While in New York City last week for a museum education conference, I managed to find some time to view a few fantastic museum exhibits and sip quite a few delicious cocktails. The most interesting bar visit of the week was to Booker and Dax. Opened just two months, this bar-meets-science lab is the latest addition to David Chang’s empire. Located in the space formerly occupied by Milk Bar (which is now across the street) behind Momofuko Ssam Bar, Booker and Dax is the result of Chang partnering with David Arnold, the French Culinary Institute’s director of culinary technology. Here traditional bartending is taken to a new level using innovative techniques that not only dazzle but that also have real purpose.
The menu is organized into the following categories: Bubbles, Red Hot Poker, Stirred, Shaken, and On the Rock. Starting with Bubbles– these are not your typical sparkling cocktails. Instead, these bubbly libations are made with juices and spirits that have been clarified in a centrifuge and then carbonated with Co2. Like with all the chilled drinks, the champagne flute is first chilled with liquid nitrogen, yes, liquid nitrogen. Since I am in love with Chartreuse, I had to have the Chartruth which combines the herbal French liqueur with lime juice.
It is not just technique that makes the drinks at Booker and Dax stand-out. The menu features many unique and intriguing ingredients. For example, using a rotary vaporator, the staff are able to distill just about anything. I sampled the distilled horseradish—the tiny, intense drop brought tears to my eyes upon it touching my tongue. This potent liquid is a key ingredient in the Lady of the Night, a Blood Mary-inspired cocktail made with reposado tequila, clarified tomato water, distilled horseradish, sriracha, and Worcestershire sauce. The pistachio syrup also blew my mind. Made in a process similar to orgeat, this sweet intense pistachio flavor, features prominently in the Mustachi-Ode where it is combined with Nardini amaro, Becherovka, Wild Turkey and an egg white. Our bartender Dana got creative with it– my friend Brian fell in love with a Trinidad Sour variation made with this deliciously nutty-sweet syrup.
So, what about these Red Hot Pokers? Following in the tradition of colonial American barkeeps, these drinks are made by sticking a rod with a built-in 1,500-degree heater that was created by David Arnold into the cocktail. This not only heats the drink, but it also serves to caramelize the sugars in the spirits while burning off some of the alcohol vapors, thus changing the flavor of the ingredients. I went off menu for my red hot poker with a delicious creation of bar manager Tristan Willey that combined Rittenhouse Rye, Fernet Branca, ginger syrup and lime juice.
Last but not least, its worth mentioning that the bar snacks, though a limited menu, are pretty good. I mean, you can’t go wrong with David Chang’s pork buns, and even though I’m not quite sure what they are exactly, the ham chips are incredible.
So, if you want to see how unique techniques can be used not just for showmanship, but to enhance the cocktail experience, Booker and Dax is the place to be. Cheers!