I am extremely fortunate that as a member of the wine & spirits industry media, I get invited to a lot of fantastic food, wine and cocktail events as part of my job. The other night, I got to go to an event that I have wanted to attend for quite some time, but scheduling conflicts prevented me. That’s why I cleared the decks when I found out that the fabulous Kate Moore, sommelier at Boston’s infamous L’Espalier, was hosting one of her “Top Shelf” cocktail events last Thursday.
If you’re not familiar, L’Espalier is often credited with being the first independently owned restaurant to bring haute cuisine to Boston, and doing so with a trailblazing commitment to using local, fresh ingredients from New England. Located on Boylston Street when it opened in 1978, L’Espalier moved to a historic Back Bay townhouse in 1982, only to return to Boylston Street in 2008 where it currently resides adjacent to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
Under Chef, Proprietor, Author and now Farmer Frank McClelland’s stewardship, L’Espalier has consistently been rated at the top of national and local best restaurant lists (Zagat, Boston Magazine, Frommer’s Travel Guide, Wine Spectator, among them). The restaurant has received numerous accolades including the “Distinguished Restaurant Award” from Mimi Sheraton, as well as being the first New England restaurant to receive four stars from The Boston Globe food critic, Alison Arnett. In 1996, Nation’s Restaurant News bestowed L’Espalier with its highest honor, inducting the restaurant into its “Fine Dining Hall of Fame.” L’Espalier is the only independent restaurant in New England to receive eleven consecutive AAA Five Diamond Awards (the only Boston restaurant with this distinction) and also has earned twelve consecutive Mobil (now Forbes) Four-Star awards.
Sommelier Kate Moore, who is amazingly elegant, well-spoken, knowledgeable and fun, has been conducting her “Top Shelf” cocktail classes for some time. She has devised many themes for these “Top Shelf” Classes – the last one was a “Mad Men/Rat Pack” theme, while the one I attended was “The Great Gatsby, Cocktails from the 1920’s”.
The setting for our event was a private dining room on the first floor – intimate enough for the ten guests of the evening. There were four couples, another guest and myself around the table. Kate says that they have Top Shelf events with dozens of guests in attendance, which may be held in the Salon or Library.
Kate began by pouring us each a glass of Roederer Estate Sparkling Wine as we waited for everyone to arrive. Introductions were made, and it turned out that although we had all been to L’Espalier many times, this was everyone’s first “Top Shelf”.
Once everyone was settled, Kate began by explaining that the 1920’s was her favorite period – she loved “The Great Gatsby”, the Prohibition era, and the “decadence and debauchery” that was associated with it. She asked why we had all chosen to attend this particular class, and the answers ranged from wanting to know more about the cocktails of that era to being fans of “The Great Gatsby”.
The first cocktail she served was a “Clover Club”, which had been created at an all men’s club in Pennsylvania called The Belvedere. It consisted of Beefeater Gin, fresh lemon juice, house-made raspberry & mint syrup and a frothed egg white. As we sipped on the delicious and beautiful cocktail, Kate shared that she collected hats and flapper outfits, and looked at the era as one of “relaxation” between the two stressful periods of WWI and the Great Depression. A waiter walked around with an assortment of fresh bread, foccacia and pretzel rolls, and then with some delicious small bites, which were paired with each cocktail. To go with the Clover Club, the Chef had prepared a house-made caraway bagel bite with smoke salmon and crème fraiche, which was delicious.
The second cocktail of the night was a “Jack Rose”, consisting of Applejack, fresh cider, brown sugar simple syrup and a squeeze of lemon. This was paired with an amazing wild mushroom risotto that had been topped with a garlic chip and shavings of summer truffle. The inspiration for the “Jack Rose” came from the character of the same name in Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”, which was published in 1926.
The ten guests chatted as we enjoyed the cocktails and small bites. Kate had some great music playing in the background, vintage cocktail shakers to make the drinks, and took the time to walk around discussing some of the finer points of the drinks and their history to the mixology fans in the room.
Next up was the “Brandy Daisy”, which was my favorite cocktail of the evening. Kate mixed brandy (a VSOP), yellow chartreuse, fresh lemon juice and a splash of seltzer. Named after the heroine of the book, Daisy Buchanan, the cocktail was delicious, revealing different layers of complexity with each sip. It had a beautiful aroma on the nose, surprising one guest, as he thought that was “more of a wine thing than a cocktail thing”. The Daisy Buchanan was paired with perfect crescent shaped veal and pork dumplings, accompanied by a honey soy glaze for dipping. The conversation turned to how Kate makes her cocktails – hard shakes, gentle stirs, house-made syrups and finding inspiration in the ingredients she comes across in the L’Espalier kitchen each night. She also mentioned that she had just returned from New York City the night before, where she participated in (and came in second!) the Star Chefs “Sommelier Smackdown”.
Then, in a stroke of brilliance, Kate passed around her copy of “The Great Gatsby”, instructing us to randomly open the book and read from that page. As we each took a turn, it was quite interesting to see how many references there were to cocktails and “old sport”. It was fun, rather than reminding us of being in a high school English class, and helped to bring more 1920’s flavor to the evening.
The last cocktail of the night was “Kate’s Bootlegger”, a delicious combination of dark rum, clement rhum, pineapple, mango and coconut water. It was beautifully paired with lamb samosa and a curried mint cream – a perfect way to end the evening.
Kate is equally passionate and knowledgeable about wine and food, and is currently working towards her Master Sommelier certificate. She also takes much enjoyment in (and is very talented at) creating or re-creating classic cocktails, pairing them with the perfect food, and sharing them with both old and new friends alike.
Her upcoming October & November “Top Shelf” theme is “Top Shelf, Top Chef”, which will include cocktails inspired by these iconic chefs:
October 7: Alice Waters, Chez Panisse
October 21: Anthony Bourdain, Les Halles
November 4: Jacques Pepin & Pierre Franey
November 18: Ferran Adria, El Bulli
You can find out more information about L’Espalier and “Top Shelf” classes, as well as make reservations on their website www.lespalier.com. Cheers!