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Craft Cocktail Overload

Is anyone else annoyed with the intense emphasis on craft cocktails at some L.A. restaurants?

I like a good drink as much as the next guy, but sometimes I just want a regular martini that's made with a vodka or gin that I've heard of. Lately, we've been two to relatively new restaurants that made a big deal of their drink menus. In both instances, the waitresses seemed exasperated when we went off menu and asked for more traditional cocktails. I respect mixology, but why can't they cater to both camps?

In one instance, I felt like we were being punished for being too predictable. The martinis came in a glass that was just slightly bigger than a thimble. By the time it arrived we were halfway through the meal. Another time I was told that customers were not allowed to ask for call brands. The mixologist had to determine which vodka went best with which cocktail.

I'm not naming the restaurants because both had very good food and it seems unfair to punish the chefs for something they may not control. Maybe it's all just a phase. I miss my martinis.

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  1. that's interesting because that's completely the opposite that i've seen and experienced at many places that emphasize cocktails such as harvard and stone and black market liqour bar. i've had straight manhattans with my bourbon of choice as well as gin martinis and have had good coversations with the bartenders about their preferences when making these drinks. i've basically had the same experience at coles and neat as well.

    1. Wow, that's obnoxious. I would have sent the thimble sized mid-meal martini back and told them that you'll make your own after dinner drink at home.

      1. Thanks for bringing this up, Citron58.

        I will name names (because that is what chowhound is for).

        When I went to Picca and Playa -- both I believe are run by Julian Cox -- I was unable to order a simple drink (at the former) or choose my brand (at the latter). Both of these were early-on in their lives, I don't know if things have since changed. I have had Cox's cocktails elsewhere, like Sotto -- like last night as a matter of fact -- and I must say they are consistently excellent. My main beef has been that they served in smaller glasses with hefty price tags (as if one were getting a full sized cocktail). Not quite thimble-sized, but heading in that direction.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Ciao Bob

          didn't even remeber until you brought it up. i remember having dinner at picca sitting at the bar. we were chatting up the bartenders and having them make cocktails impromptu with what we wanted. at one point, one of them said that when julian is in, he'll frown on making cocktails that are not on the list.

        2. By the way, Citron, as a fellow fan of a good, real martini (gin, not super dry, ice cold, neat, olive) I must sing the praises of, of all things, Trader Joe's Admiral Joseph's Gin. No, it's not the best gin you'll ever have (Blue Coat is the best in my opinion), but it is really good and unbelieveably priced at $8.99 for a good sized bottle. It's a bit "hotter" than say, Bombay Sapphire and that level, but I actually prefer it that way. But it is far superior to Beefeaters and others in that price category.

          So, save your money at these places which won't give it your way and who gouge you at the same time, and make one at home and smile. The value just makes it taste even better. (The only problem is that my wife won't be there to make one for you, and nobody can do a better martini than my queen.)

          1. I understand the brand calling thing. A lot of people only can name good spirits -- or the one that high-priced marketing firms have told us are good is more like it. Grey Goose isn't any better than Tito's or Rain when mixed in a Dirty Martini, but the price point is double if not higher. Would people be willing to pay $15 for a Grey Goose over a $10 Tito's Dirty? Many bars around here don't stock the overpriced, heavily marketed brands over less expensive ones that they deem just as good if not better.

            The off-menu part I cannot defend if they are common drinks. Playing "stump the bartender," "make me that other bar's drink," or not accepting their take on the recipe is unfair. There's probably a stock 50 drinks that any bar worth their salt should know. I can understand when it is through a waitress who has to walk over to the bar and ask the bartender if they can execute that drink (either by recipe or ingredients) and if not, come back to you with the news. Often, she just punches the drink order in at the POS at her station and comes to the bar pick it up 5-10 minutes later; if there is a problem, that delays things even further.

            1. You're going to the wrong places for drinks. A bar or restaurant with a good mixology program will inspire you to try something new, while respecting that you might have already developed your preferences and want to stick with those. If a bar gives you grief for ordering a martini made with your liquor of choice, then that's just a poorly-run bar. I've been at cutting-edge bars (with liquid nitrogen, centrifuges, etc.) and they've been happy to make a simple drink with my liquor of choice, and to make it well. If I were you, I'd keep trying until you find a place that does it right.

              1. I get the impression that in many cases, "CRAFT" stands for "Can't Remember A F***ing Thing" since a lot of these drinks are way too strong.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Tripeler

                  Cocktails are centered on booze, so they're supposed to be strong. If you want something you can drink a lot of, get a session beer or something. A cocktail is only too strong if the taste is unbalanced or there isn't enough dilution to reduce the heat of the alcohol so that all the flavors come through.

                  1. re: nickls

                    At least here in Boston (as well as a few other cities I've imbibed in), the craft cocktail scene has revived the aperitif cocktail and other lighter styles of drink that utilize lower proof spirits and fortified wines like sherry, port, vermouths, Lillet/Cocchi Americano, Bonal, and champagne. Not all of the modern trends are 3 oz of booze with more than 2 oz of being 80 proof or higher.