Salt on the side, a bartender garnishes with style.
By Beverly Stephen
Salt or no salt? That’s the usual question when a Margarita order is placed. There’s no need to make that decision at Cosme, Enrique Olvera’s upscale Mexican restaurant in Manhattan.
Beverage director Yana Wolfson moistens the sides of glasses with a lime and imprints them with a stylish slash of salt on one side. The other side is plain. “It gives people a choice. It’s a way of suggesting without forcing,” says Wolfson “and it’s not supposed to fall into the drink.”
This is not just any salt. Her beautifully garnished tequila and mescal cocktails require a wardrobe of salts—absinthe, grapefruit, chili, bee pollen, even worm salt. The salts are colorful—salmon pink, slate gray, pure white, pale yellow.
Infusions are made, some salts are balanced with a touch of sugar, ingredients are dehydrated, crushed, ground down.
For example, Wolfson takes grapefruit peel that’s been soaking in sugar syrup to make soda, dehydrates it, blends it to a powder and incorporates it in salt creating a rub. The perfect foil for a Paloma (Cimarrón Reposado, house made grapefruit syrup, lime, soda).
Bee pollen salt graces the Anti Histamine, a play off the holistic idea that local honey or bee pollen can help with allergies. It’s made with Don Julio Reposado, Liquor Strega, honey, lemon.
On the Striptease (Cosme is housed in a Former strip club) absinthe salt plays well with Vida Mescal, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, guanabana, and lime.
For the Scoville sour Serrano or Guajillo or Arbol infused Siete Leguas, lemon juice, and agave is garnished with a chili salt-spiced cucumber spear. “It’s an homage to the Scoville units,” Wolfson explains. “We rotate the chilis.”
And then there’s the mysterious worm salt. “I can’t really compare it to anything,” she says. “It’s such an interesting flavor. It tastes like it comes from the earth but it’s not like having sand or powdered soil in your mouth. I’ve not had much experience eating bugs but this is interesting and beautiful.” She serves it Mexico City style on a plate beside a shot of Mescal (there are 30 on her list) with two slices of orange for dipping as a palate cleanser. The source? Wolfson smiles enigmatically. Presumably somewhere in Mexico.
The salts are a sophisticated finish for very sophisticated cocktails as is fitting for a very sophisticated restaurant and a sister to Pujol, widely considered the best restaurant in Mexico City.