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.
With the newly opened Allumette, a fine dining and cocktail scene is emerging in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, an area where such a scene was previously nonexistent. Named after the precise knife cut that yields matchstick-sized batons from vegetables, Allumette is helmed by executive chef Miles Thompson.
And while Thompson's tasting menu of intricate dishes do not belie the restaurant's name, the vision for the bar program at Allumette is just as precise. The cocktails at Allumette are overseen by bar manager Serena Herrick, formerly of Pour Vous and Harvard & Stone.
Herrick's vision for the cocktail list is to not only complement Thompson's food, but to instill her own sense of taste and experiences as well. "The focus of the bar program here is to have aperitif and digestif-heavy drinks and food-friendly cocktails," said Herrick. "I love amari and I also love Tiki cocktails, so those influences can definitely be seen in the drinks here."
You'll see them in the Red Letter Day, which features complex and bitter Cocchi Vermouth di Torino along with rhum agricole and orgeat, and in The Smoking Gun, comprised of herbal Calisaya, as well as Cynar and mezcal. The Last Ango is a Tiki-inspired drink whose base spirit is a full ounce of Angostura bitters. That's right: a full ounce.
Herrick's time at Harvard & Stone prepared her to be creative with spirits: there, a special "R&D Bar" featured weekly experimental cocktails in addition to its standard bar menu. "Harvard & Stone can prepare you for anything because they serve great cocktails at a crazy volume," said Herrick. "And I was in the R&D bar once a week there, so I was constantly thinking of new things. So when it came time to open Allumette, the bar menu just came naturally."
Herrick's personal approach to bartending focuses on introducing patrons to new and unique spirits, without the off-putting air sometimes associated with craft cocktails and 'mixologists. "I come from dive bars. We're bartenders first and foremost," said Herrick. "Doing this craft stuff is amazing, but being able to deal with people is something that gets lost sometimes. I want to open people up to new things without being pretentious about it, so every spirit I chose on our list has that intent."
Although Allumette is the only establishment of its kind in its neighborhood, the dishes put forth by chef Thompson and the cocktails mixed by Serena Herrick may be enough reason for Angelenos to flock to Eagle Rock, Herrick believes.
"We've got lots of customers from the neighborhood, but because of Miles' food and maybe my following from Harvard & Stone, people from all over LA are coming here," said Herrick. "I'm really excited to be working with Miles, and I think that Allumette can be a neighborhood place, as well as a destination restaurant and bar where people can enjoy really great food and great cocktails."
About the author: Marvin Gapultos is the author of the Filipino food blog, Burnt Lumpia. His first cookbook is due out in 2013. When he isn't cooking or writing about Filipino food, Marvin is usually enjoying a beer or cocktail, and thinking about what to eat with said beer or cocktail. You can follow him on Twitter @BurntLumpia.