For those with just a mild knowledge of Spanish, yes, leche de tigre translates to “milk of the tiger”. But that is not exactly what TONY recommended trying at the relatively new Latin restaurant Yerba Buena.
Leche de tigre refers to the leftover fish liquid after the kitchen finishes making the ceviche. Ceviche is raw fish that has been marinated in citrus juices with spices and flavorings. And so, after the fish is served, you’re left with the leche de tigre. It’s a traditional starter in Peruvian cuisine, but not one you find too often around New York.
And I never would have found it at Yerba Buena if it wasn’t for Time Out’s list. Because this cocktail is not listed on the menu. I asked the extremely friendly maitre’d Giovanny about it and he said he created this version especially for the magazine. Which leads me to believe this is not something they make very often (and that it’s only available at the Avenue A location). The waiter said he had to check with the kitchen and Giovanny promised me he would make me one.
Now what makes this different than the traditional leche de tigre is that the bartenders add some pisco before they shake it up. Do I have to explain everything? Pisco is a grape brandy originating in South America.
The cocktail had a creamy grayish tint. The flavors were sweet at first and then briny and fishy. It sounds gross, but it was actually quite subtle and delicious.
Then, Giovanny brought over a second round because he said the first one didn’t have enough heat and it wasn’t made properly. This one looked identical, but had more balanced flavors and a stronger hot pepper presence. It was just the right amount of spice for a drink (you don’t want drinks that are too spicy). But believe it or not, I actually preferred the original one because I didn’t get as much of that rich brine flavor with all those peppers.
But regardless, this was a drink that was bold and tasty and really unique. Giovanny was incredibly hospitable and excited to share some flavors with us. And this is exactly what I hope and expect from the Time Out list: something surprising and delicious. Who would have thought tiger’s milk (or fish juice, as the case may be) would be so delicious?
Would Yerba Buena’s Leche de Tigre make my Top 100 of the year? I give it a 9 out of 10 because it was refreshingly unique and both surprised and pleased my eager taste buds.