One of the driving forces behind the culinary cocktail movement is — no surprise — inspiration from flavors coming out of the kitchen. That was the case when Linda Torres, bar manager at One Midtown Kitchen, first tasted the Tabasco-spiked passion fruit mostarda, a jelly that spices up the restaurant's cheese plate. Coincidentally, one of her bartenders had been experimenting at infusing a simple syrup with whole Scotch bonnet chiles, a close Caribbean relative of the mouth-singeing habañero. Mindful that she needed a rum drink for the cocktail menu, she and another bartender set to work.
"It took us a day and a half to find a good balance between fruity and spicy," she explains. "It's fruity up front and spicy on the finish, but it doesn't get hotter the more you drink."
The result is the Carlito's Way, a slightly cheesy name taken from an Al Pacino crime movie that references the drink's Hispanic connections and hints at its menace. But while Torres' concoction has a definite kick, it remains surprisingly drinkable. It's one savory cocktail that doesn't get hung up on the cleverness of its concept.
Torres begins with a dollop of the passion fruit mostarda, adds the Scotch bonnet syrup and muddles it all together with fresh orange and lime. In goes a light rum and the mixture is shaken with ice before being strained into a chilled martini glass. Small flecks of ice in the finished drink further contrast with the heat that teases the back of the throat.
"In the menu description, I try to convey that it's spicy so people will be prepared," says Torres. "But it's turned out to be a more popular drink than I would've guessed."