Twenty lucky brunchers went bone lugeing at Graze and L'Etoile on Sunday, March 25.
The "bone luge" is a cocktail trend launched by Jacob Grier, bartender at the Portland, Oregon, restaurant Metrovino. The protocol is simple: consume beef marrow with friends and use the resulting bone chute to pour drinks into one's mouth.
The hilariously-named activity spread instantly, thanks to the Internet, garnering a following as well as its own Twitter presence (@boneluge and #boneluge) and Tumblr (boneluge.com). Almost immediately the phenomenon ran into resistance. Critics faulted it both for its vulgar frat-like display as well as its perceived decadent elitism -- bone marrow alone can cost upwards of $15 and the accompanying drink can approach the same -- making it $30 at least just to participate.
Kat Kinsman of CNN's Eatocracy blog has gone so far as to openly refuse to cover the trend. Kinsman, who (ironically) has the image of a bone marrow spoon tattooed on her body, says flatly "not all ideas are good ones."
It is precisely such reaction that has helped drive the trend. But more, bone luging has been fueled by the need to bring humor to a craft cocktail movement has been in danger of collapsing under its own weight. It was time to bring fun back, and the bone luge has offered the perfect blend of foodiness and silliness.
Controversy aside, imbibing through marrow bone is delicious. As the liquid travels the meaty sluice, it picks up bits of fat -- which results in a magical merger of beef and booze. Arguably the most successful pairing is fortified wine: sherry, madeira, and port. The sweet raisin flavors heighten the rich smoky beef fat and the tastes co-mingle into a surprisingly novel combination that is more than the sum of its parts.
I heard about the bone luge as it spread to Bar & Kitchen in Los Angeles and Prime Meats in Brooklyn. By then the story had been picked-up by TastingTable as well as Eater. Almost anywhere marrow and the resulting bones were on a menu, early adopters were using them to luge.
A ridiculous trend with potential culinary value? I had to try it.
In late February, I approached Talish Barrow, general manager of Graze, because I knew there was marrow already on the menu, and that Graze provided the ideal setting. Our first conversation took us across the hall to L'Etoile, where we surveyed the modern arced bar and contemplated a menu: Prix fixe with specialty cocktails for a small number of participants.
This past Sunday, March 25, twenty guests gathered for the feast that chef Tory Miller and sous chef Douglas Neuschwanger had prepared.
First, participants were greeted with a tangerine and champagne cocktail. It was pulpy and reminiscent of Tang in the best possible way, playful and citrusy. Next, the first course arrived as an oblong plate strewn with bright green salt (achieved with parsley) in which two oysters and a tall shot glass of tarragon vodka had been embedded. It was visually lush and smelled like spring. While one oyster remained raw and oceanic in its accompanying tarragon mignonette, the other was served breaded in cornmeal -- crunchy, dense and delicious. It was a study in flavor contrasts and verdant green.
Bartender Ruben Mendez had created a special cocktail menu for the event, and after the oysters, guests ordered freely from the menu: Sazeracs, fresh berry cocktails, smoky Laphroaig martinis, crisp white Alsatian wines, and more bubbling champagne.
The second course dazzled with its focus: shrimp and grits, but the "shrimp" was a maximally juicy, sizzling, disk of compound butter and protein that had the mouth feel of sweetbreads. It exuded warm umami flavor over cheesy grits and prepared us for the even richer marrow.
For the finale, two enormous marrow bones appeared topped with shallot, micro-greens, and -- decadently -- paddle fish caviar. They were joined on the plate by Naked Elm Bakery everything bagel chips.
The caviar provided a salty pop to the earthy marrow, which spread easily and luxuriously on the crunchy bagel chips. It was buttery with rich and lusty beef flavors.
A glass of Lustau sherry was placed at each setting, and soon guests felt moved to begin their luges. Some guests proceeded alone, controlling their own shot, and others did it as couples or groups. Cheers erupted with every raised white and gory bone; cameras flashed.
It was at once glamorous and primal, everyone hesitant at first but then utterly enamored by the succulent flavor. A trend, sure -- but also a bawdy and brash culinary experience worthy of Bacchus.