It’s not often that we have the opportunity to experience a brand-new flavor combination. In that sense, the world of food and drink bears a striking resemblance to that of music: By now, more than a decade into the 21st century, we seem to have heard it all and tasted it all before. Which is exactly why the emergence of a truly visionary chef or winemaker or distiller--or musician--is the cause of so much justifiable excitement. Remember the first time you heard Radiohead’s OK Computer? Or Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain?
I still remember my first bite of warm chestnut soup with its crowning igloo of bacon ice cream at La Broche in Madrid back in 2004. Helmed by Sergi Arola, protege of Ferran Adrià, this was my first tentative foray into the world of what might be called the El Bulli school of Spanish gastronomy, and a first glimpse at what was possible when the traditional bounds of flavor and texture were broken.
I bring this up because last night, at the remarkable Talula’s Garden in Philadelphia, I had the chance to taste, for the first time, Rhuby, the new spirit by boundary-pushing Art in the Age. I consulted on the wine list at the restaurant, and was in for a pre-dinner line-up discussion of Port. Afterward, Aimee Olexy, the visionary co-owner of the restaurant with Stephen Starr, joined me at the bar for a drink and a bite (or three) to eat.
And then she brought out the Rhuby. It’s not available yet, so this preview of the already-much-buzzed-about tipple caused more than a few heads to turn and eyebrows to rise as she popped the bottle open.
Turns out that all the buzz around this newest project by the mad geniuses at Art in the Age is wholly justified. As the promo video below notes (NB: Take a look at their site; it's full of great information in addition to the video), it’s sweet but not too sweet, spicy but wholly approachable. Its complexity and range of potential uses, however, is what struck Aimee and I, and it only took a few sips for the gears in her head to start really turning. The ideas came tumbling out: Highlight the spice of Rhuby by mixing it into a rye manhattan; work with the sweeter notes as a base ingredient for a foie gras torchon; play up the perfumed aspects by harnessing its pink peppercorn and cardamom notes for a gravlax cure; kiss a vodka martini with it as a way to start getting vodka drinkers more comfortable with the added complexity of gin-like flavors; or, just as appealing, simply serve it over ice, the way Italians have traditionally enjoyed vermouth.
This is a beautiful, thoroughly accomplished product, paradoxically avant-garde in its reliance on an 18th century recipe for inspiration. Perhaps the old cliche is right: Everything old has the potential to be new again. And damn delicious, too.