A Love Letter to a Unique Ingredient: Pico Water | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

A Love Letter to a Unique Ingredient: Pico Water

Bar Rio's "Chips & Salsa" cocktail reimagines namesake snack

Seeing "pico water" listed among the ingredients on a cocktail menu looks more like a typo than a stroke of genius. I mean, both Siri and Alexa come up drier than a to-do list during Sober October when asked what pico water is, but now that I've had it in Bar Rio's Chips & Salsa cocktail, I can't stop gushing about it because I love it so much.

click to enlarge A Love Letter to a Unique Ingredient: 
Pico Water
Brian Yaeger

Said pico water is the liquid that most of us foolishly pour in the sink when (if) we ever make salsa fresca, aka pico de gallo, ourselves. After all, no one wants a bunch of runoff dripping off our chips and salsa. But add the agua that's mostly from diced tomatoes—additionally flavored with yellow onion, jalapeño, cilantro, garlic, cumin and salt—to a glass with tequila, fresh lime juice and an equally clever simple syrup infused with house-toasted coriander (itself dried cilantro seeds), and you've got something akin to an herbal, vegetal margarita that tastes exactly like its namesake snack. Bar Rio serves it on the rocks in a glass rimmed with Tajin seasoning blended with crushed tortilla chips and a dehydrated tomato slice for garnish.

I'm not saying other chips'n'dips need to be cocktailized—I don't particularly want to drink a glass of boozy hummus with a wedge of pita or infuse gin with onion dip served rimmed with crushed Ruffles—but this drink works so well because it hits on both fronts: the potable appetizer and the inventive libation.

Owners Steven and Amy Draheim may have turned their months-old Bar Rio into an amalgamation of their existing food service concepts—the Latin-inspired Barrio and Israeli influenced Shimshon—into celebrated Bend food trucks, but bar manager Randy Fitch has made Bar Rio into one of Bend's most exciting watering holes. When many a bar program boasts a house cocktail list seven or eight strong, Fitch composed 21 signature cocktails ($13-16 with most at $14) that cull equally from Bar Rio's Latin American, Mediterranean and Pacific Northwest roots. Chips & Salsa isn't even the most popular—that title is shared equally by "Burning Cacti" and "Smoke Jumper," according to Fitch.

The drinks are grouped by base spirits—three with whiskey as the foundation, three vodka-based ones, two for gin, and of course three featuring tequila plus three more for mezcal.

click to enlarge A Love Letter to a Unique Ingredient: 
Pico Water
Brian Yaeger

The menu is so playful and inventive, it easily gets patrons out of their comfort zones the way I, a predominantly whiskey-based cocktail fan, didn't order a single drink with bourbon or rye as its foundation. But when I sipped those, specifically the Tel Aviv Sour comprised of rye whiskey, cardamom, lemon, egg white, spiced bitters, and candied dates for what's essentially a Middle Eastern twist on a whiskey sour, I wished I had.

"We're known for giving guests an opportunity to taste flavors and concepts that are regionally unique," says Fitch. "We have an identity but we're not bound to it."

Fitch takes a lot of his inspiration from Bar Rio's kitchen. "I'd come in on (days we were closed) and just hang out in the kitchen and grab items and try small batches," says Fitch. The dark chili syrup he designed for the Burning Cacti is a riff off Barrio's famous Colorado sauce. "The food here is playful and inviting, anyone can try any dish and love it; there's nothing scary (the way only some) people love, say, foie gras. And everyone loves chips and salsa. The drink has undergone small evolutions and," warns Fitch, it is set for a refresh in April when the menu gets its seasonal makeover.

Can Bar Rio make the cocktail taste even more like its namesake? TBD. But Fitch says it will soon contain house-prepared jalapeño tequila and Ancho Reyes Verde Liqueur. I know I'll try to try them back to back, because chips and salsa are not just for eating anymore.

Bar Rio
915 NW Wall St., Bend
Sun-Wed 3-10pm, Thu-Sat 3-11pm

Brian Yaeger

Brian Yaeger is a beer author (including "Oregon Breweries"), beer fest producer and beer-tasting instructor at COCC. Because he’s working on doughnut authorship, you’ll find he occasionally reviews our local doughnut scene. Yes, he absolutely floats all summer long with a beer in one hand and a doughnut in the...
Comments (0)
Add a Comment
View All Our Picks
For info on print and digital advertising, >> Click Here