Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pearl + Nobu

I had the pleasure of hanging out last week with Derek, one of my favorites. We were going out one last time before my move to San Francisco--so this was a special occasion. What’s better to add to good conversation and good food? Well, I guess throw in some good drinks. And all three didn’t fail us.

Pearl’s Cocktail menu is devised by Francesco, the Las Vegas mixologist mentioned in the Lewers post. He seems to be putting his mark on Honolulu. He’s created menus for at least three Hawaii bars: the Halekulani (both House without a Key and Lewers Lounge), Rumfire, and also Pearl.

At night, the place turns into a dance club, but before that, it's actually a very pleasant place to sit and eat. There are several bars at which you can sit and also sprawled tables for bigger parties.

The only thing that bothered me about Pearl was that the uniform for female bartenders was this super low-cut vest that hardly covered anything; the whole back was exposed. Call me old-school (or I guess progressive, depending on who you are), but I think female bartenders should be able to get more respect. The guys didn't have to walk around shirtless or in speedos.

Derek and I made Happy Hour (which lasts until 8!), so our first round of specialty cocktails were a bit cheaper. We also chose three dishes off the happy hour menu: the calamari, the Kobe burger and the pork loin. Each were about $8.

My favorite was the calamari because it had three dipping sauces: spicy marinara, mayonnaise, and teriyaki (the one I liked best!). The pork loin was also tender and rich. It came with a great side of potatoes cooked with onions.

Anyway, sorry sorry, on to the DRINKS.

Drink 1: Ginger’s Sexy Secret

Ingredients: Corzo silver tequila, Cointreau, fresh ginger, cranberry juice.
Taste: Like many of Francesco’s drinks, Sexy Secret was fruity and sweet. The cranberry juice came out strongest of all, which is probably why it reminded me of a tequila-based Cosmo. The ginger was subtle, and I wish it showed up with a more distinct punch. Overall, very drinkable, though it lacked much complexity.

Derek’s Drink 1: Lilikoi Dream

Ingredients: Grand marnier, barsol Peruvian pisco, passion fruit, fresh govinda’s juice. Topped with crème de noya and nutmeg.
Taste: “Wow, that’s a cocktail,” was Derek’s first remark. The pisco was strong. I took a sip, too, and thought it tasted a lot like POG (that's passion orange guava juice, for you non-Hawaii people). The crème de nova and nutmeg made great garnishes. I could smell the spices as I brought my nose to the glass, and it tasted spicy. YUM.

After Pearl, Derek and I tried to go to Lewers one last time before I left Hawaii to go live on the Mainland. I especially wanted to say good bye to the bartender Tim. Alas, we arrived at the Halekulani and the whole front was boarded up! We entered the hotel through a side door, but when we got to the Lounge it was CLOSED. Boarded up for three to four weeks while they redo the floors. We asked if there were any other bar open in the Halekulani. The hotel guy said no. But we were invited to sit with some other forlorn looking tourists who were nursing drinks in some corner of Orchids restaurant. There was no Tim. And I also recalled a rather nasty encounter with some bed bugs the last time I sat on a padded seat at the Halekulani (You know you’re in trouble when your dermatologist says, “EW.”).

So instead, we went across the street to Nobu, as I had just been telling Derek how much I loved its drinks.

Nobu is mostly known as a Japanese fine dining experience. I hear the food is delicious but that a date there would leave you out hundreds of dollars.

But a section of the restaurant is also devoted to an extremely pleasant bar and lounge area. The lighting is low with candles on each table. There’s one long bar, or you can sit in stylish clusters inside or outside. They play trendy music in the background softly enough so you can talk.

The staff is exceptionally nice. On one occasion previous to that night, the bartender let us try some fried garlic peppers. He said only one in 20 was spicy. And when I hit the jackpot and almost cried, they gave me a lychee to suck on and then all the water I could ask for.

They’re also super experienced. I’ve talked to two bartenders there, and both of them had years behind them mixing drinks at all sorts of venues. Their drinks are among my favorite in all Hawaii because their recipes capitalize on the alcohol’s flavor instead of trying to mask it. To be warned, though, at $14 a glass, the drinks are also expensive. I’ve never had a more pricey drink in Hawaii.

Ben the bartender is great, though. He works most nights during the week, as well as some weekends. He worked for a few years at the Shorebird before coming over to Nobu. The owner asked him to enter the upcoming annual Grand Marnier contest. We’ll have to root for him.

Honolulu magazine once called Nobu's the place with the best cocktails. I was initially suspicious, but in the end, I have to whole-heartedly agree.

