Mulberry Project: Would You Like Some Food With Your Cocktail?
I will preface this review by saying that considering I had my “End of 1L” celebratory meal at The Mulberry Project, there was very little chance of me not liking this place. That being said, as objectively as possible, this place just kills it. On a Little Italy strip mostly known for it’s red-sauce Italian restaurants, knock-off sunglasses stands, and cannoli vendors, The Mulberry Project hides from sight, behind a recessed red door below street level.
The interior is small – long and narrow with a few choice black leather booths along one wall and bright red metal bar stools at the bar. A cartoon-y set of painted red lips frame the ordering window to the kitchen, and unintelligible scrawls of black graffiti cover the scarlet walls behind the bar. The dim lighting and color scheme almost give the sensation of being in an urban vampire den (read: that club from True Blood without the exotic dancers). Here, however, the focus is clearly on the booze, with “pick your poison” scribbled on the wall above the seating – the variety of specialty liqueurs and artisan liquors stacked and backlit behind the bar is staggering. In the summer, the back graffiti-decorated patio opens with room for 50.
The Mulberry Project is all about cocktails. They’re so about the cocktails that they don’t have an actual menu, and they custom-make ‘bespoke’ cocktails if you give them a few specifications (preferred liquor, any flavors you like, and so forth). The creations are nothing short of magical. A request for bourbon and slightly sweet returned a killer bourbon cocktail with maple and blackberries; when I said I liked pears, the most delicious drink I’ve ever had came back – all sparkly and tart and sweet; an elderflower junkie received a beautifully floral and tangy beverage in a vintage champagne coupe; a vague request for gin and citrus produced a muddled ginger, lemon, thyme and, of course, gin cocktail that was a serious upgrade from the gin & tonic. Drinks took awhile to come around and cost $15 each, but if you’re seriously into boozy beverages that taste fantastic, the bartenders at Mulberry Project know how to please.
Perhaps the most surprising thing though about The Mulberry Project wasn’t how delicious the cocktails were (that was expected), but instead how delicious the food was. Prepared by a former Boqueria chef, the upscale pub food is just plain good. A series of small plates meant for sharing, the menu is divided into “If By Land” and “If By Sea,” with meats dominating in the former and seafood options in the latter. In the “Land” category, the Braised Short-Rib Sliders shine – a soft roll stuffed with juicy and tender marinated beef, crunchy watercress, creamy sheep’s milk cheese, and a spicy chipotle mayo. All these flavors explode, resulting in a dish that is simultaneously savory, spicy, salty, and slightly sweet. The crispy porkbelly is also wonderful – more sophisticated than sliders, the bar food staple. Served with a crispy and bright apple ‘chip’ and fig compote, the porkbelly is succulent and addictive, a fresh, sweet and substantial bite that washes down with a pear cocktail very nicely.
The best “Sea” dish is hands-down the lobster sliders. These things avoid the pressure of being ‘lobster rolls’ by being ‘sliders’ and they’re just wonderful. The roll is soft and dripping in butter; the generous helping of lobster is pure and untainted by mayo or celery; the entire ‘lobster slider’ experience is pretty heavenly. Like any good ‘bar’ that also serves food, The Mulberry Project serves up three varieties of “fries,” all of which are delicious and must-orders. The truffle fries are the best – decadent, crispy, well-seasoned, and just about perfect. The sweet potato fries are also great – packed with flavor and a happy medium between floppy and crunchy. Last are the crispy baby artichokes, an unusual alternative to the true fries; shaped like lollipops and lightly fried, the earthy ‘fries’ are paired with an insanely good and contrasting almond romesco dipping sauce.
Yes, The Mulberry Project is small and the Rock n’ Roll-spinning DJ pumps some seriously loud music into the cramped space, but it’s hard to deny the quality of the cocktails and the tastiness of the food. The entire experience was like what I would expect from a modern-day opium den – dark and warm, the kind of place you could lose yourself in for hours, constantly plied by good food and good drink, the music getting louder as the night moves on. The only rough part of the night is when you finally decide to peel yourself off the black leather booths and to pay the bill, a more often than not staggeringly high price tag for the night.
Perfect For: celebratory drinks, faux hipsters, fat wallets, cocktail connoisseurs, fashionistas