Sam Ziar tends the bar at Orient Express, one of the West Village’s most romantic spots. Today, on Valentine’s Day, he expects to be one busy man, but he took some time out to talk to Fork in the Road about his favorite winter ingredients and what makes a great Valentine’s Day drink.
What’s your bartending style?
I was trained by Sasha Petraske, so I picked up a few tips from him. But I would describe my style as making classic cocktails with an expat twist.
Do you ever use any ingredients or flavors from your home country?
Now that it’s legal to import artisanal rum — rhum agricole — I’m just going to play with that a little bit because it’s so much better than white Puerto Rican rum. And we make homemade sodas every week, so definitely by summer there’s going to be a drink with agricole rum and homemade passion-fruit soda.
How do you incorporate the Orient Express theme into your drinks?
Well, the owner is really into the Agatha Christie book, so I try to use spices and ingredients from all over the map, from London to Istanbul, because that was the route of the train. So each drink has a spice that goes along with a city: We use cumin and saffron, and lavender for a French flavor.
Do you have a special drink for Valentine’s Day?
We have a couple of drinks. We have a drink called the French Kiss, which is made with blackberries infused with Luxardo and St. Germain with a touch of cilantro and champagne. So it turns out to be a pretty red drink with the muddled blackberries. The other one is a martini, with Becherovka, which is a Czech liquor that’s very cinnamon-y, chartreuse, and gin — and it comes with a rose petal inside.
What makes for a romantic drink?
Anything floral is romantic to me, so lavender and elderflower are romantic ingredients. So are peaches — peach bitters or peach puree like in bellinis. Also red berries, but I guess everyone says that.
And what drink did you just make me?
This has bay leaf, lavender, a touch of honey, a little bit of tobacco bitters, gin, and lemon; the tobacco is mainly for the nose, and the lavender is a rinse.
What are your favorite ingredients this winter?
Yellow chartreuse; [Carpano] Antica Formula, an upscale sweet vermouth from Italy; black walnut, which makes drinks smoky and dark; and homemade tobacco bitters.
So how do you make homemade tobacco bitters?
Well, I can’t tell you exactly but it’s an original blend of Oriental tobacco, 100 percent grain alcohol, and cloves.