Sun, Feb 27, 2011 - Page 13 News List

A toast to the Oscar nominees

What cocktail would be best to complement Hollywood’s annual orgy of self-congratulation?

By Frank Bruni  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE, NEW YORK

Photo: Bloomberg

Even the most informed awards prognosticators differ on whether The King’s Speech or The Social Network will win the ultimate prize today. There’s uncertainty, too, in the best actress enclave. Could Annette Bening, thrice cold-shouldered by the Academy, prevail over Natalie Portman, whose months-long publicity blitz rivals the veritable Oscar panhandling that cinched Sandra Bullock’s victory last year?

But let’s talk about a matter of infinitely greater urgency and suspense. What cocktail best complements Hollywood’s annual orgy of self-congratulation?

I threw that question out to four distinguished New York bartenders, or rather asked them to participate in a challenge — with a twist. Each had to create a drink that paid tribute to, and was named for, a nominated performer of my choosing. The drink was ideally supposed to reflect not only the performer but also the role.

I made sure, before doling out assignments, that each bartender had seen the performance drawing liquid homage. I made sure, too, that all four acting categories were represented. That calculus produced this menu: the Natalie Portman, the James Franco (best actor), the Helena Bonham Carter (best supporting actress) and the Jeremy Renner (best supporting actor).

Some make for easier mixing and drinking than others. The Helena, for example, requires only a few ingredients and no fancy technique. The Natalie, by contrast, has a rococo construction befitting the frenzied filmmaking of Black Swan, her showcase. The James makes some big demands as well. A busy man yielded a busy elixir.

But individually and in aggregate, all four drinks speak to how cleverly allusive cocktails can be and illustrate the kind of thought processes that go into their making. Even if none of them suits your fancy — the recipes are all on the New York Times’ Web site, where there’s also a video providing glimpses of their assembly — one or more may well give you ideas of your own or lead you back to a classic that seems just right for that unfailingly electric moment when the best song victor is revealed.

Let’s start with the Natalie, which fell to Eamon Rockey, the general manager of Compose, a new restaurant and bar in TriBeCa. I e-mailed these instructions to him:

“This assignment should be a cakewalk. Make that a cake prance. Tutus, feathers, anorexia, pregnancy, an intergalactic princess who has also done time on the pole — between Natalie’s character in the movie, Natalie the mother-to-be and Natalie’s past roles, there’s an awful lot to work with. Duality! You’ve got that, too! I have it on good authority that the working title of Black Swan was Dance of the Doppelgangers, but a studio head nixed it. Said it sounded like German animation or something.”

Rockey took the feathers part to heart. His Natalie not only included frothed egg white — the indirect bequest of a bird – but also involved a feathery design on its surface. As for duality, the drink had discernible layers: the top white one and, below it, a well of dark red. Rockey accomplished this by using a funnel to channel red wine into the bottom of the drink.

“An incredibly complex character demands an incredibly complex cocktail,” he told me as he made it, using not only the wine and egg white but also what he called “a very pretty gin,” befitting a ballerina, along with Triple Sec, gum syrup, lemon juice and Angostura bitters.

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