Oct 17, 2023 - Food and Drink

Taste Test: St. Anselm's new MSG Martini

A small coup filled with a MSG-infused martini and a red salted rim.
St. Anselm's MSG-infused martini. Photo courtesy of Hallie Sharpless

MSG is the not-at-all-secret ingredient in St. Anselm's new dirty martini.

Why it matters: The Union Market District hipster-chophouse isn't afraid to shake up a little controversy by adding monosodium glutamate — once widely stigmatized in the restaurant world — for an umami-rich drink.

Catch up quick: In the '60s, MSG was linked to a woozy/nauseous feeling dubbed "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome" due to the popularity of the flavor enhancer in Asian restaurants (and xenophobia).

  • Decades of scientific studies have disproved that MSG sickens consumers without a special sensitivity (both the FDA and WHO deem it safe). And a new generation of chefs — particularly Asian Americans David Chang and Eddie Heung — are bucking against the past stigma by demystifying MSG and putting it on menus.

Yes, but: St. Anselm isn't championing a cause, necessarily — they just wanted to make a fun, super-savory drink that works well with their indulgent steakhouse-style menu.

Zoom in: The "XXX Martini" is built like a classic with vodka and a little olive juice. Homemade MSG-infused vermouth and a spiced togarashi rim push the umami envelope.

Thought bubble: It's almost like drinking alcoholic bone broth — I mean this in a good way — because it's so rich and intense, but not salty like a traditional dirty martini.

  • It's definitely a better beginner drink to prime the palate or sip alongside something light like oysters.

What they're saying: "I haven't seen MSG used much in D.C.'s beverage scene, but in general I've seen a rise in more 'savory' cocktails," beverage manager Jack Zarecky tells Axios (see also: mushroom tonics, emu highballs).

  • "We wanted to explore how savory we could take the dirty martini."

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