This Gin Is In

New gin in town; Cali in Cleveland; Aussie cuisine

The Contender
We have long loved icy Tanqueray-and-tonics on hot summer evenings and spicy Bombay Sapphire martinis on cold winter nights. And now, with the introduction to the Cleveland cocktail scene of another new super-premium gin, we have ever so much more to adore. Tanqueray No. 10, a long elegant pour of aromatic botanicals -- grapefruit, lime, and orange, along with juniper berries, chamomile, and angelica root -- hit the shelves in Cleveland's hippest bars and liquor stores late this summer, and with its big, smooth taste of citrus and white pepper slowly fading into florals, this is a gin destined to develop a devoted following. If you are still drinking those sissy vodka martinis -- flavorless vodka simply being the starting point in the manufacture of complex and sophisticated gin -- now is the time to make the switch. Among the top spots to salute the handiwork of British small-batch distillers are the bars at One Walnut (1 Walnut Avenue, in the Ohio Savings Plaza building), Johnny's Bar (3164 Fulton Road), Mise (10427 Clifton Boulevard), and Martini's on the Avenue (15315 Madison Avenue, Lakewood). After a taste, you may very well want one of the lean, green decanters for your own little home bar. While the gin still isn't widely available here in the heartland, you can find it at Hudson Wine & Spirits (116 West Streetsboro Street, Hudson), Shaker Square Beverages (3622 Mayfield Road, Cleveland Heights), or Shorecenter Beverage & Liquor (22808 Lake Shore Boulevard, Euclid); retail price for the 750 ml bottle is around $30.

California dream job . . . Chef Robin Wilkins should be almost done reworking the menu at Napa Valley Grille (26300 Cedar Road, Beachwood Place) by now. Wilkins, previously at Touch Supper Club, has been busy infusing former chef Norbert Peissert's menu with his own take on Californian cuisine, as well as making lots of seasonal changes, developing a larger variety of fresh fish and seafood dishes, and perhaps even putting together a chef's tasting menu. Although NVG is part of a corporately owned chain out of Corte Madera, California, Wilkins says he has had total freedom to put his personal stamp on the kitchen. "This company is founded and owned by CIA (Culinary Institute of America) graduates," says Wilkins, himself an alumnus. "It's chef-operated and chef-driven, so my menu can reflect whatever is nice and available, and whatever I feel like doing, on any given day."

What, no Vegamite? . . . The worldly folks at Chuck Muer Restaurants know a promotional opportunity when they see one. Now through October 31, the operators of Charley's Crab (75765 Chagrin Boulevard, Beachwood) and Big Fish Seafood Bistro (24940 Sperry Drive, Westlake) will be featuring Australian-style foods on their menus, with items like Shrimp on the Barbie, Grilled Emu with wild mushroom sauce, and the silly-named Jolly Jumbuck Tuckerbag (an otherwise tasty-sounding stew of shrimp, scallops, salmon, mussels, calamari, and pasta in a roasted-tomato and white-wine sauce, tucked into a parchment wrapper) among the themed dishes. The foods from Oz will then give way to Caribbean, Mediterranean, Asian, and Latin American promotions. Frequent guests can sign up for a Culinary Passport when they dine, which entitles them to a Chef's Taster (a complimentary tidbit reflecting the featured cuisine) on each visit. The Culinary Passport program runs through August 2001.

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