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.
I can't say I ever expected to find a particularly forward-thinking cocktail program in the Meatpacking District.
But I also can't say I ever expected to find Aaron Polsky in the Meatpacking District. Polsky, who you may recognize from his work at Neta and Amor y Amargo, was brought in at Manon to develop a cocktail program that was "cutting-edge and delicious," he told us, "but could also handle the volume of a 200-seat restaurant." Manon looks the product of its neighborhood, a stylish new 14th Street venue with soaring ceilings, levels each visible from the other, intricate chandeliers and a towering bar.
The challenge of developing cocktails that could be consistent at high volume, to Polsky, meant a good bit of geekery: centrifuges, iSi units, making hydrosols, and more. "I wanted to take the techniques pioneered at places like Booker + Dax and use them in places that were more accessible," he told us. "After all, isn't that the point of innovation?"
Rather than spelling out the ingredients in a given cocktail, Polsky opts instead for descriptions that come closer to tasting notes—wanting each summary to convey something about the drink as a whole. Presumably, it also quiets the "I don't like tequila" or "I only drink vodka" crowds. (I wasn't surprised by how much I liked the bourbon drink on the menu, but I have to admit I loved the vodka one—and probably wouldn't order it if the ingredients were listed out.)
The descriptions are meant to circumvent the standard process of evaluating by ingredient, and many of the drinks don't give you visual clues to work with, either. Clarified strawberry juice and a strawberry water means that a vibrantly berry-tasting cocktail is only the palest hue of pink. A vivid yellow cocktail houses layered flavors of Earl Grey tea.
And even if ingredients were listed out, the average drinker wouldn't know what to expect from pisco Mosto Verde or ylang-ylang water. "We want these drinks to be more than the sum of their parts," Polsky says, "so we want to describe them in completion."
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