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Cocktail review: Toutant's Vieux Carre

Looking for a classic creation made by expert cocktail artists? Try Toutant, Buffalo’s newest comfort food favorite.

Toutant is the brainchild of Chef James Roberts, with a cuisine inspired by low-country Southern fare and favorites from Louisiana bayou country.

Bartender Jeff Yanuzzi has curated the bar to match, with a selection of both traditional standards and original creations alongside a truly impressive whiskey and bourbon library. It’s only fitting that the bar should serve the Vieux Carre alongside its jambalaya, po’ boys and hush puppies for a classic French Quarter experience.

Peering straight down at the Vieux Carre, with the menu peeking out in the background. (Lizz Schumer/Special to The News)

Peering straight down at the Vieux Carre, with the menu peeking out in the background. (Lizz Schumer/Special to The News)

Toutant has gotten a lot of buzz since it opened almost two months ago, and for good reason. The food is just short of superb, and the bar alone is worth a visit. Yanuzzi aims to make its whiskey and bourbon selection one-of-a-kind, and bartenders are happy to recommend a special bottle. Yanuzzi has worked alongside Bourbon & Butter’s Tony Rials and at Mes Que on Hertel. He sought to assemble “a complex, yet approachable offering” that, in line with Toutant’s middle-class dining mission, won’t break Buffalo budgets.

Vieux Carre is a nickname for New Orleans’ French Quarter, the inspiration for the drink. It was invented in 1938 by bartender Walter Bergeron at the famed Monteleone Hotel, one of the grandest in New Orleans. It’s home to the Carousel Lounge, where guests can sip while they spin slowly around the barkeeps.

View of the Vieux Carre from the bar at Toutant. (Lizz Schumer/Special to The News)

View of the Vieux Carre from the bar at Toutant. (Lizz Schumer/Special to The News)

The cocktail is traditionally made with a blend of rye and cognac, sweet vermouth, a dash each of Peychaud’s and angostura bitters and a teaspoon of Benedictine.

Toutant’s is made with Old Overholt rye, a standard in most bars these days, which has a rich, toasty flavor that plays up the sweet oakiness of the cognac. Benedictine is a 19th-century herbal liqueur developed by the French monks of the same name, and its flavor is uniquely floral and essential to an authentic Vieux Carre. If you’re usually an Old Fashioned, Manhattan or rum and coke drinker, the Vieux Carre will be right up your alley.

[See Andrew Galarneau's Starters post on Toutant]

In addition to well-crafted classics, Yanuzzi’s comfortable wood bar (custom-made for the restaurant by local woodcrafters) features a frozen daiquiri machine that spins seasonal fruit sippers. It also serves the classic Hurricane, a sweet and tasty summer standard for those who like a serving of fruit in their glasses.

Visitors should know the popular downtown restaurant is generally packed. Space at the bar and its surrounding high-tops can be limited, especially at dinner time and on weekends. But for those willing to wait (or make new friends squeezing in), Yanuzzi and Roberts have created a sweet spot indeed.

Cocktails $9; Toutant Buffalo; 437 Ellicott St.; 342-2901.

Lizz Schumer is the editor of The Sun and author of “Buffalo Steel.” She covers food, drinks and whimsy for a variety of publications. Lizz can be found online at lizzschumer.com, facebook.com/authorlizzschumer or @eschumer .

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