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Yay, food porn! It’s been a while, and fortunately a birthday always provides a wealth of obscenely gorgeous food photos as a side effect of what’s usually a fantastic meal.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the pics are necessarily obscenely gorgeous this time, as for some reason the camera was set at the lowest possible resolution, and that plus extremely low light equals highly mediocre pictures. You’ll get the basic idea, though.

The usual semi-annual routine for Wesly’s and my birthdays is that the birthday boy gets taken out for dinner, and never knows where until the moment the car pulls up in front of the restaurant. We’re big believers in the element of surprise, combined with sometimes absurd levels of misdirection. Usually each of us would conspire with Mary as to where to take the other (although sadly, this was the last time for that), and our conspiracy ended up with my plan to take Wes to Bouchon, Chef Thomas Keller’s French bistro in Beverly Hills, for his mumblety-mumbleth birthday on March 8.

Unfortunately, for a change Wesly was quite forceful in expressing his birthday wishes this year. “I wanna go to Bouchon. And I wanna go see ‘Dreamgirls.'” Well, so much for the element of surprise.

We don’t frequent Beverly Hills, unsurprisingly, but we were familiar with the location as it’s right up the block from Spago (which is one of our favorite occasion restaurants and not nearly as expensive or out-of-reach as you might think). This is the third Bouchon location, after the Michelin-starred original in Yountville in Napa Valley and the glitzier one in Vegas. The building in which Bouchon resides is called Beverly Hills Gardens, and shares a beautiful courtyard with the Montage Hotel. There’s a narrow veranda along the side of the restaurant overlooking the courtyard, which will be a really lovely place to dine once spring has sprung.

Upon passing the intriguing-looking Bar Bouchon on the ground level, which we must explore later, we entered and ascended a rather grand staircase into the restaurant and were seated at a cozy table after passing the rather grand curved zinc bar not unlike ones we’d seen in Paris.

Bouchon's bar

The main dining room is vibrant without being overwhelmingly loud, and we still felt well-connected to the whole space while still being afforded a good bit of privacy at our table. (Ours was the two-top in the lower left corner, below.)

Bouchon's dining room

Around each napkin at the place settings was folded a crisp brown piece of paper that turned out to be our menus, leading immediately to the problem of what to order when everything on the menu looked so good — I imagine the menu is more or less the same at all three branches, and this one has a terrific chef, Rory Herrmann, formerly of Keller’s New York three Michelin-starred restaurant Per Se. Some of the dishes were eye-raisingly pricey (unsurprising, considering the world-famous chef-owner and its posh location) but many were quite reasonable. We saw (and smelled … holy frak) magnificent plates of steak frites go by, Gargantuan steaks accompanied by what looked like a basketball-sized clump of crisp Belgian-style twice-fried frites for $36.50 which we could easily have split. But not tonight.

Continue reading …

Happy 200th birthday, Charles Tanqueray!

Today is a day of thanksgiving; we have a fair bit for which to be thankful. To wit … some really good gin.

Yes, Mr. Tanqueray was a real person, not just a brand name, and he was born 200 years ago today. A rather distinguished-looking bloke, pictured below (click to enlarge), with quite an impressive beard and an even more impressive ability to make gin. Here’s a bit about his life, courtesy of the Tanqueray Gin folks:

Charles Tanqueray was born in March of 1810 in England. charlestanqueray2His father, grandfather and great uncle all made their living as clergymen, but Charles, aware from the outset that he wanted a different life, broke with tradition. He was passionate about crafting the finest gin – the spirit of his time – and in 1830 he followed his own path to set up the Vine Street Distillery in Bloomsbury, London. He spent many years testing the finest botanicals from around the world. After extensive trials, he crafted a wonderfully balanced recipe that combined a rich, full flavor with a bold, invigorating taste and Tanqueray gin was born.

It’s a gorgeous gin, very juniper-forward with other botanicals including coriander and angelica root. The actual recipe and even the complete list of botanicals is a closely guarded secret, though; only three master distillers know how to make Tanqueray gin. I think of it as a gin-lover’s gin, not necessarily one I’d serve to a new gin drinker or someone I was trying to convert from The Dark Side being a vodka drinker, but once you’re there … this one’s quite robust.

