Jonathan Forester is a brewer and distiller in Maine. He writes about spirits and cocktails at Drinking the World.
On Thursday I dined at Bayona Restaurant as Junior Merino, The Liquid Chef, worked his liquid magic upon us all. The meal itself was fine, but the star of the evening wasn’t the food at Bayona or chef Susan Spicer, who wasn’t to be seen or even heard of all night, but Junior and his cocktails. I was lucky enough to sit at the table with Junior and his lovely wife Heidi. Also with us was David Suro-Pinera, restaurateur, tequila aficionado, and creator of Siembra Azul – a small batch, artisanally crafted tequila of the highest quality. I met David briefly at the airport as we got off the plane on our way to Tales, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him again at the dinner. It was the perfect time to have a nice conversation and enjoy his charming company. Interestingly enough half of the conversation at the table was in Spanish because one of David’s friends didn’t speak any English. This didn’t bother me much because while I can only speak a few words of Spanish, after growing up in NYC I can get the gist of a conversation, especially when the topic is food and drinks. Also at the table was Andrew Toplack, a psychotherapist from Toronto, Canada. This made the conversation around the table even more interesting since I used to be a psychotherapist myself, before switching to the Spirit World.
Dinner started off with a small appetizer of Ashley’s Pickled Shrimp with Deviled Eggs, the finest rendition of potted shrimp I have had, with a so, so, sweet and briny flavor, fresh from the sea; with just a hint of mild herbs. I thought that out of the hundreds of shrimp dishes I have had in my life, all over the world, that this was one of the nicest. The excellent deviled egg and lemon basil aioli complemented the shrimp perfectly. I enjoyed it so much that I actually slowed down, cut the shrimp into small bites, and savored every morsel, saving the tasty heads and tails for last.
Paired with the potted shrimp was the La Condesa cocktail, which was sweet and sour, and perfectly matched the dish.
La Condesa by Junior Merino
1 1/2 oz Siembra Azul Blanco
3/4 oz Guaycura Damiana Liqueur (This liqueur is considered to be an aphrodisiac for women, too bad I didn’t have a date.)
1/2 oz lime juice
1/2 oz pineapple juice
1/2 oz agave nectar
The nest dish was Eggplant Fritters with Spicy Chickpea Relish and Yogurt Sauce. I personally found the eggplant fritters boring, although others at the table disagreed. The star in this dish was the spicy chickpea relish, calmed down with the cooling yogurt sauce. With the dish came the Dragon Ahumado cocktail, a sexy, smoky, creation with a hint of tart and sweet, matched nicely to the rim salted with hot pepper, cinnamon, and Himalayan salt. One of the new products that Junior has designed that will be available commercially in the near future.
Dragon Ahumado by Junior Merino
1 1/2 oz Del Maguey Minero Mezcal
3/4 oz St-Germain
1/2 oz Lime Juice
1/4 oz Lemon Grass Syrup
3/4 oz Pink Grapefruit Juice
The main course was Pan Roasted Baby Chicken with Polenta, Tomato-Arugula Salad. this was nice, but lack-luster until paired with the Cubico cocktail, which brought out some of the flavors in the somewhat tough baby chicken. (I never knew you could have a tough baby chicken until this meal.) The cocktail was a thing of beauty that made up for the chicken’s shortcomings. Tobacco infused reposado tequila, grilled pineapple juice, and a rim with saffron and volcanic saffron rose Hawaiian salt. this cocktail just came alive and danced above the food. A cocktail unlike any other I have had in quite awhile. If you get a chance to try this, don’t miss out. Go for it.
2 oz Siembra Azul Reposado infused with tobacco
1/2 oz Navan
1/2 oz Agave nectar
1 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz grilled pineapple juice
The dessert was Summer Berry Pudding, which I found absolutely boring, but again, that is just my taste, because the rest of the table thought it wonderful. The Thyme Flor Agave cocktail became my dessert, joyfully so. In my notes, which by this time became hard to read, I call it a “Crazy Wild Cocktail!”
Thyme Flor Agave
3/4 oz Del Maguey Minero Mezcal
3/4 oz Siembra Azul Blanco Tequila
1/2 oz Matilde Peches
1/4 oz Alemany Thyme Honey
1/4 oz lime juice
1 oz Harrisons & Crosfield Jasmine Tea, Iced
All in all, I had a wonderful time. Good food, great cocktails, new friends; and the service was to be commended. Smooth, flawless, and unobtrusive.