I’d heard buzz that the bar inside the new Prep Kitchen restaurant in Little Italy, open for less than a month now, was poised to give Craft & Commerce a run for its money. So I gave it a try.
I had one drink from the late-night happy-hour craft-cocktail list, the Byzantine—a Manhattan variation with rye, spiced fig cordial replacing vermouth and chocolate bitters instead of Angostura. My second drink, staying with rye, was a Sazerac from the classics list.
What’s working: Sazerac brand rye (not to be confused with the cocktail of the same name) is a spicy, quality, 90-proof whiskey worth building a drink on. The cordial for the Byzantine was spice-forward and not cloyingly sweet. The gracious bartender let me have a taste of this house-made concoction, and it would make a beguiling aperitif. I appreciated the home-kitchen-style ice cubes popped out of trays, which work better for a drink than standard bar ice. I also must mention the stellar malted-chocolate pudding dessert with a side of buttery, light, nutty cookies that were some of the best I’ve ever tasted. This is a dessert born for pairing with whiskey. Also, kudos for no TV in the bar!
Areas for improvement: Free-pouring is unacceptable. If there’s time to hand-peel a lemon, there’s time to measure a jigger of whiskey. There’s no excuse for any place that seeks to elevate the cocktail (and charge $12 for one at a happy hour, for that matter) to eyeball the drinks. They also need to be tasted with a mini straw to ensure proper balance and temperature. The Byzantine was tasty, but bitters-heavy; the Sazerac could’ve used slightly more sugar and a lot more stirring; and my drinks weren’t cold enough. The bar manager has a chance now, in the early weeks of operation, to make it work, given these changes:
Refrigerate all glassware and barware (ice water chilling is less effective, but if it’s the only option, chill longer). And measure and taste all drinks to aim for perfection and consistency. Until these steps are taken, Prep Kitchen’s cocktailing efforts are not even in the same ballpark as Craft & Commerce. The cookies, however, are like pieces of angel manna straight from heaven.
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