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Welcome to the Era of the $100 Bar Snack

Guests who’ve scored one of the in-demand bar stools or high-backed, sofa-booth tables at Shinji’s in New York are in for a treat, with intricate, science-grade cocktails prepared with elaborate, demonstrative service and presentation. Beyond the drinks, though, bar-goers can capitalize on a stellar dining program coming via the backroom noda, a Michelin-starred omakase restaurant from chef Shigeyuki Tsunoda. Menu options include Uni ($80) and Caviar ($100) Handrolls, each prepared in front of guests, as well as the tantalizing, if thimble-sized, Uni Chawanmushi ($34), a Tsunoda signature that’s akin to a bath in a pillowy, rich ocean water custard, thanks to the deep embedded sea and saline flavors of, again, uni and caviar. It’s all topped off by the Sando ($120), with A5 Wagyu served on milk bread with black truffle mayo.

Welcome to the era of the $100 bar snack, a time when cocktail consumers and gastronomes alike can walk away from a bar with complete satisfaction, albeit with a slightly lighter wallet. It’s perhaps more surprising that it’s taken us this long to get here than it is that we’ve arrived.

There’s no denying the intrinsic connection between cold beers and chicken wings and other fried delights, and the laws of high-low pairings suggest that excellent cocktails can be served with comfort eats to great effect. Yet high-high pairings make pretty damn good sense, too. We’re not talking about restaurants with great drinks, either — specifically, we’re referring to bars that serve splurge-worthy eats as a key element of their repertoires.

A World of Wagyu… and More

At Shinji’s, beverage director Jonathan Adler aimed to create a cocktail service that was on par with the quality of food served at noda. It was just one, small evolutionary step forward to elevate the bar snacks themselves, too.“We are one of the few establishments in the city where you can receive that level of quality food paired with amazing service even late at night.” he says.

Less than a mile away from Shinji’s, the new two-story Sip & Guzzle sizzles thanks to the combination of a creative, fun cocktail menu that’s offered up alongside dishes from the kitchen of chef Mike Bagale, who previously served as the executive chef of the three-Michelin-starred Alinea in Chicago. Upstairs at Guzzle, the casual, walk-in bar, guests scarf down dishes such as fried Electric Chicken ($28). Downstairs at the more exclusive Sip, that electric jolt is a mere launchpad for the lavish bar eats to come. There’s the tea-smoked caviar ($165) with chicken skin and koji butter, and — look at that — the Royale With Cheese ($150), an A5 Wagyu sando served in a golden, fast-food takeaway box.

Credit: Lucia Buricelli

Truly, we may be living in the golden age of the bar snack, and that’s not even a reference to the gold flakes resting upon the Wagyu Katsu sandwich (¥9800, or about $63 right now) that takes a starring role on the food menu of Gold Bar at the Tokyo Edition, Toranomon. “As cocktails have become more creative and sophisticated, there is more of a demand for elevated food offerings to complement these drinks and their flavors,” says bar manager Charles Fentum. “With creative, elevated food to pair with sophisticated cocktails, the potential to reach more guests and deliver more memorable experiences increases greatly,” adds chef Yasuhiko Ichinohe.

Credit: Sip & Guzzle

There’s more to the rise of the over-the-top bar snack than the Wagyu sando, of course. At Jewel of the South in New Orleans, for instance, it might take the form of a full caviar menu, and indulgent dishes such as whole baked Tunworth ($111) or Duck Neck Sausage ($73). At The Portrait Bar, located in the Fifth Avenue Hotel in Manhattan, an opulent caviar service ($195) is served alongside a menu of Parlor Snacks including elevated takes on hot dogs and French onion dip

The food program comes from James Beard Award-winning chef Andrew Carmellini, who runs the hotel’s acclaimed Café Carmellini. “It makes sense if you’re pouring so much attention to detail in the cocktails, the food would follow suit,” he says. “It needs to be a complete thought.”

Backing a bar with a world-class culinary team is also the game plan by establishments such as the forthcoming Exímia in São Paolo, where Marcio Silva’s cocktails will be served up with food from Manu Buffara, winner of Latin America’s Best Female Chef award in 2022. At Locale Firenze, the bar and the restaurant have each received nods in their respective World’s 50 Best lists, so guests can get a taste of both at the same time while soaking up the environs of its historic building. At Tokyo Confidential, where Holly Graham’s festive antics take center stage, there also happens to be a lineup of bar snacks from chef Daniel Calvert of Sézanne, the current No. 1-reigning restaurant in Asia, according to World’s 50 Best.

