Monday, September 21, 2009

FoodTrek: L’heure Verte at Naga

The Green Fairy. From the French nickname, La Fee Verte, it affectionately refers to absinthe, truly a spirit of delectable mystery, clouded in a louche made up of more of myth than fact. Beyond the threat of madness the drink rumored to cause, absinthe was the fanciful poster child for the bohemian movement of art and poetry in late 19th century Paris. The process of the halcyon green absinthe turning into a swirl of cloudy opalescence when water is introduced to insolubles within the liquor's ingredients was compared to the elusive spark of artistic inspiration. The Prime was given the opportunity to play avid spectator to the inspirational and artistic work of the ladies behind the bar at Chantanee's Naga for an evening, to watch them revive the bohemian spirit of turn of the century France at Rouge! A Ladies Night. Vive la bohème !

This Moxie Bird will put a feather in your cap, and a dent in your liver - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I've posted about Naga several times before, not just because I love Chantanee's Thai food, but because I always feel like I learn something when I sidle up to the bar. It's a rare treat to experience a place that has bartenders blessed with crazymadskillz to basically tell you what you should be drinking, and be right every single time. Adhering to their special Rouge! event menu, myself and some members of the infamous Happy Hour Martini Mafia took advantage of these unique cocktails and the opportunity to bend the ear of the very talented and award-winning guest bartender, Anu Apte of Seattle's Rob Roy bar (previously the Viceroy).

Along with the talents of Ms. Apte, the other ladies holding court at the bar were Chelsea North of Vessel fame, and Amanda Womack, one of Naga's resident bartender extraordinares. They were like the Charlie's Angels of bartending: fighting crime, solving mysteries, and mixing frosty beverages to save the world from boring appletinis.

Saffron Sandalwood Sour, Couturier, and the Nurse Chapel - prepared to be negronked - Photos by Wasbi Prime

The drink menu was a chef's table equivalent of unique cocktails, all a respectful nod towards past and present. Anu Apte's contribution were two drinks, the Saffron Sandalwood Sour and the Moxie Bird. The Sandalwood Sour was a subtle, fragrant whisper of a drink. Taking cues from her own childhood memories, the dusting of the sandalwood powder atop the cloud of egg white foam provided an aromatic prelude to the tasting of the gin-based drink, creating a really lovely experience that engaged all the senses. The Moxie Bird was the main course to the Sandalwood Sour's appetizer. Bourbon-based, the Moxie indeed had moxie. The floral notes of the St. Germain provided a nice balance, letting one really savor all the flavors in the drink.
It was reminiscent of a Manhattan, but a kinder, gentler version. One that would at least give you a sultry wink before knocking you to the floor.

I next selected a drink from the Naga home team, courtesy Andrew Bohrer, who authored the Star Trek inspired Nurse Chapel. I have much geek respect for someone who puts a drink on the menu called the 4d6 (the dice are epic, as is the potential damage one of those mystery drinks could inflict). Ultimate nerdy props to a spirited tribute to Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry's wife, Majel Barrett, who in the original series played Nurse Christine Chapel, prior to gaining intergalactic Betazoid Cougar status as Deanna Troi's minx of a mom. How dorkasaurus-rex is it that I know that? At least the drink was pretty awesome -- rich flavor of armagnac, the sweetness of the violet liqueur being balanced out with chocolate bitters. One flavor never fully taking over the other, the profile changing as the ingredients begin to coat one's palate. Captain Kirk would totally dig this Nurse.

The delicious and proper way to cradle the incoming booze - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Speaking of palate, our tummies were rumbling and the only answer to this call of the wild is Thai food. Thank god we were prepared! Chantanee's kitchen put together a special menu of nibbles for the night, and we feasted on bacon-wrapped sausages with spicy sriracha, crispy calamari salad, and my favorite, stuffed crispy chicken wings. The chicken wings were like protein-powered springrolls. They took chicken wings sliced with a small pocket, and then stuffed them with the familiar springroll filling. These were great choices, as they weren't too heavily spiced to compete with the featured cocktails.

Despite Andrew Bohrer's recommendation to experience every drink, I got four out of the five. I did not have the Couturier, but did sample it from one of my Mafiosos and fellow bloggers, Ms. SjBe . Created by the award-winning Jim Romdall of Vessel, this gin-based drink has the look of a prosaic Cosmopolitan, but the familiar blush belies its fresh and complex gusto. Anu Apte explained the Couturier's genesis, which came together as a result of an excess of fresh rosemary syrup and a bar full of models who like bubbly. Not overly sweet, the fresh pine flavor of the gin and rosemary combine nicely with the fresh citrus, and a hit of bubbly at the end to appeal to the inner-supermodel in us all.

The Green Fairy sends us off for the evening - Photos by Wasabi Prime

I credit Amanda Womack for introducing me to an absinthe that I thought was quite enjoyable, with or without the French method of dissolving a cube of sugar with a slow stream of water. The Swiss-made Kubler has a really pleasant flavor. I'm not a huge fan of anise, only appreciating it in small doses, and this particular brand of absinthe was smooth, sweetly aged, and with only notes of the licorice flavor to enhance the taste. There was no unpleasant burn or peppery flavor that I've found with other absinthe brands. Kubler's flavor is nuanced and complex, and when I ordered a glass of it, prepared with the lovely and picture-worthy balancier service, the Green Fairy blessed us with her presence, as the louche blossomed within the glass. Posessed with the artistic intent of souls like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, it was a good night to enjoy life in a bar full of music, people, and ample spirits.

Goody for goodybags and the floral flourish of a Mekong Sour - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Merci to Chantanee and Bar Naga for creating yet another educational and magically delicious evening, as well as the Jeff Busch Band for performing. The ladies of Rouge! were a treat to chat with and watch them perform their spirited magic. Thanks also to Intermezzo Salon for providing little goodie bags to the ladies sitting at the bar, and letting the ladies behind the bar model their dandy styling.

* Post Script: Thanks to Liqurious and FoodieView for posting the absinthe photo on their sites! Cheers to you!

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  1. So awesome! I wish I were part of the Happy Hour Martini Mafia so I could experience this great place along with you! This post was an inspiration for my Cocktail Friday posts- I've got all sorts of ideas floating around in my head...getting dizzy... Everything looks fabulous- including the delicious food. I've had stuffed chicken wings here in Tokyo and have been working on a recipe for a blog post. They are so finger lickin' good!

  2. I love absinthe, I brought a few bottle from Aix en Provence. Didn't know you could get it over here. Great post, now I want to go to that place too. I'm sure you had a delightful evening.

  3. That was a bomb night! The Naga bar is head and shoulders above anything in Bellevue.

  4. I have to admit that I skipped the drink section because I don't drink much at all. But those Thai appitizer looks amazing. The stuffed chicken wings is so delicious looking. She must be a great cook/chef. Squid salad is also lovely.

  5. All are welcome to the Happy Hour Martini Mafia -- honorary members and international correspondents encouraged! ;) Oui oui, absinthe is TOTALLY LEGAL in America. People were concerned about the levels of thujone, which is toxic, but if present in the liquor, it is removed during the distillation process, so absinthe is no more or less dangerous than any other spirit. Drink up, ladies and gents!

  6. Hi! Found you via Tokyo Terrace, my new favorite blog!
    Just had to comment and say that I invested in my own absinthe fountain. Now my set is complete! It's such an epic way to have a cocktail! And Kubler is indeed the best absinthe you can purchase in the US. Really anything from Switzerland is the best! Even cheese!



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