Is it Fate, Serendipity or Something More Sinister when a new place opens and seems to fulfill all of your subconscious cocktail desires? A sublimely charming host introduces you to this seductive new world, a familiar face floats in and out of view singing the siren’s call of future epiphanies, and ghostly apparitions of cocktails that taste nothing like you expect materialize before your eyes before disappearing …
… well, disappearing because you drank the suckers! Wasn’t this supposed to be a cocktail blog, not a high school creative writing class?
Our new office is just two blocks away from 100 Arlington Street, the former site of the Liquid Art House. “LAH” was a promising but strange mix of modern art gallery, event space, fancy cuisine and disappointingly run of the mill drinks (think of a glitzy hotel bar that clearly isn’t looking to challenge anyone’s comfort zone). In our book, it was a temple of unrealized cocktail potential.
Therefore it was a bit of a bummer but not a shocker when we heard that LAH was closing. After walking by the empty space daily for more than 6 months, the signs went up for the new “Nahita” concept earlier this year. The headline “Cocktails and Cuisine” immediately raised our hopes but we prepared ourselves for an endless wait (the Godfrey Hotel/Ruka construction period was extended multiple times and ended up taking a couple of years from announcement to opening).
So it was a real surprise when we read this past weekend that Nahita was opening on Tuesday and come Wednesday 5:30 PM, we were there!
The severe white serenity of the Liquid Art House has been replaced with lush greenery and spectacular murals. Say goodbye to our beloved gigantic blown glass chandelier and hello to 2 stories of soon-to-be-loved liquor shelves! Nahita is easily the most stunning bar in Boston … but does that translate to the liquid in the glass?
We were greeted by Billy, who’s a seamless blend of bartender and public relations guru. His enthusiasm for the drinks and the food was infectious – it’s great to have such an eager source of information introduce you to a brand new restaurant, especially when each item has been meticulously crafted with a specific experience in mind.
We started with two drinks with musically inspired names, Papa Don’t Preach and Smoke Under Water (yeah, I know that’s not not the real name of the Deep Purple song but tell me you don’t have that riff playing through your head now … you’re welcome).
I’d read about the clarified fruit juices and even tried to do the poor man’s version by verrrrryyyyy slowly running freshly squeezed juice through coffee filters until I nearly died of boredom and alcohol deprivation. Nahita does it the properly expensive (and somewhat dangerous) way, spinning the juice in a high speed centrifuge until the colored solids are concentrated at the bottom and the clear liquids are floating at the top of the viciously whirling, baseball sized test tubes (OK, they’re probably not that big, but if they WERE I’m sure Tom Cruise would be strapped to one in Mission Impossible 7: The Daiquiri Dilemma).
Sure enough, Papa Don’t Preach was as naked and desperately transparent as Madonna in a late 80’s Behind the Music retrospective. It looked like a martini but tasted NOT like the straightforward daiquiri that I expected from the menu but more like a tiki drink that had evolved from goofy adolescence to super-model maturity. It was such a curveball that my first impression was that the clarification had taken TOO much citrus-ness from the lime juice but as it settled in I could truly appreciate the imagination behind the drink. The house rum blend is a tiki trademark, resulting in a rum experience you can’t get anywhere else – I’d guess from the subtle funkiness that there was some Martinique agricole rhum in there (put a leash on your spell checker, that’s how you’re supposed to spell it) or some serious Jamaican pot still rum in the blend. The cane syrup is likely a nod to Martinique’s ‘Ti Punch (agricole rhum, lime wedges and grassy cane syrup on ice, more or less the Caipirinha’s rowdier brother). It was finished with a lime peel branded with “DTO”, signifying its inspiration from Boston’s “Daiquiri Time Out” tradition of heavily spun daiquiris.
Lorri’s Smoke Under Water was also a marvel of hard won clarity – Mezcal and tequila with watermelon and jalapeño in a milk punch preparation (essentially adding boiled milk, letting it all curdle, refrigerate overnight, then VERY carefully straining the resulting clear mixture). Again, it was not at all what we expected (virtually no heat from the jalapeño) but a subtle, sweet and smoky creature all its own. A hand hacked ice cube (all of Nahita’s ice was beyond gorgeous, well worth all of the digits and limbs that were sacrificed for your pleasure ) was stamped with Nahita’s dove logo, a trick we’d seen several times before but one that impresses every time. Some details have no impact on the taste of the drink but serve to signify that this is a drink born from people who really, really give a damn.
At this point we were greeted by a familiar face – Elise, formerly from Explorateur, then gone to NY, then luckily for us, back here in Boston. It’s great to have Elise back because she’s spot on with recommendations and with bold original creations. She suggested the Lucky Lefty for me and a (wouldn’t you know it) the frozen Negroni for Lorri.
My Lucky Lefty was a potent Manhattan-Goes-To-Italy mashup of rye, sweet Carpano Antica vermouth and sweet/bitter Cynar artichoke liqueur, and it completed my seduction to the Bitter Side, finally realizing the full power of the Cynar. I thought three Maraschino cherries (were they Luxardo or some house-brandied cherry?) were luxurious overkill but it turns out they were vital to the experience.
Lorri’s frozen Negroni was a hard left turn on her epic “Road to Negroni” – Elise convinced Lorri to go with true Campari this time instead of the usual Aperol switcheroo. It featured sweet vermouth instead of the usual blanc and a generous helping of grapefruit sorbet. We found the sourness of the sorbet heavy handed against the subtler aspects of the Negroni but I have to admit that of all the drinks of the night, this was the one I can recall most vividly, so they’re definitely on to something here. A tweak here and there and they may have Boston’s answer to Brooklyn’s Penichillin’ (Diamond Reef’s Frozen Penicillin)..
Billy returned to demolish whatever resolve we had to stick to our plan for “an appetizer”. We’d already done the King Crab tacos and pornographically crunchy-chewy-crusty bread but his description of the duck confit tacos was itself a work of performance art worthy of a Liquid Art House event, so of course we ordered it. Billy mentioned the dozens of countries he’d been to and we inquired to what his (obviously culinary) background was and got back the hilarious answer: The Army! Generals, take heed, when you need someone to defend our country from foreign invaders, limp cocktails and unimaginative entrees, we’ve found your man.
Speaking of the food at Nahita, it’s somewhat reminiscent of Ruka’s Japanese/Peruvian offerings, with tiraditos, crudo and sashimi to go along with Latin and European-influenced dishes (somewhat surprising since the restaurant group that brought the Nahita concept to the Liquid Art House space hails from Turkey – they also have the meme-powered Salt Bae steak restaurants to their name as well). It’s going to be a real trip cruising our way through their menu over the next few months (they also have vegan and gluten free versions, so no excuses!)
Elise recommended her Mezcal Negroni as the perfect pairing for the rich duck dish and it was one of those “Why Doesn’t Everyone Do This” moments. Right on the money and gorgeously executed. As if that weren’t enough to get excited about, we also found out that Elise is a guest bartender on Tuesday’s at the Cocktail Lab in Earl’s Kitchen at the Prudential. We’ve been wanting to go there (yes, Earl’s is a pleasantly boring Canadian chain but we’ve heard great things about the rotating bartenders at their Cocktail Lab) but never knew when to go – now we do!
And to cement the weird Inception-esque feeling that our subconscious has been morphing our greatest cocktail desires into ludicrous reality, Nahita will also be opening for lunch around October AND opening a speakeasy type space in the somewhat near future. We might as well rent us apartment space upstairs for all of the time we’re going to spend here … who needs a downtown office anyway???