Sunday 15 April, 2012

Semi-Secret Spiritmaster of Santa Monica

MichaelsKaraiKarai




You’d hardly think of Michael’s among the cutting edge of cuisine in Santa Monica–though the patio dining spot was once among the most interesting eating in town, it’s long ceded that title, even if it manages to soldier on for the old guard–Robert Redford was dining the night I was there–seemingly little changed from when […]




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A lousy picture of a great talent: Jason Robey scorching the bacon at Michael's.

A lousy picture of a great talent: Jason Robey scorching the bacon at Michael's.

You'd hardly think of Michael's among the cutting edge of cuisine in Santa Monica--though the patio dining spot was once among the most interesting eating in town, it's long ceded that title, even if it manages to soldier on for the old guard--Robert Redford was dining the night I was there--seemingly little changed from when Reagan was President (and also probably a patron).

But owner Michael McCarty is revamping one significant aspect: the lounge. Originally not an important part of the operation (as you can tell from the four available stools), Michael's galley-like bar is now being tended by one Jason Robey, most recently at downtown LA's Death & Co outpost, but prior to moving west, at Washington DC's New Heights.

Even a seasoned tippler can see that Robey is as impassioned as they come in the mixology world, somehow avoiding complete geekdom by letting the results speak louder than the explanations. Many cocktailers have been working with fresh ingredients, but Robey takes the concept to a new level by growing rooftop gardens wherever he works, including Michael's, which he admits has been the hardest one yet, because of the Santa Monica marine layer. He also makes all manner of his own infusions, and definitely looks to make garnishes a meaningful part of the drink.

Robey crafted four cocktails for me and my friends, and every one was unique, satisfying, and most of all, impeccably balanced:

Jason Robey's Karai Karai, so nice it's named twice ;)

Jason Robey's Karai Karai, so nice it's named twice 😉

A Karai Karai with Yamasaki 12 year Single Malt, jalapeno and bell pepper infused simple syrup, lemon, grapefruit and a chipotle tabasco (his own blend)-topped jalapeno slice. Spicy sweet, and easily palatable even for non-Scotch drinkers.

Wilbur's Nemesis, insouciantly named for the pig of Charlotte's Web fame and crafted of his own Maker's Mark bacon reduction, Leopold Bros. Apple Whiskey (pretty great by itself), Bulleit Rye, Dolin Rouge, Angostura and accompanied by a torched-to-order slice of applewood-smoked bacon. Massive and manly--a good call if you're hungry and waiting for a table.

Jason Robey's Wilbur's Nemesis: On the short list for most vegan-friendly cocktail (not).

Jason Robey's Wilbur's Nemesis: On the short list for most vegan-friendly cocktail (not).

The Fortune Teller, which combines Right gin, Strawberry, a Sugar Cube, Dolin Blanc, his own reduction of 10 year Tawny Port, Balsamic vinegar and Pomegranate and topped with an olive hand-stuffed with bleu cheese. Yowza, more layers than Shrek.

Most subtle of all was the Schipol Layover, with Bols Genever, Cynar, Lemon, Grapefruit and Avocado honey. A grown-up sipper.

While Santa Monica has several great places to drink wine, it's a bit behind downtown in the cocktail culture. Robey has definitely established a beachead. Forgive the pun and go west, young tippler.

Here's ThirstyInLA's take on Jason's cocktails, more thorough (and better photographed) than mine...

And here's The Daily Beast on Jason's most recent Hollywood-inspired concoction...

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JUNE 2011


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