Serious Eats: Drinks
First Look: Cocktails at Levant in Portland, OR
Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with bars and restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
Levant has moved into the former Alder Pastry & Dessert space on East Burnside in SE Portland and will officially open their doors for business today. The restaurant, under the direction of chef/owner Scott Snyder, will serve Arab-inspired cuisine, with an emphasis on exotic spices. Lydia Reissmueller created the bar program to leave in the capable hands of lead bartenders Alex Blair and Alex Manning.
Reissmueller's drink menu is comprised of nine seasonal cocktails and an ever-changing series of "mini-cocktails": herb or spice-infused spirits served neat in small tasting glasses for $5. "I like to think of it as a choose-your-own adventure for drinks," says Reissmueller. "By not serving 10 ounce cocktails, you don't have to commit to one drink, and the variety makes the entire dining experience more dynamic." The current mini-cocktail offerings include rum infused with black lime, garnished with an orange slice dusted in nutmeg, as well as whiskey infused with chamomile, garnished with candied ginger.
Reissmueller said that she selected spirits to represent a range of different countries and traditions. She's excited to feature the new Raki release from local distiller House Spirits. Raki is a grape-distilled spirit that is flavored with anise and very popular in the Mediterranean. Reissmueller also has a particular fondness for amari and praises their mixability in cocktails. "I want to meet Portland where they are currently at, and while some local drinkers are now familiar with some amari, I want to encourage further exploration," says Reissmueller.
The bar program is heavily influenced by the spices that line the kitchen walls in hermetically sealed glass jars, and the drinks will play with some of the same flavors that are coming out of the kitchen. Reissmueller steers away from using refined sugars, instead incorporating sweeteners like organic local honey and unrefined demerara sugar.
About the Author: Greg Harned lives in Portland, OR, where he enjoys cocktails, drinking and general mischief-making in candlelit speakeasies, swanky cocktail lounges and dingy dive bars. He manages Portland Craft Cocktails where he writes about his various exploits. You can follow him on Twitter @craftcocktails.