Celebrate the day today with a Tanqueray Gin and Tonic in the traditional method: Squeeze a wedge of lime into the bottom of a tall glass, fill 2/3 with ice, add 1-1/2 ounces gin and about four ounces of good tonic water (Fever Tree or Stirrings would be our recommendations), stir for a moment until the drink is chilled, rub a lime wedge around the rim of the glass and garnish wtih the lime wedge.

Or you can do the New Orleans-styled version we like — peel a lime and muddle half the peel with the gin in the bottom of the glass to release the oils. Let it sit a minute or two. Add ice and tonic and 3-4 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters, stir, rub the glass rim with more lime peel to get some lime oil going, and garnish with a lime wedge for optional squeezing.

Perhaps a Tanqueray Martini for the bold gin-lover (1:1 with Noilly Prat or Dolin dry vermouth and a dash of orange bitters, if you please), or a Last Word for some wonderful citrusy herbaceousness.

To a fellow Charles T. I say happy birthday, sir! You don’t look a day over 180.


Lá Fhéile Pádraig shona dhaoibh!

And in case you’re not an Irish speaker, a very happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all!

The flag of the Four Provinces of Ireland

The flag of the Four Provinces of Ireland

I don’t suppose I could have gotten away with not making a post today, although I wasn’t particularly planning one. I did get a big of a nudge while talking to an Irish cow-orker this morning (and when another cow-orker passed us, he said, “You two shouldn’t even be allowed to talk to each other today … critical mass!”), while we chatted about “Father Ted” and shouted “FECK!” and “ARSE!” and “DRINK!” to each other, as is our wont.

Those of you who’ve seen my previous years’ St. Patrick’s Day posts will remember my own rules for the day:

1. NO GREEN BEER. I really shouldn’t even have to explain that.

I remember back in gradual school my mentor and favorite teacher Ian Conner, a native Glaswegian, overheard one of my fellow students on St. Patrick’s Day say that he was planning to spend the evening going to a local bar to drink green beer. “Is that what St. Patrick’s Day means to you?” asked Ian. “That’s not what St. Patrick’s Day means to me. What St. Patrick’s Day means to be is starting at noon at the closet Irish pub to where you live, having some whiskey, then moving on to the next one, having another whiskey, and continuing thusly throughout the day!” One of many thousands of anecdotes which add up to a truly great teacher.

2. Wear the green, but keep it subtle. I find that Irish people don’t particularly wear a lot of green anyway — one fun game I’ve played in Dublin with my Irish friends is “Spot the Yank,” terribly easy when there are so many Americans festooned in bright fluorescent kelly green, especially green mesh-back baseball caps with a shamrock and the word “IRELAND” on the front, plus the Bermuda shorts of course. Today my socks are a light forest green, and that’s perfectly nice.

Of course, given the Irish flag has green, white and orange (representing the nationalist tradition, the Orange Protestant tradition and the hope for peace between them), you could wear a bit of each. Then again, Ian continued his story … “On St. Patrick’s Day, my grandfather — a fierce adherent to the Church of Scotland — used to pin orange ribbons to his clothing and go through the Catholic sections of town, shouting anti-Papist slogans.” No need to go quite that far.

A clever, amusing t-shirt will do fine too. I have a few from a shop in Spiddal, Co. Galway called An Spáilpín Fánach featuring clever or witty sayings in Irish (I like the one I have that says, “Ná cuir céist orm — níl fhois agam!” or, “Don’t ask me, I don’t know!”) and some not-so-clever (such as the ubiquitous “Póg mo thóin”). I’ve seen a few other good ones around — “I ♥ Irish boys” is an old favorite, “Craic dealer” made me laugh, and perhaps the best one ever is the one that said, in a rather recognizeable typeface and layout …

f       c       e       k
the irish connection


3. Stay out of Irish pubs/bars. Seriously. Find a great Irish bar and go any other day of the year. On St. Patrick’s Day it’s strictly amateur hour, and unless you like being packed like sardines in green beer, drunk collge students, the Dropkick feckin’ Murphys and lots of police sobriety checkpoints there and back, stay home. Well, unless you’re actually in Ireland, where avoiding an Irish pub might be a bit more difficult.

4. Drink Irish whiskey. It is good. It is very good. And the whole “Catholic whiskey / Protestant whiskey” thing is bullshit — don’t buy into it. Nobody in Ireland would. If you like Bushmills (and I do, especially their single malts and aged expressions like the 16- and 21-year), then do so! Black Bush is lovely stuff and quite affordable.

