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I’ll have me a po-boy

Of course, today is the day to talk about food, especially when the average plate of Thanksgiving feasting that you’ll be holding in your hands today will weigh in at 3,500 calories … and that’s not counting dessert.

I’m home in New Orleans for Thanksgiving (and a Saints game), and for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. (Happy Anniversary, Mom & Dad!) I’m hoping that on the spare day I have before I fly back I’ll be able to get me a po-boy. I haven’t had a proper one in months, and I’m jonesin’.

A week ago Sunday was the New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Festival, a madhouse of over 40,000 people crammed onto Oak Street to celebrate one of the national dishes of our beloved city-state. Some locals groused about the crowds, preferring to get their po-boys at actual po-boy shops during the other 364 days of the year, but it looked like quite a party.

“CBS Sunday Morning” did a terrific report on the festival, and on our love for the Emperor of All Sandwiches.

The winners of the festival all looked terrific, and none of them was one of the classic po-boy joints like Parkway, Domilise’s, Johnny’s or even the more recent upstarts like Mahony’s. I’d love to track all these sandwiches down (the lobster po-boy will be on the menu at GW Fins soon) although unfortunately I won’t be able to during the one extra day I’ll have at home, sigh. I’m trying not to drool just reading this list — it’s great to see the art of the po-boy being elevated with all this creativity. That said, you just can’t beat a hot sausage po-boy.

Best of Show Po-boy: GW Fins’ Fried Lobster tossed in Crystal Hot Sauce Butter
Best Pork Po-boy: Grand Isle Restaurant — Boucherie Po-Boy
Best Specialty Seafood Po-Boy: Grand Isle Restaurant — Smoked Fish Po-Boy
Best Roast Beef Po-Boy: Sammy’s Deli on Elysian Fields — Garlic Stuffed Roast Beef Po-Boy
Best Specialty Non-Seafood Po-Boy: Sammy’s Deli on Elysian Fields -– Fried Chicken, Chisesi Ham and Swiss Cheese Po-Boy
Best Shrimp Po-Boy: Redfish Grill — Grilled Shrimp with Blackened Avocado Po-boy
People’s Choice Award: Coquette Restaurant — Homemade Hot Sausage Po-Boy


Left Coast Libations (and the Saffron Sandalwood Sour)

There was a hugely fun book launch party at The Varnish bar in downtown Los Angeles back on October 17. No, I’m not exactly Johnny-On-The-Spot as this event occurred five weeks ago (remember, there’s that whole God Emperor of Procrastination thing) but in case you weren’t aware, there’s a new book out of great interest to those of us who appreciate fine cocktails, and especially those of us on the Left Coast.

Left Coast Libations

Those of you who were at Tales of the Cocktail a few years ago may remember being handed a small, spiral-bound booklet by one of two (or perhaps, if you were lucky, both!) delightfully quirky brothers from Seattle, the Munat Brothers (a.k.a. Charles and Ted), whose liver-straining toil produced a hand-made compendium of cocktail recipes with enlightening and amusing commentary. Since then the idea behind the book evolved into a gorgeous hardback entitled, oddly enough, Left Coast Libations: The Art of West Coast Bartending. One hundred, count ’em, one hundred original cocktails by craft bartenders from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. This time Ted’s the principal author, along with Michael Lazar and with lovely photos by Jenn Farrington.

It’s a fascinating snapshot of the West Coast coctkail scene … well, circa 2009, given how lead times work in the publishing industry. If you know Ted at all or read his I-wish-he’d-post-to-it-more-often-but-jeez-who-am-I-to-call-that-kettle-black weblog Le Mixeur you may have encountered his sense of humor, which is in full force in LCL. Ted’s biographies of the bartenders are highly entertaining, although not necessarily … um, well, true. Oh sure, there are bits of truthiness in there, but I wouldn’t swear on any of it in court. Take the bartender character sketches with a grain of salt — well, actually, head down to Avery Island, Louisiana and get the whole mine. That’s Ted, though, and it’s always clear that he adores and admires his bartenders (as do we all, right?). Also, given the book’s lead time, beware going to any particualr bar that’s mentioned to find a particular bartender — you know how it is, I have enough trouble keeping up with where my bartender friends are currently working on a weekly basis.

These are not all cocktails that you’ll find easy to make at home — these are specialty drinks from craft bars, and a number of them call for housemade ingredients that might be easy for a bar to batch and keep on hand in large quantity, but perhaps a bit more challenging for the home bartender.

Some are easy — cardamom and cinnamon tinctures are a cinch, as are simple infused spirits — others not so much. Costus root bitters, various foams, and … smoked cider air? Most you can make in small quantities, and in some cases you’ll find it worth the effort (as for the more complicated ones … you might end up just going to get one from the bartender himself or herself).

