Saturday, November 26, 2011

We Found These Amazing Cocktails on Maui and Bring You the Recipes

The Na Ka Oi Cocktail and the Rain Tree Elixir will wow you with their tropical flavors.

Finding a restaurant on Maui with both creative food and a decent cocktail program can be challenging, but we found such a place in Wailea called Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman, or simply Monkeypod. We dined al fresco, which in Hawaii is practically de rigueur, and were waited on by the expert server Nicole, who made our experience there one of the best we’ve ever had while visiting the fiftieth state.

Steve started out the evening with a Ho‘opono Potion, a bewitching brew of tequila and lime juice mixed with a little Aperol (a bittersweet neon orange aperitif made with bitter oranges and rhubarb, among other botanicals). It paired beautifully with his Hawaiian version of a traditional beet salad (sweet Maui onion, arugula, crispy bacon, chevre, orange ginger dressing), the citrus bringing out all the potent flavors in the tequila, the cucumber taming the light heat.

Paul craved an American whiskey drink, so the Makawao Ave. cocktail, a sort of whiskey sour/old-fashioned hybrid, but with ginger liqueur, fit the bill nicely. It was a perfect partner with the slight bitterness of a simply dressed kale and citrus salad.

We asked for the recipe for the No‘opono Potion, which the lovely Nicole happily wrote down, and while we ate our Pumpkin Patch Ravioli and Fish Tacos, the man who created the drinks, Jason Vendrell, introduced himself. Jason, Monkeypod’s sommelier and beverage manager, explained to us that the owner requested an excellent cocktail program, and the drinks we had before us were the fruits of his labor. He later surprised us with two tiki-inspired cocktails: The fruitjuicy Rain Tree Elixir, made with an açai spirit, coconut water, and kaffir lime leaves, put an instant smile on Steve’s sun-kissed face; the silky smooth No Ka Oi (which means The Best) won Paul’s heart with its explosion of passion fruit and thai basil flavors. Jason told us that he would not be insulted if we didn’t finish the drinks, but who was he kidding? We kept sipping and passing them back and forth, and the only reason we stopped was our rental car’s need for sobriety.

The next night, as we searched for other places to get a cocktail, we decided to return to Monkeypod to try Jason’s famous Monkeypod Mai Tai. A beauty to behold, this rum classic is topped with a lip-smacking honey–lilikoi (passion fruit) foam enhaloed by a ring of golden pineapple. As the bartender prepared the whipped cream gun, fellow imbibers who sat at the bar all watched in admiration as the froth filled the top of the glass. Mahalo Jason for your recipes.

You can re-create these recipes at home. Don’t let the tropical ingredients daunt you. In this day and age, most towns have an Asian or Latin market with fresh or frozen produce, and if that’s not the case, an order from an Internet store can be delivered to you sometimes quicker than it takes to get from Brooklyn to Maui.

Ho‘opono Potion
(created by Jason Vendrell, Monkeypod, Maui)

1 1/2 ounces Sauza tequila
1/2 ounce Aperol
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
fresh cucumber
lemon wedge, as garnish

In a shaker, muddle a slice of cucumber. Fill with ice and add tequila, Aperol, lime juice, and simple syrup. Shake and strain into an chilled cocktail glass. Add lemon wedge.

Rain Tree Elixir
(created by Jason Vendrell, Monkeypod, Maui)

1 1/2 ounces VeeV Açai Spirit
1 1/2 ounces coconut water
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
3 kaffir lime leaves

Muddle kaffir with lime and simple. Add coconut water and VeeV with ice, shake and pour into highball.

Makawao Ave.
(created by Jason Vendrell, Monkeypod, Maui)

1 1/2 ounces Makers Mark bourbon
1/2 ounce housemade ginger syrup
2 squeezed lemon wedges
3 dashes Angostura bitters
lemon twist, as garnish

Add bitters, syrup, lemon and bourbon to mixing glass with ice. Shake and pour into a highball glass. Top with soda. Add twist.

No Ka Oi
(created by Jason Vendrell, Monkeypod, Maui)

1 1/2 ounces Ocean Vodka
1 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce simple syrup
1 ounce honey-lilikoi foam*
5 muddled thai basil leaves
thai basil leaf, as garnish

Muddle thai basil with lime juice. Add all other ingredients with ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with thai basil leaf.

Monkeypod Mai Tai
(created by Jason Vendrell, Monkeypod, Maui)

1 ounce Old Lahaina Light Rum
1 ounce Maui Dark Rum
1/2 ounce orgeat syrup
1/2 ounce Dekuyper Orange Curaçao
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
honey–lilikoi foam*
pineapple wheel, as garnish

Add lime, orgeat, orange curaçao and light rum to a mixing glass with ice. Shake and strain over ice into a highball glass. Float dark rum on top. Place pineapple wheel against the side of the glass so it sticks out. Top with foam from whipped cream gun. [SEE PHOTO ABOVE.]

