Wednesday, February 02, 2011

cocktail hour: the mulberry project

"I'd like a drink with egg whites in it, please."
Somehow, this has become my standard line when I go for bespoke cocktails with Zoe. Zoe changed my life when she brought me into Milk & Honey almost two years ago. Before that fateful day, I had never been to a cocktail bar without a menu, where you're only told what they've got fresh from the market and from there you can drop a few hints on what flavors and liquor you feel like having (as long as it's not vodka).

My beautiful friendship with Zoe has resulted in quite a few nights at Milk & Honey—and my aforementioned proclivity for egg-white based cocktails. She wasn't surprised when I said my favorite line, as usual, at The Mulberry Project, a newly opened spot in Little Italy that serves bespoke cocktails. On a Manic Monday, Zoe, Amanda and I piled into a chic little booth at this hard-to-find underground spot. The place had a pretty impressive crowd considering it was a Monday night.

The bar was stocked with papaya, kiwi, mangoes, blueberries, ginger, Thai chillies and lots of citrus. My "egg white" request got me a pisco sour, which was good but not mind-blowing. It was a touch too sour for me when I wanted something creamy and sweet—but I'm to blame for not asking for just that. For my second drink, I asked for something Bourbon-based, still hankering for something sweet. Again, good but not life-changing. I got to taste one of Zoe's drinks which packed a strong chili punch. Not bad either but still, not transcendent. 

I'm starting to get a sneaking suspicion that the problem may be us. I think all those amazing nights at Milk & Honey may have ruined us for every other bespoke bar in Manhattan. Heck, Milk & Honey may have ruined Milk & Honey for us; the last time I was there with Zoe, I recall we both felt pretty meh about the drinks. We've come to expect way too much. It's a problem.

The Mulberry Project beats out Milk & Honey in one aspect: they have bar chow—yummy chow, at that. I pretty much devoured the pork belly ($10) in record time. Crunchy slices of pork belly sit atop crisp apple chips, the whole lot garnished with caramel fig compote and drizzled with cider reduction. Yum yum yum. 
Amanda ordered some delicious calamari with a nice spicy kick and some sweet chili mayo on the side ($10). I am currently craving for it. I am also pretty determined to try the Bloody Mary oyster shooters.
Although the experience did not absolutely blow our minds, I'm sure I will come back. I love coming to the Chinatown/Little Italy area for dinner and the lack of good bars in the area has always been a problem. So I'm only too thrilled when good bars open up in close proximity to my favorite soup dumpling and Hainanese chicken spots.

One last quibble: I was not crazy about the billing system. Our receipt showed charges on spirits and mixers separately ($12 for the spirits and $2 for the mixers), which I found a little annoying. It's not nice to get people liquored up and then throw unnecessary math at them. I don't mind paying $14 for my drink, just please add it all up for me in one tidy price. Thanks.

My photos are dark because I didn't want to be the obnoxious patron going trigger happy with flash in an intimate bar, but The Gothamist has some gorgeous pictures of the place and all the yumminess it offers. Check it out and be lured into this underground world of spirits.

The Mulberry Project is located at 149 Mulberry Street between Grand and Hester Streets. Tel. (646) 448-4536

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