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Trendy cocktails a fresh approach for Tampa Bay area

TAMPA — St. Petersburg native Somer Perez has been at the center of the cocktail revolution that has swept New York City in recent years. After working her way up from bar back to bartender at the Beacon Restaurant there, Perez became the beverage director at the trendy Hotel on Rivington at the age of 25, and at the Royalton the following year.

Now, at 29, she's spreading the word as a consultant to restaurants seeking to join the cocktail movement, from Perilla in Greenwich Village (owned by Top Chef Season 1 winner Harold Dieterle) to Datz in South Tampa (2616 S MacDill Ave.), where she recently helped the gastropub in its first foray into cocktails, developing a menu of specialty drinks.

The cocktail craze has only recently gained a foothold around Tampa Bay (though Bern's Steak House was using many of the same techniques well before it was cool). From Ciro's in South Tampa (2109 Bayshore Blvd.), with its kitschy speakeasy vibe, to the more laid-back Mandarin Hide in downtown St. Petersburg (231 Central Ave.), it's all about the ingredients.

"Consumers are much more savvy,'' says Perez, who graduated from Gibbs High in St. Petersburg before moving to New York in 1999. "Cocktails are now seen as part of the dining experience, especially with the whole farm-to-table thing.''

It's an approach that has bartenders foraging for ingredients at green markets and cocktail connoisseurs inquiring whether a bar's Appletini is made with fresh puree.

It can get a little fussy, but Perez prefers a simpler approach — updated classics emphasizing high-quality, fresh ingredients that take only a couple of minutes to prepare (which is still longer than the standard prepared-mix cocktail at a run-of-the- mill bar).

So at Datz the margarita is rechristened the Marti Margarita (after José Martí, who plotted the Cuban revolution in Tampa) and is made with fresh lime juice, some spicy ingredients and rimmed with alder smoked sea salt.

And an Old-Fashioned uses Luxardo cherries (soaked in brandy, imported from Italy) and a few dashes of cherry bitters by Fee Brothers and is garnished with a candied bacon skewer.

None of this comes cheap — Datz's specialty cocktails go for $12 to $15 each — but you can apply Perez's approach at home for less.

Take, for example, the Cosmo, which has gone from classic to cliche thanks to Sex and the City. What to do? First, forget ready-made mixes. At Datz, Perez combined Hangar One vodka, house-made simple syrup, Orangela liqueur (instead of Cointreau) and a splash of cranberry juice (mostly for color). Shake, pour over ice and serve.

Her main advice for the home mixologist is to relax and enjoy the experience. "It's not brain surgery,'' she says. "Stock up on the things you like rather than things you think you 'have to have.' "

And experiment. If a drink calls for, say, a squeeze of lime, try a slice of tangerine instead. "Sometimes it's one ingredient that makes the difference,'' she said.

Tom Scherberger can be reached at scherberger@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8312.

MORE INFORMATION

Mixology tips

Here are a few tips from Somer Perez for the home mixologist:

• Use fresh ingredients whenever possible.

• Don't dilute: Shake or stir the ingredients without ice.

• Use ice cubes, not crushed ice, which melts quickly and waters down drinks.

• Sweeten drinks with your own simple syrup. To make, heat equal parts sugar and water until sugar dissolves. Cool before using. Store in refrigerator in sealed container.

• Experiment with a variety of bitters.



>>easy

Marti Margarita

2 ounces lime juice

1 ounce agave nectar

2 ounce Tanteo jalapeno tequila

1/2 ounces Orangela orange liqueur

2 dashes hot sauce

Combine all ingredients, shake, strain over ice in glass rimmed with smoked salt.

Serves 1.

Note: Datz in Tampa (2616 S MacDill Ave.; (813) 831-7000) carries the specialty ingredients for this recipe, though you may be able to find them at other well-stocked liquor stores and definitely online.

Source: Datz

>>easy

Old Fashioned With

Candied Bacon Garnish

Candied Bacon:

12 slices bacon, about 1/4-inch thick

Finely ground black pepper

1/3 cup light brown sugar

For drink:

3 to 4 Luxardo cherries

1/2 ounce lemon juice

1 sugar cube

3 dashes Fee Brothers cherry bitters

2 ounces Buffalo Trace bourbon

1 ounce sweet vermouth

To make the bacon, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Put bacon slices in a bowl, season them with pepper and toss with the brown sugar. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and arrange the bacon in a single layer on top. Sprinkle any sugar left in the bowl over the bacon. Top with another layer of parchment or foil and top it, squarely, with another baking sheet. The baking sheet will flatten the bacon as it cooks.

Place the tray in the center of the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Check the bacon by lifting the top tray and parchment. If it is not golden brown and fairly crispy, resist the temptation to turn up the oven temperature, and cook it for 10 to 15 minutes longer. Check it again. Keep in mind that when you remove the tray and transfer the bacon to a serving platter or individual plates, the bacon will "crisp" up a little more. Set aside.

To make the drink, muddle cherries in rocks glass with lemon juice, sugar cube and bitters, add bourbon, sweet vermouth, ice and stir. Top with club soda and serve with skewer of candied bacon.

Serves 1.

Note: Datz in Tampa (2616 S MacDill Ave.; (813) 831-7000) carries the specialty ingredients for this recipe, though you may be able to find them at other well-stocked liquor stores and definitely online.

Source: Datz and Food Network

Trendy cocktails a fresh approach for Tampa Bay area 03/15/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 5:30am]
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