BY ROBERT KEANE
The U.S. has taken on a much more Latin flavor in recent years. Latinos, regardless of origin, are now the nation’s largest minority group. Latin- influenced cuisine is increasingly found on menus in restaurants of all kinds and ingredients to create traditional Latin American dishes can now be found in run-of-the-mill supermarkets, not just specialty shops. And of course, to recognize the largest ethnic music audience there are the Latin Grammys.
With the growing influence of Latin American culture, whether from Central and South America or the Caribbean, it’s not surprising that on-premise operators, both chains and independents, have begun featuring more selections on their beverage menus with a Latin flavor.
Beers from south of the border continue to be among the most popular imports in the U.S. and wines from South America, while receiving stiff competition from other Southern Hemisphere vineyards, still represent some of the best values in the marketplace. But it’s probably in the area of cocktails that operators can most bring a Latin personality to their establishments. The growth of rum and tequila, especially, can be attributed to the booming interest in New World flavors.
When it comes to looking at Latin-flavored cocktails there’s no better place to start than with the Cuban influence. Certainly two traditional American classics trace their origins more than a hundred years ago back to the island.
The first, the Cuba Libre (rum and coke with squeeze of lime), is among the most basic of drinks. The second, the Daiquiri, was reportedly created in the late 1890’s by an American mining engineer named Jennings Cox and named after a nearby village. A long-time favorite, the Daiquiri and the frozen Daiquiri have been supplanted to a large degree by the raging popularity of the Margarita, another Latin-influenced cocktail.
The latest Cuban cocktail to make its way onto mainstream American restaurant menus is the Mojito. To a large degree the spread of this trendy favorite has a lot to do with the rise of the restaurant and bar culture in the Miami area, particularly South Beach and its influence on bars and restaurants around the country.
Not surprisingly Bahama Breeze, Darden’s Caribbean-themed chain, features what it calls a Mojito Cubano on its drinks menu and describes the drink as being made in the traditional manner with crushed spearmint, fresh lime, fresh-squeezed sugar cane and Bacardi light rum. But that’s to be expected from a theme restaurant; when mainstream Cheesecake Factory, lists a version of the Mojito as one of its selections, you know that Latin is mainstream. (The Cheesecake recipe differs slightly, made with drink Bacardi Limon, fresh mint and lime on the rocks.)
At Victor’s Café 52, on Manhattan’s West 52nd Street, Cuba Libres, Mojitos and Daiquiris (priced at $9 each, in addition to the traditional lime, they are also offered in strawberry, mango and banana flavors) are all available, but they are by no means the only Cuban cocktails being sipped there. The restaurant first opened its doors more than 40 years ago on the Upper West Side and moved to its current location in 1980.
GAUCHOS AT THE BAR
You could call it gaucho cookery; essentially an outdoor wood fire rotisserie method, churrasco involved the slow roasting over open pits of sides of beef, racks of pork ribs, lamb legs and other cuts. When done, the cowboy cooks wielding large knives served portions to friends and families gathered at outdoor meals marking successful harvests.
Eventually, Brazilians brought the barbecue inside, and this tradition gave birth to churrascarias. The restaurants became a big hit in Brazil with locals and groups of international tourists, and the popularity encouraged young entrepreneurs to try their hand overseas. A number of small restaurant groups have brought their wares to the US. With names like Fogo de Ch