Committee – A Preview

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For a city that boasts a fairly impressive range of ethnic cuisines, Boston has long lacked an upscale, authentic Greek restaurant. That changes today, when Committee opens in the Innovation District. Occupying the ground floor of the shiny Vertex building on Fan Pier, Committee will specialize in Greek and eastern Mediterranean fare, with a focus on meze-style small plates and staples like tzatziki. And, of course, cocktails.

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Last week the Greek eatery’s bar staff, led by Peter Szigeti, took over the Baldwin Bar at Sichuan Garden in Woburn (home base of the renowned Ran Duan) to offer guests a preview of Committee’s cocktail program. Peter hails from Budapest, as do his colleagues in mixology, Reka Kralik and Gergely Szabo. Together, they bring a fresh, European perspective to modern craft cocktails, with smart twists on the classics and some innovative original libations. Last week’s event, called “Drink and Kick Back With Committee,” featured five signature cocktails that will be available starting today.

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I imagine that candied bacon can bring a little magic to just about any drink, but the Smoke Show is impressive even without its decadent garnish. Combining strawberry-infused mezcal, amaro, sweet vermouth, and Aperol, there’s a host of bold flavors in this one. But the smoky essence of the mezcal isn’t too aggressive, and the strawberry softens some of the stronger notes.

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The Blood Orange Old Fashioned is a savvy update of the classic that manages to stay true to the essence of the traditional recipe. It’s made with rye whiskey, blood orange syrup, grapefruit oleo-saccharum, and old fashioned bitters, and garnished with a dried, candied blood orange peel that’s entirely edible (but still pretty bitter). The oleo-saccharum contributes the requisite citrus and sugar components, and the grapefruit base keeps it from becoming too sweet.

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The Committee Mule is a spicy rendition of the Moscow Mule, combining chili-infused Absolut Elyx vodka with fresh lime, ginger beer, and cardamom bitters. Garnished with a scorched dehydrated lime, it packs a little heat but isn’t intense.

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If you have a soft spot for Cosmopolitans but wouldn’t dare order one in public, you can opt for Committee’s bottled version – which is Notta Cosmo. With Hanson ginger vodka, fresh lime, orange liqueur, and cranberry juice, the Notta Cosmo has all the essential components of the old-school drink that was co-opted by the Sex and the City crowd. This carbonated offering is crisp and not overly sweet, with a fresh tartness from the cranberry.

 The American flag cap is a nice touch.

The American flag cap is a nice touch.

While I enjoyed all of the featured drinks, the one that truly stood out was the Cuban Affair. Made with aged rum, fresh lime, vanilla syrup, and balsamic vinegar, this one is special. And I know it’s not just me; the woman to my right ordered one and declared it the “best thing I ever tasted in my life.” High praise for a relatively simple cocktail, but this is one of those drinks that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Complex but smooth, it’s a vanilla-forward cocktail that Peter described as “cheesecake”-like, and I can see what he means. It’s not desserty but has a full flavor and good mouth feel. The balsamic vinegar isn’t prominent but serves to balance out the other flavors.

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Committee general manager Demetri Tsolakis was on hand at the Baldwin Bar, talking cocktails, food, and his good fortune in being able to pluck Peter and company from a bar in Budapest. Demetri urged me to test his beverage director’s skills by ordering something off-menu and leaving the details to Peter, which I was only too happy to do. After posing a few questions about spirit preferences, Peter got to work while I asked Demetri about the differences between European and American mixology. The word he kept coming back to was “flow,” as he pointed out the rhythm and fluidity with which his bar staff handled bottles, shook drinks, and seamlessly wove around each other while fetching ingredients and tending to customers.

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“It’s like ballet with their hands,” he said, and as I watched Peter repeatedly transfer my cocktail from shaker to shaker with a dramatic high pour, I could see what he meant.

As it turns out, such artistry is more than just for show. The cocktail Peter made for me was a Blood and Sand – a drink I’ve never been particularly fond of. Made with scotch, cherry liqueur, and orange juice, it’s a combination that’s never really worked for me. This one was different. “It’s all in the technique,” Peter said, explaining that the Blood and Sand poses a dilemma from a mixing standpoint: the liquors would ordinarily be stirred while the juice should be shaken. The solution is that shaker-to-shaker transfer he performed earlier, which is called “throwing” – stronger than stirring but not as drastic as shaking. “You don’t shake the bejeezus out of it,” he helpfully added.

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The result was by far the best Blood and Sand I’ve ever had (though to be fair, it’s probably only the second one I’ve ever had). The scotch was very smoky, almost mezcal-like, but the drink was balanced and surprisingly delicate.

Watching Peter, Reka, and Gergely in action is nearly as enjoyable as sipping the cocktails they make. They work with grace and style, which would count for little if their drinks didn’t live up to their elegant presentation. Instead, they exceed it.

 Committee Collage

Committee Collage

Committee opens today, and you can check back here in a couple of weeks for a full review.

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