Matthew Biancaniello has worked as a magazine ad salesman, an underwater photographer and a zookeeper’s assistant at the Neverland Ranch. The last place he thought he’d find himself was tending bar, much less creating award-winning culinary cocktails at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel — especially given that one of his parents was an alcoholic and that Biancaniello himself has a tumultuous history with food.
Now he finds himself on the cutting edge of a new trend: cocktails made with eggs. Or, in this case, served in eggshells. He’s collaborating with the folks at Bar Keeper in Silver Lake to turn emu eggshells, which have a gorgeous blue-green hue and a texture similar to the skin of an avocado, into cups for sipping cocktails. (See Page D27 for his Indian Summer cocktail recipe.) “We have to coat it, file [the rim of the eggshell] down, add a mouthpiece to make it safe and sanitary,” he says. He plans to introduce the innovative drinking vessels in February.
So though eggs are being used elsewhere to create foams and to add body to drinks, or are served pickled or even fried on top of drinks, Biancaniello has made eggs part of the drink and part of the service.
It makes sense that Biancaniello would make food a part of his bartending experience. He wrote, directed and starred in a short film about his struggle with binge eating, called “The Breadbasket.” He earned the money to fund his movie, which was part of the avant-garde filmmaking movement Dogme 95, by eating maggots, cow excrement and other cringe-worthy horrors on programs such as “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” and “The Tonight Show.” His nicknames: “The Human Garbage Can” and “The Man Who’ll Eat Anything.”
All that is behind Biancaniello, 41, who cleaned up his act after falling ill after eating raw chicken feet. Now you’ll find him — 50 pounds slimmer — creating his specialties at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel’s diminutive Library Bar on Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
Set against a backdrop of dark woods and red lights, Biancaniello works swiftly to serve a multitude of delicacies: pomegranate seeds marinated in Grand Marnier and served on scallop shells, rock candy made of Aperol, heart-shaped martini gelées and bourbon infused with shiitake mushrooms. By April, he’d like to start serving something he’ll call the Humpty Dumpty, a cocktail made of vanilla bean-infused bourbon, almond-infused cherry liqueur, cream, egg whites and lecithin, which he’ll freeze using liquid nitrogen into popcorn-size bits. “I’ll serve it in an ostrich egg,” he says of the concoction, which will cost $25 and serve two.
His unusual drinks (most of which are priced at $15) are composed of such ingredients as sage, arugula and aged balsamic vinegar.
One specialty is the Ham on Rye, made with prosciutto-infused bourbon, black maple walnut liqueur and cornichons. For Biancaniello, it’s the most enjoyable — and safest — way for him to interact with food. In fact, he used his own money and free time at first to revamp the bar from sour mixes to homemade syrups and the types of fresh produce his Greek and Italian family raised him on in Boston.
His cocktails, he says, “are about freshness and beauty [and] not meant to be gulped.”
Biancaniello’s rise in L.A.’s burgeoning cocktail scene is especially impressive considering he began bartending only about a year and a half ago. “What changed everything for me was when my wife gave me Dale DeGroff’s ‘The Essential Cocktail’ book. That’s when I started taking things really seriously and learning about hand-crafted cocktails.”
Indeed. In August, he won the Chartreuse Sweet 16 Competition, held at the Doheny, a private club in downtown L.A. Like all of L.A.’s superstar bartenders, Biancaniello has fans, including Celina Chaunsumlit, a 26-year-old student who also works as a bartender at Backstage Bar & Grill in Culver City. “I really appreciate the complexity and dimension of the flavors,” she says. “The quality of the spirit as well as the other ingredients are robust and rich, without overpowering or competing with each other.”
Biancaniello has noticed her appreciation: “She’s been in every Sunday for the last four months.”
“I’m trying to create a bar people haven’t seen before,” says Biancaniello of his passion. “I don’t see myself doing anything else.”
Matthew Biancaniello isn’t the only bartender laying egg drinks. Here are a few more requiring the ingredient.
Allston Yacht Club
The bartenders here infuse vodka with Nueske’s applewood-smoked bacon and then pair it in a martini glass with a pickled quail egg — bringing a whole new meaning to liquid breakfast.
1320 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 481-0454
Here’s a new way to combine tea and eggs. The folks at Cafe Pierre steep a bag of Earl Grey tea in gin for one hour. They then combine the gin with egg whites and lemon juice, which they shake with ice and strain into a martini glass.
317 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach, (310) 545-5252
Casey’s Irish Pub
On Saturday mornings, Steven Allen serves a bloody mary that he says takes longer to make than to set up the whole bar. And for good reason. He pours the cocktail into a glass that he’s rimmed with brie and dipped in salt-and-chile powder mix. Then he garnishes it with a prosciutto-and-garlic-stuffed olive, pickled okra and a celery stalk filled with cream cheese. For the grand finale — among those who know to ask for it — he tops off the drink with a fried quail egg.
613 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 629-2353
Those lucky enough to get into this private cocktail bar can try Joel Black’s Peachy Keen cocktail. It’s made with Cabo Wabo reposado tequila, Cointreau and fresh lime juice, as well as egg whites that have been foamed with peach puree and peach liqueur.
714 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, phone number withheld
Guys & Dolls
Egg whites are combined with Bacardi clear rum, pineapple, pomegranate and orange juice in mixologist Josh Curtis’ cocktail, which is served in a wine glass and garnished with kiwi. The drink is called Robertson Boulevard.
8713 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 360-0290
The cocktails at Little Dom’s are good enough to eat, and the Tart is no exception. Served on the rocks, this refreshment is made with Applejack brandy, unfiltered apple juice, lemon juice, egg whites and freshly sliced apples.
2128 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 661-0055
The Golden Sun is more than what we see 99% of the time in the L.A. sky. It’s also the name of Philippe’s cocktail of bourbon, Grand Marnier, orange marmalade, lemon juice, honey, cocoa powder and egg white, served in a large, bowl-shaped wine glass.
8284 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (310) 951-1100
The Roger Room
This tiny La Cienega bar serves a host of creative drinks, including the Japanese Maple, made with Yamazaki Whisky, pure maple syrup, fresh lemon juice and egg whites. “We spray a mix of [Bacardi] 151 rum and bitters through a stencil that leaves a design in the frothy head of the drink,” says co-owner Jared Meisler.
370 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 854-1300
Saddle Peak Lodge
Mixologist Chris Barragan gives the classic Ramos Fizz a spin with his Bloody Good version made with Charbay Blood Orange vodka, lemonade, lime juice, orange flower water, vanilla extract, cream Brazilian azucar and, yes, a heaping scoop of whipped egg whites.
419 Cold Canyon Road, Calabasas, (818) 222-3888
Switching up a gimlet by opting for vodka instead of gin isn’t exactly adventurous. Adding white peach juice and basil ups the ante a little bit. But topping it with pasteurized egg whites — now that’s taking it somewhere new.
10850 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 470-1539
This Santa Monica joint shakes up something called the Rattlesnake: mescal, fresh lime juice and pineapple juice, mint, egg whites and sugar. Although it won’t bite, it could leave you with a hangover if gulped too fast.
119 Broadway, Santa Monica, (310) 395-6037
Published in Brand X and The Los Angeles Times in January 2010. Learn more about my work at Brand X.