Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
At Melibea, looking over the cocktail menu requires that you think about what you feel like drinking...literally. Drinks at the recently opened West Village restaurant are grouped not by style or ingredient but by texture, falling under one of four categories: Linen, Silk, Velvet, and Leather.
Raphael Reyes, formerly of 1534 and the Experimental Cocktail Club, is head bartender, though he is quick to note that the list is very much a collaborative effort with his team, which includes veterans from Pegu Club and Pouring Ribbons. "The whole idea behind it is focusing on the texture of the drink, what you're going to feel in the mouth," he explains. "so 'Leather,' for example, is going to be heavier, more spirit forward."
Syrups play a major role in telling the texture story. "Every syrup we use is a rich syrup—an oleo saccharum in some cases, or sometimes a simple syrup with 2:1 parts sugar," says Reyes. "That's what gives you more texture and flavor, it prevents the drink from being flat and allows flavors to layer down." In the smoky Mezcal & Pimentón, you'll find Calamansi honey syrup, with citrus notes to give the drink its sharpness and act as a bridge between ingredients. And a creation called "African syrup" is featured in the Cava & Cherry Tomatoes: the spiced simple syrup is infused with everything from grains of paradise and paprika to cinnamon and clove.
This being a contemporary Mediterranean restaurant (Jesus Nuñez is chef), the region's flavors and ingredients feature prominently on the cocktail list. But it isn't the only connective thread between the bar and kitchen. "Jesus's food is very beautiful, so in a sense I feel that the cocktails should reflect that," explains Reyes. "But we're not using garnishes just for the sake of using a garnish, each has a task—some are aromatic, some are edible..." In the Rum & Rosemary, for example, an intensely fragrant basil blossom adds depth to the drink's herbal profile.
We're not really about doing variations on drinks," says Reyes. "It's more about aiming to introduce people to new flavors, taking things people don't or wouldn't normally drink and finding a way to help them enjoy drinking it."