Inside the Surrey Hotel, Bar Pleiades is full of bottles and jars of ingredients you’d never expect in a cocktail. Mugwort, yellow sweet clover, and juniper berries are tucked in amongst the staple ingredients. This a Daniel Boulud bar, so the sourcing is anything but boring.
Darryl Chan, 37, who started as head bartender in Pleiades last fall, has a background working in high end hotels and at the front of the house (at A Voce, recently), and at some point along the way, was itching to get closer to the product.
“At one point in my career I wanted to go to culinary school. Then I started working for Daniel Boulud and then ended working at Daniel. I thought, well, that’ll end up being my culinary school,” he said.
Now he gets to be both front of house and back of house. “That’s why I like bartending, you work in a line but you still put a show and interact with the guests.”
Fitting in with his surrounding, Chan cuts a tall, slim figure, the picture of class and propriety, which immediately gives way to friendliness—he is a bartender after all.
The cocktail menu, reflecting Café Boulud’s across the hall, is divided into four different categories: La Tradition, for classics; La Saison, for seasonally inspired creations; Le Potager, literally the vegetable garden; and Le Voyage, for themed flavors from far flung areas (currently it’s the Caribbean).
Of course Bar Pleiades does the classics well, especially as Upper East Siders tend to favor martinis.
But the unique ingredients are the star of the show: fine, original—and in some cases, invasive.
Invasive? That’s right.
Some of the ingredients are harvested by Daniel’s forager, Tama Matsuoka Wong, who works with conservation groups and supplies the restaurant with local wild foods, including plants deemed invasive to the local ecosystem.
Sometimes weeds are someone else’s treasure, as it turns out.
That’s where the mugwort, yellow sweet clover, and juniper berries come into play. It takes time to learn to use these little treasures. All of them have particular traits, with great potential, but it takes time and work to figure out how to use them.
“We have to play around with it a lot. What’s difficult now for us is that by the time I figure out what we should do with it, that season is past, so we have to act fast or maybe wait till the next year,” Chan said.
“When [Wong] put together her book with Eddy Leroux, the chef de cuisine at Daniel, she told me when she was working with him, that it took him about two years to get a grasp of how to use it. Now when it comes in season, he knows what to do. So I think I’m in the learning phase.”
About a month ago, Chan went with Wong to forage juniper berries. “They’re really cool. When you pick them, when it’s young and green, it still has those gin notes, but it’s also bright and citrusy.”
He is now picking off juniper berries carefully, and setting them on top of The Last Caress, a cocktail made of chartreuse granita and grapefruit juice, both of which infused with juniper berries, and topped off with champagne. It’s delicate and has a depth of flavor, but is also fun to drink, “an adult slushie,” Chan called it. Each sip is a little different, as the granita melts. Biting into one of the several juniper berries is like a getting a burst of gin, said Chan. “Texturally, I’m definitely fond of this cocktail.”
One of the newest cocktails, The New Black, makes use of yellow sweet clover, something also being used at Daniel. It has a vanilla herbaceous flavor, and in the cocktail, it’s paired with berries. Chan builds gorgeous layers.
When Chan and his team create cocktails, they’re very much in touch with the chefs in the kitchen, most closely with the pastry chefs, who use a lot of the same ingredients: herbs, spices, syrups, juices. There is a lot of back and forth.
And like the industrious creatures in nature who take care to stockpile the harvest, the staff will figure out how to preserve the bounty: to pickle or jam, or turn into tinctures, syrups, or shrubs.
The months ahead have more seasonal ingredients in store. Last fall, Bar Pleiades offered a cranberry cocktail, using cranberry jam.
Come winter and they’ll make use of the pickles and jams, while the shaken drinks will give more way to stirred, “booze forward” cocktails. You’ll see more amaros and whiskeys.
Right now they’re working on infusing mountain mint and mugwort. There are plans to introduce amaros based on foraged items.
“For our clientele, it’s something we have to introduce them to,” Chan said, “But it’s a great way to end a meal. Come wintertime, we’ll start barreling, blending, having fun with it.”
20 E. 76th St. (inside the Surrey Hotel)
Every day, noon to midnight