Thursday, February 24, 2011


Vandaag had its soft opening on Tue, July 27th, 2010 and so is still relatively new to the east village.

Introduced as an upscale restaurant specializing in Northern European cuisine, it was also billed as a genever bar and created a buzz in the cocktail world when it opened. While it was certainly not the first genever bar to open in NYC, it was the first in many a year!

Owner Brendan Spiro came up with the concept for Vandaag, which means "Today" in Dutch. The cocktail and spirits program was put together by Katie Stipe, a former bartender at Clover Club in Brooklyn and partner with Mayahuel’s Phil Ward in the consulting firm "Last Call Consulting". The chef is Phillip Kirschen-Clark, who has previously worked at Jimmy’s No. 43, Pegu Club and, more recently, Corton.

When Vandaag opened, much attention was paid to its wide range of genevers, European beers and wines, along with inventive cocktails using a beer/spirit combination including the classic Dutch shot-and-a-beer combo known as the kopstootje (or “little headbutt”).

We stopped in at Vandaag after PDT on our way to Fatty Johnson's for a quick drink. As expected, the space was open, light and modern. The zinc bar is a nice fit with the polished concrete floors and Scandinavian-like "new modern" decor. The touches of wood throughout kept the space feeling comfortable, and the overall ambiance works with the restaurant's concept.

The main press about this spot revolves around the Northern European cuisine, and it seems that management has struggled a bit to shed the "gin bar" label and focus on their kitchen program. I was there to experience the bar program so I did not try any food this visit, but from the dishes I did see I would be happy to come back for a meal. 

Working that evening and taking very good care of us, was Dan Nicolaescu.

I caught up with Dan recently, and was able to ask him a few questions.

Dan is passionate about his craft, always studying to create new combinations, and a blur behind the bar.

Dan has been in the restaurant business for some time now and like many barkeeps, got his start working the front of the house.

Interacting with customers and their drink orders, ducking behind the bar to make the occasional drink and eventually covering shifts here and there will get you a lot of practical experience!

As is easy to do working in good eating establishments, Dan became a bit of a wine guy and developed a good level of oenophilic knowledge, but says he never lost his interest in spirits.

Before landing his current gig at Vandaag, he started making more and more friends in the industry, taking classes and reading all he could get his hands on. Before long, he found himself "submerged" in the world of craft cocktails.

When I asked about his favorite cocktail books, he said he was currently enjoying David Wondrich's recent title Punch, and also greatly enjoyed Imbibe by the same author. For beginners he recommended Dale Degroff's Essential Cocktail and Craft of the Cocktail.

He also gave a nod to Left Coast Libations by Ted Munat & Michael Lazar, which is a great book if working a bar program with kitchen resources like Vandaag has.

I asked about his favorite "under-appreciated" classic cocktail recipe and his response came quickly citing the "Hanky Panky" cocktail.

(The Hanky Panky, Ada Coleman's classic recipe from Harry Craddock's 1930 title, The Savoy Cocktail Book, is a pleasing mix of gin and sweet vermouth nicely balanced with a few dashes Fernet Branca.)

To the age old (but still great) question, "What do you like to drink at home?", Dan told me he prefers high quality whiskeys including single malt scotches, straight bourbons, Japanese, Irish and other whiskeys - and that when drinking them on their own, he always takes them neat.

Dan was also kind enough, after checking with Katie of course, to provide the recipe for the very enjoyable drink that he served to me that night. (Big thanks to both Dan and Katie for this!).

Daisy de Hollanda By Katie Stipe, winter 2010, Vandaag NYC

1.5 oz Genevieve
0.5 oz Lustau fino sherry
0.5 oz pine syrup*
0.5 oz lime juice
0.25 oz green chartreuse
0.75 oz soda water

Shake all ingredients, beside soda water, with ice and strain over fresh ice into Collins glass. Top with soda and stir a couple times. Garnish with pine stem. Serve with straw.

1 cup superfine sugar( by volume)
1 cup water
Fresh pine clippings

Make a simple syrup by heating water and sugar together in a pot over low/med heat. Add fresh pine clippings and remove from heat. Let steep overnight and strain. If it's not piney enough add more pine clippings and heat gently (pines don't have a consistent flavor so you have to adjust the amount of clippings). Do NOT reduce the syrup. Keep refrigerated.

So...if you find yourself in the east village, do yourself a big favor and stop in to see Dan or Katie for great drinks, and an education in the wonderful world of genever and other Northern European beverages and cuisine.

No comments:

Post a Comment