What To Drink at Susan Feniger’s New Mud Hen Tavern

And tips on what drink to pair with your dinner.

When Susan Feniger’s STREET first opened on Highland in 2009, well-crafted cocktails had not yet made their way to most restaurants. But fast-forward to today and a thoughtful cocktail program has become the mark of a quality eatery. So when Mud Hen was still a mere twinkle in her eye, Feniger swore to give cocktails special consideration. And at the new restaurant, which takes over the STREET space, she has. Cocktail consultant Tricia Carr (Southern Wine & Spirits) and mixologist Morgan Fox (formerly of Upstairs 2) have worked together to create a cocktail menu that not only complements Feniger’s fine fare but Mud Hen’s approachable neighborhood tavern concept.

This new focus on cocktails is punctuated by the bar’s relocation from shoved up near the front door at Street to showcased along the back wall spread of the new restaurant. A marquee of chalkboard drink menus hangs over the bar and the stairs that once dominated the space AND that upstairs seating area have been adios’d. The main room with its open seating of communal tables and booths is now the dedicated bar area while the patio is the reserved dining area. The space now welcomes impromptu visitors just dropping in for a drink and a nosh. Definitely the perfect addition to a neighborhood of high-end, reservations-only eateries like Trois Mec and Osteria Mozza.

“It’s a tavern, it’s a neighborhood bar,” said Fox. “You’re not going out for the fanciest night of your life. You’re going out to chill and talk and you can sit and have a beer, you can have a full dinner. But it’s comfortable, it’s inviting, it’s got a great vibe. We’ll be serving you fun dishes that will have the signature twists from Kajsa [Alger, executive chef/partner] and Susan.”

The cocktails hold their own, too. “I want a cutting-edge bar program that has craft cocktails that are going to be what’s happening on the scene right now and in competition with all these other bars that I love and respect all around Los Angeles,” said Fox. But there’s no crazy molecular mixology here, but rather twists on classics and fig-infused bourbon.

For fun, I asked him which cocktail he’d pair with a few of Feniger and Alger’s dishes.

The Go Figure and The Hangover Burger: “The burger has the fats and the tannin in there. A little bit of smokiness and it’s rich. The Go Figure is going to stand up to it but it has lemon in it so that bright acidity from the cocktail and that raspberry from the Combier are going to cut straight through the fat, and the richness is going to land on your tongue. So you’re going to cut the fat and expand both the richness of the umami in there and then the figs.”

Chili P Yo and Tuna Ceviche: “You don’t want to overspice two things together but the ceviche is really fresh and light, and the sweetness of the passionfruit is going to go well with the tuna and that gruyere cracker. The spice isn’t going to overwhelm it. It’s just going to be a yummy, fresh, springtime medley in your mouth. But then that smokiness of the mezcal is going to highlight, because that tuna is rich, darker fish.”

Fresh 75 and Late Harvest Corn: “The Fresh 75 is light, dry, and refreshing. We have this late harvest corn side dish that’s got a five-spice on it and it’s pretty hot and it’s got pork belly on it. So it’s got spice and it’s got richness from the pork. The thing that’s fun is that you’re going to have this really, dry, bright thing on your palate and then this fatty, spicy corn on the opposite side. These are opposites, they’re going to start contrasting and reenlivening your palate and totally opening up the flavors more and more as you go. So when you have something spicy, you know when you want that sip of cold water, it’ll be a similar thing with that sip of sparkling peaches and gin.”

A nice consideration for customers is the fact that all seven cocktails are $12 each. Why? “I want you to just not even think about price. They’re all the same so you can just look at my menu and pick what you want. I want the focus to be on your pleasure and what you want.” So no more of this “I’d like to try that cocktail but it’s $15” business.

The cocktail menu will be updated seasonally but happy hours will feature a different, new cocktail every week. Down the line Fox wants to do Nikka whisky flights and a pickleback menu–different Irish whiskies paired with different pickle juices (pickled onions, pickled zucchini). “I want to do events all the time. So tap takeovers, wine flights, scotch flights, burger-beer pairings, all that stuff. Every month, every week there’s going to be a new fun thing,” he said.

And yes, there is craft beer (taps and bottles) with a focus on California–Golden Road, Strand, Bootleggers. Prices range from $6 to $8.

Mud Hen debuts this Saturday (tomorrow) at 4 p.m. Weekend brunch begins on December 21.

http://cdn2.lamag.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2013/12/arrow24.png Mud Hen, 742 N. Highland Ave, Los Angeles, www.mudhentavern.com.