Welcome to Front & Center, a series highlighting front of the house professionals in Los Angeles restaurants. Right now: Blogger Caroline on Crack on Jaymee Mandeville of Drago Centro:
For the longest time, whenever I thought about where to drink downtown, I admit that Drago Centro NEVER came to mind. It's a fine dining restaurant focused on pasta and wine, plus it's in an area of DTLA not really conducive to barhopping. Even when Michael Shearin was the beverage director and enticed cocktail bloggers with his neo-classic drink menus and all-day happy hour, it felt like a haul to get to that bar stool.
However, when then head bartender Jaymee Mandeville took over as bar manager and made the cocktail program her own, suddenly Drago was on my drink radar. In fact, those who still overlook DC for downtown drinking are losing out by not partaking in her seasonal menus which are filled with well-crafted cocktails that run the gamut of comfortingly familiar to mind-blowingly unique.
Just off her summer menu, there's an approachable Vieux Carre made with lighter ingredients, and an unusual bourbon cocktail with a strawberry shrub, cherry tomatoes and toasted fennel tincture. In spring she came up with a "tomato-less" Bloody Mary using an heirloom tomato shrub and squid ink syrup. Her cocktail list reads like a fine dining menu. I honestly can't wait to see/taste what she comes up with for fall.
Amazingly, unlike some of her more buzzed-about colleagues, Jaymee doesn't have a pedigree from a New York City craft cocktail bar nor the cachet of a name bartender mentor. In fact, her background has some fashion stylist in it, some law school, as well as bartending gigs in a golf course and sports bars. But this petite OC native manages to channel all those interests (as well as her BarSmarts certification and sommelier and cicerone skills) to dream up crazy concoctions that take you way outside the box.
And oddly enough, the girl is still a hidden gem. Even after receiving accolades, like an award for one of the top trend-setting mixologists at this year's Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, there are always seats available at her bar. After all, folks primarily still go to DC to dine, so you never really have to fight for elbow room to get her attention. Hm, their loss, my gain.
If you want to check Jaymee out for yourself, you can find her behind the bar every night from 5 p.m. to close, except on Tuesdays and Sundays.
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