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Cocktail review: South American drinks with gusto at Joyce & Gigi’s

G's Punch and tropical mojito delight guests at Joyce & Gigi's
G's Punch and tropical mojito delight guests at Joyce & Gigi's
Robert Stahl

In a few more weeks, spring cocktails return to bar and restaurant menus everywhere; until then we’re forced to fend off this cold and miserable weather in other ways. Joyce & Gigi’s does the trick just fine. In case you haven’t heard, the new new South American bistro in East Dallas has gotten great reviews in several high-profile Dallas magazines lately. So, are their cocktails as good as the food? We tried the tropical mojito, a rosy-colored potion made with a hearty guava puree that was sweet, citrusy and delightful. In contrast, G’s Punch, a bourbon-based cocktail was earthy and savory, packed solid with the flavors of peach and cinnamon, and rounded out by a liberal shake of bitters. “The punch is an adult version of a drink called mocochinchi, which is a popular street drink in Bolivia where I’m from,” says Gigliola Aguilera, aka Gigi, who operates the restaurant with her mother, Joyce. Though provocative, we found the drink dense and syrupy, and the walloping flavors competed a little too much for our taste buds’ attention. But hey, we’re not that keen on manhattans, either.

Aguilera watched our tasting with a quiet intensity. At the young age of 29, she has worked under the likes of great chefs like Dean Fearing and Wolfgang Puck. All eight of the cocktails on the drink menu are her design, in addition to the concepts on the dinner menu. It’s obvious from the entrée selections (think empanadas and grilled beef skewers complemented by exotic flavors like yucca root, plantains, and house-made chorizo) that Gigi is eager to share her heritage. Before disappearing back into the busy kitchen, she hovered long enough to offer us a plate of mint bread, another Latin American staple. The bread was fresh from the oven, with a crispy crust and a warm spongy inside; incredibly satisfying. A couple of nibbles sobered us up enough to try our third cocktail, a strawberry and rhubarb sangria, which quickly became our favorite. Our glass overflowed with fragrant chunks of strawberry and orange, and each bliss-inducing sip was delicately sweet, with a silky texture that made the drink go down frightfully easy. Before leaving, we treated ourselves to a dish called pescado sudado, which is a pan-seared Chilean sea bass served with yucca root cake (think mashed potatoes), and topped by a hearty red chili gravy. Heavenly.

Aguilera’s passion for her restaurant is obvious. You can see it in her eyes when she shakes your hand and in the detail she puts into her dishes and cocktails at Joyce & Gigi's. Her love is a palpable thing. And the best part is, you can taste it too.

For more info: Joyce & Gigi’s is located 1623 N. Hall Street, Dallas, Texas, 75204; (469) 334-0799.