There’s something magical about a good craft cocktail. Whether it’s a unique take on a familiar favorite, like a gin and tonic, or a drink you can only get from one very talented mixologist — the right cocktail is bound to make your dining experience all the more memorable.
If you’ve ever been to the Halyard at the Sound View Greenport for dinner or drinks, with its stunning water views and highly curated menu, you’ve likely experienced a cocktail conceived by its regional director of beverage, Mishi Torgove. The mild-mannered and articulate Torgove has been with The Halyard for two years and has developed a menu of handcrafted cocktails that definitely feel magical. And while magicians never reveal their secrets, Torgove is happy to discuss the complex and thorough process that goes into making a Halyard cocktail.
“There’s not a formula, you know?” said Torgove. “You go back and historically look at cocktails and how they developed, in the 1500s, to the 1700s and 1800s, there was this calculus of a base, a sour, a sweet. When we’re coming up with cocktails or brainstorming with the team, that’s one of the things that we’d like to know. But first, what’s the intention? What do you want this cocktail to be? What are you drawing inspiration from? Did you have a dessert somewhere? Did you eat, smell or experience something that you want to embody in a cocktail?”
Those questions lead to experimentation, then design, with presentation — from glassware to garnish — being a big part of the overall equation. While some cocktails are quite complex, Torgove emphasized that a good one doesn’t always have to be. Some can be simple, with just a few ingredients.
“It doesn’t have to be a complicated cocktail to be fantastic,” said Torgove, who despite his skill set does not drink.
“The process, for me, is very scientific, and I have to really understand the ingredients I’m working with,” he said. “Luckily, there’s no shortage of people who want to taste test. Fortunately, nine out of 10 cocktails I [develop] need little to no adjustment.”
Torgove was adopted from Romania and grew up in Manhattan, but he’s been coming to the North Fork with his family since he was a child. He started in hospitality when he was just 15 years old, working at Columbus Bakery. As Torgove puts it, he worked as a “grunt” in construction until moving on to restaurants and bars when he was 18 on the Upper West Side. He did everything from mopping floors to serving and later management. He eventually found himself at North Fork Table & Inn in Southold, working with founders Mike and Mary Mraz, Gerry Hayden and Claudia Fleming.
“They planted the seeds for me on what fine dining looks like,” Torgove said.
Inspiration and experimentation are among the key ingredients of each drink designed by Torgove and the team at The Halyard.
He continued to work in the city after leaving North Fork Table & Inn, but moved back to the North Fork full-time during the pandemic.
“The changes that have happened the past five years have made it a little more enticing for people like myself,” he said. “There’s a lot of like-minded individuals, a lot of hospitality heads from the city or other cities. They get it.”
Torgove approaches The Halyard’s cocktail menu as a seasonal one, despite it being a year-round spot.
“There’s definitely a seasonality to it,” he said. “In the fall and winter we expand from a production and logistical standpoint on a level you don’t really see out here. We have a lot of different techniques we use.”
For one cocktail, the Piscotheque, Torgove and his staff use a technique from the 1700s called milk punch clarification, which involves curdling milk to make a clear, smooth cocktail. The clarification happens ahead of time and the drink — which includes Diablada Pisco, Agricole rum, El Dorado rum, pineapple, lime, green tea and spice blend cordial — is a big hit with guests.
Not every cocktail involves such technical procedures, of course.
“We also have cocktails that are a little bit friendlier, for people who just want something refreshing,” he said, pointing to the Barefoot Summer, which uses vodka, mango puree, housemade cordial and a habanero tincture.
Torgove incorporates many local ingredients into the cocktail selection. Some of the farms he works with include KK’s, Treiber Farms and Deep Roots.
“We make it a little more geographically relevant, but also show guests what the North Fork has to offer,” Torgove said.
Torgove has developed a full training program for his staff, from historical information all the way to technical skills and presentation — as well as how to talk to guests.
While the Halyard’s cocktail menu has a lot of variety and different tastes, guests can order any drink they can think of. Torgove has created a standardized guide for his staff so that a Halyard Manhattan will taste the same for every guest. He also makes sure his staff is prepared to help guide guests who might be looking for a specific taste, but aren’t sure what to order.
“I also harp on the fact that this is not a pretentious environment,” Torgove said. “You never know who you’re taking care of, and it shouldn’t matter. Being super humble is important. Hospitality is not about creating a separation between you and your guest.”
One person’s magic is another’s science, perhaps. But Torgove’s cocktails feel like both.