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From an uni beverage in San Diego to a desert-inspired Vegas drink, Sean explores creative, West Coast cocktails.

Daily food & travel inspiration in your inbox

Daily food & travel inspiration in your inbox

Transcript

- I'm Shawn Thomas and this is Local Flight. Join me as we travel across the country to discover extraordinary bar tenders and purveyors. We'll share their stories as they work together to create innovative cocktails using unique local ingredients. San Diego's relationship to the sea is all-encompassing. It was the first place European explorers landed by boat on the coast of what would become California, and when you look around it can feel like the whole town is oriented toward the ocean. San Diego is also renowned for its ultra-fresh Pacific Rim cuisine, and right not the jewel in its crown is Juniper and Ivy. In a beautifully designed space on the edge of Little Italy, the restaurant boasts a sprawling open kitchen and bar, where you'll find Eric Johnson creating seasonal cocktails to match the innovative fare. - Welcome. - Thank you. This is great, your bar is like center stage in this space. It's fantastic. - Yeah, well, Richard Blais is our celebrity chef here. - [Shawn] Cool. - [Eric] Doing some fresh ingredients and some fun stuff. - [Shawn] Is there some crossover between the bar and the kitchen? - A little bit, yeah. We do tasting dinners and I usually throw a cocktail on there to pair with some sort of food or dessert, so it's just been a great collaboration. - That's great, man, - Yeah - That's great. - Tell me a little bit about how you build your menu. - I switch it up. We do beer cocktails sometimes cause it's so big in San Diego. Everything in the house, fresh-squeezed juice. - That's great. Well, I'd love to try one of the drinks on your menu. - Yeah, I just came up with this one, threw it out on the menu, it's called a pineapple expression. - All right. - [Eric] Half ounce of fresh lime juice, this was kind of my tequila tiki mesh. One ounce of pineapple, and a three-fourths ounce banana cinnamon syrup. - [Shawn] And you make that in house? - [Eric] I do. - [Shawn] Yum. - [Eric] And one ounce and a half of blanco tequila. We go through a lot of tequila just cause of our close proximity to Mexico. - [Shawn] Mexico. That's a solid shake. - Thanks. I've done it a couple times. - Yeah. - You can try it out. - Cheers, man, thank you. - Cheers. - Yeah, that's great, man, that's delicious. I feel like I'm like right on the beach already. - Yeah. - And like a pig roasting in the back. - Really delicious. - I'm here because I want to find an ingredient that's unique to San Diego. - All right. - Any ideas? - Thinking about San Diego, I think, you know, seafood is a big thing. We have, there's all these beaches and we're built on a port. Most of the fishermen bring in everything they have to this one place, it's a wholesale fish market. We could go check it out and see what they have there. - So you're thinking seafood is the ingredient that we? - Why not? - The idea of having seafood in a cocktail, - Yeah. - [Shawn] Is something that I don't think a lot of people are doing. - I like to get crazy. - Well, so do I. - So why don't we get out of here and find some seafood and see what you can do with it? - Let's do it, man. - All right. - [Shawn] At the heart of Catalina Offshore Products, San Diego's hub for fresh seafood, is Fishmonger Tommy Gomes. Tommy's family settled on the coast in 1892 and he spent years working on tuna fleets all over the Pacific. We're trying to find an ingredient that we can actually shake or mix into a drink. Something that's really unique to San Diego. - San Diego at one time was the largest tuna fishing fleet in the world. Unfortunately, we don't have those boats anymore, but what we do have is a unique little critter called the sea urchin. You guys want to check it out? - Absolutely. That'd be great - That'd be awesome. - Right on. Slip that on and we'll take a little walk down and around the corner. - Oh yeah, you look great, you look great. - Now, where do you harvest these? Do you get these like right off the shore, or where do they? - The finest sea urchin in the world comes from Santa Barbara and Point Loma. There's something in the nutrients. And the great thing about this is that it's regulated by the fishermen, so it's going to be around for a long time. - Right - Sustainably harvested, like a craft drink, made one at a