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Cocktail of the Day: The Saratoga

Sorry, I know I haven’t done this in a while. Out of town, busy with all kindsa stuff and posting New Orleans food porn (and yeah, I know, it’s been three weeks and I’m only just gettin’ started). Let’s have a drink.

This one hails from Saratoga Springs, New York in the 1880s. According to David Wondrich’s Imbibe!, there were two cocktails by this name, one being basically “a Fancy Brandy Cocktail with a squirt of Champagne,” the other being this, similar to a Manhattan in which half the rye has been switched out. It’s mighty tasty.

Oh, and when we made it the rye was Rittenhouse Bonded, the brandy was Hennessy VSOP, the vermouth was Carpano Antica.

The Saratoga Cocktail

1 ounce rye whiskey.
1 ounce brandy.
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
2 dashes Angostura Bitters.

Combine with ice in a mixing glass and stir for no less than 30 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass or, as the book suggests, “a thin stemmed glass with a curved lip.” Garnish with a quarter slice of lemon, either perched on the rim or floated in the drink.

“Replace the vermouth with absinthe,” Dave says, “and you have what the Hoffman House called a ‘Morning Cocktail.’ If that’s what you need to get going in the A.M., God help you.”


Cocktail of the Day: A Milk Punch Named Desire

Ooh, I did manage to get a post written last night after all. A perfectly appropriate one here too, although unfortunately I’m not going to get to breakfast on this drink quite yet. This one appeared in the April ’08 issue of New Orleans magazine, created just for them by the wonderful bartender H. Joseph Ehrmann, owner of the wonderful bar Elixir in San Francisco. He puts a wonderful Caribbean spin on a venerable New Orleans breakfast classic.

A Milk Punch Named Desire

1-1/2 ounces Rhum Clément VSOP.
1-1/2 ounces Rhum Clément Créole Shrubb.
1/2 ounce Navan Vanilla Liqueur.
3-4 ounces whole milk or half-and-half.

Combine liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with a few large ice cubes. Shake vigorously for at least half a minute, in order to build up a nice froth. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over fresh ice, and garnish with a grating of fresh nutmeg.

Oh my. H., this is delicious.


At the Beach, at the Beach, at Pontchartrain Beach …

You’ll have fun, you’ll have fun, every day of the week!

This Cocktail of the Day sends me into a huge nostalgic rush, and I never even got to taste it it its heyday.

Those of you who are New Orleanians of A Certain Age will fondly remember Pontchartrain Beach, our beloved local amusement park. Built in 1928 and retaining many of its Art Deco design touches until it was demolished (*sob!*) in 1983, I grew up going there many times every summer, and it was part of my childhood.


Pontchartrain Beach, 1940s postcard

One of the more popular attractions at The Beach wasn’t a ride, it was a fabulous resteaurant, New Orleans’ own version of the faux-Polynesian “Tiki” food and drink craze which swept the nation after the immense popularity of Don the Beachcomber’s and Trader Vic’s — Bali Ha’i at The Beach. It opened around 1952 and closed with the park in 1982 … and I never got to go there.

When I was a kid my parents took me to The Beach all the time, but never to Bali Ha’i (I guess they weren’t into Tiki cuisine and rarely if ever drank tropical drinks), and by the time I was old enough to drink I took the Beach for granted, and only went there a couple of times when I was in college. Had I known then what I know now, I would have gone every week.

Recently the Times-Picayune came across a drink recipe from Bali H’ai, which a reader obtained from the family who used to cook there (they later opened their own Chinese restaurnat in Kenner after Bali H’ai closed). It’s their own interpretation of a venerable tropical classic.

The Bali Ha’i Fog Cutter
(from the late, lamented Bali Ha’i Restaurant, Pontchartrain Beach, New Orleans)

8 ounces orange juice.
6 ounces lime juice.
6 ounces simple syrup.
4 ounces light rum.
4 ounces dark rum.
4 ounces brandy.
4 ounces gin.
1/4 ounce almond extract.

Combine all ingredients in a pitcher. Serve in tiki glasses or tall glasses.

Makes 4 (or more) drinks.

Of course, they other key to authenticity in this drink is to serve it in the proper vessel …

Bali Ha'i at the Beach, New Orleans, LA

(Are you kidding me? That stays in the display cabinet! One of my regular tiki mugs will have to do.)

I now also own a menu from Bali Ha’i from the ’60s, which has become a treasured possession.

Let’s all sing …. “Baaaali Haaaaaaaaaaaiiiiii …”


Cocktail of the Day: The Loredana

We’re big fans of Osteria La Buca on the east side of Melrose near Wilton, here in Los Angeles. Beautiful, real Italian food, handmade pastas, gorgeous ragús, pizzas that’ll never make you want to touch an American fast food joint pizza again. They’ve expanded recently, tripling in size, so maybe we can get a table now some time after 6, which is when we usually go.

