As I’m far more of a football girl, I don’t really follow March Madness – at least not the basketball games. As I found out at the beginning of this month, though, Bethesda, MD is doing March Martini Madness, where multiple restaurants in the Bethesda Row area of the city are competing for the distinction of “best martini”, and are selling them all at happy hour prices. (More information about that here, where the information I’m relaying about the martinis I tried comes from, as my memory isn’t good enough to remember all of them).
Yesterday, I met up with my best friend and we went around Bethesda Row in an effort to try all of the different martinis. We didn’t make it to every location, but in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we thought we’d give it a try. Let me attempt to recreate our experience for you.
Martini #1: Jaleo’s “Bethesda Orchard”
Ingredients: Henrick’s gin, Marcona almond Orgeat, chamomile and honey syrup, a splash of lemon and Aperol.
This was my friend and my first stop of the afternoon. We got lunch here, as Jaleo is one of my favorite restaurants. (There are also locations in downtown DC and in Las Vegas, and the owner Jose Andres is famous for his many other Spanish restaurants throughout the country). I’ll talk more about my love for Jaleo some other, time though.
The martini is absolutely stellar. Our waitress tells us that it tastes a bit like horchata, which intrigues me even more. (I absolutely LOVE horchata, even though the majority of the ones I’ve had have been in the States and based in Latin American-style horchata). Because of this, the martini was every-so-slightly creamy, but not in a way that robs it of any taste. This was truly a stellar martini. It had a really interesting combination of flavors that works extremely well together, and it’s extremely refreshing. It’s sweet as well, which works for me as it masks the taste of gin. I really, REALLY would recommend this martini. 8/10
Martini #2: Mon Ami Gabi’s “La Passion Martini”
Ingredients: Absolut Vodka, passion fruit puree, Marqui De LaTour sparkling wine with fresh squeezed lemon and a splash of orange juice.
Our second stop was at a restaurant I only recently discovered, and, consequently, have fallen in love with. Mon Ami Gabi is a French restaurant that’s a bit pricy for someone trying to live on a budget, but the food is definitely worth it. (Also, the people who work there that I’ve met are all absolutely wonderful). I tried this particular martini the first night I went to Mon Ami just over a week ago, and I’m happy to say they’re keeping it on their upcoming revised beverage menu. It’s fantastic. I should disclose my absolute addiction to passionfruit before I go any further, though. It’s unfortunately not nearly as prevalent in the States as it is in a couple of my previous haunts in Australia and New Zealand, but the fruit is so very, very good, as it finds a balance between sweet and sour that I simply adore. This martini doesn’t overwhelm you with passionfruit, though, so those of you who aren’t fans of the fruit can definitely enjoy this without fear. It’s always quite well-made, and is again, a sweet martini but not overwhelmingly so. 8/10
Martini #3: Mussel Bar & Grille’s “Antigoon’s Revenge”
Ingredients: Antigoon double blonde mixed with Domaine de Canton ginger liquor, chamomile syrup and lemon juice
My friend and I had a bit of a difference of opinion on this one. I haven’t spent a huge amount of time at the Mussel Bar since I don’t eat fish, but I believe this martini would go far better with an interesting mussel meal (of which there are, understandably, many at Mussel Bar). I decided just to get mine with their sweet potato fries, which are the best sweet potato fries I have had in my entire life. (And I’ve tried a lot). But back to the martini! My friend and I both agreed that it was a bit heavy on the beer, as that was the main ingredient in the drink itself. However, I definitely enjoyed the martini a bit more than my friend, as I saw it as (in my true mixology-fascinated fashion) a really interesting take on how to combine beer and liquor in a drinkable, and enjoyable, fashion. I wouldn’t say that the martini was my favorite, as I was definitely expecting something with a bit more of a kick to it, but it made a great complement to my delicious fries before we moved on to the next destination. 4/10
Martini #4: American Tap Room’s “Tap Tap Beer Martini”
Ingredients: Elderflower liqueur blended with vanilla ice cream, strawberries and mint leaves.