My drink: Nash-tini

Ingredients: Pear infused gin (beefeater wet), poire williams, and fresh yuzu juice
Bar notes: I asked the bartender, Ben, whether he liked the drink. He said he did, but it’s the strongest drink on the menu because it’s mostly alcohol. They don’t infuse the gin themselves, but use Beefeater Wet—I had never heard of it before, but I was willing to try it. I also learned the Poire Williams is a type of pear liquer and yuzu is a Japanese citrus. At the bottom of the cup was some kind of sweet yuzu gelatin. Yup. You can see how the drink came out frosty and clear—just how I like my martinis.
Taste: Oh, for the win. Beefeater Wet is a wonderful gin. And since gin is basically a juniper-flavored (citrus) flavored spirit, it went perfectly with the yuzu. The taste of gin was bold and round. The Nash-tini is a true cocktail in my book. Also, a lot of people generally define a martini as anything poured into a martini glass. But I appreciated that this recipe was a true spin on the classic martini. Gin-based, as always, and poire williams instead of vermouth.

Derek’s drink: Pisco Sour

Ingredients: Pisco, lemon juice, simple syrup, drops of angostura
Bar notes: Yup, this was Derek’s second pisco sour of the night. He had one just before at Pearl. We thought it was a perfect time for direct comparison.
Taste: A completely different drink from the pisco sour from Pearl! While Pearl’s was punchy with the fruit and sugar, the Nobu’s version was less sweet and more balanced. The pisco created a beautiful froth from the shaking, and Ben added a few drops of angostura. So, as you pulled the drink up to your mouth, you could smell the licorice hints of angostura as the sweeter notes hit your tongue.

An Old Fashioned Round Up

OK, so I saved this for last. We tried three old fashions made by three different bartenders over the course of the night. Here’s what we got:

Old Fashioned 1: Pearl

Ingredients: muddle cherry, muddled orange, simple syrup, club soda, angostura bitters.
Bar notes: The bartender seemed pleasantly surprised when we ordered the drink and said it had been asked for only two or three times during his years as a bartender—and that night counted as one of the times.

Old Fashioned 2: Pearl, c/o owner Beau Mohr

Ingredients: muddled cherry, muddled orange, simple syrup, 7up, and a dash of angostura.
Bar notes: Legend (in the form of Derek and John Heckathorn) had told of bar owner Beau Mohr’s old fashioned. The last time Derek and John went to Pearl, Mr. Mohr had whipped up something wonderous for them. And, as it happened, the night Derek and I went to Pearl, Mr. Mohr showed up just as we were ordering our second round. Mr. Mohr scurried over to say hi to Derek, and I got introduced. When I raised my glass at him and told him I was having an old fashioned, he said, “Oh, I’ll make ya an old fashioned.” He went behind the bar and stood over the shoulder of the bartender, leading him through each step. I later asked the bartender about the differences between their two approaches. The bartender said the only differences were Mr. Mohr’s inclusion of 7up and the owner’s approach of stirring, not shaking the drink. Small differences, perhaps, but somehow…
Taste: I preferred Mr. Mohr’s much more. The drink was notably sweeter because of the 7up but more than that, the cherry had a rounder flavor. The angostura was also came in perfectly. I like Mr. Mohr’s drink because I usually like my old fashions old skool style: no soda water, no muddled cherry or orange, just honest sugar muddled into angostura, a jigger of bourbon or rye, and sometimes orange or lemon zest. But Mr. Mohr reminds me how varied this drink can be. Each bartender has her or her own stamp. Mr. Mohr's is delish.

Old fashioned 3: Nobu!

Ingredients: muddle cherry, muddled orange, simple syrup, angostura bitters, Maker’s mark
Bar notes: Derek was so impressed with his first drink that he said he really wanted to try another before we left. He was talking story with the bartender, Ben, and Derek came around to the question, “Do you know how to make an old fashioned?”
“YEAH I do" was the response. Done and done. Ben muddled everything together and then gave it a good shake. He even added an extra cherry garnish when he saw me take out my camera.
Taste: Let the heavens rejoice! This was my favorite old fashioned of the night and my favorite in Hawaii. The taste was deep and complex with bitter accents of the Makers snuggling against the angostura. And no soda. Just how I like it. Ben was actually worried that he made the drink too strong; he tasted it when he was done and then added more simple to the cup. Oh, but it was just right.

A great night in all. What a great send off. Thanks, everyone, especially Derek!

Ho'opika Terrace
3rd Level
Ala Moana Center
Happy hour? Yes.

2233 Helumoa Rd.
Honolulu, HI 96815
Sun-Wed 5:30-10
Thurs-Sat 5:30-11
Bar lounge hours: Mon-Sun 5-midnight
Drinks: $14 (oomph)
Happy hour? Yes. Between 5 and 7 get $20 sake flights.

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