Chicken Dinner

Award-winning cocktails, as served at RM Seafood in Mandalay Place, $14

RM Seafood lead barman J.R. Starkus is killing it on the mixology competition circuit. He recently took first place in not one, but two recent competitions in conjunction with the United States Bartenders’ Guild.

For his winning entry in the Las Vegas finals of the inaugural Campari Best Aperitivo Competition, Starkus threw down the Hammer, which, unlike its name, is delicate and floral. To make every ingredient count, he collaborated with RM Seafood chefs including his own brother, executive chef Chris Starkus, and Justin Klauba, infusing Campari with pineapple and thyme by using the sous vide method. “The taste is distinctly Campari,” Starkus says, “with beautiful undertones of pineapple, thyme and St-Germain all playing nicely together.”

Staying with the iconic tropical harbinger of summer fun, Starkus again employed pineapple, this time for the Las Vegas finals of the 2012 Don Q Mix It Up Ultimate Mixology Challenge. Don Q Coco was the perfect playmate for freshly squeezed pineapple juice, Aztec Chocolate bitters, lime and St-Germain elderflower liqueur. This time, “the taste is delightfully coconut,” Starkus says, “with a beautiful hint of pineapple, and undertones of chocolate spice.”

Dare we say, vacation in a glass?

The Hammer

In a cocktail shaker, combine 1½ ounces thyme- and pineapple-infused Campari, 1 ounce St-Germain elderflower liqueur, 2-3 dashes Fee Brothers grapefruit bitters, half an egg white, ½ ounce Skyy vodka and ½ ounce fresh lemon juice. Cover and dry shake. Add ice, cover and shake again. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a bouquet of fresh thyme wrapped in a swath of grapefruit peel.

Thyme- and Pineapple-Infused Campari

Vacuum seal equal parts in grams of Campari and small cubes of pineapple with 5-6 sprigs of thyme and boil at a constant temperature of 155 degrees for 1 hour. Remove and let cool. Strain off pineapple and thyme, reserving the Campari for use.

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Lonely Palm

In a cocktail shaker, combine 1½ ounce Don Q Coco rum, ½ ounce St-Germain elderflower liqueur, ½ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice, ½ ounce Trader Vic’s orgeat syrup, 2-3 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate bitters and 1 ounce freshly pressed pineapple juice. Add ice, cover, shake and strain into a chilled coup glass. Garnish with an edible orchid studded with a mint sprig.

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Ones to Watch

Even though both competitions were blind tastings, the lineup in the winner’s circle was nearly identical: First place, J.R. Starkus of RM Seafood; second place (Don Q)/third place (Campari), Nathan Greene of the Cosmopolitan; and second place (Campari)/third place (Don Q), Roger Gross of the Cosmopolitan. Definitely keep an eye on this trio!