Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fun, Games, and Absinthe: The Bastone Complex

Cafe Habana interior

I was recently at a media tasting inside the Bastone Complex in Royal Oak. There's a brewery (Bastone), a wine bar (Vinotecca), a cuban eatery (Cafe Habana), and an absinthe bar (Commune Lounge). Oh yeah. I got into some absinthe at 4:00 in the afternoon on a random Tuesday. You wish you had my job.

Apparently there was food there but I focused mostly on the libations, of which there were plenty. I also had the chance to talk shop with some like-minded industry folks, including this guy here and this other guy here, which is inevitably egotistically entertaining and terribly esoteric...in other words, a hell of a good time every time!

This media tasting was coordinated to introduce Executive Chef Robert Young's updated menus for the distinctly different restaurants, showcasing how one complex can house four unique establishments each with their own identity, all presided under one managing chef (who just joined the Bastone Complex last August).

Vinotecca interior

I'm getting to the booze, bear with me. Young graduated from culinary school in his native Wales, then jumped the pond to work at the Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island. He then spent time at a roadhouse followed by a steakhouse-slash-brewery, which rounded out a very diverse set of restaurant industry experiences before he joined Bastone. He has background in everything from fine dining to the burn-and-turn business, which more easily enables him to adapt to the demands of four different restaurants/bars under one roof.

To the Bastone and Vinotecca menus Young has brought a more authentic European background, as well as expanding the menu at Vinotecca from simple small plates to a more fleshed-out dining experience with muliple course options.

There was a nice spread at Vinotecca which included seafood paella and strong, pungent cheese...you can imagine how far I got. Manager and beverage specialist Bronwen Nikora was on-hand to explain the different wines available for sample, which included an interesting Roussanne from Steele's Writer's Block label, a fairly new wine only in its second vintage but with serious promise (the Roussanne varietal is typically associated with the Rhone region and Chateauneuf du Pape, and hasn't gained much notoriety from any California-grown estate).

From there we traversed over the Bastone, where we were given beer. Lots of beer. Head brewer Rockne VanMeter was there to walk us through his different brews. Bastone Brewery has accumulated quite the collection of awards recently, including a Bronze in the Great American Beer Festival for their Saison du Bastone in 2009 and a Silver for their Bastone M√ľncher Dunkel in 2008. But better to experience them for yourself...with ME this Sunday, February 21st, as Discover Detroit Dining launches with a Brew-Ha-Ha! Bastone is one of three stops which also includes Kuhnhenn and Sherwood Brewing Co.; tickets are limited and are available for purchase here. Come party with me on a beer bus!

The next stop was Cafe Habana, where I partook of some Carne Asada with a killer chimichurri sauce as well as a Volcanic Mojito made with fresh mango and pomegranate liqueur. Mojitos: not just for summer anymore.

Last but not least, we headed down into Commune Lounge, which was recently renovated from the industrial-chic Cinq to look more like an old 19th-century Parisian absinthe house, all decorated in heavy scratched wood, cloudy mirrors with ornate frames, sheer curtains, wrought iron, and antique-looking chandeliers. It's all very Montmarte, and their focus is on their absinthe (absynthe, absynth, absinte...etc.).

Now, contrary to popular belief, real absinthe is NOT legal here in the States. The laws have recently been changed to allow for absinthe-style liquors with only trace amounts of the active drug wormword (which gives it that delightful blackout effect) to be sold here, though the REALLY real stuff can still only be procured in Europe.

Trust me, this legal absinthe still does the trick.

Ah, absinthe. I remember you from a night I don't remember in New Orleans. Those were good times, or so I'm told. Your green death NyQuil flavor I haven't forgotten though, and no amount of melted sugar cube can change that. EXCEPT: for this lovely cocktail Bronwen gave us called the "Bohemian Revolution," an electric green-blue concoction made with Absinthe Ordinare, blue curacao, orange juice and fresh lemon. THIS is a drink I could actually drink (as opposed to plugging my nose and gulping down); the acidity of the orange juice and tropical sweetness of the curacao cut the gag flavor of the absinthe nicely, and ultimately led to the coining of the phrase "Fun, Games, and Absinthe."

Something something food something; I drank a lot. As far as places to drink go, two enthusiastic thumbs up for the Bastone Complex! Now come drink with me on the 21st for the 3D Tour--I promise fun and games, but alas, no absinthe. Well, maybe after. Guess you'll just have to find out!