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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Science Cocktail Adventures: MMCevents


I often wish I were a quantum physicist. Clearly I'm not. But science rocks. So, sometimes I like to pretend and I'll do things like slog through an issue of Scientific American or take a tour of CERN. And, given my interest in food and drink, I'm naturally curious about food science - or molecular gastronomy (I know some of you get tetchy about that word, but that's another topic). I've sampled the food at Tapas Molecular Bar, Tokyo, and put back a few cocktails à la Tony C at the impressive 69 Colebrooke Row, London. But when it comes to molecular, Paris is pretty barren.

About two years ago, MMCevents (Mixologie Moléculaire Consulting) stepped up to try and add a bit of molecular cred to the Paris scene. Their services include training, consulting, events and - coming soon - an online boutique. So, I stopped by one of their molecular mixology classes to indulge both my inner scientist and outer cocktaillian.

The course is held in the small basement of their office and on arrival the table is already tricked out with scales, beakers, powders and the like. I was joined by four other participants and we paired up into three groups of two (I came solo so I was paired with Benjamin, our instructor.) After handing out papers describing the scientific properties of the materials we would be using and talking a bit in general about the course, Benjamin got down to business with the first of our two 'science projects.'

We started with a lesson in caviar made with sodium alginate. For readers who aren't familiar with the term 'caviar' beyond fish eggs, my quick molecular gastronomy definition is: tiny bits of liquid flavor solidified into gel-like balls (I believe this is also the same process used to make faux caviar with fish juice and for a bit more information on how to do this at home using store-bought products you can check out Jamie Boudreau's video here.) Benjamin had us measuring, pouring, whirling, watching, dropping, dipping - until we ended up with our own (if not perfect) well-intentoned little blue balls of mandarin essence. Once finished, we dropped a few into flutes, topped with champagne and drank our first assignment.

Our next project required gloves and goggles as we used liquid nitrous to freeze up a cosmo mix into a sorbet. We suited up and watched Benjamin pour out the liquid nitrous while the burning cold smoke oozed across the floor. I kind of dig liquid nitrous for its theatrical qualities. The finished product here is a smoking cold cosmo ice cream with a serious alcohol kick due to the absence of dilution that you get with a shaken one.

Benjamin has a background with reputable establishments in Paris and has a solid grasp on what he's doing and teaching. He's a helpful instructor and the small classes allow for one on one attention. You don't just get to play with their equipment, but he gives really useful tips. For example: Sodium alginate won't gel with something that's too high in alcohol content. Liquid nitrous should be stirred with a wooden spoon. Some of the students in our class had clearly already tried doing some of these things at home and he gave them the lowdown on why their balls hadn't gelled.

A few weeks afterthe class, I made a stop back into MMC with uber-cool foodie couple David & Mathilde as they got a rundown on how to use the liquid nitrous prior to her appearance on Un Diner Presque Parfait. In follow up I asked them what it was like to play with this stuff at home. David tells me that it's easy to get (if you have a SIRET number) and efficiently delivered. It's initially a bit frightening, but you become comfortable with it. If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll see them putting it to use in the next few months as Mathilde puts together her own fabulous dinner.

At 100+ per class, it's not a course for cocktail newbies who just want to mix a G&T. Neither is it a class for those already schooled in molecular ways. It's geared towards those who are already somewhat knowledgeable and willing to commit to doing more than just mixing up a martini. As for me, I was happy to play scientist for a couple or hours and also get to drink the results. Yeah....I'm no quantum physicist...but I can make a mean mandarin caviar now.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Oriental Express Cocktail Adventures: Wagon Bleu

Wagon Bleu
7 rue Boursault
75017 Paris
01 45 22 35 25

In the course of 52 Martinis research, I frequent a lot of bars that get good buzz. But sometimes I like to try a wild card in hopes I'll find an undiscovered treasure. I hadn't heard anything drinks-wise about the Wagon Bleu. In fact, I hadn't heard anything about it at all. But, when I stumbled across it online, two things drew me to it: 1. It's partially housed in a restored train car from the Orient Express circa 1925. 2. It boasts the 'longest happy hour in Paris!

It turns out that the romantic train car portion is tucked away in the back of the establishment for dinner only. So Matt, Vio, Mel and I settled into the pretty standard cafe/bar front area where Hall & Oates music sets the mood. So, the closest we got to experiencing train-themed drinking was feeling the rumble through the floor of trains passing by on the tracks situated just below the bar/restaurant.

The drinks menu features 11 uninspired "classics" that put me in broken-record mode ["caipis, mojitos, cosmos, sex on the beach, etc., etc.] as well as 5 "specials" that are mojito riffs with a lone Long Island icetea to break up the monotony. Each section features a mystery drink with the Crazy Wagon, which is whatever the barman feels like, and L'Omerta with its claims that "you'll never know" what's in it - and with a name like that might just be a subtle nod to the Corsican slant to their menu. Cocktails range from 8 to 9.50 Euros and they also feature a selection of rhum and vodka arrange at 4 Euros a shot or for the bargain price of 35 Euros for 10.

There is no dry vermouth behind the bar, so I went straight for a margarita instead of the usual. Notwithstanding the gummy-gator garnish, it was better than I expected. For the rest of the evening, we ordered up tapas of tapanade and buglidicci (fried bits of corsican cheese, brocciu) and dabbled with the happy hour menu. From 16h00 to 21h00, prices drop to 4.80€ for a pint of blonde, 5,80€ for a pint of Abbaye and 5€ for a mojito, caipirinha or ti-punch. While nothing exciting, all were acceptable for the price and fueled a fun few hours of over fried cheese.

For the time we spent there, the place started buzzing with local regulars who chatted with the friendly staff. So, while there were no undiscovered treasures in the cocktails or food, the happy hour could be interesting for those in the neighborhood looking to throw back some reasonably priced pints over a lengthy happy hour.

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