Monday, November 8, 2010

Zahra Bates of Providence @ Test Kitchen

Zahra Bates did a two night stint at the bar Test Kitchen this weekend, on her nights off from Providence, where she has run the cocktail program for the past three years.  Zahra was named one of the top five female bartenders in Los Angeles in a recent article, and her drinks at Test Kitchen last night proved her to be among the top bartenders of any gender in the city.

She welcomed me with an amuse of a Moscow Mule gelee on a spoon.  It was spot on and beautifully presented, like something from Grant Achatz or Jose Andres.  The flavors of a Moscow Mule were concentrated in this frozen gelee and it certainly whetted my appetite to try her cocktails.

I began with the Belle Vert, featuring Miller's Gin, cucumber juice, yellow chartreuse, ver jus, shiso bitters and garnished with a cucumber slice.  It was refreshing and crisp and I am a sucker for cucumbers so I knew this would be in my wheelhouse.

I followed this up with the Rye Sense, featuring Old Overholt Rye, Kyoho grape-sherry reduction, Kina Lillet, and Anise Bitters.  This drink was much more aromatic and alcohol forward but in the words of one of my companions, it "had a lot going on" with layers of flavor.

My favorite may have been the (unpictured) PB n J, which I got a taste of, which featured Cruzan Rum, pineapple and lime juice, jalapeño honey and basil bitters.  For me the jalapeño was the essential ingredient.  It made what could have been a too sweet drink into a spicy drink and the sweet and spicy balanced each other out.  This and any other drinks Bates makes with her homemade jalapeño honey are worth seeking out at Providence.

My other favorite was the Caribbean Queen, an off the menu creation that began when a customer ordered the Virgin Tickler (a non alcoholic bartender's choice featuring juice) not realizing that it didn't have booze. When the customer mentioned he couldn't taste the alcolhol, Bates added rum on the fly to the rosemary, earl gray marmalade, freshly muddled tangerine, ginger beer and lime juice that were already in the cocktail. The resulting Carribean Queen was delicious and fruit forward without being one dimensional or a sugar bomb.

Zahra Bates can be found most Sunday - Thursday evenings at Providence Restaurant at 5955 Melrose Avenue. For the next two Fridays you can also find her at Copa D'Oro in Santa Monica.

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