Monday, September 15, 2014
I recently went to the most gorgeous dinner in the legendary wine cellar in the 21 Club in Manhattan - hosted by Tanqueray to celebrate one of their new limited edition releases, Tanqueray Old Tom. For those of you who are not familiar with the 21 Club, just know that it is a New York institution. The website lists the preferred tables of celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway, Rod Stewart, George Clooney, and Bill Clinton, so pick your table wisely.
After cocktails and canapes of foie gras, we were lead through the lively dining room, through the kitchen, down a flight of dubiously steep stairs, and asked to line up in the hallway. Accidentally, we locked a poor chef in the walk-in, and after hearing her pounding on the glass, quickly jumped aside to free her!
In a dark recessed brick archway was the entrance to what was once the speakeasy of the restaurant. A long thin key that resembled a BBQ skewer was inserted at a specific angle, releasing the latch, and allowing us into the incredible secret chamber.
We passed through the hidden passage, and were led through a small but amazingly full wine cellar that was lined floor to ceiling with bottles of wine. These weren't your typical house wine bottles, these are rare vintages set aside for movers and shakers. Martha Stewart, President Ford, and Sammy Davis Jr were a few reserved bottles that I spotted.
We were seated at a long and thin table designed specifically for the narrow room, covered in wood veneer inlays of the iconic 21 Club jockeys. I was seated next to Tom Nichol, master distiller of Tanqueray, a lovely and charming man who not only makes some of the best gin in the world, but also loves a good pint. (We did not selfie, although I really wanted to.)
The meal started off the meal with Caviar served with Hackleback, lemon creme fraiche, and buckwheat blinis paired that was followed by a side by side tasting of Tanqueray Old Tom and Tanqueray London Dry.
But first, you might be wondering what Old Tom Gin is, and what makes it unique. Old Tom gin originates from 18th century England, is made in a pot still, and is sweeter than a London Dry Gin yet not as sweet as Dutch Genever. Mr. Nichol has developed the recipe for Tanqueray Old Tom using notes from Charles Tanqueray's recipe books, dated from 1835. Tanqueray Old Tom is a sweeter variation of the classic London dry recipe, that has a silky mouth feel and flavors of juniper, lemon-lime, with a spicy undercurrent of peppercorns, anise, eucalyptus, with a distinct creaminess.
So why has this recipe been recreated? To make historical cocktail recipes more accurately! Many of Jerry Thomas' recipes call for Old Tom gin, and using a London Dry gin would completely change the taste of the cocktail!
I especially loved the Tuxedo Cocktail that was paired with the Crab Cakes served with grilled corn, pickles jalapenos, dill butter, and celery ribbons. The Tuxedo cocktail is a classic gin martini made with dry vermouth, orange bitters, absinthe, and a touch of maraschino liqueur.
The crab cakes were followed by an epic Wild Mushroom Risotto that I am still having dreams about, and then a Steak "Diane" Filet of Beef served with pomme tournee, asparagus, wild mushrooms, and garlic chips. Swoon!
We finished the meal with a Valrhona Chocolate Souffle with salted caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream, paired with an Old Tom Alexander - a classic cocktail made with Tanqueray Old Tom Gin, Creme de Cacao Liqueur, Heavy Cream, topped with grated nutmeg.
New York never ceases to amaze me with its history and its secrets. For those of you who have had the opportunity to dine in the wine cellar of the 21 Club, you know what a special place it is. And to be there in the legendary wine cellar (a room that holds more secrets than the Situation Room), drinking Tanqueray Old Tom Tuxedo Cocktails next to the man who makes the stuff, was beyond amazing.
I was without a doubt the last to leave, reluctant to return to the real world. As I ascended up the steep stairs, past the dishwashers in the kitchen, through the already empty dining room, and out onto the noisy street, it was clear to me that I was just a part of something very, very special.
Make Old Tom cocktails at home!
1-3/4 oz. Tanqueray Old Tom Gin
1-3/4 oz. Dry Vermouth
3 dashes Orange Bitters
1 dash La Fee Parisienne Superieure or a preferred Absinthe
1/8 oz. Maraschino Liqueur
Stir all ingredients with ice, fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry.