Where You Should Be Drinking: DC’s barmini
With new and interesting places opening up all the time, we can easily be caught up chasing what’s hot. In all the hustle, it’s easy to forget the places that have been there the whole time, doing what they do, and doing it extremely well. It would be a pity to forget barmini, renowned chef and restaurant mogul Jose Andres’ cocktail laboratory.
We last (and first) visited barmini about a year ago, and were blown away by the experience. It’s like drinks and a show wrapped up in one: excellent and inventive cocktails, made with pizzazz, in a unique and stylish setting. With our friend Dan (who accompanied us on our first foray) in town, we decided it’s high time for another cocktail show.
What We Tried
Redemption: oloroso sherry, pedro ximenez sherry, mezcal, cinnamon, mint, grapefruit, spanish bitters
Stolen Cask: amontillado sherry, dark rum, brandy, falernum, pineapple, clove smoke
Med Martinez: Mediterranean gin, pedro ximenez sherry, maraschino, sherry vinegar, olive oil
Thank You ‘Monchito’: vodka, walnut liqueur, oloroso sherry, pineapple, roasted coconut, verbena
Mohan Travels to Peru and gets a Haircut: pisco, demerara rum, walnut liqueur, chicha morada, lime, ginger, vanilla, chuncho bitters
Crossed Eyed Mary: aged rum, honey, lime, absinthe, passion fruit espuma
What We Thought
One of our favorite things about our previous experience was conversation with the bartender. Barmini is a small place, with maybe only fifteen people in the bar at a time, and to our eyes three bartenders (with more barbacks and servers assisting). So, you’re sharing the bartender with one, or at most two, other parties. It’s very close to having your own personal bartender, all the more so since we sat at the bar both times and had a great view of the bartender making our drinks–and a few others. We loved watching our drinks come together, and enjoyed the unhurried pace and the close access that gave us the opportunity to observe what they were doing and ask all sorts of questions.
Last time, this resulted in all sorts of interesting tips and tidbits, and a few little tastes and demonstrations. It’s like we were getting an education, as well as a show, as well as drinks. This time around, our bartender was perfectly skilled, and friendly, but a tad laconic. He answered our questions, but under a strict word limit.
We were a bit deflated, but perhaps only because our experience last time had built up our expectations so high.
We hadn’t noticed last time just how prominent a role sherry plays in barmini’s menu. We steered in that direction, choosing half of our drinks from the ‘Fortified Wine Cocktails’ section. But there are more fortified wines than sherry, and yet sherry made up about 60% of the fortified wine representation on the menu as a whole.
It makes sense, given Jose Andres’ Spanish roots. And we’re not complaining. We’re sherry fans, and we’re constantly looking for ways to employ it well in cocktails. Barmini certainly did that.
Plus, a sherry-heavy menu, with its lower alcohol content, gave us room to try more drinks.
Novel Ingredients and Techniques
Barmini is a great place to come across new ingredients and inventive techniques. This time around we were introduced to chicha morada, which is apparently a Peruvian beverage involving purple corn, with pineapples and spices. We were also amazed by what a significant–and pleasant–impact a garnish of fresh-smoked cloves makes on a drink.
Most Spectacular Drink
There was a great deal of competition for this award. In our first round, we watched the previously mentioned cloves set on fire, and our other drink was served in a giant brass pineapple.
Our second round featured a drink piled high with crushed ice, topped with a purple flower, and served in a julep cup with matching pewter straw.
But the winner of ‘most spectacular’ came in the final round. Even its name is spectacular: ‘Mohan Travels to Peru and gets a Haircut.’ Served in a tall, ornate tiki glass, it was a brilliant magenta in color (largely by way of the chicha morada), and garnished with what seemed to be an entire rosemary bush.
It was a bold, beautiful drink, with flavor to match.
With all of the dramatic drinks in play, our favorite drink of the night was the most understated: the Med Martinez, which, as the name implies, is a Mediterranean-flavored spin on the classic Martinez. The gin contained typical Mediterranean botanicals, and the usual vermouth was replaced by Pedro Ximenez sherry, which brought a deep, raisin flavor to the drink. The garnish was a simple drop or two of olive oil, a technique we continue to be impressed by. Vinegar, oil, olives, rosemary, thyme. It sounds a lot like salad dressing. We’ve had a drink before which shared many of the elements of Italian dressing, and this one was as spectacular a success as that one was a colossal failure.
This drink, even more than its wonderfully flashy companions, best showed us both barmini’s craft and its creativity.