I really wanted to like this one. I did. Maybe to prove everyone I’d talked to who said they strongly disliked this drink. But I’m sad to say I was underwhelmed even from the reviews I’d heard of it. In theory, with the ingredients it has, American Tap Room’s martini sounds like a sorority girl’s dream drink. The problem with it, I’d say, also lies in that theory. My friend pointed out that it “tasted like it belongs in a sorority trashcan punch”, and I really have to agree. While in theory it could still work as a drink, it really should not be blended. It tastes like an alcoholic smoothie, or a juice bar that’s about to go out of business and decided to make a dessert smoothie with some booze in it because it’s run out of ideas. My friend liked this more than I did, though we both finished ours out of principle. I think if this drink had been thought about in more depth rather than just throwing all the ingredients in a blender, it could have been a good contender (albeit an extremely sweet one). There’s also some beer in it, I think, though I can’t remember what—it’s not exactly something you can taste. You can’t taste much of anything in this martini aside from lost sorority dreams. (End of the sorority metaphor). 2/10
Martini #5: Raku’s “Purple Cloud”
Ingredients: Schochu (Japanese vodka), blueberry, ginger and lemon juice topped with lavender foam.
I have to be in the right mood to get sushi, (despite the fact that I took Japanese for five years), and so I don’t get to Raku nearly enough. However, Raku is a spectacular Japanese restaurant— they have delicious sushi, bento boxes, soups… I’m afraid I haven’t expanded my realm of tasting there beyond those because every time I go to Raku, I’m too in love with what I usually get to get anything else. However, this time, I’m really glad to say I wasn’t there for the food and got to try the March Madness (and sample another) martini. This martini was so. unbelievably. good. I’m a sucker for lavender, so that in of itself got me excited about this drink. Topped with mint leaves, this was a dream martini for me. It was sweet without being sticky and the blueberry, ginger and lemon all mixed together expertly. The lavender foam also made everything about the drink taste even better, if that’s possible. The wonderful man who made us our drinks also gave us a sample of their coconut (lychee?) martini that’s normally on their drinks menu— a drink I’ve marveled at the possibility of having but never actually tried. Needless to say, I want to drink both of these martinis for the rest of my life. 9/10 for the March Madness martini, 10/10 for the sample coconut martini that left me nearly wanting to skip our dinner reservations to get more of.
Martini #6: Cafe Deluxe’s “Nothing But Net”
Ingredients: Buffalo Trace bourbon and Augusta Bitters mixed with cherry juice and an orange twist.
After Raku, my friend and I returned to Mon Ami Gabi for dinner. But when we were done, we stopped by Cafe Deluxe to try their martini before calling it a night. I didn’t get my own, but I had some of my friend’s martini and I have to say, when I’m less tired than I was then, I’m going back to Cafe Deluxe and getting this martini again. I’m a sucker for whiskey, so that immediately drew me to this drink. One thing I really like about it, though, is the fact that this martini is not super sweet or trying to be anything more than it is: rather, it’s a relatively simple concoction that provides strong results. Despite bourbon being the focus of the martini (something that I can’t say I’ve ever seen in anything labelled as a “martini” before), this was probably the drink that I’d say resembled a martini the most. No, none of the drinks were remotely like a classic martini. but this was perhaps the ‘safest’ option for those who enjoy shaken martinis when they’re nothing more extravagant than chilled. It had a strong flavor and was very well made, but didn’t overwhelm the senses. I definitely approve. 7/10
So those were the martinis my friend and I had yesterday. We also distributed clover stickers to people all around Bethesda (including servers and bartenders at the majority of the restaurants we visited) to support the St. Patrick’s day spirit (note: this was all my friend’s brilliant idea, I actually only wore a green shirt by accident). If you get the chance to visit Bethesda at any point soon, I’d definitely recommend trying the Martini Madness. I have yet to try the concoctions at Assaggi, Labenese Taverna, Parker’s and Redwood, but I’ll keep y’all updated when I do.
[Note: please keep in mind that everything within this post, namely the photos and opinions, are my own. You’re all bound to have different experiences with these drinks, and I hope you can enjoy them as you please with responsibility. And with food. These restaurants have GREAT food, and great people who work there.]