My own preference goes toward the 12-year expressions of John Powers and Jameson’s, plus Tullamore Dew, all good for sipping or mixing. I also adore Redbreast, the only pure pot still Irish whiskey we’re getting over here now, and I’ve recently fallen in love with Tyrconnell Single Malt, one of the many wonderful products of the Cooley Distillery in Co. Louth, the only truly independent Irish whiskey distillery (Midleton in Cork is owned by Pernod-Ricard, and Bushmills by Diageo). The Tyrconnell line also includes whiskies finished in sherry, madeira and port barrels — I’ve only had one of them so far, but it was wonderful, a great balance between maltiness and strawberry-fruit sweetness.

I’m also a fan of Kilbeggan, another Cooley product. Wesly and I visited the Old Kilbeggan distillery about six years ago and enjoyed seeing the place. In ’07 the folks at Cooley actually got working pot stills going at Kilbeggan again, with the plan to actually have them produce whiskey again after 54 years. Kilbeggan’s lovely, with notes of raisins and vanilla. Interesting tidbit — from 1843 until its closure in 1954 the distillery was called Locke’s, after the man who purchased it and whose family ran it for over a century. His name will be familiar to those of us who are “Lost” fans … John Locke. (As far as I know, that John Locke’s body is not currently inhabited by a smoke monster.) Locke’s 8-year single malt is still produced by Cooley — it’s a blended single malt, which does include a bit of peated whiskey, so actually Locke’s has a touch of the smoke monster after all.

5. Drink Irish whiskey cocktails. We’ll be doing numbers 4 and 5 tonight, at home.

Here are the 10 Irish whiskey-based cocktails currently in my list; doubtless you can find more. I’m favoring the Tipperary tonight, I think; Gaz Regan wrote about it again today in the San Francisco Chronicle.

A few Irish whiskey cocktails to peruse

Bushmills in the Afternoon
Irish (Channel) Coffee
Irish Whiskey Toddy
James Joyce Cocktail
St. Dominic’s Preview
The Swell Season

6. Listen to Irish music. You’re always good with The Pogues (even though most of them aren’t from Ireland), but your best bet are the modern classics of Planxty and The Bothy Band. Go on iTunes or eMusic and get some now if you haven’t already. You’ll thank me later.

And have a happy and safe, snake-free St. Patrick’s Day!


Hooray, fat!

One of my favorite TV shows of all time is “Malcolm in the Middle.” Shot on film, no audience, no laugh track, fantastic writing and cast, and had us laughing to the point of weeping and gasping on a weekly basis.

Reese, in trouble againIf you remember the show, you’ll remember Reese (portrayed by Justin Berfield), the second-oldest brother. He was a ne’er-do-well and schoolyard bully who never missed an opportunity to torture his younger brothers Malcolm and Dewey, and was for the most part thick as a plank. Between the two of them, the brainpower seesaw tipped entirely to Malcolm, not leaving Reese with very much — his nefarious schemes had a way of blowing up in his face, as the picture indicates. As the show progressed, though, we saw that Reese had some unexpected gifts and talents — for one, as we learned during the latter part of the show’s run, he was a very skilled and accomplished cook.

In one episode — I can’t remember which one — he was cooking a lavish meal, and another character criticized the fat content. Reese turned around and authoritatively said,

“Fat is the medium by which flavor travels. Fat is what makes food taste good. This is why a wise and loving God gave us fat in the first place.”

We gaped, and kept rewinding the DVR so that we could write it down. We quote this line frequently, and practically had it carved into a stone monument. Reese, who knew you were such a genius?! (Well, whichever writer put the words in his mouth, of course.)

Genius, that is, except for one recent development … as of this week he’s not quite right. Turns out that fat isn’t just the medium by which flavor travels … it’s an essential taste all on its own.

Aussie researchers have discovered that fat is the sixth human taste, along with sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. Now … I don’t ever want to see another fat-free processed product ever again!


A Taste of Her Own Medicine

I don’t watch the Food Network anymore.

I used to watch it all the time. The ability to watch Mario Batali every day? Damn right! Hometown chef Emeril Lagasse too. (His studio show “Essence of Emeril,” not the silly live show when they cheered every time he seasoned something.) And my weekly obsession, Iron Chef — the real one from Japan, not the American version, which despite the presence of Alton Brown and (for a while) Mario and Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto I never really cared for. Oh, how I miss わたしのきおくがたしかならば!

