July 28, 2011
There is no shortage of wow crackling through Restaurant 1833 (643-1833) as it completes its first month of existence—enough, in fact, to somehow scale it to the outsize hype that only swelled as its original opening date spiraled off into the future, and enough to drown out the complaints of a service snafu or two or premature evaluations of the halibut.
Levi Mezick's warm goat-cheese custard ($12) moves eyebrows and hearts. His biscuits—whether built around bacon and cheddar or sun-dried tomato and feta ($3.50 for two)—are so moist and flavorful they don’t need the accompanying maple chili butter or exotic sea salt, but they do necessitate a return visit all by their lonesome.
The wild mushroom-prosciutto pizza with begging-to-be-broken soft poached eggs, Parmesan and sage ($16), meanwhile, can challenge any pie beneath Monterey County skies. Like the family-style, truffle-butter-rubbed roasted chicken breast with artichokes, bacon and black garlic ($23) or the mac cheese and cheese ($5) or the caramelized endive with Medjool dates ($6.50) or the crispy prosciutto-wrapped hen egg ($12) or the watermelon gazpacho shooters ($5) each plate perpetuate more tastes, if for no other reason than you want—no, feel compelled—to taste the whole menu.
I’ve tasted all of the hits above (and the gnocchi, $21, the boneless chicken wings confit, $6.50, and the roasted cauliflower, $5, and the...), and the only things I’ve seen miss are the boring mini baked bacon potato ($5) and the confusing smoked heirloom soup, and the soup was a free gift-from-the-chef meal-starter, so they get a pass there.
Then there’s the setting. The hedged-and-firepitted patio might upstage any outdoor area in the vicinity, and it’s still adding elements.
The sparkling historic-but-modern decor—the time-period magnifying glasses, pitch-perfect chandeliers, over-sized stuffed chairs and glowing green-onyx bar—had one local interior design pro I know breathing words like “stunning” and “inspired.”
But it’s the absinthe that’s on fire. For added theater, staff kills the lights in the bar when someone orders it Russian-style (i.e. aflame).
General Manager Tobias Peach believes his list can compete with the country’s elite. There are indicators it can: For one, he’s engineered a similar lineup at Hubert Keller’s Fleur de Lys. He plays up the potency for those that seek it, and recommends lighter alcohol options for the neophytes (and caps the night’s intake at three). He understands both the smear campaign that kept the energizing green fairy from thirsty lips and the purveyors, who he says are introducing new bottles almost daily.
“It’s great for a moment when things taper off,” he says. “When the candle’s at its last flicker, to spice it back up. It makes you a lil’ euphoric and a lil’ drunk, and it also breaks down fats like a digestif.”
They sold 30 in one night during their first week. That night: a Monday. When’s the last time any drink sold that many anywhere in the county—let alone for as much as $25?
The tableside absinthe program might be the best metaphor for the ambitious philosophy he is installing in his able staff: Namely, that there is no reason why 1833 can’t vie for James Beard Best New Restaurant accolades nationally.
“Why make excuses that we’re not in a big enough city,” he says. “We have the building, the product, the people.”
His staff also gets the no-excuses treatment.
“I’m going to give you the info, and our programs, on a manifest,” he says, “so you’re not gonna be able to say you didn’t know. If we can get to the smallest details, like [Nancy Oakes’] Boulevard or [Danny Meyer’s] Gramercy Tavern, and work on those, we know we’ve won the game.”
The absinthe is merely the most eye-catching element in an avalanche of elixir undertakings. At one of the soft opening events, in the gorgeous Governor’s Room white wine cathedral, Wine Director Ted Glennon, who signed on from running all sorts of wine and cocktail programs at San Diego’s landmark Hotel Del Coronado, softly promised that he had some tricks to pull out that would surprise even wine guys with resumes like those of Rob Weakley and David Bernahl, the co-founders of Coastal Luxury Management and 1833 who can be found sipping Montrachet at any given moment. He’s currently barrel-aging his own recipe for coffee liqueur on site—wait till the bourbon gets the next turn—and a wildly refreshing-and-flavorful Negroni in vanilla-oak char.
One of the big reasons things are going well over there (that’s generally speaking, haters, who I know are out there; I know there’s been a lot of turnover in the kitchen): All the principal talents have a close wingman they trust. (Maybe inspired by the Weakley-Bernahl bromance.)
Peach has stud assistant GM William Townsend; Glennon brought on Spiritsmith Mike Lay to run the ambitious bar and deliver dope drinks like the Godfather and Basil Pimms ($10); Mezick has Nicolai Grigorov.
They only thing missing, perhaps, is more female intuition, but there’s always CLM do-it-all deputy Sarah Potter.
Here's a peek at the list, with some notes pulled from the labels' respective websites:
Djabel - $20
“Djabel contains more thujone (from wormwood) than most other absinth that has become available in Australia—it has slightly more than Green Fairy and is bottled at 70 percent alcohol volume.”
