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Feb 3, 2010 05:50 PM

NYC Health department starting a ruckus by questioning raw eggs in cocktails

A NY health inspector just cited the Pegu Club for serving a cocktail which included... horrors of horrors... raw egg white.

I am fervently "pro-raw-egg-white" but rather than bore you with my ranting, I will post this link to a NYTimes article on the dirty details.

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  1. The issue is that the bartender did not inform the customer that the drink contained raw egg. If the customer happened to be immune-compromised, this would be a serious issue. The whole matter could be solved by using in-shell pasteurized eggs.

    1. Four questions:

      1) If I order a rare hamburger without looking at the menu (which contains a warning), does the server have to say, "Your burger may make you sick with horrible diarrhea and vomiting. Still want it?"

      2) Do people who consume a frothy drink and are worried about raw egg and don't ask if it has raw egg deserve any consequences of their stupidity? (It's not like the egg is invisible the way it is in Caesar Salad.)

      3) Are cocktail names not capitialized in the NY Times?

      4) Are pasteurized eggs actually inferior to raw?

      3 Replies
      1. re: EvergreenDan

        First two answers provided with tongue firmly planted in cheek...

        1.) Yes, you also need to sign a liability waiver in triplicate and have it notarized.

        2.) Chance of getting a bad egg with salmonella 1 : 200,000
        Chance of getting mowed down by a NYC taxi cab wile crossing the street on
        your way to Pegu Club 1 : 2,000

        3.) Thank you to the NYTimes for writing a fairly balanced article. Capitalization aside.

        4.) Yes. And they reduce, but do not eliminate the chance of poisoning. Nothing "sterilizes" a raw egg. And I wonder if wide-spread use of more-expensive pasteurized shell eggs would lead to a false sense of security and less stringent storage handling at restaurant establishments.

        1. re: jerryc123

          The statistics are closer to 1:20,000 for finding a contaminated egg in the United States, and the risk of infection (you need a certain dose of bacteria to get sick) drops after it enters the acid and alcohol-rich cocktail shaker.

          Also, the raw raw egg situation isn't as bad as portrayed:

          And yes, pasteurized eggs are apparently less cocktail friendly than raw. They don't foam up the same. And most menus I have seen here in Boston have stars or underlines identifying the egg drinks which points them to the warning. Only a few times have I not seen the warning and that was in egg-laden housemade sour mixes.

          1. re: jerryc123

            The 1:20,000 number quoted in the ny times article (Hey, if they won't capitalize cocktail names...) came from an egg industry group. I'd take it with a grain of salt (and, under the circumstances, a grind of pepper). Oh man, I'm on a roll this morning. Sorry.

        2. "...which typically sold 150 MarTEAnis a week at $13 each, is serving none...."

          Thirteen dollars? Am I the only one who finds that steep?

          5 Replies
          1. re: BustedFlush

            One, it's New York so rent is high along with prices to pay for that rent.

            Two, not that high especially for a well made cocktail. A lot of good bars here in Boston are in the $10-12 range with a few pricier than that (although these $14-20 cocktails aren't well made, just as posh restaurants and night spots where they can scare away the riff-raff with prices like that).

            For some reason, I am fine paying $12, but balk at $14 here for normal cocktails. I have paid $15 for ones made with expensive boozes (cask strength Scotches, single village Mezcals, etc.) but it's understandable since the bottles can cost 4plus-fold more than many most gins and whiskeys.

            1. re: BustedFlush

              If the bartender shook it 2-4 minutes (and I'm not saying he/she does), that would seem like a fair price.

              BUT, the statement that the bar is selling 20+ of these per day yet sold zero during that shift seems inconsistent. I also have a bit of a hard time believe that the inspector made up the infraction unless there's a bunch more to the story somewhere.

              1. re: EvergreenDan

                NYC is expensive and fine cocktails bars all charge in the $11-14 range. $12-13 is the norm right now for a cocktail in a world class bar in NYC, and as Mr. Yarm says, in Boston. I'm not saying I like it, but that's how it is. I am very deeply involved with the fine cocktail, spirits, and wine world; I see, hear, and observe much of what happens, and keep in touch with people in the biz across America, as well as globally. It's a major part of my career as a writer, consultant, and producer.

                Cocktails have runs at fine cocktail bars, when people see a person order and enjoy one, they order it as well. At Pegu Club the cocktail mentioned, Earl Grey MarTEAni, is a very high seller on weekend nights and other peak times when many folks order off the menu. At slower times you get more custom cocktail orders and the Earl Grey MarTEAni doesn't sell as much. I just happened to be in Pegu Club twice at various times in the month prior, and once in the week after the incident, and as consultant I always observe what and how people order.The incident occurred on a Tuesday. One of the slowest night of the weeks at Pegu and one on which it would be very possible for not a single Earl Grey MarTEAni to have been ordered in an evening, let alone in the 30-45 minutes an inspector was there.

