Cutting-edge Cocktails Light up New York


You're not allowed to light a cigarette in New York bars, but there's nothing to stop a bartender from setting your cocktail on fire with a 815 degrees Celsius (1,500 degrees Fahrenheit) poker.

In fact, the red hot rod is just the tip of the mad scientist treatment meted out to drinks at Booker & Dax, a new Manhattan drinking hole that's taking cocktail trends to extremes.

Dave Arnold, culinary technology director at the French Culinary Institute, has brought molecular gastronomy techniques to the liquid meal, calling on his background in science and art for extra inspiration.

The 30cm (one foot) long poker delivers instant, fierce heat. Liquid nitrogen, at minus 200 degrees Celsius (minus 328 Fahrenheit), chills and produces a lot of weird mist around the glass. A centrifuge and an impressive machine called a rotary evaporator transform ordinary herbs and fruits into pure, clear juices and essences.

Arnold, 40, is widely recognized as one of the leaders of a national revival of the cocktail culture in which old favorites get creative makeovers and the likes of bottled vodka-tonics get tipped down the drain.

Yet Arnold insists that his bar, which opened this month, has only one aim: to serve delicious drinks.

"We don't have anything on the menu that's challenging you or pushing out of your comfort zone," he said. "We're not mixing flavors that you would think bizarre. The less customers know the better: we don't want them thinking we're doing a bunch of gimmicks."

Maybe so, but Arnold and his acolytes grapple with some eye-popping procedures.

As he speaks, Arnold demonstrates the hot poker technique, whipping something called a French Colombian -- Pernod, lemon juice, brown sugar, cinnamon -- into flaming froth.

The poker, which heats electrically to a fierce red glow, is Arnold's own design and, he admits, "one of the most unpredictable" tools in the bar.

Not that the other tools are for amateurs. The carbonation system requires "a little bit of an art," while liquid nitrogen, although "pretty consistent," must be watched for potential burns. As for the fragile and expensive, laboratory-style rotary evaporator, Arnold is adamant: "I don't let anyone else use it."


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