Chickadee : Innovation Served Four Ways (featuring Kate)

Most Fridays I bartend a cocktail hour (more like 2 hrs!) for my company, but recently work’s gotten heavy and I thought it a poor example to have the boss devoting so many Thursday nights / Friday afternoons coming up with a quartet of new craft cocktails, so I dropped one of the Fridays a month.

As it turns out many of my employees thought that THAT had been an excellent way for the boss to be spending his time and lamented the mixology void. A brilliant suggestion came from one of my staff to turn the dropped Friday into DIY Cocktail Hour and give the rest of the staff an opportunity to flex their bartending skills. This has resulted in some fine and surprising drinks (including a shockingly tasty Moxie Sazerac, Moxie being that weird old soda that hipsters are reviving … and that actually turns out to be a not-too-sweet and vaguely Angostura-ish  addition to cocktails), some fun-yet-regrettable concoctions, more pool time for me, and the ability to leave a little earlier on those Fridays.

Lorri & I took this opportunity to head over the new brand new restaurant Chickadee, located in the Seaport area of Boston. Normally the Seaport is the Hellmouth of Parking (a trip to Committee last year ended up in a midnight run with lots of cash in hand to some skeevy tow lot deep in the darkest heart of Dorchester because we didn’t pay enough attention to our Cinderella-ish parking space that magically transformed from a pay meter into a fucking pumpkin/valet-only spot … yet, still bitter about that one), but I remembered visiting the same building for a party that was part of the Thirst Boston bartender’s conference and remembered it had actual parking.

What magical building is this? The remodeled Innovation and Design building, which is not located in the touristy section of the Seaport but more along one of those former wharfs. This makes for some actual free parking spaces in the loading-dock-like area, half of which are open to the public for 90 minutes. The “ID” building is well on its way to becoming a foodie/drinking destination, with an America’s Test Kitchen installation, a gelato shop and a future Flour bakery there as well.

We put Chickadee on our must-see list because it boasts three alums of No. 9 Park (STILL a fantastic cocktail experience and a little under-the-radar since the Barbara Lynch cuisine is the main draw). The bar was busy but we were able to snag two seats (thanks to the single patron who kindly moved over so we could sit together).

The menu was VERY ambitious – sometimes you see a list like this and you just KNOW someone worked their ass of to fine-tune these drinks (probably beverage manager Ted Kilpatrick, one of the No. 9 Park alums).  Ingredients like Grüner Veltliner white wine, grapefruit cordial, tomato, golden beets, roasted red pepper and plum shrub show a daring willingness to go into the kitchen for atypical cocktail flavors.

Innovative cocktails in the Innovation & Design Building, with an innovative “Kitchen Administration” fee that I highly approve of.

Lorri went for the Zasu, the mixture of cognac and raspberry sounding interesting yet approachable, which it was! Skillful mix of flavors, with the only minor gripe being that if you wanted a cognac forward cocktail (like a Sidecar or a Brandy Crusta) this wouldn’t check that box for you, the cognac getting a little lost in the intense raspberry and lemon.  Still, a winner in my book and a definitey candidate to get reincarnated at a future company cocktail hour (always looking for more things to make with raspberry other than Clover Clubs).

I took a chance on the Shearwater (GREAT cocktail names, btw), hoping that the mystery ingredient Salers wasn’t going to end up being something vile like concentrated cucumber liqueur or the fermented remains of ground up Chinese dung beetles. As my cocktail was being made by our first bartender of the night, I spotted the bottle on the shelf and pegged it as a Lillet-ish kind of fortified wine apertif and figured I was safe.

And so I was!  As a BIG fan of well made 50/50 martinis (super-wet, with half gin and half dry vermouth, with bitters and crucial citrus peel, usually orange), the Shearwater was right in my lane. The gin was infused with rhubarb which gave a different cirtusy note and the Salers turned out to be a gentian root apertif, so just bitter enough to give some structure and a creamy/vegetal/earthy feel. It was elegant and different and a perfect first drink – my only constructive criticism would be to lean in a little harder with the rhubarb – it was just a tease of rhubarb, leaving my taste buds straining for more. More rhubarb would also help cut through the salers (which may be more bitter and vegetal than many patrons would appreciate).

The Zasu and Shearwater .. with two bonus tastes of straight Salers apertif

* By the way, the dehydrated citrus slices – looks cool the first 50 times you have it and I appreciate the work it takes to make them … but do they REALLY add anything to your drink?

Our first bartender was constantly on the move but very welcoming and helpful when he focused on us (which is always fine with us – do what you need to do and don’t dote on us, but when you’re with us, be WITH US). When I inquired about Salers, he brought own the bottle and gave us each a small pour.  LOVE when bartenders do that because you can’t always place which component gives off what flavor in a mixed drink … and it saves you the trouble of buying an entire bottle just to found out it tastes like … well, the fermented remains of the Chinese Dung Beetle.

Salers belongs to the gentian root family of beverages – Suze is the most well known (it’s a liqueur so it can be a base spirit for a cocktail) and Byrrh is another gentian apertif (and softer than Salers).