time, these are hand-picked one at a time. So the great thing about this process here are the women and their delicate fingers because the uni is very very delicate. Come over here and we do a little taste test! Grab a fork. - Okay. - So we have A-Grade number one, this is what you would find in Hong Kong and Japan. - The Primo stuff. - Mm. - It's almost like got a little bit more acidity to it, a little sweeter. - I haven't eaten uni before and that just seemed like some of the freshest. - Yeah. - I feel like my first taste was some of the best. - This will be on a table in Hong Kong tomorrow morning and other parts of America, New York, by tonight. - Wow. - You know, you guys should just get ahold of a sea urchin diver and go out and eat it just as it comes out of the water. - Can we do that? - [Tommy] Yeah. - [Shawn] 40 years ago the huge sea urchin population was considered a nuisance because it was decimating the kelp forests, but a small group of divers, who braved low visibility, rip currents, and sharks, have created an ecological balance between the seaweed and the uni that has been used as an example of responsible fishing all over the world. We're catching a ride on the boat of Matt Pressly, who has been at it for close to 30 years. - So this is an urchin bag, and when full it'll hold about 350, 400 pounds of sea urchins. And this is my picking tool. - All right, guys. Well I'm going to go ahead and get dressed and get this party started. - Sounds good. - [Shawn] Fresh sea urchin is an almost indescribable flavor: sweet, salty, umami, pure ocean. - [Matt] The San Diego Urchin Fishery consists of eight or nine guys and I believe I'm the youngest one at 50. So we're a bunch of old guys. The only way to get a license at this point is to be a deckhand for two years consecutively and then that puts you into a lottery, so it's pretty difficult to get in. Sea urchins are the most prolific animal in the ocean. When you've been doing it as long as me, it becomes second nature. I find peace while I'm diving, it's quiet, it's beautiful and it's amazing and sometimes I even make a few bucks of it. - [Shawn] You made it. - [Eric] What's up, buddy? - How'd it go down there? - Uh, huh! Let me get out of this stuff. - [Shawn] Okay. - [Matt] And I'll see what we can do. - [Shawn] What you got. - [Matt] They're really extraordinarily large. - Look at how red that is. Are those my glasses, or? - [Matt] All right, you guys ready to have some? - Yes. - All right, let's do it. - Let's do it. - I'll tell you, Tommy was telling us it's some of the best sea urchin in the world coming out of these waters. - This is, they say it is and it's all because of this kelp, it's the macrocystis kelp that gives them a sweet, nutty flavor. - [Shawn] Look at the color, it's like just that golden yellow hue, wow. - [Matt] Look at that. - [Shawn] Dang, that's wild. - [Matt] Look how big that is! All right boys, cheers. - Cheers, thanks for taking us out, dude. - You bet. - Mm. - Now that was a very good urchin. - This is so fresh. It's very, very delicious, it's so subtle. - No aftertaste. - No aftertaste whatsoever. - I tell people, a good piece of uni, you should be able to close your eyes and imagine the ocean. - I think I got a few ideas for the cocktail. - Yeah? - Yeah. - [Shawn] Perfect. - [Matt] All right, boys. - All right my good man, grab that and thanks again. - You bet. See you boys. - Have a great day. Cheers. - Have a good one. - So now that we got these things, you actually know what to do with them? - I have no idea, but I got a guy in there I think can help us out. - You got a sea urchin guy? - Yeah. - Great. - What's up Kaeen, this is Shawn. - Hi man, how you doing? - How's it going, Shawn. - Nice to meet you. - Nice to meet you. - We have no idea what we're doing with these things. - All right, so what you want to do first, you want to put them on ice, preserve the life for them. You just take your scissors, you go right in at the beak and then you just go around in circles to cut the beak out. - Uh-huh. - Pour all the little juices out in the inside, - [Shawn] Uh-huh. - Take the beak out with your hand or whatever, and then just cut it straight down right here. Then you do the opposite side - [Eric] Look at that, that looks a lot easier than I thought it would be. - [Shawn] Seriously. Aww. - [Kaeen] And you just crack it in half. You take some tweezers, pull all the excess away, and then you can grab a spoon and you just go around it like that. Just be