"The word 'pairing' is misleading, maybe. 'Complement board' might be a better way to put it," muses Dan Greenbaum, bar manager at The Beagle, the young cocktail bar-restaurant mash-up in New York's East Village.
The pairings he's referring to are those that make up what is certainly one of the menu's more intriguing features — a list of individual "boards" that present thoughtfully constructed small bites alongside equally well thought out small cocktails. Roasted lamb neck with a mini Preakness cocktail, burrata and braised celery with a mini gin Martini.
Naysayers of food and drink pairings might want to hold their tongues, as both Greenbaum and owner-general manager Matt Piacentini are quick to stress that these aren't necessarily "pairings" in the traditional sense of the word. For one, though the mini cocktails are served in shot glass-sized glasses, they are not shots intended to be pounded abruptly pre- or post-bite. Nor should they be approached with the same mindset and expectations that one might have from a more classic wine and food pairing.
The concept, Piacentini explains, was inspired by meals of aquavit and herring he enjoyed while traveling in Stockholm. "Separately the flavors are very strong, they may be too much, but together it really works — one of those situations where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
And so it is here, taken in interspersed bites and sips, the cocktail is intended to take on a role that is perhaps more accurately described as ingredient than refreshment. Working with chef Garrett Eagleton, formerly of Piacentini's Portland spot Clyde Common, the boards are designed to integrate the cocktail as an actual flavor component in the dish.