The Lambs Club
[Originally Drafted January 16, 2013]
For awhile I was itching to get to The Lambs Club in New York City. its in and around Times Square, so its easy to get to since I come in from Jersey by bus to the Port Authority just a few blocks away. The restaurant of Geoffrey Zakarian gets its name from America’s first professional theatrical club by the same name, which opened in 1905. For more on the history, please see their website here: http://www.thelambsclub.com/misc/history.php
Its interesting to note that members read like a Who’s Who of American theater and film: Maurice, Lionel and John Barrymore, Irving Berlin, Cecil B. DeMille, David Belasco, Charlie Chaplin, George M. Cohan, Douglas Fairbanks, John Wayne, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Spencer Tracy and Fred Astaire, who was famously quoted as stating, “When I was made a Lamb, I felt I had been knighted.”
What originally drew me to this place of interest was their “hand crafted” ice. People are finally started taking ice in their cocktails seriously, as I always have. Ice is at least 50-70% of your cocktail, why would you pour spirits you paid $25-50 per bottle for only to use ice made from tap water from your freezer which has that chlorine taste, not to mention cloudy, and no sense to go on and on, if you have any chlorine taste in your cocktail, you need to go buy a $2 bag of ice before you pour your $50 bottle of scotch into a glass. I go into ice extensively on a post here give it a read. If you pay for bottle water and if you want your cocktails to taste better, consider reading that.
So, I finally get to The Lambs Club as a press photographer for a publicity function. And I am happy because its a fun event and I actually get to drink on the job, because in this case, it is part of the job. To taste, drink, photograph, tweet and blog about the food and drink.
When I first walked in I noticed hard boiled eggs at the bar. I always wondered what that was about. As it turns out, its a retro thing. As much as a hundred years ago, in order to serve liquor, bars had to also serve food. A hard-boiled egg qualifies as such. Very retro, very cool. You can be sure 99.9% of the people don’t eat them, they much rather order up a salty appetizer, preferably fried, especially at the new restaurant chains who are also serving up faux margaritas (you know all sweet & sour mix in a full glass of ice with a splash of tequila). In any case, every one knows that liquor costs more than food, so in the “old days” a free lunch buffet was open knowing that $1 per person of food would easily bring in a $20 drink tab. And yes, I can attest to that, working in New York City in the 1990s when I was in my 20s, me and the gang from work would only go to happy hours that gave free food since we were all underpaid. Sure, we got $5-10 worth of “free food” (retail price) but the bar tab even then would often come to $200 for less than a dozen of us. In fact, one place always reserved a table for us each Friday night, we did not have to fend with the other customers for the free buffet, we got our own personal round of appetizers delivered to our table free of charge. Back then I thought the manager was so nice, now I think “how smart”. They would even bring out giant bowls of linguine and clams, penne with marinara. “Wow” I thought, we were being treated like kings, we went from appetizers to dinner for free. Sure, pasta is still one of the cheapest foods a restaurant can buy/serve.
Ok, so back to The Lambs Club. I always get off topic, but its first impressions that often capture my attention.
Before the food tastings came out, we were greeted with a South Side cocktail. Its gin, lime juice, mint and so much smoother than a Mojito. A real winner. Light, sweet, not too stong, not too strong. I was surprised it was gin in there, but it was actually at The Lambs Club I had a cocktail epiphany. Vodka is the tofu of cocktail world. Yes, its clean, odorless, tasteless and blends in well with any mixer, and that is fine if you just like to drink to take the edge off a rough week, but its spirits like gin, rum and bourbon that gives the spirit its true character, and a whole other depth in a cocktail. With that, we experience the citrus scented olives and warm mixed nuts roasted in-house with rosemary. Delicious. We are off to a great start.
So out comes the appetizer, beef tartare with mustard dressing on “crisps” (not melba toast, not toast, not bread, but something like that only not as hard). Fresh, delicious, a perfect bite.