Now the network is mostly crap, with pretty much all the actual chefs swept away and Alton Brown being pretty much the only thing worth watching; I still do catch “Good Eats” on occasion. Worst of all, though, and what has brought Food Network down to its nadir, is the truly awful Sandra Lee of “Semi-Homemade” and mindbogglingly enough some other show as well in which she mixes together a lot of pre-packaged crap and calls it cooking.

The thousand injuries of watching her “cooking” I had borne as best as I could, but when she ventured upon insult — making what she called “cocktails” — I vowed revenge. (OK, not really, but I love quoting “The Cask of Amontillado.”) By “revenge” in this case I mean “intense public mocking.”

Yeah, I know, I don’t usually diss people in this forum — it’s a lot more fun to write about what I like — but I do enjoy see perpetrators of mediocrity (and worse) actually get a bit of comeuppance.

This video has been making the rounds of the bartender world during the past few days after being brought to everyone’s attention by Jeff Morgenthaler via his Twitter feed, where said he hated to pick on her (uh huh) yet invited everyone to “watch Sandra Lee’s face in slow-mo as she tries to choke down one of her own cocktails.”

Yeah sweetie … what did you think a mixture of lemonade, heavy cream and vodka would taste like? Mmm, cream curdling right in your mouth. That entirely involuntary reaction displayed upon your face is your nervous system telling you, “Hello! You’ve just consumed something that might kill you or make you really sick! It’s a pretty noxious stimulus, so I might just have to engage your emesis reflex. Heads up!” Whether or not she actually hurled I can’t say.

Jeff continued with an epic weblog post in which he links to the ten “cocktails” Sandra Lee came up with last week, one for each of the 10 films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar — “the ten sweetest, vanilla-flavored, blue curaçao’d, nastiest cocktails of 2010, and an “appalling affront to the craft that so many of us have worked hard trying to restore over the past fifteen-plus years.”

Let’s hope not too many people actually made one of those awful drinks. (To be fair, her “Inglourious Basterds” drink is basically just a Negroni with a splash of orange juice — highly unoriginal yet probably drinkable. But ugh.)

In the interest of full disclosure I have to say that I too made a blue cocktail for the Oscar party, where all the food or drink that’s brought in has to tie in to one of the films nominated in any category, even if only via a bad pun. Inglourious Custerds was one of my favorites (honorable mention to Steve’s “Inglourous Basturma”). We also had A Serious Man-icotti, some great BBQ ribs for “The Lovely Bones,” an apple cider-glazed turducken (because the Fantastic Mr. Fox stole chickens, ducks, turkeys and cider from Farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean … brilliant!) and perhaps the best and most groanworthy pun of the night … the beers Diana brought that had Band-Aids stuck to the bottles. Why? “Hurt Lager!”

Cocktail-wise, rather than a flavored vodka sweet swill as Lee is always wont to dump into her cauldron of evil, I made a Daiquiri in one of the classic proportions of 4:2:1 and added a quarter ounce each of maraschino liqueur and blue curaçao, evening out the tart and sweet balance. I find that large general non-cocktailian crowds like this tend not to like citrus cocktails as tart as I like them.

The curaçao I used is Senior Curaçao of Curaçao as well — it’s a really good product, despite its intense blueness, and remains the only curaçao actually made on the island of Curaçao. I usually keep both their orange and blue versions around.

Plus, I was talking to Audrey Saunders the other day and she expressed her love of blue cocktails (”as long as they taste good”), so I consider that to be official permission. 🙂

The crowd seem to like them, for what it’s worth. I batched enough for about 24 small servings, and they were gone long before the end of that interminable Oscar broadcast.

I will confess, though, that I did not come up with a terribly clever pun to name the drink, though … lame lame lame.


2 ounces Cruzan light rum
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
1/4 ounce Luxardo maraschino
1/4 ounce Senior Blue Curaçao of Curaçao

Combine with ice, shake for 15 seconds, strain into chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a little sparkly airborne floating jellyfish-looking thing from Pandora, or a lime wedge.

Perfect for sipping on those balmy Pandora days while you’re lounging under your Home Tree, wearing 3-D glasses and a breathing mask, or while watching “Dances With Wolves.”