Full-service operators will have to look far and wide to find a cocktail guidebook more useful than Mix Shake Stir: Recipes from Danny Meyer's Acclaimed New York City Restaurants (Little, Brown; $29.99). You'll be rethinking your bar's drink lineup before you get 10 pages in.
How come? It's not so much the cocktail recipes per se, although they give readers solid advice on upgrading standard offerings to signature status, abetted by priceless information on how to reinterpret dozens of classic cocktails to better reflect contemporary tastes and trends.
Rather, it's that the information was drawn from all corners of Union Square Hospitality Group's 10 New York City-based operations. Collectively, these restaurants cover a broad swath that includes everything from upscale Beard Award-winning operations to more casual places such as Blue Smoke & Jazz Standard. The result is a book offering advice that has proven its ability to create both artistic and financial success in many parts of the foodservice market. Even the chapter on bar snacks (19 recipes) is a winner.
Close readers will note that we haven't come right out and said who wrote this book. That's because we don't know. Meyer contributed the foreword, but it's just five paragraphs long. Everything else is attributed to the USHG operation that creates and serves a certain drink, not to any specific person. We can't even tell you who edited the raw material down into this book. Sharing the glory is great, but who exactly was doing the shaking and stirring here?
It gets stranger. The book's format calls for a number of prominent quotes, each attributed to an anonymous source. The result: statements such as “Make sure the shaker is large enough to hold all of the ingredients and plenty of ice and still have room for everything to move around. — Tabla Bartender.” Why put this sort of no-brainer information in big type and then not tell readers who said it?
Especially since so much thought and care have gone into assembling the rest of the material. Meyer and USHG are giving away valuable trade secrets here, and they are yours for the taking. Just remember to serve them up with the same level of congeniality and style as the USHG people who developed them first — whoever they are.
The Dessert Architect
By Robert Wemischner
Delmar/Cengage Learning; $55.95
Yes, it's pricey. But this one delivers plenty of value for the money. It's especially useful for full-service operators because it's focused exclusively on plated desserts, going into a sensational level of detail about how and when to make each component and how then to assemble those components into sharp-looking presentations. This forward-looking book draws inspiration from many cuisines and will be an eye-opener for all but the most experienced pastry chefs. Even the pros will find valuable tricks in this one.
Pintxos: Small Plates in the Basque Tradition
By Gerald Hirigoyen
Ten Speed Press; $24.95
Hirigoyen, chef-owner of San Francisco standouts Piperade and Bocadillos, grew up in Spain's Basque region, where small plate dishes go by the name pintxos (PEEN-chos). The 75 recipes included here reflect that heritage, many of them given a California spin to make them even more delicious. The result: hearty fare and big flavors, presented in a bite-sized format. It's not all finger food and skewer material, either, with plenty of a la plancha (grilled), estofados (stews and braises) and similar knife-and-fork offerings included. If you want to make your small-plate lineup sexier fast, start here.