Echo Park: Cocktails and Bites at Allumette
I was invited to the new Allumette in Echo Park recently. This space has gone through a series of concepts including the most recent the Vagrancy Project, a pop-up with Chef Miles Thompson. It proved so popular, he was hired on to helm the permanent Allumette.
Allumette, which is French for matchstick, invites you to a slightly French, slightly Asian concept. I wouldn’t call these plates “small plates.” Rather, they are tasting menu size. You’re invited to make up your own tasting menu though there is a new tasting menu in addition to the a la carte menu. The 5-course tasting menu is available for $72/ per person (the entire party must participate) and there’s an optional $45 beverage pairing (featuring sakes and wines).
Serena Herrick heads up the bar and I was glad to taste almost all her cocktails that evening. The list reads like an enthusiast’s dream but it’s not too complicated a cocktail novice wouldn’t be able to find something to imbibe.
Perhaps start off with something light to warm up the palate like the La System Solare or the Negroni Sbagliato #2.
La System Solare – Olorosso sherry, Dolin Blanc vermouth, bergamot bitters
A gift from the kitchen is always appreciated. A little potato cheese ball meant to be eaten on the crostini was a delightful starter.
The Gentleman’s Breakfast caught my eye. Sometime ago, I was on a whiskey sour kick which eventually led to Scotch sours. This one seemed almost specifically made for me and yet it was on Serena’s list. The Islay Scotch and candy cap bitters are combined in an atomizer and gives the cocktail a lovely savory aroma. Not to mention the Asian bark garnish. When it was lit and the smoke wafted towards me, I could almost imagine a dimly lit Chinese herbal shop. The warm red shelving of the bar lends to that faraway feel.
Gentleman’s Breakfast – The Famous Grouse Scotch, egg white, lemon, ginger honey syrup, topped with atomized Islay Scotch and candy cap bitters
We started with a couple of items from the crudo section including the shimaaji (or shima-aji) is commonly known as “striped jack.” It was delicious and I loved the plating of this. The fish went well with the kiwi, blood orange and mustard miso. All too soon though my bite was gone. Good thing I had the pink snapper as well.
This may have been the very first time I’ve had pink snapper. I never liked (cooked) red snapper growing up but found it must more palatable when I ate it raw. Raw pink snapper was even more delightful. Its firm flesh accompanied by cherimoya and a delicate white soy.
A few weeks ago, I was at a bar and a patron wanted to know what all those little bottles were. I overheard her and said they were bitters which got us into a discussion of what they were and how they were used. I used an analogy others (and by others I mean booze people) use- they’re the spice of cocktails, like salt or pepper for food. This implies a sparing amount. You’ll see cocktail recipes calling for a dash or two. The healthiest use of bitters I’ve seen is probably about 6 dashes which is less than a teaspoon.
So what do you do when the main ingredient of the Last Ango is a full ounce Angostura bitters. That’s like 48 dashes! Angostura might consider making larger bottles. I considered this drink carefully. With the dominant ingredient being bitters, would I find this drink unbalanced? I could hardly believe Serena would put an unbalanced drink on the menu. Fortunately, it was perfect. It was spicy and there was just enough Smith and Cross rum to take this drink to the next level. Serena shared the specs with me and I think this would be a great grown-up tiki cocktail.
- 1 oz Ango
- 1 oz lime
- .5 Smith and Cross rum
- .5 pineapple gomme
- .5 orgeat
Shake, strain, garnish with lime wheel.
Moving into the pasta section, I spotted dumplings. Specifically Szechuan pork dumplings. These dumplings were unlike their cousins normally found hiding in the San Gabriel Valley. With cured salmon roe, spicy black vinegar and tarragon, these were wildly unfamiliar– and yet familiar. There was my classic Chinese flavor combo of pork and seafood with a goodly amount of acid. But tarragon? In 6th grade, we had to write weekly essays. Mine often featured a little girl named Kamela. Her favorite activity was gardening. One day, she mentioned tending herbs including tarragon. My 6th grade teacher didn’t know what to make of it. He wondered how did I know about tarragon.Well, I know I like it and I liked it in this dish. It’s a subtle twist but I think cilantro (which would have been more “traditional” for Chinese dumplings) would not have worked so well with the salmon roe.
