Friday, November 20, 2009

Barcode: Gargoyles

The idea of digging into the cocktail archives has become de rigueur in recent years. For Gargoyles owner James Conforti and bartender Paul Christie, that was the plan from the get-go when they opened in 1996. Back then, martini and cocktail culture wasn’t as prevalent as it is today. One of the easiest ways to get that concept on the map, they decided, was by going big.

“I first met James back in 1995,’’ says Christie. “He kept stressing that he wanted the restaurant to be known for its martini. He wanted Gargoyles to have the biggest martini in Boston. And I think that’s the mentality we’ve stayed with. The majority of drinks we make have always been classic vodka and gin martinis and Manhattans.’’

The bar offers two sizes for their martinis, 6 ounces for $9, 10 ounces for $11.25. “We have a reputation for filling our 10-ounce glass to the point where there is noticeable surface tension, a positive meniscus, between the liquor and the rim of the glass. The perfect martini for us is one that can’t be picked up on the first sip, but rather must be bowed down to.’’

Martinis worthy of reverence. And while that respect for tradition has spread out over the years to most quality bars, it’s something that is spelled out at Gargoyles - literally. One page of the menu features specialty recipes designed by Christie and longtime colleague Maureen Nuccitelli. The other lists a selection of classics along with their genesis. “People order them all the time, but they might not know the history,’’ says Christie.

The history of the Davis Square Trolley, a sidecar made with Navan, a vanilla liqueur made from cognac and natural vanilla spice, begins here. The vanilla should round out the citrus, Christie says. The drink has a wholesome blend of spice and fruit, and a thickness brought out by the house-made sour mix, made with egg whites.

The winter spice angle is a main focus at the moment at Gargoyles. Its Maker’s Mark infused with apples, cinnamon, clove, and vanilla bean turns up in infused Hot Toddies, Winter Manhattan, and sparkling bourbon ciders. Try the bourbon solo first. It works well in the Manhattan, but there’s so much flavor going on you almost don’t need the addition of vermouth and bitters. Standard bourbon works well in the Almond Jimmy (Jim Beam, Amaretto Di Saronno, bitters, sour, soda, pictured below) although the nutty sweetness softens most of the burn.

Another updated classic on the menu is the Gargoyles Vesper (Hendrick’s, Citron, Lillet Blonde, cucumber, rose water). “It’s very clean,’’ says Christie. “You should catch a little of the rose water to finish it off.’’ Light rose water is key here, or anywhere. The Lillet Blonde, an aperitif made from brandy and wine, soothes the bite of the gin.

The Backyard Cocktail (Sauvignon Blanc, St. Germain, cucumber, soda, prosecco) is nothing but soothing. A more sophisticated wine spritzer left over from the summer menu because it’s so popular, it has absolutely nothing to do with winter. Perhaps that’s why we liked it. It’s usually so dark, crowded, warm, and cozy in the bar here, it’s tempting to lean back into one of the lounge-area rocking chairs and drift off. This cocktail is a defiant ray of light through the heart of approaching winter. That’s something that will never go out of style.

Gargoyles on the Square , 219 Elm St., Somerville. 617-776-5300.

Boston Globe

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