Let’s cut to the chase – food and alcohol are brethren. They always have been. I can imagine the first culinary entrepreneur, standing over the stove, staring blankly into delicious but uninspired food. With a quick grab for a nip of sorrow-squashing liquor comes the flash of inspiration that shifts food history forward. The perfect union of booze and food taken off the table, married instead in the pan.
This is not a phenomenon confined to one city or cuisine. From Philly to ‘Frisco, food now needs to be labeled by proof. Even President Obama can indulge in brandy-glazed shrimp – the White House is within the delivery boundaries of Los Cuates Restaurant. Most people have tried vodka sauce, but some chefs are pushing the boundaries of creativity. People Lounge in Chicago and Sol & Sombra in New York prepare a vodka salmon that is rich with goodness.
Rum and tequila
Rum, given its origin from sugar, has been a dessert staple for years. But what about with baby back ribs? Manolito in New York marinates their racks in rum and a peanut chipotle BBQ sauce. My hometown of Philly offers their own take – Adobe Cafe’s pan-seared pork medallions in a coconut rum cream sauce. Tequila is traditional Mexican fare, but Taste of Italy in San Diego puts it to good use in their tequila lime and jalapeno cream sauce pasta. Murphy & Gonzalez in New York also offer a new twist on tradition with their Tequila pink pasta sauce. Chicago’s Carbon’s Live Fire spices up their seafood with a touch of tequila.
Gin and whiskey
Gin, while perfect for drinks, can be a tough match for food. But both Bombay Palace in New York and Mantra in Boston have crafted a tomato soup with a touch of gin (that might just merit a plane ticket purchase for this Chicago boy). Boston also represents on another front: whiskey. Wing Works will smother any wing or winglet of your choosing in a whiskey sauce. Koh Samui and the Monkey in San Fran does a pork spare rib marinated in, among other things, whiskey. Chicago residents don’t have to leave home for their whiskey fix; visit The Piggery in North Center for whiskey apple glazed roasted pork loin. That’s a mouthful even before you take a bite.
No longer must you have your meal in one hand and your drink in the other. Restaurants have brought the two together like a binding handshake. This promise, however, is not between the food and the liquor, but between the chef and your taste buds. Regional differences cannot overcome our common bond: Americans love their cocktails. And if you can put it in our food, all the better!