Camino's Old Cuban Is the Perfect Summer Drink
Spirited Away fancies rum and muddled mint this month.
Bartenders Martha Chong and Tyler Vogel.
Oakland’s celebrated Camino is named for the fire over which its food is cooked—“camino” means “fireplace” in Italian—but it may as well be named for the discernible route each ingredient takes to your table. And there are other, more circuitous roads being mapped at the wide-open, woody Grand Avenue restaurant. “One of the things that makes this place unique,” says bartender Martha Chong, “is the relationship between the kitchen and the bar and the pastry department, all sharing ingredients.”
In April, for example, she and bar manager Tyler Vogel made grapefruit syrup from the leavings that result from the process by which the kitchen candies grapefruit peels to include on its candy plate. “Why would you waste all that?” asks Vogel. Plus, adds Chong, “It makes the best gin fizz in the world.” Grapefruit syrup, they point out, is something that’s not even available commercially. They’ve also made syrups from lemon, lime, pomelo—if it’s used in the kitchen, its peels get used in the bar. All bitters and syrups are house-made except for the gum syrup—but they’re working on that, too. Truly, nothing goes unused: The leftovers from the house-made Angostura-style bitters are cut with simple syrup to create a bitters syrup, used in July’s cocktail of the month.
“It feels powerful,” says Chong, “to use every part, to not compost anything until you’ve done everything possible.”
It’s a tremendous test of the bartenders’ creativity, to repurpose and reimagine within Camino’s self-imposed purchasing limitations and with an eye toward extreme reuse. Vogel designs the bar program—with drinks designated by main ingredient rather than by fancy names, to put the focus on the spirit—but Chong is encouraged to brainstorm new cocktails and ingredient uses as well. “It’s an incredibly generous atmosphere in which to work,” she says. “There’s a set of values and principles that go along with everything, and a high level of quality in everything we do. This is the best stuff you can get.”
Of course, with the best ingredients and an atmosphere of invention, there’s personal risk. “If something doesn’t taste good,” says Vogel, “you can blame it on yourself.”
Luckily July’s cocktail of the month tastes pretty good, and it’s about as summer-seasonal as you can get. Unofficially called an Old Cuban, the perfectly balanced delight includes mint (not always available according to Camino’s strict local ingredient policy, which extends to a plot of land on the other side of Grand Avenue where some neighbors grow herbs like borage and lovage for the restaurant) and a lighter rum than the 12-year-old molasses-based one they use in the winter.
5 to 6 mint leaves
1 1/2 ounce La Favorite Rhum Agricole Vieux
3/4 ounce lime juice
1/2 ounce Angostura simple syrup
Delmas Blanquette de Limoux sparkling wine
Muddle mint. Add rum, lime juice, and syrup; shake for 5 seconds. Finely strain over ice. Top with sparkling wine.