Monday, March 19, 2012
Spring fever hit me hard this year. Unseasonably warm temperatures and an eerie quiet at work, due to spring break, had me itching for excitement. An especially interesting episode of American Pickers, highlighting their new store, sealed the deal - it was time for a road trip to Nashville. The drive north was everything you romanticize spring to be, the hills swathed in color from the southern red buds, with their bright, almost fluorescent fuschia limbs, green fields dotted with cattle, and the occasional tractor holding up traffic. We planned our trip so that we would arrive in Nashville in time for a pre-dinner cocktail at The Patterson House. On a previous trip, I attempted imbibe there, but ignorantly arrived after dinner on a Saturday only to learn the wait was over two hours. Fool me once, shame on me... This time, I took a lesson from my parents and arrived at the nondescript, sign-less, corner building, at the early bird hour of 6:30 PM where along with other seasoned patrons, we had a choice of bar or booth. Upon entering we were greeted and whisked through lush velvet curtains to a chandelier lit, majestic room. This is the stuff of which fairytale dates are made. Romantic booths lined the walls. An old school, rich dark wooden bar filled the center of the room, and one wall at the back was lined with library shelves of books. At least 5 bartenders moved gracefully behind the bar, confidently managing their stations of liquors, tincture bottles of homemade bitters, and bowls and bowls of fresh fruit, all ready for the onslaught of the evening.
The cocktail menu was broken up by categories - whiskey, vodka, tequila, gin, etc. and each category offered approximately six signature cocktails. Being a whiskey girl, I opted for their signature Manhattan. Our bartender, dressed in a hip, vest and tie, clearly took pride in his work as any artist does. He measured the liquor out precisely starting with Jim Beam rye whiskey. He added Carpano Antica (sweet herbal vermouth), Corsair Spiced Rum and eye droplets of homemade angostura bitters. He stirred and tested the drink while adjusting the flavors. Finally, when he had it just right, and only after chilling with more ice, did he stir with a flourish. Poured into an antique champagne glass with a sidecar, he spritzed the drink with a citrus peel and then garnished it with a dark, intensely flavored, sweet cherry. Smooth, deep flavors of whiskey with hints of aromatic bitters and light lasting flavor of vanilla, filled my mouth. Instantly I was transported to a fictional era, a time that was elegant, decadent and a little dangerous.
Mark ordered a perfect spring drink: tres agaves reposado, lime, green chartreuse (a liquor that is traditionally comprised of 130 herbal extracts), house falernum (a syrup used in cocktails to imbue flavors of almond, ginger and/or cloves, and lime, and sometimes vanilla or allspice) with a single ice sphere and orange peel. Served in an old fashioned glass, atop a perfectly round, gigantic ice cube, the sweet and tangy concoction was reminiscent of a margarita, but in a rich and sophisticated way. Citrus flavors gently played against the tequila; herbal notes from the chartreuse and falernum cut the flavors and added a layer of intricacy and depth, which showcased the mastery of our artistic bartender and the house-made mixers.
While the Patterson House is known for its cocktails, we found the warmed olives to be meaty and satisfying, ever so slightly hinting of an herb infused oil.
I hated to leave the cocoon of date paradise, but our dinner reservation crept upon us. I parted the velvet curtains and returned to the beautiful spring evening, with the elated and even giddy confidence, that I had discovered cocktail divinity.