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Executive editor Thomas Matthews joined Wine Spectator in 1988. His tasting beat is Spain.
Thomas Matthews

A Spirited Dinner

Custom cocktails at the Vanderbilt in Brooklyn

Thomas Matthews
Posted: May 20, 2010

It’s not all wine at Wine Spectator. I recently enjoyed a five-course dinner paired with five different specialty cocktails. It was eye-opening.

Dinner was at the Vanderbilt, a new venture from chef Saul Bolton, his wife, Lisa, and partner Ben Daitz. The Boltons are behind Saul, one of my favorite Brooklyn restaurants and the recipient of a Michelin star. Daitz runs Num Pang, the Cambodian sandwich shops. The Vanderbilt is casual but stylish, a long room with big windows and weathered barnwood walls, low-lit but lively, offering mostly small plates ($5 to $18) that are fresh and focused, refined yet packed with flavor.

There is a wine list. It’s short, but has some good choices: Joseph Drouhin St. Veran 2008 ($12 a glass) and El Coto Rioja Crianza 2005 ($8 a glass), for example. But the beer and cocktail lists show more creativity, and seemed more popular with the stylish 30-somethings crowding the tables.

The cocktails ($9) are the work of barman Brian Patrick Floyd, a soft-spoken Mississippian with a fervor for spirits. He’s now introducing his summer offerings, including El Castillo, an upscale margarita, and Tupelo Julep, a honey-tinged take on the classic Derby drink.

My favorite pairings opened and closed the meal. Named for the Eudora Welty novel, the Optimist’s Daughter—a summery cooler made from Tito’s Vodka, Lillet Blanc, elderflower, lemon and soda—quenched the fire from deep-fried broccoli florets dressed with sriracha, lime and honey, each bite a perfect combination of sweet, spicy and tart. The Whiskey Skiffer—rye whiskey, Cynar, Dolin sweet vermouth and mole-amarillo bitters—had deeper, dreamier flavors, sweet and smoky, that added bottom notes to the delicious desserts.

There’s a wide world of flavor out there, and not all of it comes from grapes. It’s fun to explore beyond the vineyard from time to time.

The Vanderbilt
570 Vanderbilt Ave.
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11238
Telephone: (718) 623-0570
Website: www.thevanderbiltnyc.com

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