Cocktail Pairings at Clyde Common

by Emily Bell
Antoinette Bruno
April 2011

Table of Contents

Pairing Chemistry

Drinking in the Difference

Catalyzing Complexity

Creative Crucible

Biographies

Chef Chris DiMinno
Clyde Common – Portland, OR

Mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler
Clyde Common – Portland, OR

Photos

Chef Chris DiMinno and Mixologist Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Clyde Common - Portland, OR

Recipes

Andalusian Buck
Bar Manager Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Clyde Common – Portland, OR

Irish Goodbye
Bar Manager Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Clyde Common – Portland, OR

Fideos, Bay Scallop, Squid, Beef Tongue, Squid Ink Vinaigrette, and Aioli
Chef Chris DiMinno of Clyde Common – Portland, OR

Roasted Golden Trout, Clyde Common Prosciutto, Chard, First of the Morels, and Fried Egg
Chef Chris DiMinno of Clyde Common – Portland, OR

Cocktails and cuisine are all kinds of mixed up. From Scott Beattie’s hyper-culinary, garden-fresh, Left Coast creations, to Achatz and co.’s latest disturbance of the culinary status quo (by way of chef-crafted cocktails at Chicago's Aviary), to the spread of Adrià-esque interpretative license, the rules of bar behavior are being shaken up. Nothing’s off limits—what cocktails contain, who makes them, and even what physical state they’re presented in (gin and tonic lollipops anyone?).

And it’s not just a whole new world for cocktails. Beverage pairings have become all-inclusive, with eager sommeliers and their beer-bound brethren introducing diners to sherry and beer pairings with the enthusiasm of inspired prophets. And in this heady vortex of beverage chaos, Chef Chris DiMinno and Bar Manager Jeffrey Morgenthaler of Portland’s beloved Clyde Common are playing around with a relatively untested (and un-tasted) concept: cocktail beverage pairings.

Pairing Chemistry


Portland is a city of pioneers, and while DiMinno and Morgenthaler might not be the first guys to the cocktail pairing party, they’re easily at the top of the VIP list. “When Chris came on board,” Morgenthaler says of DiMinno, “we discovered we had a mutual love for both food and cocktails, and also for experimenting within our respective stations in the restaurant.” DiMinno, a Blue Hill alum who Portland Monthly says is “quietly reinventing Clyde Common’s cuisine since taking over,” turned out to be an ideal match for Morgenthaler, who keeps Clyde Common’s beverage program among the most creative in the region. It takes a good match to make a good pairing.

“The pairing menus were a way to work together,” says Morgenthaler, “beyond the standard night-to-night service.” And because cocktail pairing menus are generally offered as a small-format tasting menu or special event menu—our tasting was four courses paired with four cocktails—issues of cost and labor (for cocktail versus traditional beverage pairing programs) are almost nil. “These dinners don’t affect our bottom line,” says Morgenthaler. “And guest response couldn’t be more positive.”

Drinking in the Difference


The major difference between cocktail pairings and their wine-list step-cousins is flexibility. “Wine and beer are static,” says Morgenthaler. “What you’ve got in the glass is what you have to work with.” Even a supple Italian Barolo is a fixed entity, and outside of actually tampering with the stuff (like, maybe dumping in a sugar packet?), adjustments are impossible. Wine and beer are sought out for their complexity. Cocktails are created with a particular complexity in mind. “With cocktails, there is an opportunity to fine-tune every aspect of the drink until it pairs perfectly with the food,” playing with body, flavor, acid, and even the strength of the alcohol—which is exactly what Morgenthaler did for our tasting.

