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This is my new favorite word.

Oddly enough, I’d never come across it until today, considering that I’ve been cooking for so long. (I love this about life, though … I love learning new stuff every day.)

Spatchcocking is the process of removing the backbone from a turkey, chicken or other bird and flattening it out so that it cooks evenly and in far less time than roasting a whole bird. From Grace Yang in Serious Eats:

The breast meat turns out very tender, the drumsticks are juicy and flavorful, and the entire thing is done in half the time.

While the typical turkey-roasting (for a 10- to 12-pound bird) can last about three hours, this shaves off at least half of that. Last weekend, I tested this approach and the turkey came out beautifully. […]

The first step to a perfect spatchcocked turkey is brining. Letting the bird sit in a salt-and-herb mixture overnight allows the wonderful flavors to distribute evenly. […]

Everyone at our party loved the spatchcocked turkey. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the entire thing was done in half the time a traditional roasting method takes.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the key concept here is that it takes half the time. This is crucial when you’ve got a dozen things going at once on Thanksgiving or Christmas. The bird also lies flatter in the oven, leaving more room for you to stick side dishes in while the turkey’s cooking.

I’m going to try this this year. We’re guests at Wes’ sister’s house for Thanksgiving, but we’re hosting Christmas Day dinner at our place this year, The carol I’ll be singing in the kitchen will be “We Wish You A Juicy Spatchcock.”

The San Francisco Chronicle also offers instructions on spatchcocking a chicken.

RH at the Andaz

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, Wes and I have a tradition for our birthdays. The birthday boy gets taken out for a fabulous meal … somewhere. The destination is a closely-held secret, and the birthday boy never knows where he’s going to end up until we pull up in front of the place. Keeps things fun. I love surprises!

This year I had no idea where I was going to end up, mostly because of my horrendously unreliable memory. A mere two months ago, Wes read me a review by S. Irene Virbila in the Los Angeles Times of a new restaurant — a hotel restaurant, in fact, that got a rare rave from her. It sounded fantastic, and I promptly forgot about it.

So yeah, when we pulled up in front of the newly-renovated Andaz Hotel (formerly the Hyatt) in West Hollywood, he reminded me of that rave review and I said, “Ooh!” Very exciting!

Make no mistake — this is not just a hotel restaurant. Chef Sebastien Archambault is making some of the best French food in town.

RH is named for the hotel’s old nickname, “The Riot House” which comes from the days when rock ‘n roll musicians stayed there and would throw TV sets out the windows), and Chef Archambault cooks the food of his native Périgord in southwestern France while featuring California ingredients.

And what could be more Californian than a plate of seasonal raw vegetables and a tangy dip?

RH at the Andaz, West  Hollywood - Crudité plate

Raw parsnip … never had that before, only cooked. I rather liked it.

There was a cocktail menu, so of course we tried it out. First, Wesly got what they called the “Los Angeles” cocktail:

Not to be confused with the (superior) cocktail of the same name at Seven Grand downtown, this one has Woodford Reserve bourbon as its base spirit, with “Anjou pear” (muddled, perhaps?), cinnamon and agave syrup. It was tasty but too heavy on the agave syrup.

I got one called the “Red Ferrari,” described on the menu as being made with blanco tequila (I chose Corzo), pomegranate juice, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh lime juice and agave syrup. I was confused by this one. It’s got “red” in the name and lists pomegranate juice as one of its ingredients, but there’s not a hint of red in this drink. I even asked our server to double-check, and she came back and assured me that the bartender had squeezed fresh pomegranate juice into the mixing glass. It must be the relatively rare white pomegranate, then, because I noticed neither the color nor much of the tartness. I did notice, once again, too much agave syrup.

Sadly, the cocktails were not very well-balanced and not that great, although they are at least making an effort. This was the only glitch in what would prove to be an absolutely spectactular meal.

Let it begin.

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Cocktail of the day: The Custer

Last Wednesday I enjoyed a wonderfully low-key birthday celebration (joined by several bartenders — aah, my peeps! — including ones visiting from Portland and Seattle) at Copa d’Oro in Santa Monica, surely one of the best bars in the L.A. metro area. A world-class cocktail menu, a long and beautiful bar, an amazing stash of liquor, a friendly and inviting space, dangerously close to my day job … all that and grilled Nutella-almond butter paninis too? I’m so there.

A few months ago they debuted several new house originals on their cocktail menu, and I’ve been working my way through them ever since. Head barman Vincenzo Marianella is primarily responsible for the menu, and consequently we see lots of bitters and amari, plus some other Italian ingredients. One of these is the newly-reformulated liqueur Galliano, first developed in Italy in 1896 by a distiller named Arturo Vaccari (but now owned and developed by Lucas Bols in The Netherlands). Galliano’s infamy came about with the development of a drink in the 1960s called the Harvey Wallbanger, merely a Screwdriver with a Galliano float. The old liqueur, in that tall, beautiful bottle that doesn’t fit in your bar or on any shelf, was a very sweet vanilla-heavy concoction that most bartenders didn’t seem to have much use for, and if you ended up with a bottle chances are it remained rather full for many years, until its yellow coloring faded.

