“The word ‘Martini’ and the word ‘cocktail’ have become synonymous,” says Michael Waterhouse, partner and beverage manager at Dylan Prime, a top steakhouse in New York City. “People want their cocktails up in a Martini glass. It’s not a wrong term anymore. It’s evolved.”
Lola’s, Los Angeles, CA
At Dylan Prime, the Martinis offered include the Bellini Martini (Stoli with white-peach puree), the Bloodless Mary Martini (Stoli infused with horseradish, pepper and celery seed, served in a Martini glass rimmed with celery salt), the Mojito Martini (mint-infused Bacardi served straight up with fresh lime) and the Dylan Collins (Skyy Citrus, Pallini Limoncello and fresh lemon served up in a Martini glass).
Dylan Prime also serves a selection of dessert Martinis, called Pietinis and Caketails, terms that Waterhouse has trademarked, including cocktails made to taste like German chocolate cake, peach cobbler, tiramisu, lemon meringue pie and cheesecake (made with a cream-cheese emulsion).
At both industry (food), in New York City, and Pacific East in the Hamptons on Long Island, Daiquiris will be served up this summer in Martini glasses. “They’re not going to be frozen,” explains Henry Lopez, head bartender at industry (food) and the summer beverage manager at Pacific East. They are based on the classic Daiquiri rum and limeade, in flavors including mango and mango/strawberry, served up with a floater of crushed ice. Other drinks at industry (food), including its mint julep (see recipe), are served the same way.
Whether or not these kinds of Martinis make aficionados of the traditional shudder, they are here to stay. “They remain strong,” says Steve Sabol, general manager of the two-location Devil’s Martini in Scottsdale, AZ. “People like the image of the Martini glass and they want it without the hardcore alcohol taste.”
Ari Bialikamien, bar manager of the 33 Restaurant & Lounge in Boston, who describes himself as an “old-school bartender,” finds he has to agree. “I like to use the different [glassware] for the different cocktails. But so many people requested our Mango Margarita, which we served on the rocks, in a Martini glass, that we changed over,” he says.
33’s award-winning signature cocktail is the 33-Tini, made with fresh strawberries, muddled with sour-apple liqueur, and Hpnotiq. Another popular Martini at 33 is the Carnival, which combines pineapple-infused vodka with Cointreau, white grape juice and a splash of a dessert wine.
The Martini craze started in the mid-90s, arguably at Lola’s, the Los Angeles nightclub where the Apple Martini was invented. “Now, it’s mainstream to do a flavored Martini,” says Greg Huebner, Lola’s beverage manager.
Indeed, some Martinis, such as the apple, the Lemon Drop and, of course, the Cosmopolitan, have become established cocktails in their own right. “Everyone has an apple, a chocolate, a Cosmopolitan. We don’t even put those on our list,” says Sabol of Devil’s Martini.
Darryl Ng, manager of Orchid, a hip restaurant in Los Angeles, agrees. “The Cosmo and the Apple, they’re the Coke and 7Up of the Martini world,” he says. “I don’t think they’ll ever go away.”
At many establishments, the list is saved for house specialties. Such a list, in a world where everyone strives to have the latest and greatest cocktails, requires constant revision.
“The trick becomes: how do you keep reinventing the wheel all the time?” says Lola’s Huebner. The list at Lola’s runs the gamut, “everything from sweet to savory,” says Huebner. Lola’s Martinis, served in 10-ounce glasses and priced in the $9 to $11 range, include the “Garlic Mashed Potato Martini,” made dirty with garlic-stuffed olives and Chopin, a potato vodka, to the “hyper-sweet” Watermelon Martini, made with Watermelon Pucker and tasting, says Huebner, “just like a Jolly Rancher candy.”
Other favorites include the Starf**ker (made with Finlandia Cranberry Vodka, Apple Pucker and a float of Red Bull and garnished with a slice of starfruit), the Silent Night (Ketel One infused with cardamom, cinnamon and orange and lemon zest), and the Fantasy Island (made with DeKuyper Island Blue, pineapple schnapps and coconut rum, garnished with edible pansies).
Many establishments are looking beyond vodka, long the key ingredient of these flavored Martinis, to other spirits. Saké Martinis, often made with a combination of saké and gin, are becoming popular, while Lola’s plans to feature a selection of Martinis made with Bacardi rums next month.
Meanwhile, Francesco Lafranconi, director of the Academy of Spirits & Fine Service run by Southern Wine & Spirits in Las Vegas, has developed a tequila Martini, combining a reposado tequila with a late-harvest German reisling, Grand Marnier, peach & chipotle jam and fresh lime. “It is very good for Mexican restaurants,” he explains, adding that he has also used sherry and even asti spumante (with an apricot puree) in recipes.
