Chris Jakubowski talks about his ramen cocktail as if it were the most obvious concoction ever made.
“Scotch always works well with spice,” said Jakubowski, the head bartender at Nocturne, a new bar hidden beneath the Sugar Shack doughnut shop in Shaw. “So it fits right in there.”
For the rest of us, the idea of alcoholic ramen might need some explaining.
After getting a craving for both a meal and a drink, Jakubowski spent a few months experimenting with the idea of combining the two into an edible cocktail. To him, it seemed only natural. “I’m interested in the intersection of cocktails and food, not one or the other,” he says. “I like to bring in a lot of ingredients from the kitchen and pantry into cocktails.”
At Nocturne, the cocktail — “Nuac the Casbah” — is served hot in a bowl with a spoon and chopsticks. Ramen noodles swim in a broth made of coconut milk, lime juice, palm sugar, ginger juice, fish sauce and a Thai chili tincture. The finishing touch? Arrack rum (made from fermented red rice) and scotch. It's all topped with basil, crushed pistachios, a poached quail egg and smoked chile salt.
Jakubowski recommends eating the noodles before tipping the bowl back to drain the broth.
The only thing separating the drink from an actual bowl of ramen is the addition of alcohol. This drink isn't for everybody, especially those easily overwhelmed by the flavor of scotch. (Ramen purists are wringing their hands just reading this.) The creativity is admirable, but don’t expect to make a meal of the drink. It’s unlikely you’ll finish it — a little bit goes a long way.
It's certainly the most ambitious cocktail on the menu, although the Vasco da Gama — made with mescal, tomato, corn, mascarpone cheese, basil, olive oil and Parmesan cheese — is a close second.
Those drinks are just the latest examples of the creative freedoms bartenders have been taking to stand out in a crowded market. At Bresca on 14th Street, a champagne-based cocktail comes with a tiny envelope pinned to it. Inside is a handwritten note that reads “Save water, drink champagne.” At Hank's Oyster Bar on the Hill, one cocktail was recently made with edible glitter.
Nocturne — from the same team behind Captain Gregory's, another hidden bar within Sugar Shack, this time in Alexandria — is modeled after an old Parisian apartment, decorated with vintage prints of flowers and tucked behind a weathered wooden door. To access the 17-seat bar, guests must check in upstairs with a cashier and be escorted down an elevator.
The smaller-than-usual portions are only served in flights of three ($35) or five ($50), and the menu is organized in such categories as "carbonated," "seasonal" and "rich." Many drinks include unconventional ingredients, including avocado, butternut squash and even porcini mushrooms.
If your tastes by comparison seem a little more vanilla, your best bet: Grab a doughnut upstairs on your way out.
Nocturne, 1932 Ninth St. NW.