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This week I got all moony over the subtly reinvented classic French vibe at Henri. But my very first taste of its smart sense of reimagination wasn't French at all, but very American—or rather, very tiki. Bartender Clint Rogers devised an imaginative but no-nonsense cocktail list that includes a handful of drinks made with wine and wine spirits, such as the French aperitif Pineau de Charentes (try the Linch-Pin) and the almond-and-cherry-flavored Nardini Mandorla grappa. He uses that spirit in his version of the mai tai, first invented in 1946 by Victor Bergeron at the original Trader Vic's (though some dispute this).
"The whole inspiration was the Mandorla," says Rogers. "I had to figure out some way to use it." The mai tai is one of the more abused cocktails in the classic canon, but Rogers created a winner, subbing the boozy, slightly sweet grappa for the almond syrup orgeat employed in the original, and the amber 15-year-old Matusalem Gran Reserva instead of dueling light and dark rums. It has a restrained sweetness that disguises this potion's not inconsiderable brawn. I didn't think much of mai tais before this one. Recipe after the jump.
The Venetian Mai Tai
Combine grappa, Cointreau, rum, and lime juice and shake. Strain over ice. Top with grenadine. Garnish with lime.
*Rogers stresses that there's no substitute for the homemade grenadine that tops the drink off and sinks to the bottom. But it's easy to make: reduce four cups of pomegranate juice down to two. Add two cups of sugar and dissolve. Cool it. Lasts for months, he says.