At Shinji’s, a bar in New York’s Flatiron District, the Foie Gras Sidecar is made with Hennessy X.O that has been fat-washed with foie gras and cocoa butter. As if that weren’t indulgent enough, the $38 drink is served with a decadent little addition: a tartlet of foie gras mousse, chocolate and toffee that’s topped with lemon gel in the shape of a duck and served in a vessel resembling a duck’s foot.
Why bother with all this? According to beverage director Jonathan Adler, the drink and snack are meant to be understood together, evoking a story of a man driving a motorcycle in the French Riviera, an overweight duck in his sidecar. “There’s tons of layers that anyone can peel back and get as meta as possible, if they want,” says Adler. The golden raisins holding the tartlet up, for example, nod to the grapes used to make Sauternes, a common foie gras pairing.
Clearly, at a growing number of cocktail bars, it’s not enough to simply clip a cup of popcorn onto the rim of a glass and call it a day. At New York City’s Eleven Madison Park, a cocktail called Mushroom comes with a tart of pickled king trumpet mushroom purée, pickled celery root and grated black truffle; also in New York, Double Chicken Please garnishes its French Toast flip with an elaborate housemade “Oreo” filled with white chocolate and coffee ganache; Chicago’s Vol. 39 makes Lego-shaped bars of Sichuan peppercorn–infused chocolate to accompany a drink featuring Meletti Cioccolato liqueur, banana and Fernet-Branca; Phoenix’s Century Grand serves a banana tuile cookie with its holiday flip; and for a $3 upcharge, Boston’s Faccia a Faccia will affix a housemade baci di dama cookie, otherwise available as a dessert order, to its Espresso Martini.
The composed garnish provides an opportunity for bars to go above and beyond the expected olive or pickled onion, creating a cocktail experience that extends further than the liquid in the glass. Forget about cocktail snacks, these snacks are part of the cocktail—the drinks just wouldn’t be right without them.
At Coquette in Chicago, composed snacks accompany cocktails in a few different forms. The bar’s French 75 comes with caviar and crème fraîche on a blini. The Sazerac-like drink called I’m the Apple of His Eye—made with grilled Fuji apple, cinnamon, Cognac, rye whiskey and absinthe—comes with a brown-butter shortbread cookie that’s made exclusively for the drink. The house Martini, meanwhile, is joined by a demitasse spoon bearing an “olive” of spherified roasted pear. “It should almost feel like a dinner party,” says Brian Sturgulewski, vice president of operations at parent company Bonhomme Hospitality Group. “It makes a lot of sense to have a cocktail [in] one hand, and a small bite in the other.”
Building the Foie Gras Sidecar at Shinji's
The development process has gone both ways. The French 75 came out of the question, What kind of drink could we serve with caviar? But the approach was cocktail-first with the I’m the Apple of His Eye, developed by bar manager Aaron Wells. Hoping to add creaminess and roundness to the fruit-forward cocktail, the bar team worked with executive pastry chef Shannah Primiano to develop a cookie accompaniment; while the drink stands on its own, the cookie is meant to be a foil to its flavors.
These kinds of snacks allow drinkers to customize their experience. That’s especially true at Nashville’s Le Loup, where the Spirits of the Dead cocktail—made with Scotch, Cognac, Campari, Caffè Amaro, Bénédictine, and absinthe—comes with a splatter-print strip of saltwater taffy. To make it, the bar takes taffy, freezes it, smashes it and bakes it into a sheet so it can be cut into multiflavored strips. “You might get watermelon once, peppermint, butterscotch, chocolate,” says beverage manager Kenneth Vanhooser. “It helps us break up the intensity of that style of cocktail.”
The key with these snacks is that the effort lies mostly in prep and processes with high yield: Although the tartlet sounds involved, most work is happening before service, so it takes about 30 seconds to assemble for each guest, says Adler. The process of combining taffy at Le Loup, meanwhile, yields 30 to 40 strips at a time.
At Shinji’s, the composed snack can be simpler in concept, but still inseparable from its accompanying drink. The Soba Cha Cha Cha, a soba-infused vodka Old-Fashioned, for example, comes with a “cracker” in the shape of a pineapple. It’s made from the flavors of the drink blended with isomalt. This mixture hardens into a powder, which is seasoned with salt and then shaped. “I think salt rims are kind of gross and messy, personally,” says Adler. That’s where the pineapple “cracker” fits in: It is the salt rim, meant to be sampled between sips.
While Shinji’s does draw some of the Instagram and TikTok crowd, Adler notes, that’s not the point of accompaniments like this. “It all is about where you were, who you’re with, what you were doing,” he says, “and we can support that with great narrative on our part.”