When I speak with Matthew Biancaniello on the phone one recent Tuesday, he’s busy picking fresh Cuban oregano from his Venice garden and packing up to hit the Santa Barbara Farmers Market, where he plans to shop for the pop-up bar at Sama Sama Kitchen that evening. “For me, it’s about curating everything so that I know where everything came from,” said Biancaniello, a self-taught mixologist who once owned his own bee colony, frequently forages in the Santa Monica Mountains, and visits at least five different farmers’ markets a week for ingredient inspiration.
Eat Your Drink is Biancaniello’s gorgeous new book of culinary cocktails that showcases what he’s learned since starting at the Library Bar in 2008. Biancaniello brought a mad-scientist-with-a-green-thumb kind of energy to the downtown Los Angeles bar and revamped their menu completely, infusing their drinks with fresh Santa Monica Farmers Market finds.
“My mission is to be constantly creating, finding unusual fruits and herbs that I can store in the memory banks of the cocktail enthusiast forever,” Biancaniello explains in the introduction of his book, which is organized like courses in a menu, beginning with Amuse Bouche, such as the blood-orange cheese and cracker with fig-bourbon jelly, and ending with After Dinner Drinks.
Upon seeing Biancaniello engage with guests, jump back behind the bar to muddle arugula or snip fresh flowers, and head out to present an imaginative creation that Tuesday night at Sama Sama, it became clear why Biancaniello is famous for bringing to cocktails the sushi bar concept of omakase, the practice of customer and chef — or in this case bartender — creating an experience together. “The greatest gift that I have is that I was never trained,” Biancaniello said. “Because I was never trained, I don’t think about right or wrong.”
This open-mindedness was evident in my favorite drink of the night: the Breeders’ Cup, featuring lime juice, agave, cucumbers, beet horseradish gin, applewood-smoked sea salt, and borage flowers. I wasn’t sure if I was having a drink or doing a cleanse, but I was certainly revitalized. Many others loved the Last Tango in Modena, Biancaniello’s favorite cocktail to make, featuring gin, strawberries, 25-year-old balsamic vinegar, and St. Germain foam.
“I hope that I’m sparking something inside of them to create,” Biancaniello said of his desire for Eat Your Drink readers. Indeed, the book’s eye-opening combos, such as scotch-soaked oysters and candy-cap-mushroom bourbon ice cream, are sure to inspire new ways of thinking about food, drink, and everything in between. After another pop-up at Sama Sama on August 3, Biancaniello will be opening his own place in Santa Monica sometime this fall.