Clark Food & Wine's Spicy Apple Cooler Is So Spicy, and Good, but Could Be Great

The interior of Clark Food & Wine does not appeal to my bohemian sensibilities. It is too clean, too organized, and a place that I am likely to get kicked out of for swearing too loudly after several cocktails. Bars, in my estimation, are not intended to be neat and tidy places; this one very much is.

This is not an indictment of the concept, only an observation made on a recent visit. A row of mason jars filled with cocktail accoutrements like limes and cherries were tediously unscrewed and then closed again as each cocktail was garnished. This is the kind of place that is considered casual by people who ordinarily have their food brought to them by men in gloves.

I made it to the bar without too much incident, even if I was sorely underdressed. Dallas, even when it is oppressively cold, dresses to the nines for dinner. On my first visit, there were booths and tables filled with couples on dates, young families that looked to be made of ticky-tacky, and single dudes attempting to impress twenty-somethings with their knowledge of the horoscope.

I found refuge in the cocktail menu. It is short, but that makes sense. Clark's focus is on wine. I settled on the Spicy Apple Cooler; I thought a little capsaicin might warm me up after being out in the frigid air. When my cocktail arrived, a huge chunk of jalapeno indicated that I would be getting warmer than I'd anticipated.

The apple flavor, from some kind of cider or juice, was prominent and crisply sweet. Unfortunately, it wasn't able to stand up to the extremely spicy slice of jalapeno, which floated in my glass with its capsaicin-laced seeds intact. The first sip of the cocktail was refreshing and only slightly spicy, but subsequent gulps required an almost immediate chaser of water. Then, I wised up and realized that I could take the offending slice out of the glass to keep it from further infusing into the booze.

That turned out to be a wise decision. Removing the jalapeno maintained some of the drink's apple and citrus flavors, and I didn't have to worry about accidentally drinking an errant seed. Still, the damage was done, and the drink was too spicy to finish. The addition of fresh jalapeno seems to be the misstep here. Fresh jalapenos are inconsistent, some much spicier than others, which means that the cocktail's flavors are off balance if the slice of pepper you find in your glass is too spicy or too mild.

This crucial ingredient would probably be better suited as in infusion into the cocktail's vodka base, or mixed with sugar and heat to create a spicy simple syrup instead of just being plopped into the middle of a glass. The chunks of apple that float along side the jalapeno are harmless enough, but looked somewhat browned from having sat in a service well. On three different tastings of this cocktail, the garnish was as inconsistent as the flavors. Sometimes the slice of jalapeno was razor-thin, other times it looked like it had been hacked away from the rest of the pepper by an angry giant.

There's a lot of potential here, and the rest of Clark Food & Wine's cocktail menu. Maybe I can chalk it up to the restaurant only being open for a few months, and maybe they will refine their process and find a way to add the jalapeno flavor to this extremely promising cocktail with a little more nuance. If they don't, they run the risk of scorching customers' taste buds off before the first plate hits the table.