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Eiko's general manager Fellippe Esteves uses liquid nitrogen in cocktails and desserts

TUESDAY JAN. 31, 2012 NAPA, CA - The Edible Nitro Caipirina by Eiko's general manager Fellippe Esteves uses liquid nitrogen to create a slushee cocktail of Brazilian rum, lime juice, soda water and sugar. Jorgen Gulliksen/Register

Liquid nitrogen has myriad uses. According to Wikipedia, it can be used to shrink-weld machinery parts and cooling high temperature super-conductors; to dispose of dead bodies and to increase the sensitivity of infrared homing seeker heads of missiles. Another suggested use is for “cryonic preservation in the hope of future reanimation.”

In Napa, however, one inventive restaurant manager uses it to make cocktails. 

Order a Nitro Capirinha or a Mojito of the Future  at Eikos restaurant — where the motto is “adventures served daily” — and the server will wheel up a cart to your table, pour out some liquid nitrogen and proceed to mix your drink table-side amid the eerie clouds of mist.

“I just thought we should bring a little drama back (to restaurants),” explained General Manager Fellippe Esteves, who moved to Napa to open the restaurant last year.

Drama? Yes. “Macbeth,” comes to mind. 

Esteves hails from Brazil by way of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, so a serving of showmanship in his restaurant might be expected. Esteves says he successfully served up these concoctions in other restaurants, and they are proving a hit in Napa too.

The Nitro Capirinha, a mixture of Brazilian rum, lime juice  and  Yuzo sour mixed in the nitrogen gets a garnish of mint. For the Mojito of the future (Flor de Cana rum, lime juice and mint, he  creates his own version of amusement park Dipping Dots.

It always creates a stir, he said. “Everyone turns to look and watch,” he said. 

For the under-21 crowd, Esteves will also spin up ice cream lollipops and another spectacle, he came upon by accident: nitro popcorn.

“I dropped some into the bowl (of liquid nitrogen),” he said. “I didn’t want to waste it, so I tasted it.” To the delight of those around him, he said, smoke poured out of his nose, dragon-style.

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This has become a standard crowd-pleaser. Esteves has been hired to do birthday parties and bridal showers, he said.

It’s all part of making yourself stand-out in the increasingly competitive world of the Napa scene, said Esteves, who helped transform the former Piccolino’s Restaurant on First Street into a stylish Japanese restaurant that serves sushi and sashimi as well as “Japanese tapas.” 

While Japanese specialties might not come to mind as a traditional pairing for Napa Valley wines, the restaurant nonetheless does complement its extensive sake list with local and international wines, with an emphasis on sparkling and white wines. Served by the glass they range from a Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc ($15) to a Darcie Kent Gruner Veltliner ($8). Trefethen’s riesling ($9) , Kennefick Ranch viognier ($14) and Swanson pinot grigio ( $13) also are on the list. 

They may not make you wonder if you are going to turn into a frog if you take a sip, as the nitro cocktails ($14) might suggest to the overly imaginative, but these wines can be pleasant companions for Japanese cuisine.

Eiko’s exotic cocktails, however, remain an alluring alternative. It should be noted that not all of the Eiko’s cocktails come smoking with liquid nitrogen. The list (all $11) also includes a Dragon Cosmo (vodka, St. Germaine liqueur, cranberry juice and lime with a honeysuckle lavender sugar rim); the Blushing Geisha (Lychee vodka, lychee puree and watermelon and apple juice); and the Samurai (pear liqueur, vodka, ginger beer and lemon juice). 

“People are looking for adventures,” Esteves said. “They are looking for fun. And I am having fun doing this.”

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