As mentioned, the Negroni Sbagliato #2 would be a good opening cocktail. The background on a traditional (if you can even call it that) is a bartender accidentally added sparkling wine instead of gin into a Negroni. Sbagliato roughly translate as “mistake.” Here is the twist at Allumette by using Aperol (a less bitter amaro than Campari) and a bit of sage.
Negroni Sbagliato #2- Aperol, Punt e Mas, Graham Beck brut, sage
The fizz from the Negroni Sbagliato #2 would cut the richness of the kimchi ranch dressing used with the fried oysters. I particularly loved the sea spinach in this dish as well. Raw oysters are great and fried ones are just as wonderful. They’re really two different things. It just depends on your mood.
The kitchen sent out an intermezzo – a mid-course gift. This fairy squid with ponzu was an instant hit with me. The more squiggly the legs of squid and octopi, the happier I become. Give me all your tentacle-y bits.
Reminding me of a James Bond movie, the You Live Only Twice named drink dips into the Asian palate with sake and Szechuan peppercorn. I like to think a bar’s relationship with the kitchen helps creativity. If a bartender is allowed to pilfer through the kitchen’s supplies, special drinks like these could be created. I’ve noticed a trend of sake being used in cocktails– and not just at bars where they have only a beer and wine license. It’s being legitimately used as a cocktail ingredient.
I was also charmed by the sugared kumquat garnish. This cocktail would be great with the crudos.
You Live Only Twice – Beefeater gin, sake, Velvet falernum, tangerine, Szechuan peppercorn, lime
Without any prompting, I wanted the cavatelli. Then I say it came with an uni ragu. Oh really? And then I read on to discover English pea puree, the braised mushrooms and a beautiful fromage noir. This was a group favorite. I experienced some sadness when I realized I had been too polite when I took my share. I had gone first and taken what amounted to a bite and half. My advice? Go last or get your own. Don’t share this dish.
I always feel better about any meal with multiple dishes (no matter how small they are) when I order a vegetable. Having just one veg dish makes my entire decadent, meaty, heavy-protein meal worth it, right? In this case, I had a choice of a bitter lettuce salad, carrot salad or the vinegar-roasted turnips. I was sure the salad was good and since I detest carrots, the vinegar-roasted turnips was the easy choice. Actually, I would have ordered them anyway since I love vinegar, acid and citrus. This dish was amazing. This would be a great main dish for a vegetarian or an easy side to share.
I had one more cocktail in me. I asked Serena if I should go for the Red Letter Day (Cocchi di Torino, Rhum J.M., orgeat, lemon, soda, yuzu bitters) or the Smoking Gun. My style is generally brown, bitter, stirred so I went with the boozier drink. I loved it and it was my favorite of the night. The mezcal was balanced against the more bitter Cynar and sweeter Calisaya. Calisaya is a liqueur produced in Oregon following the style of Campari. It’s a bit of a cross between Campari and Cointreau. I will have to come back to try Red Letter Day, however. It might be a good opening drink as well.
Smoking Gun – Vida mezcal, Cynar, Calisaya
We wanted just a bit more food and decided on the squab breast which also came with a lovely blueberry sauce. As I ate this with some of the brown rice from the turnips dish, I started thinking this would a great one-bowl meal. Brown rice, a waist-band friendly portion of squab and comforting turnips. And then I thought about the cocktails I just tried. Well, no one is perfect.
I can go either way on dessert. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth but do like the bite or two. The cheesecake turned out to be the right bite or two. It was artistically plated and there was no drawn out battle between friends who was going to carve up the last bite. I ate a couple of bites and was pleased the others felt the same way when the dish was rapidly finished.
Can’t wait to go back to try the tasting menu. I like going on journeys with chefs via their tasting menu. And I trust a beverage pairing would also be excellent to figure out what you’d like to order again.