Green Moon - $15 “Our absinthe is an alluring herbal blend of wormwood, star anise, green anise, fruit barks, fennel, and cintrus with a touch of honey. The result is ultra-smooth and we think it is a jewel of a beverage...Velvety mouth feel, surprisingly mixable and incredibly tasting. Super-premium French vodka and authentic absinthe together at last!”
Mata Hari - $20 “Characterized by a heavy anise (known to us as dark licorice) flavor, these absinthes are generally enjoyed only in the traditional ritual, with water and a little sugar, or maybe as a bitters substitute in a limited range of cocktails. Mata Hari has the same natural green color, grande wormwood (the subject of the controversy that led to the banning of absinthe) and louche effect of French style absinthe, but that is where her deception ends. The much less anise heavy taste leaves a far more desirable flavor when enjoyed in the traditional ritual or in one of the many cocktails that can be created with Mata Hari.”
St. George - $25 "To make St. George Absinthe Verte, we begin with the traditional components of this storied spirit: the unholy trinity of wormwood, star anise, and fennel. We then infuse an array of carefully selected herbs and botanicals in fine brandy to create a spectacularly deep flavor profile and tongue-tingling lushness—with nothing artificial, ever. STEP AWAY FROM THE MATCHES AND PUT DOWN THAT SUGAR CUBE. We bottle this beguiling creation at 120 proof to keep the botanicals in solution. Sipped neat, it’s a heady, herbaceous smack to the senses."
Kubler - $15 “Neat: Clear. Rich black licorice, white pepper, spice, and meringue aromas follow through on a soft, supple entry to a dryish medium-to-full body with a lots of dried hay, wet stone, and crushed anise layers. Finishes with a long, hot, anise and drying wormwood tea-like fade. A pure, dry and precise absinthe."
Koruna Bohemian - $15 “Koruna (crown) absinth has been created from premium quality natural herbs grown in the Czech Republic including wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)—some of which remains in the bottle.”
Vieux Carre - $15 “The spirit is not over filtered, preserving the flavors extracted through the natural coloring process. A miniscule herbal particulate is natural if found. The rich louche slowly builds as the essential oils refract light and create a dynamic opalescence. With the addition of chilled water the complexity of each herbal layer will come to fruition. The warm, long and lingering finish is harmonious, complex and subtle.”
Grande Absente - $20 “What sets Grande Absente apart is the combination of French and artisnal distillation techniques and high quality mix of regional botanicals which results in a great tasting absinthe, a surprisingly refreshing drink that’s out of this world.”
La Fée - $20 “Upon adding iced water its louche has great consistency turning a smoky and milky lime green. On the palate it is softly textured and refreshing with discreet spicy flavours and a flavourful mid-palate of anise. Rich and powerful, La Fée Parisienne is a harmonious absinthe full of personality.” http://www.lafeeabsinthe.com/content/view/45/104/
La Clandestine - $20 “La Clandestine is the ONLY absinthe hand-crafted in the village where absinthe was first born. Every stage of the process used to distill and bottle La Clandestine is hand-crafted. Choosing the best plants, distilling each small batch, bottling and labelling. True to the traditions and now to the laws of Switzerland, La Clandestine absinthe is distilled (rather than just macerated as are some cheaper absinthes). None of the family of La Clandestine absinthes have any added artificial colour. All are 100 percent natural.”
NV - $15 “The Perfect Party Spirit is a new spirit; perfect for modern drinking. Distilled with grand wormwood (artemisia abinthium) to 38 percent ABV, 76 proof; allowing for greater versatility when making drinks.
Pernod - $20 "Like the product sold in the 19th century, Pernod Absinthe has an alcohol content of 68 percent. It is a premium spirit made from quality natural ingredients, and each bottle of Pernod Absinthe is handcrafted—bottled, corked, and labeled manually by Pernod distillery employees in France. Produced from alcohol, extracts of “grande wormwood” together with star anise, fennel, hyssop and other herbs, Pernod Absinthe has a signature green tint from a coloring added to ensure a consistent and quality product across time and bottlings."
Versinthe - $15 “Versinthe is a unique drink, combining the freshness absinthe, and gently softening their bitterness with infusions and alcoholates of more than twenty different plants and roots. This maceration of absinth plants is combined with a gentian infusion and a maceration of over twenty plants to give an elegant and refined drink that perfectly balances bitterness, freshness and subtlety. It is 45 percent.”
Ordinaire ($15) "Absinthe Ordinaire is made from natural, traditional absinthe botanicals, not oils or essences, including a full measure of the legendary botanical wormwood or artemisia absinthium. Some of the other botanicals that give Absinthe Ordinaire its unique and flavorful taste profile include Sweet Anise, star anise, sweet balm, mugwort (rumored to stir human passions, perhaps the French touch!) and peppermint.