The only thing certain in life is change. Feelings change, seasons change and at Drago Centro….desserts and cocktails change.
The air is getting colder and the days are getting shorter. The cocktails are getting fruitier and the desserts are getting richer. And that certainly was the case this last Thursday as Drago Centro launched their new cocktail menu. We walked in at about 6 PM and there was no place to sit. The bar was overflowing with the older white-collar regulars as well as the younger patrons who just wanted to get in on the new libation action. After all, all cocktails that evening were on special for only $9 a wintery pop.
Our first drink of the evening was–of course–the Violet Femme made with Real De Mexico Reposado Tequila. A huge congrats to them for making it out on the new menu, very well deserved. Its natural subtle vanilla and brown sugar notes went well with the sweet, flowery flavors of of the Crème de Violette and maraschino liquor. Although, the flavors of the tequila got kind of lost in the acidity mix of Yuzu and Limoncello, that elegant back-of-the-throat burn was there to keep you on check and remind you that this was in fact A TEQUILA DRINK. It was just dangerously well balanced, I downed mine in less than 5 minutes. I was surely “high as a kite” after drinking this. But I’m pretty sure the candied violet petals had a lot to do with that too.
Our second cocktail celebration of the night was the Morning Courage. Created by Jaymee Mandeville (head bartender), this drink was probably my favorite of the evening due to the outstanding execution of such outlandish ingredients. It was complex on both sides of the flavor spectrum, sour thanks to the pickled radish and lemon juice, earthy thanks to the beet juice and spicy thanks to the celery and serrano flavors.
By this time of the night we were getting the booze munchies so we got a couple of bar bites including some plump blue point oysters and this calzone I saw another party get. It looked good with its burnished skin and thin layer but too bad it was a bit heavy and flat in flavor. Basically a glorified Italian quesadilla es todo.
The third drink up was definitely the most unusual of the night. It took me a while to figure it out actually. It was buttery, piney, aromatic, minty all the same time. But once I got over the florescent green Fabuloso-like color of the concoction, I think I liked it. Think of a pile of fresh kettle corn tossed with fresh mint leaves. Buttery and nutty due to the Hazelnut-caramel derived flavor of the Nocello than herbaceous thanks to the Douglas Fir syrup, mint bitters, lavender and lemon juice. Again, balanced.
Notice how my angles get more artsy as the night of drinking went on, haha. Well, I was pretty buzzed but it still didn’t stop me from appreciating the classic cocktail like features of this next cocktail. Another favorite of the evening, the drink was spicy and sweet. This was more of a classic cocktail, paying homage to the bitter, more direct flavors of drinks like Sazeracs and Manhattan’s. I was fond of the profound use of Mole bitters in particular.
And now it was time for the real reason I had made the grueling rush hour traffic drive from Pasadena on my Vespa.
Jashmine Corpuz, (Pastry Chef) had also just launched her new winter dessert menu a few days ago as well. I’ve chronicled her deft, seasonal dessert brilliance in the past and it was time to add yet another fruitful chapter.
Just as she had sent me a formal invitation to try, I was already walking in to the restaurant, dessert cognitive communication I guess?
To cleanse our palates and pique it for what was to come, she sent out a light and refreshing quenelle scoop of Lychee Sorbet. It was perched nicely on a foundation of a halved raspberry and a crimson shellac of pure blood orange juice.
She described her inspiration for this as being a “creamsicle” when I asked about it. Well, its what a creamsicle might aspire to one day be. The speckled panna cotta was ethereally velvety with the soothing light flavor of vanilla bean, all the better to contrast with the shortbread-crumb like crunchy texture of the crumble. But indeed was the ‘creamsicle effect completed when eaten with the tangy citrus segments and candied kumquats. The coconut mint sorbet was just as intriguing, reinforcing the creamy and acidic overall flavor play of the dish.
Next dessert up was her rendition of the classic Italian donut, bomboloni. Glazed donuts and flower flavored gelato? Need I say more? This time of year, she went for the classic jelly and cream filled approach. Although these fried doughy spheres glowed with a glossy vanilla glaze and were served along side a tart huckleberry compote fortified with the lemony amenities of thyme if you wanted the jelly-filled flavor. If not, a tarter, Bavarian cream-like lemon cream was also on the same plate for the ‘cream filled’ sensation. Toasted almonds were nice too, especially when eaten alongside ice cream. And there was no need for tea or coffee, that fragrant gelato actually had chamomile-honey in it.
A successful redevelopment of an Italian-American dessert classic. This gave prominence to the individual components of a traditional spumoni ice cream mold beautifully. The cherries were braised until tender and tart, the pistachios were crunchy and sweet. The confit orange was like the dried orange peel in the original creature. And the crunchy chocolate crumbs brought it home safely with the delightful oreo-like bitterness of chocolate crumbs. She described the tear shaped crunchy meringue chips as “Yoga Flame!”, the famed special flame burst attack of the character Dhalsim in Street Fighter.
“Like a Reese’s peanut butter cup!” she replies when I ask about her inspiration for this dish. The fudgey cake was crisp around the edges and soft in the middle where the toasted homemade hazelnut butter lay dormant. It was connected to the banana gelato via a milk chocolate wafer crisp. This dish was my definite favorite of the evening, you just can’t beat the flavor combo of toasted hazelnuts and chocolate. Only enhance it like she did with this dessert, the thick chocolate sauce spiked with Tuaca (a woody Italian brandy) had me all googly-eyed by the end of the night.
I am noticing that the more I write about Corpuz’s desserts, the more I appreciate a simple, superbly executed dessert. “Light” seems to be the prevailing key word I use when describing most of her desserts. And “light” is a characteristic in dessert that is not always easy to accomplish in the world the industrial dessert kingdom. But more and more, I am also realizing that is all I really want in my dessert after eating a rich dinner…that is all I really need. And that is something that probably won’t ever change.
525 South Flower Street
Los Angeles, CA 90071