I’ll Have the Culinary Tasting Menu — at the Bar

Why order one big-ticket bar snack when you could line up a whole menu of them? At Galileo in Barcelona, Paradiso alum Andrea Civettini manages a bar that’s fueled in part by its combination with a high-powered culinary effort led by Gabriele Milani, owner of Algrano Bistro and head chef of the Monument Hotel. “Galileo has a modern concept that unites the world of cocktails and gastronomy,” Civettini says.

“We felt before that people just wanted to get out of their homes and be with their friends again, catch up, so often we had guests sit down and say, ‘Just give us the tasting menu and cocktail pairing, we don’t want to think.’”

Galileo’s multi-course tasting menu (€63, or about $67) pairs with a lineup of matching, small-stature drinks. “It’s a four-step menu where we pair four cocktails, each served in mini glassware, with every stage,” Civettini says. “Each pairing has been meticulously studied to ensure that the cocktail complements the food and vice versa; we’re fortunate to have chef Milani designing all of our dishes.”

Credit: Galileo

Cocktail bar tasting menus are becoming more common extravagances elsewhere, too. Look no farther than Kwant in London, where a seven-course tasting menu (£120, or about $148) is a star attraction of the avant-garde cocktail bar. At barmini in Washington, D.C., the companion cocktail lab to José Andrés’s acclaimed fine-dining tour de force minibar, options include a snacks tasting menu ($75) alongside a cocktail tasting menu ($115).

In Singapore, Christina Rasmussen and Sasha Wijidessa opened Fura last fall, aiming to help people change their eating and drinking habits by showcasing a sustainable, forward-thinking food and beverage program. The current Future Food lineup includes a six-course pairing menu ($145 Singaporean, or about $106). The tasting menu resulted from what Rasmussen noticed as a post-pandemic laissez-faire attitude from guests of her prior pop-up, Mallow, where tasting menus accounted for 50 percent of total sales.

“We felt before that people just wanted to get out of their homes and be with their friends again, catch up, so often we had guests sit down and say, ‘Just give us the tasting menu and cocktail pairing, we don’t want to think,’” Rasmussen, a chef who served a stint as the head forager for Noma in Copenhagen, says.

It’s Time to Treat Yourself

All of our habits have changed since the pandemic, and in its wake, more consumers have adopted a splurge-or-stay-in mindset. Why bother ditching the sweatpants at all, unless it’s an opportunity to treat yo self? As such, expect the rise of glitzy and glamorous dishes and overarching, culinary-centric bar concepts to continue.

“In Singapore, people are always looking for a new experience and now more than ever expectations are high, as guests want it all,” Rasmussen says.

“People are seeking amazing atmospheres that they see advertised to them and want to experience it in the same way that is being shown.”

Civettini believes it’s natural for bars serving excellent drinks to be able to offer guests excellent food as well. “It’s becoming increasingly important that the quality of food you offer aligns with the quality of the cocktails and the establishment itself,” he says.

Adler of Shinji’s agrees it’s part of a trend toward increased expectations from guests. “I believe that guests are now seeking a complete experience when they go out to bars, and even though cocktails are the main attraction, the food offerings need to be just as elevated,” he says. “I think you will continue to see this as a trend especially when the kitchen and bar team are working in tandem to make sure that the guest experience is all encompassing.”

He also sees people’s habits becoming even more influenced by, well, influencing. It’s thick in the air these days, isn’t it? “Since the pandemic people have been much more educated in terms of food and how they want to experience going out due to the rise in popularity of social media,” Adler says. After staying in, salivating while scrolling through food feeds, folks want a show-stopping experience when they go out to eat and drink. “People are seeking amazing atmospheres that they see advertised to them and want to experience it in the same way that is being shown.”

So bring on the bar snacks. No, not that complimentary, shared bowl of peanuts — the days of which, also thanks in no small part to the sanitary awakening of the pandemic, may also be behind us — but the sandos, the caviar, the uni, the tasting menus. Stretch the wallet. Stretch the waistline, for that matter. With all of this treating ourselves, though, we may find ourselves back in those sweats before too long if we’re not careful.

The article Welcome to the Era of the $100 Bar Snack appeared first on VinePair.

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