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O-Ku rises to the Bacardi Mojito Challenge

Mojito Mojo

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If I could guess, I’d say that more mojitos were consumed at Tuesday night’s Bacardi Mojito Challenge at the S.C. Aquarium than have ever been had in one night by a large group of drinkers. Ever. Wandering among the Aquarium’s enchanting tanks glowing aqua in the dim lighting and brimming with grouper, sharks, turtles, and their distant cousins, the event had the feel of a scavenger hunt. The Special Olympics benefit featured a total of 16 vendors rising to the challenge to concoct the most original, delicious, and memorable mojito and display them in the nooks and crannies of the maze-like Aquarium, the competition was stiff but patrons were up to the challenge.

Many guests tried all 16 variations, and some went back for more, as DJ Moo Moo echoed through the building. Some attendees were giddy with the excitement of the chase. “There’s another mojito booth hidden upstairs by the silverfish!” Others were disoriented. “Did we try this mojito four mojitos ago? Can you hold my glass while I make another pork sandwich?”

Designated rum glass in hand, patrons precariously balanced some enticing appetizers passed around on silver trays by Tristan. Baskets of duck confit corn muffins, mustard-glazed pork belly canapés, and crowd-favorite tuna tartare on tostadas made the rounds among the throngs of hungry, sugar-loving drinkers. But now, more on those mojitos.

Fruit, unsurprisingly, was a recurring theme, but ingenuity was the name of the game because, let’s face it, after 10 mojitos, the fruits begin to blend. Runners-up Poogan’s Porch pureed local peaches into their ice, and the third-place winner Rooftop Bar garnished glasses with a wedge of sticky, sweet aloe. Wild Wing used a low-calorie all-natural sweetener for their low-calorie raspberry mojito, and Fish’s staff, dressing the part in white linen and straw hats, doled out cucumber-infused, refreshing variations. Guy Harvey’s drink capitalized on the South’s love affair with sweet tea, while Tristan’s mojito tasted like a watermelon jolly rancher, garnished with a charming scoop of watermelon.

Without a clever spin on the classic mix of muddled mint, rum and simple syrup, some restaurants were lost in the wake of first-place winners like O-ku. With an ingenious combination of lemongrass, ginger, muddled Thai chili pepper and coconut milk, O-ku swept the competition. The cocktail creators and O-ku bartenders, Jasmine and Lindsay, explained that they experimented with takes on the traditional “Painkiller,” but “the coconut milk just stuck.”

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