*Honey–Lilikoi Foam
(created by Jason Vendrell, Monkeypod, Maui)
2 parts liliko‘i (passion fruit) puree
2 parts simple syrup
2 parts egg whites
1 part honey
4 parts cold water

photos (taken on an iPhone 4) © Steve Schul

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Celebrating the Aloha Spirit with Pisco Sours

Sharing Pisco Sours on a rainy November night in Pāhoa, on Hawai‘i.

We just spent a week on the Big Island of Hawaii, soaking up the local flavors of its largest city, Hilo, with our friends Matthew and Danny. They own a farmhouse (it’s gorgeous and rentable) in the one-road-in-one-road-out town of Pahoa, just south of Hilo, where lava and alterna-hippie-anything-goes attitude flow freely. The region beckons you with extremeness: 99.99 inches of annual rainfall, in-your-face lush tropical foliage and the smells from ripening fruit, black sand beaches from past volcanic activity, and the glow from Kilauea’s hot maw rising like the proverbial Phoenix, reminding us that life is ever-changing and full of new beginnings.

Channeling the Aloha Spirit, courtesy of Paul on the bongos, and Danny cranking up Don Ho.

Matthew and Danny love to cook and mentioning the word cocktail to them brought instant smiles. You see, they were eager to open their pristine bottle of pisco puro they recently brought back with them from another extreme land, Peru. Deciding on what to make was easy. We would indulge in the classic Pisco Sour.

But, first a word about pisco. Simply put, it’s a grape brandy, usually made from a single variety of grapes, that has been aged for a minimum of three months in vessels that cannot alter its chemical properties (glass and stainless steel work very well to accommodate these stipulations). Some other piscos, called acholado (half-breed) are distilled from the must of several varieties of grapes. Still delicious, but different. (We make a Pisco and Tonic using an acholado that is a must-try.)

While Danny and Steve were out looking for a bottle of Angostura bitters in the torrential (we do not use this word lightly) downpour, Matthew and Paul couldn’t wait and cracked open the bottle. The smell was light, almost of sweet hay, and the flavor, exceptionally smooth, tasting of light acidic fruit. Matthew readied the blender and Paul chose the eggs (fresh from our friends’ backyard chickens) allowing them to come to room temperature before the other guys returned with the Grail. A note to our readers: You cannot make a successful Pisco Sour without the addition of bitters (some may disagree, but believe us when we say it adds needed depth). If it means scouring every corner store in your locale, then by all means gas up your car, make sure the stores are open, and go get it!

Matthew and Danny’s farmhouse, in Pāhoa.

Making a Pisco Sour can be a little messy, we’re not going to lie, because of the addition of egg white in the mix. Getting egg whites ultra-frothy can be likened to exercising with a shake-weight. If you don’t have a blender, you’ll definitely improve your triceps. But just follow our simple recipe below, and you’ll eventually get the hang of it (we’re assuming you’re going to fall head over slippahs for the Pisco Sour, with its slightly sweet, slightly tart smoothness flowing over your tongue, so you’ll be getting lot of practice).

When the drinks were blended and poured into some cute vintage rooster glasses (Matthew and Danny are the proud owners of two loud cocks), we raised a toast to friendship, took our first sips, and licked the barm from our lips and mustaches. Ahh, so satisfying. A few sips later, as we were enshrouded by the white noise of rain pelting the fertile earth, we raised our glasses again and spoke of new beginnings.

Pisco Sour
(adapted by Cocktail Buzz)

Serves 2

5 ounces pisco (try a puro)
1 1/2 ounces lime juice (you can use lemon juice as well, or a combination of both)
1 ounce rich simple syrup*
egg white from 1 large egg
8 ice cubes
Amargo Chuncho (traditional) or Angostura (widely available) bitters

* In a sauce pan over low heat, dissolve 1 cup sugar (preferably demerara or turbinado) in 1 cup water, stirring occasionally until all crystals have dissolved. Let cool and transfer to a clean, airtight container. May be kept in refrigerator for up to a month.

In a Boston shaker (do not use a shaker with a removable strainer, as it will allow gas to build up and force the top to separate from the main vessel) add the pisco, juice, simple syrup, and egg white and shake vigorously for about a minute until the mixture gets slightly frothy. Then fill with ice and shake again vigorously for another minute. Strain into glasses. Add bitters drop by drop (four makes for a tasty pisco sour).

Alternatively, for a frothier drink, add the egg white to a blender and mix until foamy. Then add ice, and crush until it breaks up well. Then add the pisco, juice, and syrup and blend until smooth (or as smooth as you can get it—not all blenders are made equally). You will have a lot of froth. Pour into glasses and add bitters drop by drop. Drag a toothpick through the drops to create pretty patterns.

Come to think of it, the garden salads that Danny is famous for went well with the Pisco Sours. The addition of avocado added creaminess.