Friday, September 07, 2007

The Grand Dame of Penn Quarter

Some people are just good eggs. They always put their best foot foward, they make everyone feel welcome and people love them for it. When those good eggs also happen to be talented, generous and modest, they get a special little gold star in my personal book of favorite folks.

I’ve been wanting to highlight Gina Chersevani on The Liquid Muse since I launched the blog, in April 2006. In fact, Gina was one of the first people I told about my “cocktail blog idea” months before I actually sat my butt down and got myself a blogger account.

I first marveled at Gina’s talent with libations and fabulous personality when she was a bartender at Poste. I was still a restaurant publicist back in 2005, and Gina was one of those people who made my job easy. Her great attitude wooed the clients into regulars and many of her original drink recipes are still popular sellers on Poste’s menu, two years later. (Ahead of the trend, she and Chef Robert Weyland planted Poste’s herb garden more than two years ago, using them in food and drinks, and pairing cocktails with cuisine…)

So, when I arrived in DC last Thursday evening, I was at Rasika’s bar within two hours. It is one of my absolute faves in DC. I could eat there just about everyday.

Ashok Bajaj’s successful restaurant has all the ingredients for success: good locations, eye-pleasing d├ęcor, memorable food and a great team. While regaling in Chef Vikram Sunderam’s delectable lamb, Minced Chicken, Crispy Spinach and Ginger Scallops, I was really looking forward to trying a couple of Gina’s latest creations: The Spicy Queen and Coconutz. (recipes below)

The next afternoon, I was finally interviewing Gina at the Starbucks on the corner of 7th and E (boo! - Juan Valdez is gone!). But, more than anything we gossiped about the latest haps in the neighborhood. She asked if I’d visited the new drinking spots in the area, and when I said that I hadn’t - boom! - we were out the door.

Re-accustomed to driving in LA, instead of using my feet for transportation in a city like Washington, I had worn some really cute but incredibly painful heels on my way down to meet Gina. So, by this time, out of sheer blistered and bloody desperation, I found sweet relief in a pair of $6 Chinese house slippers from a tourist shop, figuring that after our chat Starbucks, I’d go straight back to my hotel to freshen up before heading out for the evening.

As I padded up 7th Street with Gina, I worried aloud that this ‘casual wear’ might not be appropriate, even if we were just popping our heads at 3:30 in the afternoon. “They’ll think its the new fashion,” she exclaimed with a chortle and a wave of her hand. I didn’t believe her but loved her for lying to make me feel better. That’s what a good egg does, once in a while.

“Have you be
en to Proof?,” she asked? Sebastian Zutant, former som at Rasika moved over there, and the new spot had been on my Must Do list since I hit the tarmac at Dulles. We walked up before it was open but as luck would have it, Gina ran into a manager on the sidewalk who knew her (of course) and asked if we could take a peek inside.

There were several people milling about, so Gina marched me right up to one of the owners and announced, “This is Natalie from The Liquid Muse.” He peered down at me, unimpressed, took in my Chinese slippers and snickered, “Do you have a pet, or did you just hug someone in a cashmere sweater?” Considering it was like 78 degrees outside, I determined he was trying his hand at humor while
simultaneously realizing that I did have a few white cat hairs clinging to my black shirt. I stammered something about traveling and not bringing my lint roller. He excused himself and went back to speaking with some guy in a suit. Proof was checked off my Must Do list, and we left for friendlier pastures.

Around the corner, we passed Rocket Bar, which remains on my Must Do list for when I return in October. Gina clued me in to the fact that all the venues the group owns are underground. (There’s a story in that somewhere…)

Next we hit PS7. I’ve been dying to check this place out since I got the opening press release. Gina waltzed us up to the bar and introduced me to Tiffany, who is currently developing a few new drinks for the fall menu. Tiffany also showed me their wine room, where the chef has hung legs of ham, and sausages he stuffs himself. Yum.

Gina grabbed my arm and we rushed off past a gorgeous dining area into the black marble bathrooms which feature live goldfish encased in bowls mounted on the walls. I couldn’t help but wonder about their well-being in there but Gina assued me that they take them out at night.

Finally, it was time for Gina to prepare Rasika for the Friday-night onslaught of thirsty cocktail-lovers, and her personal throng of admirers. We hugged goodbye at the Arch and I flip-flopped my way up the sidewalk through midtown traffic in my Chinese slippers and cat-fur encrusted blouse, already looking forward to returning to Penn Quarter for more extensive cocktail coverage in October.

Spicy Queen Martini
2 oz of Snow Queen Infused vodka*
1 1/2 oz of Cointreau

1 oz Pom Juice
1 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp powdered sugar
1 egg white

Shake 10 times as hard as you can, then strain into a 6 oz martini glass. Garnish with an edible Orchid and/or a kasmiri chili. Enjoy!

*Infuse 6 star fruit and 2 kasmiri chili's and one (1) liter bottle Snow Queen Vodka for about 24 hours.

Coconutz Cocktail

2 oz of Bombay Sapphire
1 oz of Cointreau
1 1/2 of fresh lime juice
1 tsp of powdered sugar
Dash of soda
1/2 of whipped coconut*

Pour the Bombay Sapphire, Cointreau, and lime juice, and sugar, in a mixing glass, stir about 20 times. Strain into a 7 oz, ice packed, rocks glass. Add a dash soda water. Top the drink with whipped coconut from the middle to the rim on the entire cocktail. No straw should be served with this cocktail, the beauty is in how it coats your lips. Garnish with toasted coconut!

* Pour 14oz of fresh coconut milk, pour into a whip cream canister (with NO2), screw on charger, shake vigorously and let rest for about an hour, refrigerated.


Jay said...

Gina does run that neighborhood; we call her the Mayor of Penn Quarter. I have never had one of Gina's cocktails that I didn’t love; she makes strait bourbon taste like candy and clearly loves her work.

giantfunbags said...

I've known Gina for a long time now, and you described her beautifully. From the "boom" out the door like a hurricane in the carribean, to the waving of her hand followed by a little white lie, Gina has been the same for many years. Albeit, sometimes hard to swallow, she is a real person, with real stories and a real knack for the biz. I am proud of what she has accomplished and must also add I taught her everything she knows;) Remember, flip-flops are always "in." Cheers to all that have the privilage of enjoying one of Gina's creations. And to Gene, this is my apology for the water in Chicago! Bottoms up!