Although some of the drinks are quite complicated many are not, and all are more than noteworthy. A couple have been covered here before, including John Coltharp’s excellent Historic Core Cocktail, always worth a revisit.

The party was a blast, starting off with an early event featuring Marcos Tello and Varnish proprietor Eric Alperin behind the bar with a range of cocktails of their creation that were featured in the book. Then the main party took off, with The Varnish’s own Devon Tarby and Rob Royt owner-bartender Anu Apte in from Seattle to mix up yet another selection of drinks. (We were well-preserved by evening’s end.)

Chris Bostick, bartender and general manager at The Varnish, knocks out three at once at the Left Coast Libations L.A. launch event.

I’m going to feature a handful of cocktails from Left Coast Libations over the next few days, starting with this one of Anu’s that I first had at Rob Roy last year. It’s a wonderful take on a gin sour that incorporates comforting flavors of her childhood into a unique signature drink. It requires a bit of advance prep, but don’t be daunted. Saffron is an expensive spice but is available in small quantities, and you’ll get your best price at an Indian grocery store. (Penzey’s Spices is also a good place to start, as is Spice Station in Silver Lake in Los Angeles and The Spice House.) Indian groceries are your best bet for sandalwood sticks, too. Make sure you get food grade, and don’t grate up sandalwood incense.

Saffron Sandalwood Sour

1-1/2 ounces Plymouth gin.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce lime juice.
1/2 ounce saffron sharbat.
1 barspoon Angostura bitters.
1 egg white.
Sandalwood, for garnish.

Dry shake all ingredients except the garnish, for 20 seconds at least. Add the ice and shake again until very cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with sandalwood — if you have sandalwood sticks, grate over the drink using a microplane grater. (Anu points out that sandalwood sticks are very hard, so if you’re fresh grating it might be better to use chips, grind them in a spice grinder and strain out the larger pieces. Pre-powdered sandalwood has very little fragrance.)

Saffron Sharbat

1-1/4 cups water.
2 cups sugar.
1/4 cup rosewater.
Generous 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads.
1 tablespoon boiling water.

Make a saffron extract by placing the boiling water into a small bowl, crushing the saffron threads with your fingers and adding to the water. Let steep for 15 minutes.

Mix the water and sugar in a saucepan and make a simple syrup by heating gently until the sugar is dissolved.

In another bowl, add the rosewater to the saffron extract. Then add this mixture to the simple syrup. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool, and store in the refrigerator.

This makes enough for 16 cocktails, and will keep in the fridge. You can leave the saffron threads in, or strain them out if you like. Anu says the syrup also makes an excellent soda when mixed with lime juice and soda water.


Fats & Dave, together again

Yeah, I know, two posts in one day. Try not to faint.

I couldn’t help it, though. When I saw this report from WWL-TV in New Orleans I had to share it. New Orleans R&B legends Antoine “Fats” Domino and Dave Bartholomew, who together (and along with producer Cosimo Matassa) were responsible for so much great New Orleans music (and the building blocks of rock ‘n roll), hadn’t seen each other or spoken for years. Then WWL reporter Eric Paulsen brought Mr. Dave over to Fats’ house in the Lower Ninth Ward.

“And when these two living legends got together, it was magic… Fats is 82. Dave turns 90 next month. But they felt like teenagers when they saw each other.”

What I’d give to be able to see these two perform together. I last saw Dave years ago at Tipitina’s, heading up a big band and tearing it up for a guy who was in his 70s at the time. It’s been longer for Fats, a Jazzfest performance in 1997. He’s cripplingly shy these days and almost never performs, and was supposed to play Fest again in 2006, but that didn’t happen (sigh).

The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame is honoring Fats and Dave, and the special event will feature Lloyd Price, Irma Thomas, Dr. John, The ReBirth Brass Band, Theresa Andersson, The Dixie Cups, Toots & the Maytals, James Andrews, Jon Cleary & more. As our friend Diana said, “Just your average night in New Orleans …” I surely hope they release a DVD of this event.


Where to drink great cocktails in Los Angeles

It’s hard to believe that just over four years ago, Los Angeles was a (relative) cocktail wasteland.

The city had yet to recover from the near-death of bartending and mixology, the nadir of which gave us the once-ubiquitous artificially-colored and -flavored green “apple-tinis,” and more often than not the best you could do (other than drink beer, wine or straight spirits) was an overly-sweet (and equally ubiquitous) Cosmopolitan.

Things began to look up for us in the early ’00s, when Wes and I became regulars at a wonderful (and now-closed) restaurant in Glendale called Cinnabar. Our friend Ted “Dr. Cocktail” Haigh worked with them to put together an amazing menu of classic cocktails, and on our first visit we were thrilled to see it. Finally, a place where we could go out and get a really good classic cocktail! We also quickly became thrilled with the food, and drank and dined there regularly until they closed in 2005.

