The inability of some people to draw the line connecting the Southeast Asian and French cuisines has long been a fascination to me. After all, the French did colonize much of the region, however distasteful that idea might seem to our modern sensibilities, and as much as India still bears the mark of the British Raj, there is no escaping the linkage that lives on between France and Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and, more indirectly, other nations in the region.
Thus, it should come as a surprise to no one that the new Seattle restaurant, Qube , draws much of its gastronomic inspiration from the kitchens of both the French and their Southeast Asian kin, with a healthy dose of the local larder thrown in for fresh appeal. It’s an approach that results in such dishes as duck confit seasoned with “Silk Road spices” and wild-caught king salmon wrapped in nori and served with green shiso pesto.
Less intuitive, perhaps, but equally delightful is the way in which beverage director Angel Aguilar has extended this linkage to his bar and even expanded it, so that Japanese and Mexican flavors get to join in the fun. Best of all, not only has Aguilar crafted cocktails that are more than enjoyable on their own, he also has ably assembled a drink menu that integrates well with the food menu.
Take, for example, Aguilar’s Thai-influenced riff on a margarita, the Buddha Samba, made with tamarind-infused tequila, Thai chile syrup and lime juice, served straight up with a cumin-salt rim. Paired with chef Lisa Nakamura’s spicy Asian keftah, the combination is enough to change the mind of the most ardent of cocktail and food pairing skeptics.
Also fun and flavorful is the sparkling Shiva, a combination of lemon vodka, kiwi, lime and sparkling wine, served in a champagne flute with a rim of Indian fennel and paired perfectly with seared diver scallops. Or the piña colada-esque blend of Thai basil-infused rum, pineapple juice, kaffir lime syrup and coconut milk, called the Ko Samui, served exquisitely alongside grilled tiger prawns with red Thai curry.
Aguilar also comes up with whimsical garnishes for some of his creations, as with the cardamom-peach “ice-lollipop” that accompanies the surprisingly subtle Lycheetini.
But what I find most interesting is the way he instinctively combines tastes that, on the surface, have no right being in the same glass. Take his Le Samurai, for example, a mix of aged Japanese whiskey and sweet vermouth topped with a thin layer of green tea whipped cream, which Aguilar describes as “a Manhattan from Tokyo.”
The cream, served flat and liquidy, rather than bouffant-style, serves to soften the spirit and bring the whiskey and vermouth’s fruitiness to the forefront, creating a balance of flavors that is neither harsh nor limp. And when the drink is partnered with the menu’s Kobe-style steak frites, it makes a flavor bet that’s worth crossing the country, if not several continents, to taste.