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Cocktail Challenge: Dragon fruit

Jason Cevallos of the Office digs up rarities to flavor a food that by itself "doesn't taste like anything."

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Jason Cevallos of the Office first encountered dragon fruit at Next: Tour of Thailand, the second incarnation of Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas's ever-changing Fulton Market restaurant. Served with rose water for dessert, it was "an amazing palate cleanser," he says, so initially he was excited when GEB's Dave Michalowski challenged him with the cactus fruit (also called pitaya). But while it's touted by some as a superfood high in fiber and antioxidants, dragon fruit, as Michalowski warned, is next to nil in flavor. Cevallos found that, eaten on its own, "it doesn't taste like anything."

Despite this, he wanted to use the fruit in as pure a form as possible, so he juiced it, then made it into a syrup, using equal parts juice and sugar by weight. The idea of using tequila came to him immediately, he said, and from there it was a matter of "adding nuances" to make the drink flowery and fruity yet balanced.

As you can imagine, the Office—a private bar in the basement of the Aviary—is well stocked. Cevallos's first nuance came in the form of Pineau des Charentes, a regional aperitif from southwest France. A fortified wine that dates from the 16th century and is reportedly rare in the States, it seems to be most commonly described simply as "delicious" or "delightful."

As a counterpoint he turned to a tincture infused with quassia, another tropical plant, which they use at the Office as a "bittering agent," Cevallos said. "It's extraordinarily bitter—one drop will really influence the flavor of the cocktail." He added eight.

Champagne both provides fizz and "helps dry up all the sugars," so he topped off the drink with a dose of Henriot Blanc de Blancs. The final touch, inspired by his experience at Next, was just a few drops of rose water.

Cevallos wanted a simple name for this complex concoction—"something like Sue," he joked. Inspired by the tequila, he called a friend who actually makes the spirit and asked for the name of his dog.

View a slideshow of Jason Cevallos making a dragon fruit cocktail.

Sandy

2 oz Fortaleza Blanco tequila
1/4 oz Pineau des Charentes
8 drops quassia tincture
3/4 oz dragon fruit syrup
1 oz Henriot Blanc de Blancs champagne
2 drops rose water
Dragon fruit peel, for garnish

Combine the first four ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir well. Strain into a glass and top off with the champagne, then stir a few more times. Submerge the dragon fruit peel, add the rose water, and serve immediately.

Who's Next:

Cevallos has issued David Hermach of Clark Street Ale House an unprecedented challenge: not an ingredient per se, but part of the name of a cocktail, the Dirty Streisand. What that means, exactly—what the dirtiness consists of—is up to interpretation. At DrinkSwap.com, along with an astonishing list of drinking games, you will find several recipes under "Barbra Streisand." All they appear to have in common, though, is their undrinkability; AJ's Bubbling Brew, for example, consists of vodka, tequila, peppermint schnapps, and Southern Comfort combined in a glass, lit on fire, and doused with a full can of beer ("stir the mixture and watch it bubble forth," the recipe instructs).

Cevallos says that while the Dirty Streisand "has been attempted numerous times," it's never been perfected. "Also," he adds, "I like the idea that it can be made at any bar, not just a classic-cocktail-specific bar." Whatever it is.

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