For me, the moment when the switch got flipped was at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans in 2007. I had just finished participating in a seminar on homemade and defunct cocktail ingredients in which I did a presentation on my homemade allspice liqueur when a young bartender approached and introduced himself. “I just helped open a bar in Los Angeles — we’ve been open for three months now, and I really want you to come.” I had actually heard about this bar, although being God Emperor of Procrastination I hadn’t made it over there yet. The bartender was Marcos Tello, the bar was Seven Grand, and the rest is history. Los Angeles’ cocktail renaissance — for me, at least — had begun.

Now … we have such a mindbogglingly large number of truly wonderful cocktail bars (many of them world-class) in this city that I cannot keep up with them all. I thought it was about time I made a list of them, and I’ll make it sticky somewhere on the site so that it’ll be easy to find.

These are bars in which bartenders (and their trusty barbacks) squeeze their own juices (which is now de rigueur in a bar in which I’ll drink cocktails, as far as I’m concerned). These are bars in which you won’t have to ask if they have rye whiskey, unless you want to know how many different ones they stock. You won’t have to remind the bartender that a Manhattan contains bitters, and you’re unlikely to get a muddled Old Fashioned in which the orange slice and fake neon red artificially flavored cherry are mashed into a nasty pulp. They’ll have menus of classic and creative new cocktails. Many if not most of them use large, clear ice cubes and crack their own ice for stirring or shaking; some actually make their own ice. Fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs are used. Housemade syrups and bitters are not uncommon.

This is where to drink in L.A. (and environs). Most are free-standing bars, some are restaurants, all of them will serve you a really good drink. Many of them will serve you an amazing one.

View Where to Drink in Los Angeles (and thereabouts) in a larger map

320 Main, 320 Main St., Seal Beach, CA 90740. (562) 799-6246. Jason Schiffer, co-proprietor. Erik Trickett, Matt Robold et al., bartenders.

A-Frame Restaurant, 12565 Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90066. (310) 398-7700. Bar program by Brian Butler.

Areal, 2820 Main Street, Santa Monica, CA 90405. (310) 392-1661. Rich Andreoli.

Bar 1886 at the Raymond, 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave, Pasadena, CA 91105. (626) 441-3136. Cocktail menu by Marcos Tello & Aidan Demarest, and the crew of 1886: Head bartender Garrett McKechnie and bartenders Danny Cymbal, Brady Weise, Greg Gertmenian, Lacey Murillo, et al.

Bar | Kitchen, O Hotel, 819 S. Flower St., Los Angeles, CA 90017. (213) 623-9904 x105. Bar program by Alex Day and David Kaplan.

Bar Bouchon, 235 N Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. (310) 281-5698. Small and casual, downstairs from and to the right of the restaurant’s main entrance.

Bar Centro, The Bazaar at SLS Hotel, 465 S La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211. (310) 246-5555.

Bar Marmont, 8171 W. Sunset Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90046. (323) 650-0575.

Big Bar at The Alcove, 1929 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90027. (323) 644-0100. Juan Sevilla et al., bartenders.

Black Market Liquor Bar, 11915 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604. (818) 446-2533. Tricia Alley, Ray Ewers, et al., bartenders.

Bottega Louie, 700 S. Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90017. (213) 802-1470. Across the street from Seven Grand.

Bouchon Bistro, 235 N Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210. (310) 271-9910. The upstairs bar in the bistro has a separate staff and menu.

Caña Rum Bar, 714 W. Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015. (213) 745-7090. Enter at the first private driveway south of Olympic on Flower St. Members only; membership is open and is $20 annually. Allan Katz, general manager.

Church & State Bistro, 1850 Industrial St., Los Angeles, CA 90021. (213) 405-1434.

Cole’s Red Car Bar, 118 East 6th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014. (213) 622-4090.

Comme Ça Restaurant, 8479 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, CA 90069. (323) 782-1104.

Copa d’Oro, 217 Broadway, Santa Monica, CA 90401. (310) 576-3030. Vincenzo Marianella, proprietor.

Craft Los Angeles, 10100 Constellation Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90067. (310) 279-4180.

La Descarga,1159 North Western Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038. (323) 466-1324. Steve Livigni, general manager. Pablo Moix, Ken Arbuckle, et al., bartenders.

Drago Centro, 525 S Flower St., Suite #120, Los Angeles, CA 90071. (213) 228-8998. Michael Shearin, sommelier & beverage director. Jaymee Mandeville, Jen Len, Mark Blackhart et al., bartenders.

The Edison, 108 W 2nd St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. (213) 613-0000.

El Carmen Restaurant, 8138 W Third St., Los Angeles, CA 90048. (323) 852-1552. Large selection of tequilas.

