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Swing Into Spring’s Best 'Culinary' Cocktails

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Fleming's new “couture cocktails” use chef-driven, seasonal ingredients and artisan, small-batch spirits. (Photo: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar)

The Aviary introduced its award-winning, chef-driven cocktail program last spring, and one year later finds the trend highlighted on quite a few bar and restaurant menus around town.

Texas-based steakhouse and wine bar Fleming’s shakes up its beverage program with the new $12.50 “couture cocktails.” Using seasonal ingredients and artisan, small-batch spirits allows bartenders to take ordinary cocktails to the next level. The Mad Milagro Margarita (see recipe below), for example, starts with Milagro silver tequila, freshly squeezed lime juice and muddled fresh cucumber. Then it’s topped off with a touch of fresh cilantro and spicy jalapeño for a dash of heat.

While The Aviary continues to rack up accolades for its high-concept and high-priced cocktails in the West Loop, not too far away, the just-opened Nellcôte aims to do a similar program that’s more accessible to the masses. Chef/owner Jared Van Camp’s calling his creations “kitchen cocktails,” which incorporate many ingredients the chefs regularly use in the entrées. Right now he’s offering seven on the menu at $10 each to complement his French- and Mediterranean-influenced menu. Highlights include the punch of Remy Martin V.S.O.P. cognac, house-made ginger beer, Carpano Antica vermouth, mint, cucumber and orange; a Bulliet bourbon drink of green chartreuse, house-made peach preserves, peach bitters and basil; and Nellcôte’s version of a Pimm’s Cup (Hendrick’s gin, Pimm’s, fresh pineapple juice, agave syrup and preserved strawberries).

Logan Square now boasts a number of cocktail-focused bars (Longman & Eagle, Scofflaw, The Whistler come immediately to mind) at the top of their game, but Owen & Engine stands apart for its somewhat edible elixirs. Two delightful drinks stand out on the spring menu: the Tempest 10 (Cajun-spiced rum, Domaine de Canton, lime, egg white, anistar, spice tincture) that’s shaken and served up; and Victorian 9 (Pimm’s No.1 Cup, Fentiman’s Rose Lemonade, lemon, pink peppercorn, tincture, cucumber, mint, rose water) that’s served in a tall glass.

Though they feature a new spin on the Bloody Mary with house-made Bloody Mary mix and Thai chili, Sprout proves that brunch cocktails go far beyond the usual. Offerings sound like entrees, from the Rumaki Fizz of house bacon-infused vodka, pineapple, honey soy reduction and ginger beer to the Afternoon Delight of Fernet, raspberry, basil fennel syrup and Prosecco.

And while Tru already gets mega-props for an outstanding wine program, its cocktail menu is just starting to make an impact. A twist on the classic Manhattan features Bulliet rye bourbon, Carpano and Angostura bitters and is topped off with orange “smoke,” and the just-added Scotsman Can Take A Punch highlights the peaty Glenmorangie 10-year with Chartreuse, green tea and fresh ginger.

Mad Milagro Margarita (Fleming’s Steakhouse)

Ingredients:

2 oz Milagro Silver Tequila
2 oz fresh lime sour
4 slices cucumber thinly sliced 1/8 inch
Pinch of cilantro leaves
2 slice Jalapenos de-seeded 1/8 inch

Directions: Muddle cucumbers, jalapenos and cilantro, add remaining ingredients. Shake and pour into rocks glass with fresh ice.

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