"I met Jim at the Gramercy Tavern," Frasca Food and Wine owner Bobby Stuckey explained by way of introduction to Jim Meehan, the star bartender who stopped into the Boulder restaurant last night to host a cocktail seminar and dinner. "He gave Danette [Stuckey, Bobby's wife] and me a really memorable experience."
So much so that years later, Stuckey would bring the bartender, who now owns PDT in New York City, to his restaurant -- normally a wine destination -- to talk drinks. And talk drinks he did: Meehan took the mic several times over the course of the night to demonstrate the cocktails, all plays on classics, that he served for the crowd, And he sprinkled each showcase with anecdotes about tending bar, jokes and tips for bartenders -- professional and amateur alike. For instance, he recommended slapping garnishes like sage or basil to release aromatics, drew out the importance of using fresh produce and noted that "the restaurant business is the business of saying yes."
At one point, Meehan joked that he'd become a bartender because when he started considering a career in restaurants back in the early 2000s, it was easier to become a top bartender than it was to become a top sommelier. But overall, he said, his job was about hospitality -- which is what drew him to Stuckey and Frasca in the first place.
During courses, Meehan wandered the tables -- which were set up family style -- to talk about the history of his drinks, ingredients and his book, of which everyone received a copy. And I have a feeling everyone -- including the most seasoned restaurant professionals in the crowd -- learned something from the event.
Here is a summary, in photos.
Meehan served an aperitivo that was a take on a Negroni -- but made with Banks 5 Island rum.
Meehan enlisted the help of Frasca head bartender Alli Anderson and chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson to mix cocktails for the crowd.
Frasca 75: Poli Moscato grappa, honey syrup, lemon juice, Franciacorta. This cocktail was light, fresh and citrus-y; the thyme garnish provided a savory aromatic effect.
The Frasca 75 paired to baccala alla Veneziana: salt cod, polenta cake and a sizeable pool of Umbrian olive oil.
4 Degrees of Separation: El Tesoro reposado tequila, Amaro Nonino, Martini Bianco vermouth and Colosi Malvasia della Lipari. This smooth, silky cocktail married influences from Mexico and Italy and was both earthy and bitter.
Lasagna al Forno was the pasta course: homemade sheets of pasta were layered with wild mushrooms, ricotta and montasio cheese.
Meehan played on wine for the entree course, saying that cocktails are really for before and after dinner -- and wine is for drinking with food. This Vino Corretto (Italian for "corrected wine") started with Ronchi di Cialla, a Friulian red wine, and added Cynar and Nocino, two bitter liqueurs, and black pepper essence. The Nocino, in particular, added a nutty note to the drink.
Vino Corretto paired to manzo alla Griglia: slices of grilled beef ribeye, smashed potatoes and broccoli.
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For the final course of the night, Frasca served a brown butter-hazelnut frangipane made with bananas and sided with custard gelato. And Meehan ended on a light note: "Dinners like these always get a little pedantic," he said to the crowd. "You walk away and say, 'What the hell did I have?'" To remedy that, he served up a modified pina colada, the Crostata Colada, with Banks 5 Island rum, lime juice, pineapple juice, coconut sorbet...and Frangelico, which he joked was the king of chocolate cake shots in the '90s.