as gentle as possible. - Look at that. - You want a little bowl with a little saltwater solution so you can clean it, get all the impurities off it. So that is it. - Wow. - [Kaeen] Sea urchin. - [Shawn] Fresh from the ocean. - [Kaeen] Or uni. - [Shawn] Yeah. - All right, clean uni, what are you going to do? - I definitely want to make it the star of the show, really make it shine. After tasting it, you know with that salty creaminess, I was thinking like a nice lemon, like some citrus in there. Salty, like a Collins variation maybe or something. - All right. - See how bright we can get it? - Sounds good, man. - So we'll start out with our lemon, of course. Do little bit of fresh citrus, half ounce. We'll do a little bit of fresh-squeezed grapefruit, one ounce of that, we'll add a little bit of sweetness in here, go about a half ounce of simple syrup, one ounce of dry Fino sherry. - [Shawn] Italian? - [Eric] Yeah. I'll do a nice premium vodka, one dash of Peychaud's bitters. I don't even know hot to grab this, but we're going to throw it right in there, you ready? - [Shawn] Yeah. - [Eric] Bombs away. - I'm going to shake it up. - I'm excited to see how this tastes. - Yeah, me too, met too. - Top it off with some soda. - [Shawn] Look at that, the colors are great. - [Eric] Oh, you can see it, little floaters in there. - [Shawn] Yes, you can. - The soda water is actually breaking up the uni, I can see it. - [Eric] Oh, yeah. - Almost like a champagne cocktail that breaks up the sugar, it's actually breaking up the uni, sending it to the top of the drink, that's pretty wild. - That's pretty crazy. So I'm gonna use one of these little spines as a toothpick. - [Shawn] Cool. - [Eric] Try to use it in every single way. Get a little grapefruit zest on there. - Cheers, man, thank you very much. - You're welcome, cheers to you. - Very, like, dry botanical notes, yeah, that is wild. You know how sherry has a little bit of that funk? - Yeah. - Just a tiny bit of that funk? - Yeah. - The uni actually kicks that up a notch. - Yeah. - So you get this really interesting dry, botanical, slightly funky drink. You gotta try this. - That's solid, man, that's a really solid cocktail. - I'm gonna go for it. - [Shawn] Yeah, do it. - Wow. - Right? - Yeah, I'm impressed with myself. - I think we should just take a moment, honor the uni that we have used in this cocktail, since it is a living creature. - Uh-huh, absolutely. - So, thank you, uni, for that. - Thank you. - Appreciate it. Now we need to name this drink. Something that captures what we did, what we accomplished, we got to see the fishermen in action, any ideas off the top of your head? - It is a Collins, so I like to kind of stick with that, but we've been along the coastline and that's where they get it all. - True. - Along the coastline, so maybe it's a Coastline Collins. - Coastline Collins. - Just throwing that out there, it's got a nice ring to it. - It does have a nice ring to it, anytime there's alliteration I feel like it works, so the Coastline Collins. - Coastline Collins. - Cheers to that, man. - San Diego. - Mm, honestly I didn't think seafood would work in a cocktail, let alone uni, so you've completely proven me wrong, kudos to you, sir. - Thanks, man. - This is delicious, cheers. - Yeah. - Thank you so much. - Thank you! - [Shawn] Las Vegas is known for its glamor and extravagance and The Cosmopolitan is no exception. The jewel of the hotel is the chandelier bar, an impressive feat of design featuring three separate bars inside of one giant chandelier. I'm meeting up with Mariena Mercer, the lead mixologist in charge of all The Cosmopolitan's exciting list of venues. We are in a giant chandelier. - We are, we're surrounded by 2 million crystals right now. - 2 million? - The chandelier is three separate levels, all with different drink menus, different identity and a little bit different energy as well. - Wow. - It's ever evolving and changing and keeps things exciting and new. - For sure, I'd love to try one of your drinks off your menu if you'd be so kind to make me one. - Great, I'm actually going to make you a drink that's not on our menu, - Okay. - And that's the special part of it. - Okay. - It's one of our top-selling cocktails, it's all word of mouth. - Word of mouth. - It's actually called the Verbena. - The Verbena? - So we're gonna go ahead and start with lemon verbena. - Thank you. Yeah, so it's almost like a bright lemon, like the rind of a lemon, that smell, and the