When anything goes in a Martini glass, the question becomes: where do you start? How do you create a signature Martini that’s going to take off for your establishment?
“You look at the atmosphere of the restaurant, its clientele, their sophistication, even the traffic flow. Those are pretty much your guidelines,” answers Lafranconi, who has developed cocktail menus for such high-end restaurants as Daniel Boulud’s Daniel and Thomas Keller’s new Per Se, both in New York.
Upscale, fine-dining restaurants tend to look for Martinis that match their atmosphere and the quality of their food. Indeed, many of the cocktail ingredients come from the kitchen, things such as fresh herbs, fruit and fruit purees. As one beverage manager put it, “You start thinking out of the box and into the kitchen.”
“Why are big chefs calling me?” asks Lafranconi. “Because of the changing opinion of mixology. They’re realizing not only the profitability of cocktails but also that bartenders making quality cocktails can be entertaining for guests and the cocktails themselves can be the start of the restaurant experience, right there at the bar.”
At Orchid, one of the newest additions to the Martini list is the Black Truffle Martini. Its price, currently $20, is pegged to the market price of black truffles (currently $650 per pound).
“Our truffle Martini is different from others,” says Orchid’s Ng. “A lot of times, it’s just truffle slices in the drink. That’s more of a gimmick. With ours, we infuse Vox Vodka with truffle, so the cocktail has a strong aroma and flavor of truffle.”
Many upscale restaurants figure that quality will be their signature difference. “A lot of places are not going to put that kind of effort into their cocktails,” says Dylan Prime’s Waterhouse. “Even if they hire a mixologist to develop cocktails for them, they have to have the follow-through.” The follow-through comes from having bartenders who can make these often-labor-intensive cocktails right consistently. “We jigger for all our cocktails,” says Waterhouse. “Consistency is very important. And we are constantly training.”
At industry (food), Lopez says one of their most popular Martinis, the Watermelon, is very simple. “It’s just fresh watermelon and vodka,” says Lopez. “It’s so simple that most places do it. But people come to us for the definitive Watermelon Martini.”
The difference? Quality bartenders, says Lopez, and they are hard to find. The quality Lopez is looking for is a knowledge of balance. “If you don’t have a sense of balance, you can wreck a drink as simple as the Vodka Tonic,” Lopez says.
Take the mango Martini, a very popular industry (food) cocktail. “If you use too much mango, it gets to be like a smoothie, it’s disgusting,” says Lopez. But use too little fruit “and the vodka comes forward without enough of the mango flavor.”
And to make those high-quality cocktails, bartenders must be able to use equally high-quality, often fresh ingredients, says Lafranconi. “Fresh mint, lime, rose petals, gooseberries, red currants, starfruit: ingredients like these can really enhance the experience and justify the price of the cocktail in certain situations,” he says, “but it’s hard to keep up with the mise en place (the preparation of these ingredients in advance). It’s why only a few places do it.”
33 in Boston, which makes its own infused whiskey with strawberries and peaches, is one of those places. “We use different ingredients, like ginger syrup and cinnamon syrup,” says Bialikamien, “and we use fresh ingredients: blackberries, strawberries, apples. That’s why we’re different and why we’re popular.”
Dylan Prime’s Waterhouse goes to an Arabic neighborhood in Brooklyn to look for cocktail ingredients, things like fig syrup. (“I’m trying to use that in a bread-pudding Martini,” he says.) He also makes a point of using liqueur ingredients with natural rather than artificial flavorings. For instance, in his Big Apple Martini, he uses Berentzen Apple Liqueur rather than an artificially flavored product.
Even as they use the many flavored vodkas and rums on the market, many operators continue to infuse their own spirits. “Always, house-infused is better,” says Waterhouse, if only because of the unique flavor combinations, such as lemon and rosemary, that can be made. Some of the most popular Martinis at Michi on Manhattan Beach in California are based on fruit infusions, including pineapple/orange and strawberry/peach vodkas.
Finlandia Vodka’s Big Apple Martini
As sophisticated as they can get, there is also an element of fun to these cocktails. One of the recipes Sabol is thinking of adding to the Devil’s Martini list is a Martini developed by one of his bartenders, that tastes like bubblegum. “When he first told me about it, I thought it was gross,” says Sabol, “but it tastes so identical to bubblegum, that it’s actually really cool.”
Lola’s Huebner says, “The whole ‘tastes just like something’ thing is a big trend.” Lola’s has its key-lime Martini (vanilla vodka, Rose’s Lime, pineapple juice and Midori).
At Michi, one of the newest most popular Martinis is the Banana Split (vanilla vodka, cr