By Kathleen Furore
When Fonda Restaurant’s Facebook fans visited their home pages one recent Monday, they saw a short but intriguing post: “Introducing "MARGARITA MONDAYS" @ Fonda East Village. Enjoy $6 Margaritas all night long. Tonight's specials: Frozen Hibiscus and Cucumber Rocks!”
To draw customers on a weekday night, this East Village location of the Chef Roberto Sanibanez's acclaimed Brooklyn restaurant decided to promote some of its best-selling bar drinks.
The signature, frozen Rosalita Margarita blended with silver tequila, hibiscus infusion, orange liqueur and lime juice, and the Jengibre Margarita made with Tanteo tropical tequila, cucumber ginger infusion, orange liquor and lime juice featured on April 16—the original "Margarita Monday"—are among Fonda's most popular coctails, Alex Horna, general manager, says.
“Many places do margaritas with cucumber, but we add fresh ginger and spices to bring out the flavor,” Horna explains.
Tapping the Trends
A focus on fresh ingredients in creative combinations is not only news at Fonda; it is one of the hottest mixology approaches hitting bars and restaurants today, reports Jack Robertiello, a writer, consultant and wine & spirits judge who produces Spirits of Mexico, a newsletter (www.thespiritsofmexico.com) “for all things agave.
“Using fresh ingredients and juices, a more expansive list of non-alcohol ingredients like coconut water, and small portions of strongly flavored spirits like mezcal as finishing or rinse ingredients are top trends,” says Robertiello, who also notes that seasonal, locally sourced cocktails are creating a stir.
Even The National Restaurant Association’s “What’s Hot in 2012” survey of nearly 1,800 professional chefs who are members of the American Culinary Federation weighed in on drink trends. “Locally produced wine and beer [and] local sourcing of everything from meat and fish, to produce, to alcoholic beverages...is another big trend for 2012,” according to the survey. Micor-distilled/artisan spirits and culinary cocktails made with savory, fresh ingredients are ranked at No. 14 and No. 20, respectively, on this year’s list of Top 20 trends.
In addition to Margaritas enhanced with hibiscus and cucumber, Fonda offers the Margarita de Piña, a spicy blend of chipotle-infused tequila, lime juice, orange liqueur, and pineapple puree to balance the chile’s spice.
“We use fresh pineapple—we make everything from scratch and blend all our own purees,” Horna says. That freshness extends all the way to the rim the barware in which Honda’s libations are served. “We have one salt made with tamarind and one made with dried chiles,” Horna says.
Similar creative cocktailing is on tap at Iron Cactus in Austin, Texas. Like Fonda, the restaurant infuses drinks with fresh fruit, herbs and spices, and makes all bar drinks from scratch “using only freshly squeezed lime juice and agave nectar,” the bar menu says. The Tiki’s Revenge is an intoxicating mixture of El Jimador Silver Tequila with guava nectar, fresh kiwi and pineapple, plus a hint of cardamon, while the Patrón Mango Mint Margatira features Patrón Silver Tequila, Patrón Citrónge, fresh mango, lime juice and mint leaves.
Soda also plays a starring role in come of Iron Cactus’ trendy libations—a nod to the non-alcoholic ingredients Robertiello sees seeping into cocktails of 2012. Paloma combines El Jimador Silver Tequila, Mexican Fresca and fresh lime juice; the Fresh Blackberry Paloma features El Jimador Silver Tequila, fresh blackberries and Mexican Fresca; and the refreshing Kiwi-Basic Cooler offers a unique flavor combination of Ambhar Reposado Tequila poured with Patrón Citrónge, Grand Marnier, fresh kiwi, basil and Mexican Fresca.
Customers who want to put their own twist on Iron Cactus cocktails have several choices: They can make any of the drinks on the menu into a Mexican Martini for just $4 more; add a strawberry, mango, peach or pomegranate swirl for just 50 cent; or top off a Margarita with premium cordials including Chambord, Tuaca, Midori, or Grand Mariner for an extra $2.50 charge.
Tips for Upgrading Your Tequila Service
Many Mexican restaurants go cheap and plentiful with their Margarita programs because that's what they've trained their customers to want. Every restaurant can keep that bucket or pitcher of frozen drink service if they like, but can also upgrade with better tequilas, fresh juices, hand-made drinks and finer ingredients (ie, Cointreau or Grand Marnier versus triple sec.) The quality of supplied purees has improved as well, so offering passion fruit or mango Margaritas is far simpler. Step customers up the price and quality ladder by including these tweaks.
—Jack Robertiello, writer, consultant, wine & spirits judge