A Recipe for Success

 In Feature, Food

Taste by Niche features well-crafted cocktails and small plates in an intimate space.

If ever a bar looked like a science lab, this is it: an anatomical diagram on the chalkboard, mysterious implements on the counter and austere gray lab stools against a white tile wall. It’s all playfully done—the diagram shows the cuts of meat on a pig—yet the connotation is of an institution of higher learning. And to go away without having learned something from Taste by Niche, the new cocktail lounge at Niche, is nearly impossible. There’s the ice, for example. Some of the cocktails, like the Keep Your Cool, use hearty square cubes that melt slowly; others, like the popular Benton Park Swizzle, use ice chips that the bartenders make behind the bar by solidly thwacking cubes wrapped in a dishtowel. Then there are the ingredients. Both the Keep Your Cool and the Swizzle use bitters, spirits distilled from or infused with herbs and aromatics, but the former calls for amaro, the latter for slightly less bitter Fernet. It’s a subtle difference, and at home we’d probably swap in whichever we happened to have. Not at Taste under professor Ted Kilgore, one of the best-known mixologists in town, whose name first started popping up in national cocktail articles while he tended bar at Monarch.

Cocktail Class
Tuition is very reasonable. At $9 or so, the cocktails aren’t particularly expensive, and the small plates menu sticks closely to the original Spanish tradition of offering a few bites at nominal prices. The cheese plate is a particularly good deal: Choose three from the chalkboard (first ask the host for a helpful tutorial about the artisanal and imported selections) and enjoy them with house-made crackers for $8. Niche, as students of the local food scene will know, is the four-year-old restaurant of award wining Executive Chef Gerard Craft. He owns Taste as well and pops into it too, as if to remind customers to order some food to go with their rum punch. In fact, some of Craft’s kitchen staffers work behind the bar at Taste by Niche. It’s a bit like the old days, when Niche Executive Pastry Chef Mathew Rice performed his magic on desserts in the same space—and those who loved his bakeshop, Veruca, can still get a sugar fix at Taste, because dessert specials are listed on the chalkboard too. If you’ve heard that Taste’s enrollment is full, don’t despair. Get your name put on the board inside the door, then head next door to Niche to wait. That’s right—who’d have guessed such a popular restaurant would have competition from a cocktail lounge? Ah, the things you’ll learn at Taste.

Josh Monken

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