WASHINGTON -- The Bombay Club is the scene of many power lunches and dinners. A block away from the White House, photos of former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton hang on the wall. It’s the restaurant where Elizabeth Warren and Larry Summers met for three hours in 2009, and the former treasury secretary tried to school the future senator on what it takes to become an insider.
But one night this week, the restaurant was the scene of none of these things.
It was the scene of the Cobra Coffee.
I was there for a holiday dinner, and as the meal was wrapping up I spotted the drink with the aforementioned serpentine name at the bottom of the dessert menu. I asked the waiter about the drink, and he didn’t give a long description. But he raised his eyebrows, indicating we’d be in for a treat.
Shortly after the drink was ordered, he told us we’d have to move from our well-appointed table and into the lounge. There was no room, apparently, for the spectacle we were about to witness.
A cart with a stovetop, a pan, some coffee and some liquor was wheeled next to us. We started thinking, most people probably don’t order this drink (it costs $12 per person, with a two-person minimum).
“Is this a traditional Indian drink?” we asked.
Nope. Just something the restaurant’s chef came up with one day many years ago. It’s become a signature drink, making up to 15 Cobra Coffees on a busy night.
Naresh Israni — who is the restaurant’s general manager, in a cherry red necktie and matching pocket-square — launched into the presentation.
Israni started with a healthy dose of sugar cooked in a pan until it became a lustrous caramel. The undulating caramel was used to coat the tops of the flutes that the drink would later be served in. Some brown sugar and some scotch was then added to the pan, and Colombian coffee from a French press was poured in.
Next came the dose of Cointreau.
This had all just been a warm-up act for the real show, combining the creativity of a circus performer, the elegance of fine dining, and the mystery of someone skilled in the dark arts of sorcery.
At this point, the server took an orange peel and held it above the pan. The orange peel, we were told, is the cobra.
He poured the liquid into the peel, and it ignited. Flames danced up and down the peel in a grand finale. Our waiter was now a snake charmer.
Another man, in a finely cut vest, arrived to add the final ingredient: a few dollops of whipped cream.
The drink was good, an extra sweet dessert coffee. But this was about the presentation, one that was so skilled that we all applauded.
Watch a video of the making of “Cobra Coffee”: