My visit to Lavanda last September was memorable but for all the wrong reasons. What prompted my return was an odd posting on Lavanda’s Facebook page; it urged me to give it another go. A few other readers decided to join me to decode what was in fact a special seasonal dinner menu that was paired with cocktails created by One More Bar’s “mixologist” Drago Ivanov using Bols Genever.
I needed to do a bit of research to find out more about Genever, which goes by a variety of names including jenever and Dutch or Holland Gin to name a few. The traditional name jenever can only be used if it is produced in either the Netherlands or Belgium. It is quite a strong spirit with the aroma of juniper. The flavor profiles are unique, so you can’t put it in an already existing category, but if I were to pigeon hole, I would say vodka-esque with gin notes.
The first item was a Red Beet Salad with Walnuts and Clove. It was served with a cocktail: Genever, Red Vermouth, Campari, clove and chocolate bitters, club soda and orange essential oil. The salad didn’t scream out to me as I find this winter has been full of shredded beet salads, but the drink was woo hoo! I have not paired hard liquor with food and this was strong. The drink was interesting, but maybe better on its own.
In the US, the “nose to tail” trend is holding steady, but in Bulgaria there has always been this concept of total utilization because the living conditions don’t allow people to just throw away good meat because it is icky… This leads me to the starter of Cold Beef Tongue with Horseradish and Sherry Vinegrette. It was marvelous. The tongue was tender and thinly sliced, very carpaccio-esque. Everyone at the table that tried it was quite impressed. The course was paired with probably the most ambitious drink of the night which combined Genever, pear, dijon mustard, honey and black pepper… it was just not right, almost like a salad dressing…
The homemade Gravlax an interesting dish, but not one of the favorites. The homemade aspect was a bit lost as the people that ordered it couldn’t differentiate it from the packaged stuff you can find at the supermarket and it was such a small quantity, but the combination with the purple rice waffles was unique. I want to know where to find a waffle iron in Bulgaria? The Genever cocktail included red pepper, spicy maple syrup with Himalayan salt… again… maybe on its own, but it didn’t work.
I applaud One More Bar and Lavanda for trying out this idea of pairing spirits and food, but I think they tried a bit too hard on the cocktails by overextending the concept. I think if something a bit simpler (more fruit, less mustard) was created the stark contrast wouldn’t be so, well… stark! Also, the suggestions from the Bols brand, could have forced their hand. I suggest the next time that they make the event more like a cocktail party and create hors d’oevres to accompany the drinks. As for my thoughts about Lavanda, they are really blossoming. I look forward to dining their again as the seasons and menu evolve.