It takes at least an hour to transform SoHo bagels-and-lox mecca Sadelle’s into a swanky, sparkling restaurant after dark, as the staff piles the long communal marble table high with tall candelabras and sparkling crystal bowls and glasses galore, creating a baroque tablescape. And then again at the end of the night, to whisk the opulence away behind closed doors.
Sadelle’s nighttime transformation.
Of course, the team behind ZZ’s Clam Bar and Carbone (Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick) are known for dramatic presentation. Here, flanked by “bagel whisperer” and baker Melissa Weller and cocktail whiz Thomas Waugh, Sadelle’s offers similar drama.
It’s not about gin or whiskey; amid “caviar service” towers and platters of oysters, the drinks program focuses squarely on vodka.
“It’s my first vodka program,” Waugh admits. “I’ve never had a vodka cocktail on any of my menus.”
Tall candelabras and sparkling crystal bowls set the scene for Sadelle’s vodka program.
But this is no vodka soda line-up: It’s a vodka menu fit for Russian royalty. The vodkas are served direct from the freezer, a coating of ice still around the bottle, pouring almost syrupy. “We’re adamant about serving them ice cold,” Waugh explains.
While a handful of vodkas are available to purchase by the full bottle (including Jewel of Russia, Karlsson’s Gold, Belvedere Unfiltered, Stoli Elit, Tito’s and Grey Goose), the real draw is the house-infused vodkas, presented in cut crystal 15-ounce carafes cradled in ice and served tableside.
“It feels very 1990s to be doing an infused vodka program,” Waugh concedes. “But no one was paying attention then. People had gross bottles on the back bar for show.”
One of Waugh’s savory vodka infusions made with cucumber and Tellicherry black pepper.
A tremendous amount of precision goes into these infusions. You won’t find flavorings carelessly tossed into a Mason jar, left to infuse for months until they pickle, nor any commercial candy-flavored vodkas. These ingredients are carefully sourced, like honeycomb from a local bee farmer (think “Russian Czar visits farmhouse,” Waugh jokes), and allowed to infuse in vodka for no longer than 24 hours. “It’s like steeping tea,” Waugh explains. “You want the raw essence of flavor.”
The end result is a bold, delicate flavor. Savory infusions include cucumber and Tellicherry black pepper, spicy horseradish—ideal for pairing with oysters and olive-infused vodka—made with luscious Castelvetrano olives, showcased in a tangy, briny martini garnished with a single giant olive stuffed with blue cheese. Sweet vodka infusions include pomelo, pineapple and apricot; and (shhh), sometimes additional off-menu infusions pop up, depending on what’s in season.
This Castelvetrano olive–infused vodka is showcased in a briny Martini at Sadelle’s.
Of course, cocktails are part of the show too. In addition to that luscious olive-infused Martini, top sellers include the lightly sweet Siberian Smash, made with two infused vodkas (cucumber and black pepper as well as shiso-infused), plus apple brandy. Another seller is the tiki-like Tommy Pineapple (named for its creator, Waugh), made with pineapple-infused vodka, mandarin orange and lime.
Though it’s still a fledgling operation—Sadelle’s opened for breakfast and lunch this past September and for dinner and drinks in November—NYC’s cool kids are already flocking for caviar and late-night vodka drinks. Not bad for a bartender’s first vodka menu.
“I’m proud of it,” Waugh says, adding, “I’ve grown to appreciate vodka.”