"People talk about how cocktails don't pair well with food," says Aaron Polsky, the man behind the menu at West Village Japanese restaurant Neta. "They're too sweet, they're too high in ABV, whatever. A Manhattan annihilates anything, even a huge steak." But to Polsky, that was a sign that cocktails could take a different direction. "Sure, maybe cocktails as we know them don't pair with food. But what if there were a paradigm shift?"
I've seen other savory cocktails that, say, use vegetable juices, or actually incorporate salt (and not just on the rim of the margarita). But Polsky's push much farther into the territory. When was the last time you had a cocktail that made use of sautéed maitake mushrooms; or infused a spirit with bonito flakes? Umami bombs are all over the place.
"My approach is really to start with savory ingredients, food ingredients—and to keep things dry. For the most part, the wine you drink with food is quite dry; cocktails should end up the same way." Many of the ingredients Polsky uses are Japanese-inspired, but not all, as is true of Neta's cuisine. "We're a sushi restaurant, sure, but we aren't constrained by that tradition; there are Chinese elements, Korean, French. The cocktail menu wanders around, too."
So there's a good deal of variety—Sichuan peppercorn sours and cherry blossom whiskey-ale drinks, in addition to the more boundary-pushing savory ones. "We want everything to be savory; or seasonal; or Japanese—or some combination of the three."
Come take a look at six of Polsky's cocktails, including a few brand-new ones that'll show up on the menu this week or next.
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