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Shake It Up, Baby: Cuban Cocktail Is Making a Splash

Angelenos are cooling off with tall glasses of rum-lime \o7 mojitos\f7 .

August 12, 2001|MARIA ELENA FERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first mojito is believed to have been served at Hotel Sevilla in Old Havana but was made most popular by Hemingway at La Bodeguita del Medio, the one-time Havana grocery store that became a restaurant after World War II and drew poets, journalists, intellectuals and bohemians.

On Cuba's white sand beaches, particularly on Playa La Concha in Havana, the mojito struck big in the 1950s when a group of bartenders turned muddling and mixing into an assembly-line sideshow. The last bartender on the line threw the glass in the air, rotating it, before serving it to the customer.

"That sounds like a great way to do it because making the drink right is very labor intensive," says Frank Anguiano, bartender at Bar Marmont, the restaurant and bar next to the Chateaux Marmont Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. "Each one takes one to two minutes, but I can't stop making them. People order one, and pretty soon they're on their third one because it tastes like a mint lemonade, and they can't taste the alcohol. Then, all of a sudden, boom! In Hollywood, they're probably so popular because everybody here is into the natural herbs and yada yada yada. Everything in a mojito is fresh."

The key to the drink, bartenders agree, is not to rush its preparation. And to treat the mint "with tender, loving care," Fuller says. Using a pestle and mortar, bartenders gently crush the mint with the lime juice and the sugar for each drink before adding the alcohol and other ingredients.

To prepare the mint mixture in advance helps speed things along at the bar but takes away from the flavor, Fuller says. "People who like this drink are savvy enough to know that it takes a few more seconds to make. But it's like ordering a burger well done--you're willing to wait."

The drink, which is priced anywhere from $3.50 at some happy hours up to $10, is such a hit that Restoration Hardware stores sold out of its mojito mix a month into summer. Restaurants such as the Cheesecake Factory and James Beach in Venice are serving them, and even Lisa Wells, bar manager at Sushi Roku in Beverly Hills, is considering adding the drink to her list because customers keep requesting it.

Wells goes to vermont in Los Feliz for her mojito s--and her man. Her husband, bartender Kurtis Wells, makes two versions, one with Bacardi Lemon and another with Alize cognac and Absolute mandarin. "I love drinking it and having the taste of mint and sugar on my lips after," Lisa says.

Likewise, says Raffi Zerounian, who tasted his first mojito Friday night at Mojito with friends. The women in the group were mojito veterans; the men were virgins. "As Armenians, we can appreciate the mint," Zerounian joked. "It would go great with my shish kebob."

Eddie Azizian, 21, sipped his friend's drink and said, "It's not bad." Then he picked up the drink again and took another chug, upgrading his critique. "Mmmm, this is really good. What do you call this again, a mamacita ?"

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