety, cost effectiveness, time constraints, and not having to deal with yolks.  But the big thing is for drinks like their sour is that powdered egg whites are frothier than their real counterparts, which helps when you want to stencil your restaurant's logo on top with a spritzer of what appeared to be bitters:



(Yeah, there was a little dot in there but you know what?  It was still really cool.)

Perhaps unfortunately for me, I'm not a huge apricot fan.  I'd experimented with apricot flavored brandy in the past and it had just reiterated to me that, you know what, I'm just not that much into apricots.  I could still appreciate the drink, it was good, I liked it - but just not in the "I can drink a whole one" kind of way.

(Sound weird, maybe?  I guess.  I've learned a lot lately on how to appreciate tastes without necessarily loving them.)

Next up was a ginger dacquiri.  It was made with Neisson Agricole Blanc rum, a rum that I like in the taste but not in the aroma, so that hit me a bit.  It was also made with creme de gingembre for a light, subtle ginger taste that really enhanced the taste of the drink without overwhelming it.  This was another great summer time drink that I could've drank more than a few of, if we hadn't been whisked into the direction of other drinks first...

About this time they brought out some peanuts for us to munch on.  There were ordinary peanuts and then there were the wasabi peanuts - peanuts in a hard shell, bright green, and a sinus blasting shout of wasabi that I loved, particularly when (weirdly enough) eating multiple of them at once.

Next we talked about quinine.  I've become a bit more discerning in my choices of tonic water lately - I've found that I'm not a huge fan of the Q, but I do like the Fever-Tree and the Stirrings a lot, which makes this month's Imbibe and their taste test of tonic to be reassuring to me - and I have thought about making my own in the past.

Justin had bought bulk quinine and described how it came packaged.  He pulled out a small jar of the dried brown powder and put it in a glass then added soda.  Presto, tonic water!  Mixing it with some G-vine gin (the French gin made from grapes that I first had at our recent trip to New Heights restaurant, which led me to immediately buying a bottle) he made up a refreshing gin and tonic that we sipped on for a while.

(Would it be redundant to say that I would've drank lots of those?  Look, seriously, unless I mention otherwise, just assume that every single one of Justin's (and later Brian's) concoctions was so full of delicious-ocity that I would've sucked down multiples of them gladly - and I'm also glad that I didn't, so I got a chance to try everything else that was coming up on the list.)

While we wiled away the evening, we switched over to trying out some different liquors.  The first off was the Yamazaki 12 year old single malt whiskey - a Scotch in everything but name, since it's made in Japan from Japanese ingredients, though the original distiller had learned his trade in Scotland and even married a Scottish woman.  I'd always wanted to try it and enjoyed it greatly - I think I know someone who is going to get a bottle of it as his next gift.

(No, not me!)

Next up was a taste test of Old Weller 107 proof and Four Roses bourbons.  Old Weller 107 is a good value for its price and tasted to me like a better mixing bourbon rather than one that would be drank straight up.  Four Roses, which is actually owned by a Japanese firm and only sells its whiskey in a 50 mile radius around the distillery, lived up to the grand reputation that I've heard about it and made me quite desirous of a bottle for my own consumption.

After that we went over to a taste test between Pyrat and Pusser's rums.  Surprisingly enough for me, I enjoyed them both quite a bit, even though I'm not the biggest rum guy in the world.  There was a subtle variety to them, we thought that we could taste some orange in the Pyrat, and both went on my list as "maybe I'll get some of these, too."

Not that I really need any more liquor in my collection...

The next drink whipped up for us was a blackberry bourbon cobbler by Brian, one of the other bartenders at Central.



In the background you see the wasabi peanuts; I'll get to the rest of what you see in a few minutes.  But first, take a look at that blackberry!



That's huge tiny E!  And Justin claimed that it was the runt of the batch!

I think he was gluing together other blackberries, but that was just my paranoid conspiracy theory of the night.

That was another Damn Fine Drink.  Cold, thick, refreshing, a bit tart...I wanted a pitcher of 'em.  And a straw.  And for Marshall to get his mitts off the glass...ahhh, well.

We were starting to get hungry and decided to order up.  We split an order of the cheese puffs, which were light and flaky with a bit of cheese in each small one.  They made for great bar food.

Marshall went for the burger, something he's been looking forward to for quite a while.  I was still recovering from burger nirvana thanks to Ray's Butcher Burgers over in Rosslyn Tuesday night so I got what I'd been craving since Wednesday - sauteed calf's liver, which came with bacon and onions on it and on top of some really creamy (I believe) mashed potatoes.

Justin matched up the liver with a pinot noir that was light and fruity, a perfect accompaniment to the liver - he felt they were made for each other.  Marshall enjoyed an Argentinian malbec (I believe it was from Argentina, not Australia - I unfortunately failed to note that) that looked like it was quite good, too.  I made mental notes to bring my brother and his fiancee here for food, they would've loved it.

Finally, we got to the moment that Justin had been waiting for - the Del Maguey Pechuga.  This is a triple distilled mezcal made on an isolated rural hillside by a farmer in Mexico.  On the third distillation he adds in a number of fruits to the clay and bamboo still, then puts in a raw chicken breast, bone structure intact, for the alcohol to filter through.

I am glad that I had a chance to experience it.  Unlike most of the other drinks we had, I probably would not have more than one of those as a drink, especially given the expense, but it was definitely an experience.

At this point Justin had to take off, so we made our goodbyes with him, and he left in the hands of his very capable cohort Brian.  Brian made up a Sazerac for me that did credit to the cocktail gods, using a Van Winkle rye that I hadn't tried before.

For Marshall he made up a "rhubarb negroni", using G-vine gin, Vya vermouth, and Aperol instead of Campari.  I usually use Aperol in my negronis as well so I, of course, approve of such a decision.

(And now I want a negroni!)

I have to say that Justin, and the rest of the staff at Central, were amazing.  They were exceedingly friendly and handled even the most difficult situations that we saw with aplomb, finesse, and diplomacy.  I had a great time down there and meeting the bartenders, wait staff, and of course, Justin, and I cannot wait to go back.   As I write this I'm doing my best to reimagine my Coke Zero and Lean Cuisine pizza as a black pepper lime gin rickey or a blackberry bourbon cobbler and a plate of sauteed liver, so tender you cut it with a butter knife...

Once again, a huge thank you to everyone down at Central!

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