by Chrissy Iley
Matt Biancaniello is a cocktail chef. A pioneer, a new breed, an innovator, and a genius. I do not use that word lightly. There is no one in the world doing what he’s doing.
He not only scours farmers markets, he forages for stinging nettles, sage, candy cap mushroom, he has his own bees making honey and he uses it to marinate gin, tequila, bourbon, genever.
Every Wednesday you can find him at the lovely Cliff’s Edge in Silverlake, Los Angeles, where he joins chef Vartan Abgaryan. They both used to work together at the Roosevelt Hotel. Vartan in its kitchen and Matt in the Library Bar.
You imagine that Matt must have been born to make cocktails with such subtlety, ingenuity and ease, but he actually only started a few years ago and now is being hailed as the best cocktail maker in the world and the world’s first cocktail chef.
Cliff’s Edge is like eating in Hansel and Gretel’s witch’s cottage – gothic, quirky, wooded. The food menu is gorgeous, and watching Matt at the bar is sensational.
On the menu is a cocktail made from his stinging nettle gin; perfumed, edgy, ridiculously gorgeous. His arugula gimlet which he calls the Rockette is probably the best cocktail I’ve ever tasted. It takes you to another place, it comes from a very creative mind.
He forages five days a week. He is the cutting edge of cool. The five Michelin star of the cocktail world. He is obsessive about the seasons and bringing the flavours of the wild.
He has a book deal with Random House. Foraged cocktails will be a big part of it.
He says, ‘My mother was an alcoholic. She didn’t care what she drank. What I’m trying to do is recreate my own relationship with alcohol and trying to teach people to think lovingly about what they drink.’
Next up I taste his candy cup bourbon. Who would have thought mushrooms and whiskey would taste like vintage caramel. ‘When I started in the library bar I’d never bar tended before. I didn’t know how to make a Cosmopolitan. The cocktails were $15. They weren’t worth $15. So I started going to the farmer’s markets to find something good to put in the drinks. When the owner tasted them she thought they were amazing.’
He’s won a lot of competitions and there is a TV show in the works of foraging for cocktails all over the world. When he started at Cliff’s Edge they did a special menu where every course was a cocktail, a drinkable lunch. A cocktail based on a Caesar salad. It was called A Day In Seven Courses. There was even a breakfast cocktail.
He makes alcoholic ice creams. ‘The candy cap mushroom and bourbon ice cream had organic walnuts and it sold out in two hours.
His next plan is to learn how to make cheese. For now there’s an excellent cheese selection with fruit and nut bread on the menu. The Brussels sprouts fried with hazelnuts, horseradish, lemon and yoghurt is possibly the best $9 you’ll ever spend. The black kale salad with almonds, pickled raisins, parmesan and breadcrumbs is shockingly delicious. My friend ordered charred octopus with fennel, grapefruit and smoked paprika and thought it was heavenly.
We ate these perched at the bar watching the theatre of the cocktails and Matt’s regulars vied for space and the remains of the candy cap whiskey. Another was asking for his foraged mimosa, another for his alcoholic gazpacho, which marinates for eight hours overnight.
Cliff’s Edge had a vibrant bohemian crowd and friendly atmosphere. The full dinner menu looked equally gorgeous. People raved about the roast skate wing with cauliflower, vadouvan, cilantro and lime ($25), and monkfish with chorizo and squash risotto ($27) and the venison with beets, black peppercorns and huckleberry ($27).
Vartan and Matt are an incredible creative pairing.
Cliff’s Edge Café, 3626 West Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles CA 90026. 323-666-6116. cliffsedgecafe.com