Vincenzo Marianella, head barman at The Doheny Copa d’Oro, concocted a superb aperitivo for La Buca, which was published in the Los Angeles Times Magazine last weekend. “[A] well-orchestrated delight in a glass,” they call it, just in time for the beginning of strawberry season. It’s named after the restaurant’s chef (who’s also known as “Mamma”). The sweet, deep red spring fruit is offset with a touch of Campari. “Muddling releases the flavor of the strawberry,” says Vincenzo. “It’s like the moment when you take the first bite of the fruit.”

The Loredana
(Created by Vincenzo Marianella for Osteria La Buca)

1 ripe strawberry, hulled and sliced.
1 dash simple syrup.
5 ounces chilled Prosecco.
1/2 ounce Campari.

In a mixing glass, muddle the strawberry with the simple syrup. Add the Prosecco but don’t stir — you don’t want to beat up the bubbles. Carefully pour the drink into a Champagne flute, add the Campari and serve immediately.

We need to go back there soon. I’m feeling the need for some proper tagliatelle alla Bolognese.


Cocktail of the Day: Sculaccione

Don’t worry, we’ll get to the cocktail, but surely you won’t mind sitting through some food porn first.

You may be familiar with Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles, which (along with its sister restaurant next door, Pizzeria Mozza) is one of the hardest tables to get in town. It’s very, very popular, booked up a good while in advance, and the “Don’t you know who I am?” Hollywood thing doesn’t work there. We managed to get a reservation there just before the end of last year, and were lucky to get in on just a couple of weeks’ notice. “All we have on that Saturday are 5:45 and 10:00pm.” That was actually kinda perfect, as we took the 5:45pm reservation … and didn’t leave the restaurant until 10. It was one of the two or three most memorable meals of the last several years.

Mozza is owned by Chef Mario Batali and his partner Joe Bastianich, and local Chef Nancy Silverton (formerly of the La Brea Bakery and Campanile), and run by executive chef Matt Molina. It’s crowded, but not too crowded, noisy but not too noisy. It’s lively, which is something I love in a restaurant. We’ve only had the one dinner there so far, but everything was fantastic — the service, the food, the drink. Here’s a bit about what we had:

Grilled octopus with potatoes, celery and lemon. (I would never have thought to order this, but when Mary and Steve went a few months ago and sat at the mozzarella bar with Chef Nancy more or less waiting on them, they asked her to just feed them, and this is what she startedt them with. The big problem with this dish is that I now no longer want to go to Mozza and not have this, and that’ll make it a bit more difficult to work my way through the rest of the menu. “Okay, we’ll try this, but we have to get a plate of grilled octopus to split! Okay? Please?”)

Burrata with bacon, marinated escarole & caramelized shallots. (Mmmmm, burrata … an outer shell of fresh bufalo mozzarella with a cream-and-mozzarella filling. It is to die for. And with bacon. I ask you. The version with guanciale that’s currently on the menu would have been the one we’d have ordered had it been on the menu when we were there.)

Gnocchi with wild boar ragú. (Perfect gnocchi, light as pillows, and that ragú … oh God.)

Pork loin alla griglia, seasoned with fennel pollen and served with caramelized fennel, onions and olives. (We had had our hearts set on the slow-roasted pork Mary had told us about, and when I tried to order it our server’s face fell. “Oh no … we just took that off the menu today!” she said. “But …” she continued, and told us that it had been replaced with another pork dish, this one grilled, and I got that one. It was stunning. Boneless, and with a half-inch strip of luscious fat along the side — which our friend Eric told us some stupid L.A.-type gymbunny people saw “ewww” and leave it behind. Sheesh. Anyway, it was seasoned with fennel pollen, perfectly medium rare, and absolutely delicious.)

Crisp Duck al Mattone with pear mostarda & Brussels sprouts. (Duck cooked weighted down by a brick, an ancient recipe, and beautiful. A whole duck, crispy as bacon on the outside, served on a wooden platter with that gorgeous fruity and pungent mostarda, and Brussels sprouts that not only didn’t stink but tasted great — ya just gotta know how to cook ’em.)

You get the idea.

Their cocktail menu is world-class, featuring classic and new cocktails plus a selection of terrific aperitivi, which our friend Eric helped put together when he was there. Here’s an original cocktail created by him, for which he was kind enough to share the recipe with me. It’s not only a great way to start a meal but a perfect refreshing drink for warm weather.

(Created by Eric Alperin for Osteria Mozza)

2 ounces blanco tequila (these days we’re likin’ Partida).
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice.
1/2 ounce fresh grapefruit juice.
1/2 ounce Campari.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.
1 dash Angostura bitters.

Combine with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over fresh ice, and garnish with a lime wheel.

Eric’s now one of the founding bartenders at The Doheny co-owner and head bartender at The Varnish, and Chris Ojeda is running the bar at Mozza as of the first of the year also at The Varnish (as of 2010 I’m not sure who’s running the bar at Mozza, as I haven’t been in a while, unfortunately). It is undoubtedly one of the best places to drink (and eat) in Los Angeles.

(By the way, “sculaccione” means “spanking” in Italian.)