The Columbia Room has gone off the deep end, but we don’t mean that in the bad way. Their tasting room menu has always contained a healthy dose of whimsy, but its latest iteration is easily their most experimental. While past menus drew inspiration from springtime in Paris or art pieces at the Hirshhorn, for their newest menu (titled “Spectrum”), Dereck Brown and his team have been motivated by national phenomena like sound, color, flavor and time. These open ended concepts have given them the freedom to get even weirder and more avant-garde than in the past, creating a tasting that feels like dinner and a show. Nothing is obvious and you never know what they’re going to bring out next.
The first round kicks off with one of the most exciting concepts, Sound. The cocktail is a combination of the aperitif Cap Corse Blanc, Copper & Kings brandy, fino sherry, verjus (unripened grape juice) and a citrus ash. Poured into what looks like a giant punch bowl, the bartender runs a pestle around the outside of the bowl, creating a deep and resonant tone that stirs the cocktail. The drink that comes out is brimming with fragrance, but subtle and delicate in taste. The Columbia Room chose Copper & Kings brandy for this section of the menu, because they play music to the brandy while it ages. While there’s no reason to believe this affects the flavor of the liquor, it’s an interesting technique nonetheless.
After enjoying the boozy iced tea-esque quality of Sound, we’re faced with a choice. Color, the next round, has three options. Red, white or green. The flavors that accompany the colors are based off a survey taken by every Drink Company employee. They were asked to explain what they thought red, white and green tastes like and from those notes, these drinks were born. Although we only tasted White and Green, it was interesting to see how my own thoughts on what those colors should taste like clouded my perception. To me, White was creamy and bright, like a classier Piña Colada and Green was herbaceous, fresh and vegetal. Paired with our colors were candied cherries that looked sweet and sugary, but were actually made of bell pepper and thai basil for the ultimate sweet / savory reversal.
In some ways, the Flavor round feels like the opposite of Color. Instead of going for one specific taste, Flavor attempts to combine sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness, and umami all in one sip. Made with a wild blueberry amaro, bitter orange, matsutake mushroom, salt, sugar and vitamin c, the result is a cocktail that looks like a savory soup and tastes like a fresh bowl of fruit. It’s a confusing drink to say the least, the kind that changes with every sip. Paired with the cocktail is Cape Gooseberries, tomato, sugar-cured cucumbers and elderflower, a dish that’s just as dynamic.
Fittingly, the last course is Time. This final round includes the most straightforward application of the concept and features the same cocktail, one made with young beeswax and the other made with aged beeswax. They both have a rich, digestif quality, but the young cocktail has a bright dryness and the older cocktail digs into that richness, creating something that’s a little more heady. This came with the favorite food pairing of the night, a pear made with kaolin (a mineral), black cocoa, black sesame, marshmallow, and yuzu. The ashy texture hides a bright, firm pear that’s filled with flavor. Cutting into the dessert is like digging through cinders to find a bright slice of greenery.
The Columbia Room is getting weirder and weirder with each new menu. We can’t wait to see how deep the rabbit hole goes.