Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations. Wanna check out the food at this new April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman project? That post is over here.
"My idea with the menu here was to start with classic American and Mexican cocktails—the Mexican Firing Squad, the Vieux Carré—break them down, and reinterpret them through a lens that's both a little more Mexico-focused in its ingredients, and a little modern," says Sam Anderson, the tall, heavily tattooed bar manager at Salvation Taco, Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield's new taqueria in the Pod 39 Hotel in Murray Hill. The Hotel Delmano bartending hotshot has been running the program at the hotel's rooftop bar since the summer.
"In the summer, our biggest seller was 10 ounces of liquor served in a whole watermelon," he adds with a bit of an eye roll. "But we've been working on our drinks menu with April's menu in mind."
Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield's restaurants—The Spotted Pig, The Breslin, and The John Dory—all have strong bar programs, but it'd be hard to say that cocktails are the primary focus of any of those projects. At Salvation Taco three distinct bars are open, aimed at providing the neighborhood with an option outside of the sports and frat-boy-cum-banker bars that populate it. The main bar is delightfully kitschy, populated with brightly colored Mexican knickknacks, while the secondary bar is a more toned-down affair with communal tables, comfortable armchairs, and a ping pong table. The full menu—food and drink—will also be available at the rooftop bar.
"The challenge here was to make my normal cocktail philosophy—trying to hit every note across the palate—work with strongly flavored food." To accomplish this, Anderson has taken the spirit-forward cocktails you expect in a modern cocktail bar and softened them with food-friendly flavors. Warm spices like cinnamon and allspice and food-friendly aromatics like vanilla and berry-scented guajillo chilis make their way into the drinks.
The bar is stocked with an eclectic mix of bitters, infusions, and American whiskies, rubbing shoulders with the expected large selection of tequilas and mezcals, along with more obscure Mexican specialties. Fernet and Amargo produced by Vallet, a 130-year-old Mexican distillery founded by French colonial expat Henri Vallet, and bacanora, a cousin of tequila and mezcal produced in Sonora. Anderson is particularly smitten by the latter. "It's only been available in the U.S. since 2011. We may well be the only local bar serving a bacanora cocktail."
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.