a girl, a bar, and molecular gastronomy

18 comments
libations, reviews


Whoever told you not to play with your food when you were little was probably right. However, please DO play with your cocktails. In fact, I urge you to, after the round of tasting I had this weekend at the new Nitro Bar at Ixia. It is like dinner theatre, without the dinner, replaced instead by a most involved and entertaining show of cocktail construction, with liquid nitrogen, certain chemical agents, and a knowledgeable drink scientist as the stars. Oh yes, and fresh fruit purees played a strong supporting role.

There were four of us, primed and ready to go, after entrees and a few rounds of martinis and champagne. I was instantly transported back to high school chem lab, but this time with alcohol and none of the G-rating. First was a glassless shot of peach puree and alcohol, enrobed in a gelatin-like casing, presented on a chinese soup spoon. The casing is achieved by the reaction that takes place between sodium alginate, a common emulsifier used in the food industry (you’ll find this in McDonald’s gooey apple pie) and calcium lactate. The shot is mixed with a bit of the latter, then dropped into a bath of water and alginate, and voila! a chemical reaction ensues in which the sodium (Na2+) in the alginate is replaced by the calcium ions (Ca2+)to form flexible chains, which then eventually link together to become a gel. Thus a barrier forms between the dropped shot and the surrounding medium.** Science is awesome isn’t it… Texturally speaking, the result is much like an enormous caviar when it enters your mouth and explodes with a single bite. My only complaint is just that, the one bite didn’t last long enough!

Second to taste was a hot/cold cocktail of passionfruit jus and Maker’s Mark (I believe), a juxtaposition of molecular states, not to mention senses! The cocktail is first chilled and poured, then covered with a layer of warm passionfruit foam. It reminded me of swimming in a pool at midday, when the top layer of warm water covers the chilly lower half. It was surprisingly creamy. Next, the sour cherry takaki with lemongrass- a shot of cherry liqour flash-chilled in liquid nitro, and sliced to resemble fresh toro sashimi. How to describe? It was like eating semi-frozen jello. Lastly, there was the Hitachino bellini nitro, an imported Japanese brew mixed with peach puree, then chilled. Kiuchi Brewery in Ibaraki, Japan proudly produces Hitachino Nest beers, a family of 10 award-winning ales. The brew that was used last night, the Pale Ale, has a mild hoppy flavor with subtle hints of fruit. Very interesting. Peaches, meet beer. Beer, meet peaches. Lovely match. (The iconic owl cartoon on the label is both retro and kitchy, a creative choice you would not expect for a Japanese company to make.)

On the good graces of our drink scientist, we were offered a round of something that was not on the menu, something he had been tinkering with, an upside-down espresso. Essentially a potent coffee foam, this demitasse is served inverted on your saucer, then eaten with a spoon. With all the creamy goodness of the foam from a well-frothed cup of cappuccino, it still remained light on the palate and pleasantly ethereal. My only suggestion would be to serve it with a sprinkle of coffee nibs for added flavor and contrast in texture. Being the espresso lover that I am, I really enjoyed this bit of whimsical pick-me-up.


The nitro bar menu changes, pending on the hypotheses and the experimental success of the mad scientist. If only chemistry class in school could have been like this, I probably would have paid more attention (and perhaps developed a premature alcohol dependancy). The drinks range from $7-$15. Though you may not need to bring your labcoat or goggles, be well equipped with a strong curiosity for the novel. The regular martini list, however, is pretty much set this season. There are certain stars that definitely rule the roost, including a summer-inspired strawberry basil mojito, cilantro lime mojito, and for ginger lovers, the shoga bomb, made with fresh ginger juice. Veuve Cliquot is now served by the glass too, at $18 a pop. Just keep an eye on your bar tab, as you may get a little carried away when the bar menu looks this good.

Alas, it’s unfortunate I didn’t have my camera and thus couldn’t take any photos! I had to snag these ones you see here. Though the strawberry mojito looks very similar.

Ixia in Baltimore
IXIA
518 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201

**I have read that Burger King uses this process to make its onion rings, which in my opinion, are pretty subpar. They mix a paste of grated onions with sodium alginate, and send it through a ring-shaped press to make the characteristic shape. As the rings fall out of the extruder, they drop into a calcium chloride (or other calcium containing compound) bath where they firm up. The rings are then dried, breaded, and frozen…ready to be shipped to a BK chain near you! It is a business, after all, and what counts is the bottom line. This process helps to lower labor costs, to limit waste by using the whole onion, even damaged ones, and to produce a consistent and uniform product that franchises love. Next time you are at the King, take a look at their onion rings, and let me know if they aren’t all just a bit clones of each other.

18 thoughts on “a girl, a bar, and molecular gastronomy”

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