The Eveleigh Restaurant, 8752 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069. (424) 239-1630.

First & Hope Supper Club, 710 W 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. (213) 617-8555.

Harvard & Stone, 5221 Hollywood Blvd. (at N. Harvard), Los Angeles, CA 90027. (323) 466-6063. Bar program by Steve Livigni & Pablo Moix of La Descarga. Matt Wallace, head bartender, with bartenders Rich Andreoli, Nathan Oliver, Francois Vera & Mia Sarazen, opening crew.

Hemingway’s Lounge, 6356 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028. (323) 469-0040.

The Hungry Cat, 135 N Vine St. at Sunset, Los Angeles, CA 90028. (323) 462-2155.

Jones, 7205 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069. (323) 850-1726. Eric “E.T.” Tecosky et al, bartenders.

Las Perlas, 107 E 6th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014. (213) 988-8355. Across the street from Cole’s. Tequila & mezcal.

Library Bar, Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028. Matthew Biancaniello, Ryan Green, Brady Weise et al., bartenders.

Malo Taqueria, 4326 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90029. (323) 664-1011.

Mixology 101 at Planet Dailies, 6333 W. 3rd St., Ste. O20, Los Angeles, CA 90036, (323) 370-6560. Bar manager Joseph Brooke.

Musso and Frank Grill, 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028. (323) 467-7788.

Neat, 1114 N. Pacific Ave., Glendale, CA 91202. (818) 241-4542. Owner Aidan Demarest. Bartenders Cari Hah, et al.

Next Door Lounge, 1154 N Highland Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038. (323) 465-5505. Head barman, Joe Brooke.

Osteria Mozza, 6602 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038. (323) 297-0100. Finest collection of Italian amari in Los Angeles, perhaps anywhere.

The Parish, 840 S. Spring St. at 9th, Los Angeles, CA 90014. (213) 225-2400. John Coltharp, head bartender. Leo Rivas, Edwin Cruz, Brian Summers, et al. Chef Casey Lane.

Picca Peru, 9575 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310) 277-0133.

Plan Check Bar, 1800 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. (310) 288-6500.

Playa, 7360 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036. (323) 933-5300.

Pour Vous, 5574 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90004. (323) 871-8699. Pablo Moix, Dave Fernie, et al.

Providence Restaurant, 5955 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038. (323) 460-4170. Zahra Bates, bartender.

Rivera Restaurant, 1050 S Flower St., Los Angeles, CA 90015. (213) 749-1460. Julian Cox et al., bartenders.

The Roger Room, 370 N La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90048. (310) 854-1300. Damian Windsor, Jason Bran et al., bartenders.

Seven Grand, 515 W 7th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014. (213) 614-0737.

Sotto Restaurant, 9575 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035. (310) 277-0133. Cocktails by Julian Cox and team.

The Spare Room, Mezzanine Level, Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028. Two bowling alleys, backgammon and chess tables, board games.

Sunny Spot, 822 Washington Blvd. at Abbot Kinney, Venice, CA 90292. (310) 448-8884. Brian Butler, et al.

The Tasting Kitchen, 1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA 90291. (310) 392-6644. John Coltharp, Justin Pike et al., bartenders.

The Thirsty Crow, 2939 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, Los Angeles, CA. (323) 661-6007.

Tiki-Ti, 4427 W Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90027. (323) 669-9381. Mike Buhen Sr. & Jr., bartenders.

Tlapazola Grill, 11676 Gateway Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90064 (310) 477-1577. Edwin Cruz, bartender and co-proprietor.

Tony’s Saloon, 2017 E 7th St., Los Angeles, CA 90021. (213) 622-5523.

The Varnish, 118 E Sixth St., Los Angeles 90014. (213) 622-9999. Entrance through a non-descript door in the back of the dining room in Cole’s French Dip. Eric Alperin, co-owner & bartender. Chris Bostick, manager & bartender. Devon Tarby et al., bartenders.

Villains Tavern, 1356 Palmetto, Los Angeles, CA 91003. (213) 613-0766. Dave Whitton, co-owner & bartender, et al.

Westside Tavern, 10850 W Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064. (310) 470-1539. Kylee Van Dillen, Dan McClary, et al., bartenders.

If I’ve missed any, shout at me in the comments. Also … I know it’s fraught with peril to list any bartenders in bar listings — it’s almost a full-time job keep track of where my bartender friends are working. I’ve thrown in a few more well-known names of people that I know are relatively settled, for the time being at least.

Next stop … where to get a great cocktail in New Orleans.

Do you remember?

I do.


And for your Election Day amusement, here’s a new election-themed short story by one of my favorite writers, John Scalzi:

“An Election,” a short story presented by Subterranean Press.

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