Going To Town With Creative Power Cocktails

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - July 14, 2010
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‘Cocktailist’ David Power at town restaurant

I’m always in search of a great bartender. For me, one of the great pleasures of dining out is finding a place to sit where I can peruse a menu, choose a few signature dishes and generally soak in the atmosphere of a restaurant while remaining somewhat detached from the main dining room action.

None of that is possible, however, if you’re facing a bartender who’s chatty, nosy and unable to make a decent gin and tonic.

There’s a healthy and increasingly sophisticated bar culture in Hawaii, I’m happy to say, one that’s been growing steadily these past few years. A handful of “cocktailists” who regard their profession as part art and part service are redis-covering classic drinks with oftentimes rich history, and introducing a new generation to some truly great drinks.

At town, the trendy Kaimuki restaurant where Ed Kenney and Dave Caldiero have garnered a devoted following, David Power’s place behind the bar only adds to the restaurant’s appeal. Power started tending bar full time about five years ago when the cocktail renaissance was just beginning.

“More people were starting to make their own versions of syrups and vodkas and cordials, and that really helped to fuel the movement,” he says.

Power has all of the enthusiasm and quietly restrained passion you’d expect from someone excited by the possibilities of perfect pairings, and he’s making some impressive drinks.

“I think the history is what I’m excited about,” he says. “You look at ingredients and where they’ve come from, and think of cocktails created in the 1880s or the 1920s during Prohibition ... there’s such a history that can be continued, in a way.”

If you, too, are in search of classically good cocktails, then make sure you try Power’s version of rum and Coke. He uses bottles of Coca-Cola from Mexico (because it lacks the high fructose corn syrup of its U.S. counterparts), and Fernet, an herbal, bitter spirit, along with lots of fresh lime juice and aged 15-year-old rum. The drink is both complex and refreshing, providing layers of flavor that require little thought on the part of the imbiber.

“It has really nice body and balance,” says Power.

As you might expect from a restaurant like town, the cocktail program works in conjunction with the menu, so it’s no surprise to find kitchen ingredients and local foods making up part of Power’s cocktail cache. Recent creations have involved celery and char-grilled fig leaves.

Customers are reacting positively to the creative cocktail menu - more so because the drinks are designed to act as aperitifs.

“We tend to stay away from drinks that are too sweet,” he says. “We don’t want to overpower the food.”

Whether you’re a cocktail connoisseur or not, the rise in professional and dedicated bartenders like Power and his colleagues add much to Honolulu’s reputation as a serious food destination.

“I think if you see that restaurants are taking the time to create a good cocktail program,” says Power, “then you can be sure that they’ve already taken the time to create great cuisine.”

Happy sipping!

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