I attended a Craft Cocktail Class to Benefit Aids Service Center of Pasadena held on July 31st at Neapolis. There was a light tasting menu with cocktail pairings, after which we were given hands on lessons in cocktail mixing.
Neapolis is the ancient Greek name for present-day Napoli, or Naples in English. The Greeks colonized much of southern Italy and Sicily about 700B.C.E. Nea = new Polis = city. At this time the Romans were still a rather primitive society and had not yet expanded out from their home region on the banks of the Tevere in Lazio.
The interior of Neapolis is understatedly drop dead gorgeous dressed in dark woods, antique brass and lighting, greyish white marble bar tops. The whole darkened interior is Italianate Beaux Arts of the late 19th century.
It is dignified & sumptuous at the same time. Pasadena, grande dame of the San Gabriel Valley since the last quarter of the 19th century, proves that even now by having and preserving amazingly classic buildings along the Colorado Boulevard littoral zone. Pasadena should be commended for not tearing down aesthetic structures from a past era that can never be replicated again.
Head Mixologist Kris Doyle was the driving force for this event, where he showed us how to mix the perfect cocktail. Later after a light tasting menu paired with four cocktails, we could go up and have Kris help us personally to do a hands on lesson in cocktail mixing. Like a lesson in life, if we failed, we had to imbibe the “bitter” drink of our own making.
We all assembled upstairs in an extra long dining room with walls of solid brick and hardwood parquet flooring, which as ascetically monastic as it looked, reflected and magnified sounds made by the guests so that by the time the guests were feeling loose from the alcoholic libations, a 747 jet aircraft would have made less cacophony.
The first pairing was the Tommy Margarita with Shrimp Ceviche. The citrus inflected, sweet Margarita was an excellent complement to the lime and lemon marinated shrimp, which tasted sweet and fresh with a nice sea minerality. The lime and lemon juice slightly “cooked” the shrimp to a nice plumpy “snap” giving it a meaty texture, while cilantro and diced onion made it light and refreshing. This was the best Shrimp Ceviche that I have ever had even counting in the Mexican & Peruvian restaurants that I have visited.
The second course consisted of a Signature Easton Cocktail paired with Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta. Neapolis’ signature cocktail consists of house-infused cucumber vodka, fresh lime, and mint. The cucumber bouquet is the major factor for this refreshingly, lightly sweetened drink. Chopped heirloom tomatoes with a bit of soft, creamy Burrata was dressed with a precious, well-aged Aceto Balsamico de Modena on toasted Crostino.
For me, this expensive, exquisite Aceto was too strong and heavy in flavor, which disguised the fresh tomato sweetness. Conceptually a great idea, but it did not work out when it came to the proof-in-the-pudding. Perhaps less Aceto would have worked.
Our third course paired a Classic Old Fashioned with a Beef Short Rib “Mini”Manwhich. An “Old Fashioned is a cocktail made by muddling sugar w/ bitters then adding alcohol, such as whiskey or brandy & a twist of citrus rind.” This drink is rather smoky, alcohol rich, and caramelized, so it would go well with the slow braised short rib with its dark, thick, beef-meaty rich gravy. The short rib meat looks almost like pulled pork and is tender, velvety, and plush in mouthfeel. A bit of arrugula with a touch of bitterness and peanut oil fragrance is also inserted in between the toasted heavy, dense white English muffin shaped bread. Nice crispy, potatoey fries with a possibly Sriracha infused Aioli which was good dipping sauce for the Pommes Frites.
Our final course was an Espresso Martini, which is an exceptionally tasty coffee-centric dessert drink. The Galiano Espresso Liqueur has the most rich, smooth, dark coffee espresso taste that gives this “martini” a special, elegant kick. The addition of heavy cream floating on top with its sweet dairy scent and oily creaminess put this dessert cocktail over the top. Bombolini, which look like sugar coated donut holes, came with two sauces: a thick Chocolate Ganache and a thick Salted Sauce Caramel. The Salted Sauce Caramel really paired well w/ the Bombolino.
All in all, this Craft Cocktail Class was a success. The only problem was that the dining room was so long and narrow with echoing hard surfaces, it was extremely difficult to hear what the Meister Mixologist was saying if you were toward the foot of the long table.
This made it so that people in the back who could not hear start to talk amongst themselves, compounding the hard-to-hear problem. Then ironically, these same people complained about not being able to hear what was being said.
Next time, if possible, it would be more conducive if tables surrounded the bartending area so that most of the tables would be equidistant to the instructor thus allowing more people to hear the instruction. Considering this was a fundraiser for the Aids Service Center, a philanthropic organization with a noble cause, I would still say it was well worth it.