The Bronze Quail Restaurant and Bar at Hotel Fullerton is in the space formerly occupied by Journeyman’s Food + Drink. The cocktail program is helmed by bar director Steven Hayden, who gained attention for his innovative drinks at Journeyman’s. His cocktails and mocktails follow the same culinary philosophy as the from-scratch kitchen. His drinks showcase house-made bitters, liqueurs, and hand-carved ice. The craft mocktails he creates often use his take on faux gin.
Cookie cutter cocktails? Not in the slightest. Hayden consented to share the formula for his Bird Person Cocktail, a drink that pays homage to the eatery’s name. It’s rich in botanical flavors, a Cimarron Reposado Tequila concoction spiked with cucumber bitters, crème de violette, and a house-made citrus amaro syrup.
The syrup making starts with familiar citrus peels—orange, lemon, and grapefruit. Other recognizable add-ins include angelica and sage, as well as lemon balm, coriander, and dandelion. After that, it takes the path-less-traveled route with ingredients such as calamus root, sweet woodruff powder, and cochineal. The bits, strips, and powders marry in four quarts of sugar syrup for no more than three days, after which the potion is strained and ready for use in cocktails.
The complex syrup offers light citrus and anise notes. The cucumber bitters act in a way that a talented chef uses seasonings; Hayden says it adds to the depth of flavor to the spirits. Egg white is added last, playing an important role in balancing out the flavors and creating a lovely foamy head atop the drink. The lovely meringue-y texture of the egg white is created by “reverse dry shaking” the mixture; first it is shaken on the rocks, then strained and shaken in a second bone-dry cocktail shaker.
The cocktail is poured into a vintage Nick & Nora glass and garnished with rosemary, juniper, and rosemary flowers plucked from his home garden. It’s stunning.
Watch the video. Take in the beauty of a hand-chipped ice sphere; it looks like a giant diamond. It will make you thirsty.
Update: I wrote about my experience with Steven Hayden at Bronze Quail’s bar in the present tense, but since my visit on March 9 that included our video shoot, the COVID-19 crisis has changed the restaurant world. Hayden has spent the past few months at home in Fullerton, reading and spending time with his dog Bodhi, a McNab short-haired collie. The restaurant’s future is uncertain. Hayden is putting feelers out for a new position, interviewing at other restaurants.
Favorite Veg: Carrots, either sautéed, baked, shaved, or blanched. Last year he created a cocktail with juiced carrots that had been braised with oranges.
Collections: He amasses comics, vintage glassware and, of course, amaro, liqueur, and bitters (purchased or homemade).
Secret Talent: Since his early 20s he has been able to easily solve a Rubik’s Cube.
Goal for Guests: He wants patrons to trust him and get excited about trying new things.
Drink of Choice: Negroni, a cocktail that he says you can order almost anywhere. He likes the bittersweet balance and prefers it made with Monkey 47 gin.
Favorite Bartender: He praises Los Angeles-based mixologist Kevin Lee for his talent, generous spirit, and out-of-the-box thinking. He says Lee paved the way for many of today’s innovative bartenders.
Bird Person Cocktail
Yield: one cocktail
10 (medicine dropper) drops cucumber bitters
1/2 ounce agave spirits
1/4 ounce crème de violette
1/4 ounce house-made citrus amaro syrup, see cook’s notes
1/2 ounce house-made foraged liqueur, see cook’s notes
1 1/2 ounces Cimarron Reposado Tequila
1 ounce egg white
Ice, small cubes for shaking and optional sphere for serving
2 cocktail shakers, one for the ice and the other to use as a dry shaker
Garnishes: fresh juniper, rosemary sprig stem end dipped in dehydrated mint powder, borage flowers or rosemary flowers
Cook’s notes: The formula from his notebook for his booze-free Citrus Amaro Syrup reads as follows: 30 strips orange peel, 10 strips lemon peel, 10 strips grapefruit peel, pinch of angelica, pinch of orris root, 3 sage leaves, pinch of cinchona powder, heavy pinch of gentian powder, pinch of wormwood powder, pinch of ground coriander, pinch of sweet woodruff powder, pinch of elderflower powder, pinch of dandelion leaf, pinch of calamus root, pinch of lemon balm powder, 1 teaspoon cochineal, 4 quarts simple syrup. Cover and store in a cool, dark location for 1 to 3 days. Strain in fine strainer. Pass through a coffee filter to strain further. Refrigerate well sealed. The house-made foraged liqueur takes flavorful and aromatic ingredients collected in “the wild” (Hayden uses rosemary, lavender and coriander, as well as chamomile and star anise) and lets them infuse for a week or more (generally in vodka, then is strained.) Store in a dark, cool location.
- Place all ingredients except the garnishes and spherical ice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously, then pour into dry shaker and shake to achieve a fluid meringue-like consistency. Strain into a Nick & Nora style cocktail glass (a large sphere of ice is optional) and garnish with fresh juniper, small rosemary sprigs and rosemary flowers. Serve.
Cathy Thomas is an award-winning food writer and has authored three cookbooks: “50 Best Plants on the Planet,” “Melissa’s Great Book of Produce,” and “Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce.”
–Photos and video by Curt Norris