By Tara Nurin
pisco, a clear brandy of about 80 proof,
distilled from grapes in Peru and Chile, is
catching on in Jersey. Kitty Agbaglud,
head bartender of the South American
eatery Two Sevens in Princeton (see
review, P. 88), suggests trying pisco in
place of vodka or tequila. “Between the
brightness of vodka and the sharpness of
tequila,” she says, “pisco is like a friend
you never knew, but instantly click with,
because the taste of grapes is so familiar.”
The juice of up to eight varieties of
grapes are often blended to create pisco.
Because the distilled spirit is not aged,
diluted or infused before it is bottled, the
grape flavors remain vibrant, and even a
sense of terroir is detectable. Sound familiar? “It is an all-natural product and is
simply the soul and essence of wine,” says
Johnny Schuler, master distiller of Pisco
Portón in Lima, Peru, an author of books
on pisco who is considered the world’s
leading expert on the subect.
The most famous pisco cocktail, the
pisco sour, is thought to have originated
in Peru more than 100 years ago. Around
the turn of this century, Peruvian distillers
started exporting pisco to the United
States for the first time since Prohibition.
They soon caught up with and surpassed
the exports of Chilean pisco to the U. S.
“Now the doors are open, and we’re
very excited to be able to present that
Latin American flair to our guests in ways
they haven’t tried before,” says Juan
Placencia, who makes a dozen pisco
cocktails at his Oh! Calamares restaurant
in Kearny. He and his brother plan to open
Somos in North Arlington this year with
a selection of piscos that they hope to
expand into the largest on the East Coast.
Agbaglud describes the qualities of
the brands she carries at Two Sevens.
so we use
it in our
cinnamon pisco sour,” she
to BarSol and an
earthy, countryside quality
to Campo de Encanto.”
libations Angus beef, local fish and Goffle Farms chicken. Ingredients are mainly of high-
quality. Starters include sliders, tuna ta-
cos, a kale Caesar, mac-and-cheese and
(at lunch and brunch) avocado toast.
In my visits, the servers, young and
courteous, seemed uncertain about the
composition and flavor of dishes, often
admitting, “I haven’t tasted that”—not a
sign of Meyer-style staff empowerment.
They tended to respond to questions and
requests with a chirpy “no problem.”
But there are problems. Before I get
to them, I’ll say it’s possible to assemble
an enjoyable meal here. I would recom-
mend the Korean roasted cauliflower,
a nicely spicy side dish sprinkled with
sesame seeds; the creamy and flavor-
ful tomato bisque; the roasted maple
brussels sprouts, earthy and pleasantly
sweet; the Barnegat scallops entrée,
fresh and nicely seared; the sliced,
grilled hanger steak entrée, flavorful and
cooked as ordered; and sides such as the
un-sugary sweet-potato purée, lush po-
lenta and shoestring fries. For dessert,
crème brûlée and Valrhona chocolate
pudding were satisfying and well-made.
Yet over a span of 14 months, I tasted
virtually the entire menu in four din-
ners, and on each visit, multiple dishes
flopped. On my most recent visit, fig and
goat cheese flatbread was overbaked to a
crackle, its toppings dotted on as sparsely
as if they were precious truffles. Tuna
tartare was curiously bland and less than
sparklingly fresh. Braised short rib sliders
and a burger were each served lukewarm,
their buns squishy, the meat dull.
Deboned braised short ribs were
leathery. Arctic char was fresh but dry.
(It’s been supplanted on the menu by
wild Alaskan salmon.) A hanger steak
salad was sloppy, the meat carelessly cut
and plopped on romaine with an oddly
harsh buttermilk-horseradish dressing.
Thankfully, the shrimp in the shrimp
and grits were quite fresh, but were so
dosed with fiery gochujang paste that I
was the only one at the table who could
eat them. (In a Santa Fe chili-eating
contest a few years ago, I finished sec-
ond to a burly trucker.)
Restaurants with as many shortcom-
ings as White Maple often fizzle out.
Brining’s venture seems to have won a
following. If it can raise its game, it could
do the book that inspired it proud. P H O
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