Thursday, November 20, 2008

SLS Hotel: Serious Libations Served

The huge SLS on the far-out Philippe Starck designed hotel that opened in Beverly Hills this week stands for Something Lovely's Started according to their zany cool web site. The SLS site is worth a visit just to see the monkeys swinging on a chandelier.

While sipping drinks at the brand new Bar Centro Tuesday with Beverage Director Lucas Paya, it occurs to me that the SLS should signal Serious Libations Served. Molecular cocktails have really arrived in Southern California, thanks to Paya who worked for Ferran Adria, the Spanish chef who put molecular cooking's gels, airs and foams on the map at his El Bulli. Bar Centro and the adjoining restaurants Rojo and Blanco are all conceived by clever chef Jose Andres, a disciple of Adria's who's decided to expand his Washington DC based empire that includes Minibar, Jaleo and Zaytinya, which happens to be the best modern Greek-Turkish-Lebanese restaurant ever.

The New Way Dirty Martini (above) is quite salty, so be warned. It's crowned with a froth of olive brine air and garnished with a spherification olive, actually made from olives, sodium alginate and calcium chloride in a process explained by Andres at Star Chefs. It bursts in my mouth like a big olive-y sphere of caviar. It's the same trick that won Top Chef's Fabio the second elimination challenge.

But the must-see is the Liquid Nitrogen Caipirinha, that Paya makes table-side on a gleaming silver custom made drink cart. He pours a mix of cachaca, lime and sugar into a stainless steel mixing bowl and then adds a healthy slug of liquid nitrogen, sending a cold fog into the air. The stuff is minus 350 degrees. "It's cold enough to freeze anything, even alcohol," says Paya. I bet it would do the same to your fingers too, though fortunately we do not witness that spectacle. Paya churns the mixture with a metal whisk, starting to struggle after a few minutes as the Caipirinha becomes more and more icy. Finally he's done and he adds a scoop of the sorbet to a glass bowl and garnishes it with leaves of tarragon and edible flower petals. I love the way the flavors of cachaca, lime and sugar and herbs melt over my tongue.

More on the SLS design and some other cocktails next time.

For more updates from food and drink expert Maria Hunt on the latest and best when it comes to cocktails, wine and cuisine, visit and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter The Bubbly Girl Chronicles.

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