taste? - [Mariena] It has such a sweet aroma. - Mm. - So one thing when I'm designing cocktail menus, I like them to be multi-sensory, so engage all of your senses. We also have one of the largest fresh-scale programs in the entire world, so that means that we do most of our fresh juicing here, I design all of the syrups, the purees, this in particular is a yuzu and calamansi sour. - Calamansi? - Calamansi is an asian citrus fruit that has this really bright, kind of almost bitter quality. - Awesome, so silver tequila? - Absolutely, this is a silver tequila, sweet ginger puree, - Okay. - Gives a little bit of the heat of the ginger, but I temper it with a little bit of a sweetness, and also a little bit of a texture as well, it's very silky. - Great color, a golden hue. - All right, now for the fun part. - Yes. - This is the garnish, here. - Okay. - It has some sprigs of lemon verbena and then this here is called a Szechuan flower or a buzz button. - A buzz button? - You're gonna take this flower, go ahead. - You want me to eat it first? - I want you to eat it, go ahead, chew it up, get it all over your tongue and then you can swallow. - It looks like a dandelion. - It does, it's a little more aggressive than a dandelion, though. The feeling is going to start setting in, it has something called spilanthol. It's actually going to make you a super-taster, so as you continue to sip your cocktail, you're gonna taste different nuances in flavor. - Wow, that's incredible. - So go ahead and sip the cocktail. - Oh, wow. I see what you mean, I can actually taste the flavors of the drink. They're sharper, and all that lemon, slight ginger. - Everything is more intensified and as you continue to sip, it's kind of an ever evolving kind of journey with your cocktail. - Yeah, that's solid. Now, you said it's not on the menu. - It's not on the menu. - But it's the most popular drink. - It is. - And I imagine it's because of this experience of people actually eating these buttons and then - Yeah, I think people get really excited by it. - Yeah, I can see why. So one of the things I'd love to accomplish with you, I wanna find an ingredient that really captures something that's unique to Las Vegas. I've only been here one time and I feel like, I mean you're the perfect person to help me find something that really shows what Vegas is all about, so any ideas? - So I've got some ideas, I obviously love the glitz and glamor of the chandelier in the Las Vegas strip, but I would like to show you a different side of my Las Vegas, so I'm thinking maybe we'll go out to the desert and we find some cactus, play with some cactus paddles, that sound good? - Yeah, that sounds incredible. - Okay. - Let's go. - All right, let's go. - All right. Mariena's first surprise is a trip to the Dam Helicopter Company, the Hoover Dam, that is, to get a lay of the land and experience a side of Las Vegas you can't see from the ground. The natural beauty of the area is breathtaking. Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam are incredible from the air. We're so close to Las Vegas and yet worlds apart up here. Now that we've experienced the landscape from above, I'm excited to see what ingredients the desert holds for us. Luckily, we're just in time to catch the flowers and trees in blossom. - [Mariena] There's over 200 types of desert cactus. - [Shawn] Wow. - [Mariena] So we're gonna have our pick today. - Great. - Aww. - Wow, this one looks to be in full bloom. - [Mariena] It's a beautiful one, definitely. - Covered in spikes. - Yep, not sure if this is gonna be the right one, I want something a little bit more flat in the paddle. - Right. - But we're definitely getting warmer. - Sure. - What do you think, closer to the mountain? - Definitely close to the mountain. - Hallelujah, I think we found one. - Yeah? - This is our guy. - All right, so these are the paddles that you were talking about. - This is, this is the nopal here. And you can see all these growths up here, these are going to be flowers and also prickly pear, which is the fruit. - Yeah. - Which is used pretty common in cocktails. I kind of wanna go something outside the box, a little more esoteric and use the actual paddle, like that'll be interesting. - Great. So how do we get, uh? - All right, just grab with your hand, no. - Yeah, okay. - Don't do it. I brought some tools here so we can harvest. These pricks are very sharp. - [Shawn] All right, careful. I see, going right for where its attached. - [Mariena] Absolutely, ideally