Monday, March 24, 2014

Washington Social Diary

Outside the St. Regis: Orcun Turkay, the beverage director at the St. Regis Hotel, with Joseph de Feo and Shane Harris.
by Carol Joynt

The annual Cherry Blossom Festival has begun in Washington and, if we’re lucky, the blossoms will beat the cold and bloom before the dozens of related events conclude in about three weeks. There are dances, Japanese tea ceremonies, musical performances, a film festival, a kite race and a rugby tournament, fireworks, a parade and a gala ball. The National Park Service predicts the delicate pink flowers will emerge in full on approximately April 8, and if you have any reason to be in Washington you should schedule the visit for that week.

The trees were a gift from Japan and were planted side by side round the Tidal Basin. From any point, the view is excellent. Almost everyone here takes a moment to walk this great promenades at the peak of the blooming season. It’s a ritual of families, school groups, lovers, friends, artists and photographers, the curious and tourists.
The Tidal Basin at dawn in the early spring.
Presidents and their wives have been known to do the circular walk at midnight or dawn, which are especially pretty moments to see the blossoms, and the Jefferson Memorial. Maybe those late or early hours are by choice, because the timing is so romantic, or maybe it’s because the Secret Service figure the First Family will attract the least attention under the cover of darkness.

My favorite moment is sunrise, and I’ve included some photos here from late March of last year, as well as images of the trees once they are in full bloom.
First light.
From 2013, the cherry blossoms in their first blush.
Then in full bloom.
Paddle boats are a popular way to commune with the cherry blossoms.
In a nod to the Cherry Blossom season, Orcun Turkay, the beverage director at the elegant St. Regis Hotel, invited over some friends for a Saturday afternoon “cocktail class” that culminated with the creation of a Cherry Blossom cocktail.

Washington is well known as the nation’s capital, but it could also be called the nation’s cocktail capital. It’s a town that’s always liked a good drink, but in the past few years there’s been a full on embrace of the new movement of boozing, wherein bartenders have become “mixologists” and drinks are “craft” or “artisan” made. Those pretensions aside, what it means is a lot of interesting bars — a new one almost weekly — and tasty tippling.
The St. Regis Hotel on 16th Street. It's two blocks off Lafayette Square and in view of the White House.
Orcun took it a step further with his cocktail class. We didn’t just sit and watch; we got to mix our own drinks. All the necessary accessories were artfully set out before each barstool: jiggers, long-stemmed stirrers, strainers, shakers, ice buckets and the appropriate glasses, plus an assortment of top shelf brands of gin, whiskey and bourbon, liquers and bitters, as well as fresh orange and lemon juice, simple syrup, and lemons and oranges. Small bites of Croque Monsieur, Pork Belly Flatbread and Lobster Bruschetta were served while we drank.

Orcun Turkay, beverage director at the St. Regis, hopes to make his cocktail class into a regular event.
We prepared four drinks — Old Fashioned, Manhattan, French 75 and the Cherry Blossom — and Orcun not only gave instruction but also provided an oral history of each drink. He pointed out, too, that the St. Regis has a direct and strong connection with the history of cocktails in America, especially the famed King Cole Bar at the hotel chain’s New York flagship.

According to legend, that’s where in 1934 bartender Fernand Petiot created the Bloody Mary. Orcun says it was called the “Red Snapper” due to timidity about using the word “bloody.”  But we’ve all gotten over that, haven’t we? It remains one of the world’s great drinks, especially when made with homemade tomato. On a later date, Orcun plans to give a Bloody Mary class.

In Washington, the St. Regis bar is one of the city’s handsomest spots to meet for a drink. It was one of the last to install televisions, and they are, thankfully, discreet. It has old worm charm in the décor — much of it original to when the hotel opened in 1926 — and a modern attitude in the food and service.  The adjoining dining room, designed by David Rockwell, has gone through much iteration, and many chefs, including turns by Gray Kunz, with Lespinasse, and Alain Ducasse, with Adour. It is now Decanter, and in the hands of chef Sébastien Rondier.
The handsome St. Regis bar. The door in the back of the room leads to the dining room.
OrcunTurkay surveys the bar set ups before his guests arrive.
Look but no free samples — the cult favorite, Pappy Van Winkle. To start the cocktail class, a dram of Remy Martin.
Starting the Old Fashioned. An Old Fashioned in the making gets a brisk stir.
The Old Fashioned, made with rye whiskey. How we roll on a Saturday afternoon at cocktail class. First course: Old Fashioneds.
Croque Monsieur.
Pork belly flat bread.
Starting the Manhattan ...
Second course: a classic Manhattan, made with bourbon. Shane Harris gives the rim of his glass a touch of orange peel. Essential for the Old Fashioned, Manhattan and the Cherry Blossom -- a splash of bitters.
Orcun tells the history of the cocktails.
Our desk at "cocktail class."
Any class, cocktails or otherwise, is made more fun with friends. For Orcun’s class, Shane Harris and Joseph de Feo joined me. They are two lovers of the good life who enjoy the artistry of making cocktails. Every dinner party starts with a drink created for the occasion. In all there were about 8 of us. As the spirits warmed us, we became chatty, asked a lot of questions, pointed at the cultish Pappy Can Winkle ($100 a shot) and begged (denied) and left two hours later knowing a little bit more about mixing, stirring, shaking, slicing a lemon peel and the history of it all.
The French 75 — 1 part gin (we used local Green Hat), 1 part fresh lemon juice, 1 part simple syrup and topped with Champagne. Shane Harris finishes his French 75 with Champagne. Orcun gave him an "A" because it topped off beautifully.
Shane's perfect French 75.
Orcun shared his recipe for the Cherry Blossom, which is made with egg whites, a trending cocktail fashion. “Egg white gives lift, silkiness and structure to a cocktail,” he said, stressing the importance of cracking a fresh egg for each drink.

To make a Cherry Blossom: ¾’s of a jigger each of Japanese whiskey, such as Yamazaki 12 or Hibiki 12, sweet Vermouth, fresh orange juice, Cherry Heering liqeur, and the white of a whole egg. Put all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake it vigorously. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a coupé glass, add a few drops of bitters, and top with a silver spear and two brandied cherries. 
Setting up to make a Cherry Blossom. Separating the egg white from the yolk.
Shake, shake, shake. It has to feel like a workout to be effective.
A finished Cherry Blossom.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

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