Pronunciation guide:  Byrrh is basically pronounced “beer” and “Lillet” is pronounced “Lee-Lay”, not “Lil-Lay” or “Lee-Yay” or “Lil-Let”. I don’t know how I got it into my head that it was the latter pronunciation – maybe a hold over from learning that “Moet” is pronounced something close to “Mo-whett”, not “Mo-Ayyy”. I hate words like that because the completely ignorant pronounce it “Mo-ett”, the somewhat knowledgeable people pronounce it “Mo-Ayyy”, and the truly knowledgeable pronounce it “Mo-wett” – this virtually guarantees that if you say it correctly, someone is going to think you’re an ignoramus.

At any rate, thanks to our first bartender for gently using the correct pronunciation and making me look it up once and for all. Yay for Lee-Lay!

Chickadee’s food menu is heavy on the small bites – PERFECT!

We got the:

  • Crab gratin, which basically turned out to be a corn chowderish dip with crab rangoon-levels of crab in it. Lorri wasn’t into it but I ate it up happily with the fancy potato chips provided with the dish. I dig corn, sue me.
  • Chickpea fries – OK, these were incredibly perfect. Delicately crunchy on the outside, creamy and savory on the inside. We make these at home so we could appreciate how glorious these were made.  It’s cruel to just give 4, but I can’t really complain because the snacks section of the menu was very reasonably priced for food of this precision
  • Doughnuts with caviar – ok, more like donut holes. The caviar was in the dip, which was cool but mildly annoying because it seems sinful to leave caviar uneaten but revolting to just down a whole serving of dip.
  • Squid Ink Pasta – AWESOMENESS. Definitely appreciate the half portion option. Loved the spiral cuts of squid (well that’s what I think it was) that came with the black pasta and the tiny cubes of soppressata (the spicy sausage which usually comes in slices).

We got switched off to a second bartender, Kate, who was having an interesting conversation with our bar neighbor in which Yvonne’s and the name of Will Thompson came up. DING DING, two winners there!

Will Thompson was probably our favorite beverage manager, one we got to know really well during our Summer Of Ruka. Great bartender and apparently a really good mentor because nearly every time we find someone who studied under him, they can sling out creative originals almost effortlessly. Kate spoke fondly of him and said that he was down in Miami now (after a stint in NYC). We also found out Kate was also close to Katie Soules (also Yvonne’s and one of our all time favorites) and had worked at Tiki Rock as well.

All of this knowledge was like hitting the Cocktail Jackpot and we immediately abused our inside knowledge by asking for originals.

Lorri asked Kate what she liked to do with mezcal and after first getting the CORRECT ANSWER (“Ummm . DRINK IT?”), got a Will Thompson original called the “Teenage Bart Simpson”,  featuring Mezcal, mole bitters, lime and green chartreuse. COWABUNGA, that’s why we search out these places, for drinks like this:

I saw one of my favorite gins, Ransom (an Old Tom gin that I prefer to Hayman’s Old Tom because it DOESN”T have added sugar) and asked for “anything with Ransom”. I’ve found that asking for “Anything with XXX” can lead to me having something I would NEVER order and this was the case once again.

G&T-ish long drink with gold beets and Suze

I can appreciate a gin and tonic on a hot day but usually consider it a chuggable waste of a bartender’s talents. Wrong this time!

Kate served me up a long golden drink that had the basics of a gin and tonic (Ransom and Fever Tree) but with Suze (it was Gentian Friday, apparently!) and the golden beet (syrup?) from their Goldfinch original. Kate garnished it with rosemary (might have been flamed, since rosemary usually doesn’t add much aroma on its own) but deemed the first sprig unworthy and replaced it with a better one. This I appreciated because there’s a whole pile of picture perfect rosemary growing in our garden so my Rosemary Snob Index is at an all time high.

It was hands down the best G&Tish drink I’ve ever had with the freshness of a G&T but also a sweet and savory depth and long finish that you never get from long drinks. Someone needs to put this on a menu, pronto.

Kate finished off this great cocktail experience with pours of Cynar (we’re starting to decode these bartender’s salutes and I think Cynar means “OK, you folks were cool and seem to know what you’re doing, so you should be able to handle THIS”.). Good choice because while the bitter/sweet artichoke liqueur is NOT Lorri’s favorite, she’s starting to appreciate it in some stirred cocktails and she got through half of hers. I of course downed mine and the rest of hers, thinking for the fifth time in as many months that I should get a bottle of this stuff (it being far superior to aforementioned Dung Beetle Juice)!

Side note: Chickadee charges a 2% Kitchen Administration Fee which I fully support. We’ve always tipped good bartenders well but I’ve always wondered about the back of the house who don’t get the recognition and appreciation and all-too-often, the TIPS that the front of the house can get. Coming from an immigrant family who owned a restaurant I know that the back of the house often employs recent immigrants who are supporting families so charging a little extra to address that inequity is an admirable practice. I recently read that 15% of millenials NEVER tip, so bring on the mandatory fees I say (but state those charges up front, as elegantly done on Chickadee’s menus).

Innovative building, innovative cocktail menu, innovative originals and an innovative fee to address inequalities in the industry. Highest marks for a brand new restaurant that’s slaying it right out of the gate.


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