Darwinian Drinking

Written by Linnea Covington on . Posted in Eat & Drink, Posts.

CRISP; CLEAN AND classic are the best words to describe The Beagle, Matt Piacentini’s three-month old venture in the East Village, though on a recent sweltering night, the first adjective to pop in my head was "hot."

Their lack of air conditioning was sorely regretted when we were seated in the one spot that remained fan-less, though the situation was improved by our sharp waitress, who continued to bring us glasses of ice and tall bottles of water. Once cooled, we were able to enjoy a round of small plates and cocktails, the best found in the sweet and spicy squid ($12). With tender, fresh rings of meat, smokiness from the prosciutto and a bite from the chilies, the dish came together lovingly with the addition of cooked frisée, a happy surprise, since the leaf’s usual bitterness got mellowed out by the heat.

Chef Garrett Eagleton also makes a mean wild sturgeon ($22), and the fullbodied fish gets a French-tinged wash of vermouth with refreshing cucumber and lavender to brighten it. The simply braised pork shoulder ($24) also worked, with a side of fresh broccolini, corn and sweet carrots. Despite some hits, the menu, which changes from time to time, proved much heavier and heartier than I wanted for a hot summer day. The fresh baby corn salad ($6) fared better in the heat, though we also enjoyed a dish of typically salty pork rillettes ($8) and juicy grilled quail ($14).

One fun thing Eagleton and bar manager Dan Greenbaum have done is to create a list of pairing boards ($17 each). Combinations like milky burrata with braised celery, cool parsley and a mini Reisetbauer Blue Gin martini worked perfectly together, a far cry from the other radically different combinations, like the oh-so-rich and silky slab of foie gras with black olive shortbread and a tiny glass of sweet Pineau des Charentes.

This leads to the real star of The Beagle: the cocktails. Greenbaum, who formerly ran the bars at Brooklyn Social and at Inoteca Liquori with Piacentini, has created a superb list of pre-Prohibition-style drinks (all $12). Smooth and sweet, the Adonis combines fino sherry with sweet vermouth and orange bitters, a tincture that goes down like liquid candy. For a lighter drink, the crisp El Guero has a mild smoky tinge from Fidencio Joven mezcal but stays light due to a hefty dose of fresh lemon juice. On a completely different level is the super-bitter Astor Painless

Anesthetic, a mixture of gin, classic Armagnac, grape-noted Bonal, Cocchi Americano and orange bitters, which, like any good medicine, becomes addictive after a few sips. The Prince of Wales cocktail created a royal riot of sweet, bitter and bubbly all in one cup, the taste profile running parallel to a tabloid tale of the young blueblood.

But, hands down, my favorite cocktail was the only dog allowed in house—the Golden Dog. This tipple puts the mezcal to shame with its ber-smoky Talisker 10-year scotch, which, mixed with a sticky apricot liquor, Lillet and the herby Benedictine, makes it sing with tales of basement speakeasies and stolen cigars in a time when women weren’t allowed to smoke in public. You also can’t go wrong with some of their more basic cocktails, like the London buck or whisky smash, which features fresh peaches in the concoction.

The name of the restaurant-bar perhaps comes from Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, though the only hint that that’s the case comes from the bathroom doors, which sport the names "Charles" and "Emma" (Darwin’s wife). There certainly isn’t a nautical theme, but the 1900s Vienna-inspired décor proved quite nice. Also pleasant were the attentive, friendly staff, a treat to find in a fancy cocktail spot, which are commonly run by bored-looking model types. Of course, the neighborhood doesn’t lack places like this, but if they keep up the solid drinks, innovative bites and awesome help, The Beagle will continue its voyage.