Martini Mix-Off Recap
Two weeks down, two more to go before the finals. Judges (yours truly included) have sipped and slurped 18 martinis, and as one of the testers, I can definitely say ... "It's OK."
Don't read me wrong here. As a judge, I'm not allowed to give any kind of bias prior to the end of the competition. I can say this, though: In the five years I've been a judge, the quality of the martinis has improved every year. This year is no exception. But if you ask me about a specific one we've tested, you'll get the standard answer, "It's OK."
One interesting note I didn't mention was that MilkyWay bartender, Pat Carden, has voluntarily retired from the competition. Last year, Pat swept the awards in all three categories after winning the classic category for three (or is it four?) years in a row. This leaves the competition wide open to any new hotshot bartender. And, boy howdy, competition is definitely fierce. Judges also this year get to give a "spirit" award to the bars that put on the best show, or spectacle for the judges.
Week one had us at 8th Street Wine Company, the Red Room and Mai Thai. The evening started with a bang with bartender Joe Dewey (former owner of Mosaic and former martini judge himself) shaking up a trio of martinis. Being the first bar on any evening is tough, and it's even tougher being the first bar on the first night as judges at that point have nothing to compare to, so judging can be a little, shall we say, conservative. As a former judge, Dewey knows this. And despite the luck of the draw—the lineup of bars is determined by randomly drawing numbers out of a hat—the 8th Street Wine Company fared "OK."
At the Red Room next to Pair, judges were escorted to the back room through a modern Clockwork Orange theme. Everything is red, naturally (or is it unnaturally?) and televisions playing static created a creepy overtone. I kept waiting for the bartender's long single eyelash to drop in one of the martinis but it never happened. He served up a "Dreaming in Italian" (the classic), a "Meaning of Joe" and an original martini, the "Fabulous Fizztini." They were "OK."
Mai Thai went with a colonial Indian theme which was fun. They served the "Whitman's Desire" and the sponsor's category, "Black India." I was definitely surprised by the depth of both cocktails with the inclusion of spices not normally used in a drink. Whether I liked that or not is for me to know and you to find out. I can, however, definitely say both were "OK."
Week two, we visited The Front Door, Piper Pub & Grill and Reef. Reef definitely put on a show with Polynesian dancing, but all three bars made some "OK" martinis. The Front Door had the coldest martini of the night with a 27.7 degree classic and we also got to try a unique martini made with hops-infused gin. It was "OK" but if you've never tried something along those lines before, I suggest you do.
At Piper Pub, I was flabbergasted at the variety of food they brought out for us to try. Typically known for pub fare, the chef really went all out and prepared some snacks for us judges. We marveled at the variety of all the tasty bites and changed our minds about the menu at Piper Pub. Oh, yeah, the martinis were "OK."
Finally, Reef helped the judges get lei'd as we walked in the door. Ultimately, though, it was the martinis in a variety of tropical-theme glasses that caught our attention. Coconut, fruit juices, gin and rum helped us wash down an assortment of munchies they served us to snack on. It was the perfect end to a wonderful night of martinis. And I can tell you, they were all "OK."
Martini Mix-Off Update
The 2007 Martini Mix-Off judging happens again this Thursday, May 17, with a trio of downtown restaurants. Beginning at 7 p.m., follow the judges as they traipse from Bardenay to Lush to Pair.
Martini Mix-Off ticket books are available for $65 at any participating restaurant. You get a ticket for one martini of your choice at all 12 participating bars and restaurants through the end of June, and you also get in to the gala event on June 2.