Now I just had to order a Gold Rush Cocktail between courses. You can’t taunt me with hand carved ice and expect me not to order off the menu for one. And, I actually spoke to Chef Zakarian about this. In my mind, I thought hand crafted ice was an ice cube made out of mint and juice and just enough water so that while it melts, it does not dilute the cocktail. But he informed me that if you have an ice cube hand cut and frozen at the right temperature, it will stay cold and keep your cocktail cold without over-freezing it or diluting it for a very long time. And, he was right. At least 45 minutes went by and I savored every minute of this cocktail at the perfect temperature. Its genius, or science, or both. You can’t find just any place paying this much attention to detail. It’s a combination of Elijah Craig 12 year old bourbon (most are up to but less than 5 years, then you have 10 years, but this is 12), honey and lemon juice. I honestly did not understand bourbon when I was drinking this, but all I know is that after that, I wanted to know everything about bourbon I can. I don’t know how much lemon, or what kind of honey, but all I can say is this was one of the most memorable cocktails I can recall. And trust me, I have had thousands (literally). The luxury of a mixologist rather than a bartender or someone with a liquor serving license is, that they know the perfect combination of ingredients to deliver something extraordinary, almost as if its a secret, and even if it isn’t, you would have a hard time re-creating it at home. I know I’ve tried, using clove honey, fresh lemon, my clear polar ice molds, nothing can compare to this. This was my turning point. I never like anything oak aged, but this changed my mind completely. You have to have some sweetness to the oak, and scotch and cognac never did that for me (much less wine), however, bourbon with its sweet edge, especially in a cocktail, changed my view forever when it comes to a drink at the end of the day.
Another spoon, another taste. This time its Black Bass Ceviche in habaneros vinaigrette on a bed of citrus pudding. Not very spicy and the citrus pudding really evened it out.
Next came the Jonah Crab Tostada, a tasty little bite with shredded crab and a mini dollop of wasabi sauce.
Brown Butter Enriched Squash Soup with spiced nuts
I wish I could better remember all of the delightful tastes I had, but between drinks and shooting photo and some video, it went by so fast.
Now you know when someone has succeeded when they create something I would never even consider drinking, much less paying for. I’ve never liked a Bloody Mary, and a Mimosa is only good with fresh orange juice. The fact is, as much as I love brunch, you won’t be seeing me with a Bloody Mary, ever. This is the perfect replacement for the heavy bloody mary. It replaces it at breakfast, lunch or pre-dinner and especially on a warm spring or summer day. Muddled cucumbers in a cocktail? Does not sound very good, but this is possibly one of the best top 10 cocktails ever. The Lambs Cup, based on the Pimms Cup. This has Plymouth Gin (one of the original gins from yesteryear), Bianco Vermouth, St. Germain Liquor, muddled cucumber, citrus and ginger. Again, the key lies within the measurements, but its fantastic.
Next up, a yummy Dark & Stormy. There are many variations of this drink, from dark and light beer, to putting the dark rum on the bottom, ginger ale on top, or vice verse. In this case, its Gosling’s Dark Rum topped off with Jamaican Ginger Beer (basically the same as ginger ale, except ginger beer is brewed as opposed to processed like regular soda, I don’t know if I can tell the difference, but it certainly sounds better). The Lambs Club take on this is that you taste the rum first, and by time you sip through the straw you get the ginger which will help your stomach tolerate the intake of all that rum straight – its actually genius because ginger has forever been known to help boost your body tolerance.
The Lambs Club in Manhattan is definitely a culinary and cocktail experience you must have. Its right in the heart of New York a block from Times Square where much of the action is. If you ever want to experience quintessential Manhattan, this is the place to do it. While there can easily be 100 dining experience “musts” in New York, this is definitely on the top 10 for people visiting New York and want the “whole package”. Great food, great cocktails, an easy, safe location and right smack dab in the middle of what everyone thinks of when they think of The Big Apple. Check out their menu and events online: www.thelambsclub.com – as with any restaurant, menus vary and change with the seasons and what is fresh locally.
On a personal note, I have to thank Chef Geoffrey Zakarian personally for not only being so hospitable and friendly, but taking time to explain what the cocktails were all about. He didn’t approach it as if one should know what it is, he took the time to explain it. Him and his wife were great, along with foodie Steve Green. Here is a video I put together for the very first Foodie Chat: vimeo.com/57725017 – what’s more is that this created a cocktail renaissance for me. For so long I was drinking vodka concoctions, never really looking at bourbon as anything for drinking straight, perhaps with a cigar, but never in such great cocktails, and certainly never gin outside of a Martini. However, seeing how they elevated the original cocktails and kept the same theme from over 100 years ago, it was a revelation for me to return to the “craft” of cocktails, not just pouring vodka with mixers. A cocktail today should have all the weight of a meal you would prepare. Let’s face it, you don’t get a lot of them, so why waste a perfectly good cocktail with a vodka tonic a hipster might have today, when you can enjoy something one of the very members of The Lambs Club enjoyed 50, 75 and 100 years ago? The answer is obvious. Save the “highball” for a backyard picnic, enjoy a serious but simple cocktail when you’ve earned it.
THE LAMBS CLUB
132 West 44th Street (between 6th Ave & Broadway) New York, NY 10036
Phone: 212-997-5262 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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