Recently Bols reformulated Galliano to its original recipe, now calling it Liquore Galliano L’Autentico. It’s a lot less sweet, with a higher proof, anise predominant in front but a broad base of herbs and spices, and the vanilla relegated to much more of a supporting role. Actually, it’s really good now, much more useful in cocktails, and you see it popping up in drinks at Copa here and there, both in improvised “market cocktails” as well as on the menu.

The new one I tried is the Custer, with Galliano providing sweetness and a spice base to the already nicely spicy base spirit, accented by two kinds of bitters taking the directions out to both fruity-tart and vegetal. I watched the bartender pretty closely, and this recipe seems to be spot-on.

The Custer Cocktail

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Po-boys and the President

A couple of New Orleans-related links …

First, the New York Times writes about the upcoming New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Festival. Why, you might ask, would such a venerated bastion of New Orleans cuisine need special efforts to preserve it? Read up on the situation, which includes one of my most hated interlopers, the invasion of the mass-food monoculturalism of horrid chains like Subway, the lack of off-street parking at po-boy shops, and more. Fortunately, there are still many places in the city where you can get it done right. And, of course, the bread is just as important as the filling, some say more so. The filling can be great but if the bread ain’t right, it ain’t a po-boy.

The associated po-boy makers have also managed to prove that po-boys are actually good for you!

Recently, Leidenheimer [one of the top po-boy bread bakers] financed a nutritional analysis that Katherine Whann said found that a gravy-dressed roast beef po’ boy, on Leidenheimer bread, with mustard, lettuce, tomato and pickles, has fewer calories from fat and less saturated fat than a comparable tuna sandwich from Subway.

That, plus anything from Subway tastes like cardboard that’s been put through a de-flavorizing machine.

I wish I could be in town for the festival, not only to eat lots of po-boys, but to see this battle royale:

And in what organizers are calling a French Bread Fight, a combatant portraying Jared Fogle, the calorie-conscious Subway pitchman, will square off against a combatant representing John Gendusa, the baker who, in 1929, fashioned the first modern New Orleans-style, French bread loaf, the base on which po’ boys have since been built.

If all goes the way it’s planned, as fragments of crust fly and a partisan crowd shouts, Mr. Gendusa will beat Mr. Fogle with a loaf of stale bread.

Jared, your ass is goin’ down.

Second, Doug MacCash writes a tremendous recollection of one of the greatest music venues ever, the riverboat President in New Orleans. You’d get on board a ship. The ship took off down the Mississippi, and the band began to play. By the time the band’s finished, the ship’s docked once again. How can you beat that?

I saw a lot of great shows there, but not nearly as many as I could have. The list of people who played there makes my knees weak. Man, I remember some great shows there, though … from local acts like The Cold and The Radiators to a bunch of unknown kids from Ireland who called themselves … what was it, You Two? Oh no, wait … they were called U2.

Reason #112 why we love our neighborhood

When Wes and I were first looking for a house, we started in Highland Park. We liked the area, and figured we couldn’t afford Eagle Rock (and knew we couldn’t afford Silver Lake). We’d heard about a cool place there that stocked a lot of different kinds of sodas and soft drinks, so we made a point to stop there while looking around for open house signs.

We entered Galco’s for the first time. Our jaws dropped, and grabbed a shopping cart. Before us was an array of nearly 500 different kinds of small-batch sodas, an equal number of beers from all over the world, two long cases full of hard-to-find, old-school and regional candy bars (from Mallo Cups to my beloved Zagnut) and a deli counter making great football-sized sandwiches. Oh my.

When we wheeled our cart up to the counter, the girl at the register gave us an amused but friendly look and said, “Hm. First time here, huh?”

“How’d you know?” I said.

“Because you have an entirely full shopping cart with one of each item. Kind of a dead giveaway.”

We chatted as she rang us up, and we mentioned that we were looking to possibly buy a house in Highland Park. She lit up, said we’d love it there and could get some great deals, then glanced at the back of the line and said, “Ooh … you should talk to Angel back there.” From the back of the line a disembodied voice said, “You wanna buy a house in Highland Park, you talk to me! I’ve been in the business for 35 years!” We couldn’t see her because she was maybe 5′ tall in her stiletto-heeled leather boots. That was where we met the force of nature in her perfectly coiffed ‘do, Jackie O sunglasses, long thin brown cigarettes, silk jacket from a poker casino in Henderson, Nevada who was made of awesome and indeed named Angel, and 10 months later she put us in our house not in Highland Park, but next door in Eagle Rock.

We have Galco’s to thank for that, as well as a lot of great beer and great sodas. Here’s a wonderful 12-minute look inside their operation, guided by their owner and passionate engine John Nese.

Even though we’re not actually in Highland Park we’re right next door and it’s part of our neighborhood. Come on down to 5702 York Blvd. in Highland Park and let yourself loose in Galco’s. I suspect you’ll end up with a full shopping cart with one (maybe two) of each item.