The Columbia Room is a small cocktail bar tucked away in a DC alley that has a list of awards and credits including the Spirited Award’s Best American Cocktail Bar, the Washington Post’s Best Bar in DC, two years running and a James Beard semifinalist. This is the first bar I’ve seen with a tasting menu, so I booked a seat for me and a friend and thought I’d see what the fuss was about. ~$110 each, all inclusive.
I didn’t know what to expect but I was not disappointed. The tasting menu was broken into four courses, each course had a theme and provided both a cocktail and a snack. The current theme is Spectrum which translated into four elements: sound, color, flavor, and time.
The placemat had the tasting menu laid out in an interesting design. I recognized the pattern as a cymatics pattern, a modal vibrational phenomena in which particulate scattered on a plate form shapes in response to specific sound frequencies channeled into it. Our bartender confirmed that this was indeed the lead into our first course, sound.
First Drink – Sound
Our first drink was poured into a large glass singing bowl. To mix the drink the bowl was rubbed producing a loud tone to which the drink frothed with bubbles in a specific shape in response to the tone. As the tone changed, so did the bubble shape. Very cool. The drink also included Copper and Kings Brandy which is sonicly aged in the barrel with speakers that cause internal agitation. Cap corse blanc, copper & kings brandy, fino, verjus, citrus ash.
The food pairing was called “Chakra Sprig”, a small green hand salad meant to represent the green heart chakra and compliment the drink in flavor.
Second Drink – Pick a color
For the second drink, each person must choose either white, red, or green. The bar conducted a survey as to what colors meant to different people. The three colors were chosen because they had the most consensus in interpretation. Your choice was meant to reveal something about yourself. The drink begins with a neutral base cocktail to which different accents are added to provide the color and heighten the emotional color meaning. I chose green which connected to herbaceousness and life. I can’t recall the exact recipe but it included green chartreuse.
For the food pairing, a dish called “Cherry?”. A simple translucent cherry with a stem meant to be eaten whole. The cherry was molded from a red pepper base and meant to be surprising. But the question mark after the name and the presenter’s fairly flat and rote “You are really surprised that it’s not a cherry.” dialogue really didn’t leave much room for legitimate surprise. But the cherry snack was yummy and was pretty to boot.
Third Drink – Flavor
The third drink was pretty straightforward. It was designed to evoke all five taste sensations simultaneously: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. It was definately a pungent flavor bomb but quite good. Wild blueberry amaro, bitter orange, matsutake, salt, sugar, vitamin c
The pairing was cape gooseberries, tomato, sugar-cured cucumbers, elderflower, and frozen buttermilk with a similar affect.
Fourth Drink – Time
The fourth drink was two drinks, visually identical, but created from ingredients that could be acquired at a young and old stage by the same producer to demonstrate the flavor shift over time. Madeira, cognac, tea cordial, beeswax
The food pairing was a pear prepared to look like rock and soil. Sort of coated in a grey meringue. Pear, kaolin, black cocoa, black sesame, marshmallow, yuzu.