There’s a quiet cocktail movement wending its way through all the new bar programs in L.A. One where all the fresh juices, barrel-aged what-have-you, housemade everything are stripped away to bring drinks back to the basics of simple, spirit-forward classics. Case in point is Barman Ryan Wainwright’s (Tasting Kitchen) bar program at Terrine, the new Mid-City West brasserie by Stephane Bombet, Kris Morningstar, and Francois Renaud. His cocktails, liquor and beer selections are an exercise in restraint, which perfectly complements the mood and the food of the place.
“What Kris, Stephane, and Francois really wanted to bring into the whole food program here, mostly Kris, is that minimal, very clean, simplistic brasserie style elevated to the California level and that’s exactly the kind of words I was using to describe my program,” said Wainwright. For his menu—six variations of classics and six signatures—he created cocktails with only three to four ingredients making them as easy to comprehend as you would a food menu.
You’ll be able to tell which are his originals by the simple fact that he doesn’t name his drinks. “The chef doesn’t name the steak the ‘Wowie Zowie Steak.’ You order the steak with the accouterments that it comes with. You see that on the menu and that’s how you process that information. And I feel like that’s a really healthy way to process drinking, too,” he explains.
But Wainwright’s restrained and straightforward approach does not equal boring. He’s taken that tired trope of “classics with a twist” to another level. Instead of reinterpreting already favorite classics, he’s tackled the often misunderstood and misinterpreted cocktails and figured out the secret of their longevity as favorites.
Here’s how Wainwright broke down a few of the classics off his new menu. By the way, he’s still trying to figure out the Dirty Martini.
Jack Rose: “If I make a Jack Rose now with just straight apple brandy that I have at my fingertips, it comes out tasting like a Jolly Rancher. And nobody wants that,” he said. So he used a combination of apple brandy and grape brandy for something clean. “By creating this layered effect you end up with a much more elegant drink and that’s everything that we’re going for. It still has that minimalistic feel.”
Vodka Cranberry: For a new take on this ubiquitous and, let’s face it, boring cocktail, Wainwright infused the cranberry juice with cloves, cinnamon, and mace. “It’s very wintry and the spices end up being like a pie spice blend, very dry, unsweetened. We add a little sweetener to balance that out and then mix that with lemon juice and the vodka.”
Rob Roy: “Somewhere along the way the Rob Roy turned into a Manhattan with blended scotch and sweet vermouth,” said Wainwright. So he decided to take the cocktail back to its drier roots by splitting the sweet vermouth with Chinato. “The sweet vermouth we’re using has a very pruney depth to it. The Chinato has a very bright dryness so you sort of flip that up.”
Martini: The Martini is Wainwright’s favorite cocktail to drink, and naturally he had a strong opinion of how he wanted it to taste and smell. He zests the lemon peel into the glass first so “the oil will fold into the drink.” That way, instead of zesting at the end when you’ll get a big whiff of lemon on first approach, you’ll get the citrus mixed with the “bright botanicals in the Dolin and the gin.” And put aside everything you think you know about Martinis. This one won’t make your eyes water. “It’s smooth, it’s clean, it’s bright. It’s three ingredients but it’s the benchmark of what I believe in; that Martini,” said Wainwright. And it also happens to be Renaud’s favorite.
White Russian: Wainwright’s version better resembles the White Russian cousin, Brandy Alexander, than a dive bar staple. In the place of Kahlua is Varnelli Caffe Moka and Luxardo Amaro Abano, which together create a cool chocolate-y and dark chocolate-orange peel flavor. The vodka is backed up here with brandy “to fortify that robust flavor” and then it’s topped with a thin layer of cream. “So it ends up being this amazing desserty cocktail, that I really believe that was the original concept behind it.”
Terrine starts serving December 12 from 5 to 11 p.m every day.