Eat This and Drink This Now: Bourbon Steak’s Martini Cart

A love letter to the iconic cocktail at Bourbon Steak’s Martini Cart. Photo by Greg Nagel

Most articles about the martini start off with some tired James Bond/Don Draper reference, but here in Orange County, the real star is no doubt Lucille Bluth from the-rescued-by-Netflix Arrested Development. If the narcissistic matriarch were to experience Bourbon Steak’s tableside martini cart, she would undoubtedly roll her eyes, making some snide joke that she is neither drinking bourbon nor eating steak, and instead go for something vodka-based, possibly with a side of dry toast.

Just as the jingling cart pulls up to our table, phones are unlocked faster than switchblades, ready to capture something that’s been done for centuries: a bartender making a proper classic cocktail. In today’s world, this ritual wouldn’t exist without the invention of various boomerangs and hashtags that my #lit #mood #squad could capture.

The beauty in this simple drink isn’t so much the liquid as it is the delivery. As a quality cocktail elsewhere is less than half the $28-per-martini-cart-summoning price, you’re essentially paying for an elegant, five-star ocean view, incredible service, and the same attention a birthday boy gets when the pig trough is delivered at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour. For a few minutes, every eye in range is focused on you and your garish drink choice, which is worth every penny.

A few classic martini variations exist on the magical booze cart, all of which land on the traditional side. Choose either Ketel One vodka or Nolet’s Gin, a house blend of Dolin and Noilly Prat Vermouths, clean or dirty as hell, and a garnish (candied rose petal, olives, olive oil or an atomized spritz of mint).

A sidecar is left chilled for further drinking. Photo by Greg Nagel

I went pornographic with mine, opting for the added viscosity of extra-virgin olive oil, and I was not disappointed.

“This is Orange County; vermouth is a very scary thing for a lot of people,” notes longtime bartender Jenny Buchhagen.

A quarter- or half-ounce of vermouth in a martini is rare these days; my tablemate repeated the age-old meme “Please just whisper the word vermouth into my glass, and I’ll be fine.”

Vermouth, after all, is an aperitif that can prepare you for any degree of food-induced veracity, and Bourbon Steak has plenty to pair with it. In true Lucille Bluth fashion, I started with Michael’s ahi tuna tartare with Asian pear, pine nuts, scotch bonnet, mint and sesame, a dish served conveniently with toast. “May I prepare this for you, sir?” asked my server.

“Yes, please,” I replied, balking at the thought of doing actual work for a $26 menu item.

If there were a perfect Orange County meal, a tableside martini and server-prepared ahi tuna with toast would be it. This is all for you, Lucille. Anyone know how to get Ron Howard to narrate an OC Weekly article?

Bourbon Steak is located inside the Monarch Beach Resort, 1 Monarch Beach Resort N., Dana Point, (949) 234-3900.

Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest. When not writing about, photographing or filming beer, cocktails, and food, he can be found talking trash while playing Battlefield V under the name “OCBeer.”

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