I wanna get the seam. - [Shawn] Uh-huh, so the cactus can just continue to grow. - [Mariena] And twist straight off, yeah. - [Shawn] There it is. - [Mariena] Okay. - [Shawn] Cool. - [Mariena] Gonna take a hold there. - [Shawn] Wow look at that. - [Mariena] There we are, she's a beaut. - Yeah, awesome. - Okay, from here I'm gonna go ahead and wrap it up. - Okay. - [Mariena] And shake, all right. - [Shawn] Here we go. Cactus paddles in the bag, we're heading back to the kitchen at The Cosmopolitan to cook up something special. Mariena spends a lot of time in the kitchen creating recipes and unique flavor combinations for her cocktail menus. After prepping the cactus and combining the ingredients, including orange juice, champagne vinegar, adobo, cactus, and cilantro, we're blending the flavors to create the base for a new cocktail. There's nothing like foraging for fresh ingredients and then seeing them transform into something delicious right before your eyes. That was a process. So, I'm excited to see how you're gonna use it. - So I think what we're gonna do with the gastrique we made is put it in a cocktail with Grey Goose L'Orange. I think the orange juice that we put in the gastrique and the L'Orange is really gonna compliment each other well. - Okay. - [Mariena] Some of this out. - [Shawn] Ah, yes, like a chemist. - [Mariena] Uh-huh. - [Shawn] Or a doctor. Precisely how much are you putting in there? - [Mariena] I'm gonna go ahead and do a full ounce, - [Shawn] Okay. - [Mariena] just so we get a lot of that earthy quality from the cactus. - Great. - [Mariena] Now I think what's gonna compliment really well is the L'Orange, the Grey Goose L'Orange. I'm gonna go ahead and do one and a half ounces there. - Okay, delicious. - And I think kind of further hitting the kind of Mexican theme home from our gastrique with the cactus. - Uh-huh. - We're gonna put a tamarind and ginger syrup here. - Amazing, you made that just by boiling tamarind and ginger, or? - Correct, we actually juiced the ginger and then boiled it down with a tamarind paste. - Great. - Some lemon juice and also some caramelized pineapple juice - Awesome, robust and sweet. - [Mariena] Give it a nice shake here. - Okay. - I've gotta say, it's the first time I have ever had cactus in a cocktail, so. - [Mariena] After all that hard work of picking it, - [Shawn] Uh-huh. - [Mariena] I think we should enjoy it. - [Shawn] The fruits of our labor. - [Mariena] Absolutely. - [Shawn] That looks incredible. - [Mariena] Okay, now for a garnish here I do something called Snake Oil. Snake Oil is an oil I make, it has sage, desert cactus flower, a lot of the aromas of the desert, so all of that hiking and picking, now you're really gonna be able to smell it in the cocktail, as well. - And you get a little glitz and glam from that gold. - [Mariena] Absolutely, from the gold. - [Shawn] That's incredible. - [Mariena] There's a Kaffir lime leaf there for you. - [Shawn] Beautiful. - [Mariena] And then I've actually, we have bar snacks here, - [Shawn] Uh-huh it's kinda gonna go really well with the cocktail, so as you sip the cocktail - Wow - you can kind of nibble alongside and really the flavors will coalesce. - This is something, thank you so much. - Pleasure. - Wow, that's incredible. So the Grey Goose L'Orange and that roasted pineapple really brighten up the drink, and balance out some of those slightly bitter herbaceous, desert botanicals that you've thrown in there. The ginger just gives it a little bite at the end, I mean that is a complex drink. That's just fantastic. - Thank you. - Then, this is cactus? - Correct. - I'm speechless. Your culinary mind, I mean it just, it shines through, the drink, the food, I mean, it's just incredible. So, next order of business is, you have to name this delicious drink. - Okay. - So what do you think? I mean we're out in the desert, foraging for cactus, an amazing wild ride we took on the helicopter, it's been quite an adventure. - I think I'm gonna go with Blazing Saddles, my favorite western by Mel Brooks. - We don't need no stinkin' badges. - Exactly. - To enjoy this drink. And thank you so much for expanding my horizons, I mean I knew about the strip, I knew about the excitement, the glitz and glam, but you showed me a whole nother side with those natural elements, thanks for coming along for that adventure, I appreciate it. - Absolutely, my pleasure, thank you. - I'll see you next time. - All right, deal. - All right, bye Mariena. - Bye.