»Click image to enlage
First Vegetables of Spring, Ice Spinach, and Oregon Truffles at Clyde CommonThe French 75 at Clyde CommonHudson Valley Foie Gras in Ash, Spring Onions, Apples, and Clyde Common Struan Bread at Clyde CommonThe Barrel-aged Negroni at Clyde Common

For the first course of First Vegetables of Spring, Ice Spinach, and Oregon Truffles, Morgenthaler and DiMinno “wanted to use cognac to pair with those beautiful Oregon truffles.” A sample of un-aged cognac in Morgenthaler’s collection “made for a lightly complex cocktail"—his New Orleans Variation French 75—"that accentuated the freshness of the vegetables without overpowering them.”

The rules are the same for cocktail beverage pairings—acidity cuts through fat, bitterness plays with earthiness, sweetness tames heat—but the freedoms are greater. You’re only limited to your liquor stock—and your imagination. And that was on full display for DiMinno’s Hudson Valley Foie Gras in Ash with Spring Onions, Apples, and Clyde Common Struan, which Morgenthaler paired with a Negroni—“a somewhat sharp drink texturally, used here to cut through the fattiness of the foie gras.” But this was no ordinary Negroni. Morgenthaler barrel-aged a batch of it for two months in a Tuthilltown Bourbon cask. “It’s a technique we pioneered that’s been replicated at bars all over the world.” With two months in the charred barrels, the Negroni “picks up some of the whisky and wood” of the bourbon, says Morgenthaler, which marries it to the whiskey-soaked applewood ash coating the foie gras.

Catalyzing Complexity


They might be popping up in gutsy cities like Portland, but cocktail pairing menus are hardly a regular feature of the dining experience. And part of that may be out of respect—some sort of muddled concept of the complexity of a cocktail deserving its own, unmitigated reception. But what other mixos might view as a violation, Morgenthaler sees as opportunity. “The overall complexity of cocktails aids and helps inform our process,” he says.

»Click image to enlage
Fideos, Bay Scallop, Squid, Beef Tongue, Ink Vinaigrette, Aioli, and Piquillo Peppers at Clyde CommonThe Andalusian Buck at Clyde CommonRoasted Golden Trout, Clyde Common Prosciutto, Chard, First of the Morels, and Fried Egg at Clyde CommonThe Irish Goodbye at Clyde Common

Cocktails aren’t the only complex game in town, as anyone who’s been on the receiving end of an even moderately well-informed sommelier’s explanation can attest. Wines and beers can brilliantly display a range of characteristics. But cocktails, like dishes, are more like a marriage of articulated components—components that are pronounced as much as a chef or mixologist (or the modern hybrid, straddling bar and kitchen) desires. Morgenthaler plays up bitterness in his “Irish Goodbye” (with a name like that, a little bitterness is to be expected). Using equal parts whisky, Cynar, and the spicy, dainty bitterness of Lillet Blanc he creates a solid, spirit-forward drink that’s “herbaceous, while at the same time able to cut through the richness” of DiMinno’s Roasted Golden Trout, Clyde Common Prosciutto, Chard, First of the Morels, and Fried Egg (where the chef’s Blue Hill pedigree really shines through). “The Cynar here appears to emphasize the earthiness of the morels,” says Morgenthaler.

Creative Crucible


With a chef like DiMinno at the helm, Morgenthaler has an equal partner in creativity and experimentation (the ideal formula needed for a successful cocktail pairing menu—not to mention pioneering Portlandia diners). And it’s a creative journey that begins with each new dish or drink and carries on into the next round. “The foie gras in ash with the barrel-aged Negroni got us thinking,” says Morgenthaler. “And now we’re experimenting with different types of woodland elements.” DiMinno, for his part, has been experimenting with hay and pine, says Morgenthaler. “Jeffrey has been working to find different types of spirit that will compliment and enhance earthy flavors,” says DiMinno.

And as the seasons change and DiMinno’s product-driven, elegantly rustic dishes adjust, chef and bar manager will continue to play around in the pairing sandbox of cocktail and cuisine. “We will try and play off each other to create an amazing experience,” says Morgenthal. It’s a perfect pair, playfully pairing for perfection—Portland style.

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