When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
This one, by the way, is more of a First Sip.
Day-drinking be damned. Weekday drinking, too -- or so the story goes for the highly-anticipated cocktail concept from Cowboy Ciao and Kazimierz World Wine Bar owner Peter Kasperski, which is now open to the public as Counter Intuitive. Only awake from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., the menu features cocktails from top-shelf Valley talents Micah Olsen and Jason Asher and will change themes every few months. First up: Infused bourbons and a Bourbon Street-infused menu with a back story: a New Orleans estate sale for the deceased, sadly fictitious Bartholomew Chesterfield Ignatius Sugarman.
We went to pay our condolences.
The multi-use space is equipped with the essentials of dimmed lighting and wise bartenders -- the New Orleans theme living in the menu, not the decor. But as you walk in, a shelf displays Sugarman's dearly departed keepsakes, a Swanka coffee tin and a rusty trumpet among the possessions. A Craigslist ad for the "estate sale" has been posted.
We sat down at the quiet bayou bar and dove right in, starting with the subtle, refreshing qualities of the Peas-Sco Sour, a garden-fresh cocktail with snap-pea infused pisco at its heart, along with watermelon syrup, yuzu, and angostura bitters in a silky egg white-shaken body. It's delicate and delicious.
On a warmer evening, the Counter Intuitive menu, at its most refreshing, will promise plenty. They do their version of a Pimms Cup, and if one desires to tiki, there's a pineapple and rum cocktail called the Painkiller. We opted for the the Cuffs and Buttons, which puts the the pants back on the party-prone, oft-guzzled Alabama Slammer, a tall drink famous for utilizing the New Orleans-born hooch Southern Comfort. Unlike the organic qualities of the Peas-Sco, the Cuffs and Buttons has a manufactured fruitiness reminiscent of a Hi-C box -- but this is no jab. It's silly, satisfying and indulgent, a drink made for spring and ready for summer. So maybe the Slammer gets a bathing suit instead of pants, but being served up in a chilled collins, the drink gets its dignity back, too.
While much of the Big Easy-inspired menu aims to refresh the palate, there are, of course, liquor-forward treats to entice the purists. Some are classics served classically, like the Sazerac, an aromatic swirl of rye and absinthe. At one point a man at the bar ordered it, sniffed it, had his newly acquainted friends next to him sniff it, went limp back into his stool and did everything short of baptize the bartender -- all before he tasted it.
Not every drink is as sacred. The Vieux Carre, by contrast, is a less common variety on the Manhattan with one foot in Times Square and the other planted firmly in the French Quarter, where the twisted classic finds its roots. The 1930's bartenders of the Monteleone Hotel's rotating Carousel Bar created this potent and complex riff, adding cognac and a herbaceous benedictine rinse, resulting in a chaotic and, frankly, more fun classic that, like the bar of origin, will take you for a spin. Olsen honors this bayou-bluster, but serves it up -- a great choice -- with a Luxardo cherry sleeping beneath the surface.
The menu here isn't all booze. In fact, it's mostly shareable bites and some entrée-caliber fare. The gumbo comes highly recommended, but venturing out to the impossibly-fluffy salt-and-vinegar chicharrones, or to the game-y, booze-settling gator bites with lemon caper remoulade will reward the insatiable snacker. At the end of the night, we just wish we'd had room for Cowboy Ciao Pastry Chef Country Velador's bacon beignets.
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All said and done, Counter Intuitive is the late-night fountain of fine cocktails you've been waiting for the Valley to produce, and a bite of Bourbon Street. Why has it taken so long? That's not what matters now that it's here -- but by 10:30 p.m. the night we went, it was buzzing. By 12, brimming. We just hope with the limited hours that there's enough Counter Intuitive to go around.
Same goes for the bacon beignets.