                I personally know Kenta Goto and if he said no Earl Grey MarTEAni's were served while the inspector was present, I believe him. He has bartended for around three years at Pegu Club. That fact alone proves him a real professional top level bartender. All cocktails served/sold are tracked by name and even time. It would be easy for him to look up the details, although he has a top notch memory.

                I have been in other NYC establishments when inspectors have shown up. Many inspectors have certain things they focus on. There is definitely more to the story on the part of the inspector, proven by the fact that the health dept. changed the violation.

                1. re: EvergreenDan

                  JMF - My error. I thought that the bartender said that no MarTEAni's were sold during his shift. The article clearly says that he merely stated none were sold while the inspector was there. I misread the article. Much more believable.

                2. re: BustedFlush

                  $13 is pretty normal for a well made cocktail in NYC. Unfortuantely a lot of places charge that much or more for a not so god one. The likes of Pegu Club, PDT, Angel Share etc, all have their most of their standard drink list around that price range (going off memory) and are worth the price for quality and taking location into account. It rubs me wrong when you cross the river to Bklyn and they maintain that price. Hotel Delmano in particular comes to mind as a place that did not adjust their prices accordingly when they chose to be in Williamsburg.

                  On a positive note - I have had quite a few raw egg drinks at NYC cocktail bars and have lived to tell the tale. Pegu makes a fine Bourbon Sour.

                3. As pikawicca said, the issue is that the bartender did not bother to make clear that this drink contained raw egg. No one is trying to stop the serving of cocktails containing raw egg here, just get bartenders to behave responsibly. Most people don't realize cocktails ever contain raw egg. Plenty of people are allergic to eggs, vegan, immune compromised, or just risk averse. The consumer has a right to be informed that this ingredient, which is not at all common in modern cocktails, is being put in their drink.
                  I like raw egg white in drinks, and even whole raw eggs in some drinks. And I think pasteurized eggs are an unacceptable substitute. If the health department was trying to ban raw egg, I'd be upset. But they're not. The restaurant completely overreacted by removing this drink from their menu. The right move would have been to make sure their staff was doing the responsible thing and communicating with the consumer.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: danieljdwyer

                    It's pretty clear on their menu that it has "raw egg white" -- it's listed as one of the ingredients. If you ordered it without looking at a menu or without reading the ingredients, it's not the establishment's fault in my opinion. If you ask for "something with gin" and they don't ask if egg is ok, that's their wrong doing.

                    A photo of their menu with the Earl Grey MarTEAni on it, and the right side which contains the warning about raw egg:

                    1. re: yarm

                      The article states that the drink in question was not ordered by a customer using the menu. It's not at all unusual for people to order cocktails without looking at a menu.
                      The letter of the law is clear that it is the responsibility of the establishment to inform the consumer that the cocktail contains raw eggs. A menu does suffice to do this when one is ordering off a menu. As the customer in question was not using a menu, the bartender was obligated to communicate this information verbally. Even if this were not a codified rule, it's simply good customer service.
                      This is not a burdensome law by any means, so I really have no sympathy for anyone who choses not to follow it. I also have no sympathy for anyone who overreacts to the citation and chooses to remove the item from their menu rather than follow a law that is not only easy to comply with, but bad customer service to not comply with.
                      Of course, it certainly is possible that the inspector is mistaken in this case, and the bar's claim is correct that this drink was not ordered in the presence of the inspector. If this is the case, the bar is well within its rights to challenge the violation. It will not be difficult for them to prove in a court of law, using the records generated by their ordering system, that their claim is correct and the violation is unsubstantiated. If this is the case, the fact still remains that they are sending off all the wrong signals by removing the cocktail in question from the menu.

                  2. Egg whites are for novices. To get the real egg expierence you need the whole egg, yolk and all. Next time you're at a high end bar, order yourself a widow's kiss shaken with an egg. It will change how you view the idea of raw eggs in a drink.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: cannedmilkandfruitypebbles

                      Some drinks need egg white, some yolk only, and some full egg.

                      And egg isn't always the best addition since it mutes a lot of flavors in the drink. Great when you want to smooth over some rough notes, but sometimes it can drown out what makes the recipe work. Other times, adding it to a recipe lacking it can make for a great variation.


                      1. re: yarm

                        Yup, you nailed it Mr. Yarm.