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.
The guys behind ZZ's Clam Bar are not shy about their fondness for eating raw seafood and drinking cocktails. The 12-seat restaurant from the group behind Carbone, Torrisi Italian Specialties, and Parm, occupies a dark, intimate space on Thompson Street. There's crudo, carpaccio, ceviche, and tartare and while they do offer select bottles of white wine and beer, there's a special emphasis on spirits.
The cocktails ($18-$20) share equal billing with the food. Head bartender Thomas Waugh, formerly of Death & Co., says, "Rich [Torrisi] and I didn't plan anything together. I focused on my drinks, he focused on his food." The cocktails aren't designed to complement specific dishes, but he mentions that the citrus-focused drinks in particular work well with the fresh acidity of the food.
Waugh was inspired by the vaguely nautical theme of the restaurant. "Drinks turned out lighter and fresher because of that," he says, but emphasizes that "we're not a tiki bar. I love tiki and I probably subconsciously did some things in that vein, but not on purpose." The clearest example of tropical inspiration is found in the Coconut, made with 12 year aged Angostura 1824 rum, house made coconut cream, acacian honey, and fresh lime juice, served in a coconut shell with a straw of torched cinnamon bark. The drink is a riff on a Bee's Kiss, exchanging the original's cream for coconut cream.
The drinks each showcase a single ingredient, simply highlighted on the menu, avoiding the trend of cleverly named cocktails. Coffee, though, is slightly deceptive, as there's only a rinse of chilled Toby's Estate coffee. The base of the drink is Dos Maderas, a Spanish rum that's aged in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. It's stirred with Campari, creme de cacao, and Lemon Hart 151 demerara rum. The combination is served in a teacup with a sprig of dried lavender, which brings out the floral notes in the coffee.
Cherry, a stirred Templeton rye cocktail, loosely plays off of a Manhattan. Luxardo Cherry Liqueur and Schladerer cherry eau de vie are mixed with chocolate mole bitters, cinnamon bark syrup, and just a teaspoon of mezcal for smoke and earthiness. As a nod to the nautical theme of the restaurant, the stem of the chilled glass is wrapped in fibrous rope.
Herbaceous St. George Terroir gin, flavored with sage, Douglas fir, and California bay laurel, forms the base for a shaken Pineapple cocktail. Fresh pineapple juice, lime juice, housemade limoncello, and a garnish of chamomile round out the drink. The pineapple chalice is one of the many vintage cups that Waugh found on eBay specifically for the bar.
For the Strawberry cocktail, muddled New Jersey strawberries are mixed with astringent and tart calamansi juice, Dolin Blanc vermouth, rosemary infused Tanqueray gin, a teaspoon of Pernod, and a thick simple syrup. The thick syrup helps the drink maintain its richness as the ice melts.
Curious about the food at ZZ's Clam Bar? Check out our preview here.