Something's brewing in NYC's Nolita. Hidden away down a narrow flight of concrete steps off Lafayette St. is Pravda, an atmospheric Russian bar-bistro. Infused with the rich, warm tones of well-worn wood and old leather, and accented with earthy reds, Pravda's Old World style doesn't end with the decor. Earlier this week, I visited their bar kitchen to find out more...
TOP ROW • 1 Pravda's house-infused vodkas chill in an eye-catching bar-top wall of crushed ice • 2 Some infusions-in-progress line the shelves of the back room • 3 Citrus vodka infusion: lemon, lime, grapefruit, and orange peel • 4 A drawer full of tools behind the bar • 5 Ready for action: Hawthorn strainers, a julep strainer, a muddler, a paring knife, a grater, a jigger, and a bar spoon
MIDDLE ROW • 6 Martini-ready olives • 7 An assortment of fresh garnishes and homemade syrups • 8 Homemade pickled quail's eggs for garnishing the Gogol, a house specialty • 9 The Gogol! • 10 Leninade
BOTTOM ROW • 11 Moscow Mule • 12 Some vigorous shaking... • 13 ...And careful straining • 14 The Vladimir
When I arrived at Pravda, one of the staff was setting up the bar for the evening: packing crushed ice around a display of house-infused vodkas, snow-fort style, using thick rubber gloves, a big metal scoop, and a plastic frame to keep the work-in-progress in place.
But the 6 different flavors of vodka chilling on the zinc-topped bar were just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to the usual full complement of whiskey, gin, and liqueurs, etc., Pravda stocks nearly 70 vodkas representing 21 different countries - from Russia to Norway to Ireland to points beyond. About 10 of these at any given time are Pravda's own homemade infusions. Flavors vary seasonally, and are made fresh weekly, with horseradish, ginger, cranberry, pineapple, fig, and mango included among this summer's offerings (in winter, warm, spicy flavors such as cinnamon and anise are added to the list).
While these flavored vodkas are very tasty on their own, they also play nicely in cocktails. I sampled a few house favorites, some fresh takes on old classics: the Moscow Mule (house-infused ginger vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer) and the Gogol, a splashy riff on the vodka martini, made with horseradish-chili infused vodka and garnished with a pickled quail egg (see photo above). I also sipped some Pravda originals: Leninade, a citrus vodka-based pink lemonade (pic below), and the Vladimir, a tasty concoction featuring fig-infused vodka and Russian tea-flavored simple syrup. Pravda's co-owner, Ana Opitz, was kind enough to share some recipes:
makes one drink
1 1/4 ounce citrus vodka (see recipe below) 1 ounce fresh lemon juice 1/2 ounce simple syrup dash grenadine splash of Sprite about 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, stalks removed
Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake quite vigorously (the final product should contain a few tiny fragments of ice and shreds of mint). Pour through a hawthorn strainer into a cocktail glass. Take your first sip before the tiny bits of ice melt!
makes one drink
1 1/2 ounce fig-infused vodka (see recipe below) 1 ounce fresh lemon juice 3/4 ounce tea syrup (a simple syrup flavored with Russian tea) 1/4 ounce fresh orange juice 2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any fragments of ice (with the tea syrup, any additional water would make the drink too dilute). Garnish with a twist of orange peel.
(Tools Required: open-mouth liter jar with lid, wooden spoon, funnel, fine-mesh strainer.)
makes one liter
1 liter vodka (Pravda uses Frïs because of its clarity and smooth taste) 2 1/2 cups of dried un-sweetened/un-sulfured figs (Pravda uses Greek or Turkish ones)
Place figs in wide-mouth jar. Pour vodka over the dry ingredients. (Save the bottle if you wish to use it later for the finished product.) Cover the jar and place out of direct sunlight. Let steep four days at room temperature (you can stir the infusion once per day). Strain through a tea strainer. Using a funnel, return the infusion to the original vodka bottle and replace lid. The infused vodka will keep for a long time. You can keep it chilled, but it is also tasty at room temperature.
makes one liter
1 liter of vodka (Pravda uses Frïs because of its clarity and smooth taste) Peel of: 1 lemon (Pravda uses organic citrus fruit to avoid pesticides and artificial color) 1/2 lime 1/2 orange 1/2 grapefruit
With a sharp knife, peel the citrus rind very thinly, avoiding the white pith. The infusion steps are as above, and for the same amount of time.