Thursday, July 21, 2011

New Cocktails & Bar Bites @ Raphael in Studio City

Chris Parke has been shaking his cocktail shakers all over Los Angeles for the past dozen years, working his way through the myriad establishments of the SBE and Patina Group empires.  The award-winning bartender (he won the "Best Drink in LA" competition at the 42Below Cocktail World Cup in 2007) recently landed at Raphael in Studio City, where he collaborates with Executive Chef Adam Horton on his newly launched mixology program.

I was recently invited to try some of Parke's cocktails as well as Horton's bar bites.  Studio City is fast becoming a food and cocktail destination with the food and drink at Raphael, Black Market and Laurel Tavern, plus the ramen at Ramen Jinya.  Raphael underwent a renovation earlier this year and there is now a bar / lounge area at the entrance, and a separate dining room to the left.  The lounge area was comfortable but I was focused on the cocktail list, which is divided into original signatures and interpretations of the classics.

The Cilantro (above), is made with Karma tequila, Cointreau, cilantro, jalapeño and agave nectar. The jalapeño gives the drink a pleasant kick but doesn't overwhelm the cocktail. Thankfully, this is not the Jitlada spicy challenge in a glass.

When I read the ingredient list for the Balsamic, I couldn't help but be reminded of Matt Biancaniello's Last Tango in Modena. The Balsamic is made with Ketel One, muddled strawberries, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice and garnished with a strawberry and a twisted lemon peel.  The berries and the balsamic vinegar go well together due to the acid from the vinegar and the sweetness of the berries.  This drink has less going on in it than the Last Tango, but is a summer refresher.

The Basil, yes most of the cocktails are named for their primary culinary ingredient, is a mixture of Grey Goose vodka, muddled sweet basil, cracked pepper and is garnished with several lemon slices.  Black pepper has had a resurgence in the cocktail world in the past few years, as it adds a spicy or savory element to a cocktail.  I am not a huge vodka fan, but appreciate the initiative to take a potentially basic drink to a new direction.

Parke's cocktail list includes three reimagined classics, including the New Fashioned (above).  The take on the Old Fashioned is made with Makers Mark bourbon, muddled peach & cherry, Regan's Orange Bitters, and soda.  The addition of the muddled peach and cherry and the use of bourbon ensure that this is on the sweeter side, but the subtraction of the sugar cube (or simple syrup) keeps it from venturing into cloying territory.

I preferred Parke's take on the Aviation, with Tanqueray gin, Crème Yvette, Luxardo, and lemon juice (below).  This is a wonderful aperitif and the perfect way to whet your appetite for Chef Horton's bar bites.

The Bar Bites are available beginning at 9:30 pm, and are served at the bar and in the lounge.  They include the Crispy Pork Belly ($8) with house-made French sausage, brioche, nuoc mam, capsicum, herbs and pickles.

I was fortunate enough to try a version made with short ribs (below), as I don't eat pork.  The taste was rich and delicious, although I did find them hard to pick upon the crisps below.  They were better fork than finger food, though a dish I could be happy ordering seconds of.

On the lighter side, Som Tam ($8) is a Thai salad made with green papaya, Thai chili, lime juice, garlic, peanuts and herbs (below).  The slaw is nicely tangy and a good balance to the richness of the pork belly (short ribs in my case).

Park and Horton are evidently enjoying working together and getting to collaborate on ingredients and dishes. I look forward to see what they do together next. A cocktail pairing perhaps?

Raphael: 11616 Ventura Blvd (East of Laurel Canyon), Studio City. Phone: (818) 505-3337. Website:

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