When Gabriella Mlynarczyk worked as the head bartender at chef Michael Voltaggio’s Ink, she was given the tools and, for the most part, the freedom to let her cocktail freak flag fly. Sous vide cocktails, boozy pixie dust, fancy Jello shots, and flash barrel-aging were all part of her repertoire. It made sense alongside Voltaggio’s innovative cooking, and it earned the restaurant a spot on my “best restaurant bar programs” list.
But at her new gig as head bartender for Santa Monica’s Cadet (she left Ink last October), you’ll see a streamlined Mlynarczyk who’s reined in that craziness. Because at chef Kris Tominaga and Jeff Weinstein’s restaurant, they’re keeping it old-school. They want this to be an accessible neighborhood go-to, not a special occasion hot spot.
So here’s what you can expect from Mlynarczyk’s cocktail menu.
1) Nothing trendy: Because the kitchen doesn’t do anything super trendy, and the owner doesn’t want it either, you won’t find the “next big thing in cocktails” here. “I don’t want to overshadow what they do in the kitchen. I want to complement them and for it to be a symbiotic relationship,” says Mlynarczyk. However, she occasionally does tap into her creative side with candied olives, and there’s talk of Angostura dust.
2) French-friendly: While creating the cocktail menu, she raided the kitchen pantry to find flavors that would complement certain dishes. “But I looked at classic French and Mediterranean dishes and pulled out flavors.”
3) Nothing more than $13: At Ink, Voltaggio would let her get away with higher-priced cocktails that were unusual. But at Cadet, the proprietors don’t want anything that costs over $13. As a result, she had to delete the Bijou from her menu since they would have had to charge $15 for it.
4) Twists on classics: But not in that played-out way. Her version of a French 75 features lemon-hops simple syrup and a sweet-tart rim while The 22, a Penicillin variation, incorporates smoked sage-infused honey. But the best-selling cocktail, the French Margarita, is an alluring smoky, spicy mix with smoked salt and firewater bitters.
5) Culinary touches: Even though Cadet’s kitchen doesn’t have cutting-edge gadgets, Mlynarczyk says she’ll still use her culinary skills, like plumping up sour cherries with sugar and armagnac for her Martinez cocktail. The drink menu will also be seasonal to keep up with the kitchen and always be contained to the categories of fizzes, sours, stirred, and cobblers.