the gumbo pages

looka, <lʊ´-kə> dialect, v.
1. The imperative form of the verb "to look"; in the spoken vernacular of New Orleans, it is usually employed when the speaker wishes to call one's attention to something.  

2. --n. Chuck Taggart's weblog, hand-made and updated (almost) daily, focusing on food and drink, cocktails as cuisine, music (especially of the roots variety), New Orleans and Louisiana culture, news of the reality-based community ... and occasionally movies, books, sf, public radio, media and culture, travel, Macs, liberal and progressive politics, humor and amusements, reviews, complaints, the author's life and opinions, witty and/or smart-arsed comments and whatever else tickles the author's fancy.

Please feel free to contribute a link if you think I'll find it interesting.   If you don't want to read my opinions, feel free to go elsewhere.

Page last tweaked @ 8:36pm PDT, 8/31/2008

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Vote for change!

Barack Obama for President

Buy my New Orleans music box set!

Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens

"Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans" is a 4-CD box set celebrating the joy and diversity of the New Orleans music scene, from R&B to jazz to funk to Latin to blues to zydeco to klezmer (!) and more, including a full-size, 80-page book.

Produced, compiled and annotated by Chuck Taggart (hey, that's me!), liner notes by Mary Herczog (author of Frommer's New Orleans) and myself. Now for sale at your favorite independent record stores (such as the Louisiana Music Factory, because you should be supporting local New Orleans retailers) or via Amazon if you insist.

The box set was the subject of a 15-minute profile on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition" on Feb. 6, 2005, and a segment on Wisconsin Public Radio's "To The Best of Our Knowledge" on Apr. 3, 2005. Here are some nice blurbs from the reviews (a tad immodest, I know; I'm not generally one to toot my own horn, but let's face it, I wanna sell some records here.)

*      *      *

"More successfully than any previous compilation, Doctors... captures the sprawling eclecticism, freewheeling fun and constant interplay of tradition and innovation that is at the heart of Crescent City music." -- Keith Spera, New Orleans Times-Picayune.

"... if you DO know someone who's unfortunate enough to have never heard these cuts, press this monumentally adventurous box and its attendant booklet upon them. It's never too late to learn" -- Robert Fontenot, OffBeat magazine, New Orleans

"... the best collection yet of Louisiana music." -- Scott Jordan, The Independent, Lafayette, Louisiana.

"[T]he year's single most awesome package" -- Buddy Blue, San Diego Union-Tribune

"This four-CD box set doesn't miss a Crescent City beat ... For anyone who has enjoyed the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, this is Jazz Fest in a box. ***1/2" -- Dave Hoekstra, Chicago Sun-Times

"... excellently compiled, wonderfully annotated ... New Orleans fans will know much of this by heart, though they may not remember it sounding so good; those who don't know what it's like to miss New Orleans will quickly understand." -- Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press.

"... a perfect storm when it comes to reissues. This box set is musically exciting, a complete representation of its subject matter, and just plain fun to listen." -- Charlie B. Dahan,

"... one of the best impressions of a city's musical blueprint that you're likely to ever find." -- Zeth Lundy,

"... an unacademic, uncategorized album that suits the city's time-warped party spirit." -- Jon Pareles, The New York Times

How to donate to this site:

Your donations help keep this site going. PayPal's the best way -- just click the button below, and thanks!

You can also donate via the Honor System, if you wish (but they deduct a larger fee from your donation and I keep less).

(Also, here's a shameless link to my Amazon Wish List.)

Buy stuff!

You can get Gumbo Pages designs on T-shirts, mugs and mousepads at The Gumbo Pages Swag Shop!

Looka! Archive
(99 and 44/100% link rot)

August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008

2007:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2006:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2005:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2004:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2003:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2002:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2001:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2000:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

1999:   Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

My Photos on Flickr
My Darlin' New Orleans...

The Flag of The City of New Orleans

Shop New Orleans! Visit the stores linked here to do your virtual online shopping in New Orleans. The city needs your money!

Greater N.O. Community Data Center
New Orleans Wiki

Gambit Weekly & The Times-Picayune
Scat Magazine
WDSU-TV (Channel 6, NBC)
WGNO-TV (Channel 26, ABC)
WNOL-TV (Channel 38, WB)
WTUL-FM (91.5, Progressive radio)
WVUE-TV (Channel 8, FOX)
WWL-TV (Channel 4, CBS)
WWNO-FM (89.9, classical, jazz, NPR)
WWOZ-FM (90.7, Best Radio Station in the Universe)
WYES-TV (Channel 12, PBS)


New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home.

2 Millionth Weblog
A Frolic of My Own
Ashley Morris (in memoriam)
Blogging New Orleans
Dispatches from Tanganyika
Home of the Groove
Humid City
Library Chronicles
Mellytawn Dreams
Metroblogging N.O.
People Get Ready
Da Po'Blog
Suspect Device Blog
The Third Battle of New Orleans
World Class New Orleans
The Yat Pundit
Your Right Hand Thief
Cocktail hour.

"We are still heartily of the opinion that decent libation supports as many million lives as it threatens; donates pleasure and sparkle to more lives than it shadows; inspires more brilliance in the world of art, music, letters, and common ordinary intelligent conversation, than it dims." -- Charles H. Baker, Jr.

   The Internet's most comprehensive
   and indispensible database of
   authenticated cocktail recipes,
   ingredients, reseearch and more.
   By Martin Doudoroff & Ted Haigh)

Museum of the American Cocktail
   Founded by Dale DeGroff and many
   other passionate spirits in Jan. 2005.
   Celebrating a true American cultural
   icon: the American Cocktail.
   (Their weblog.)

Blogging Tales of the Cocktail

*     *     *

The Sazerac Cocktail
   (The sine qua non of cocktails,
   and the quintessential New Orleans
   cocktail. Learn to make it.)

The Footloose Cocktail
   (An original by Wes;
   "Wonderful!" - Gary Regan.
   "Very elegant, supremely
   sophisticated" - Daniel Reichert.)

The Hoskins Cocktail
   (An original by Chuck;
   "It's nothing short of a
   masterpiece." - Gary Regan)

*     *     *

Chuck & Wes' Liquor Cabinet
   (Frighteningly large, and would
   never fit in a cabinet)

Chuck & Wes' Cocktail Book Collection
   (Constantly growing)

Chuck & Wes' Cocktail Menu
   (A few things we like to
   drink at home, plus a couple
   we don't, just for fun.)

*     *     *

Peychaud's Bitters
   (Indispensible for Sazeracs
   and many other cocktails.
   Order them here.)

Angostura Bitters
   (The gold standard of bitters,
   fortunately available everywhere
   worldwide. Insist on it.)

Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6
   (Complex and spicy orange
   bitters for your Martinis,
   Old Fashioneds and many more.
   Order them here.)

Fee Brothers' Bitters
   (Classic orange bitters,
   peach bitters and a cinnamony
   "Old Fashion" aromatic bitters,
   plus new lemon & grapefruit bitters!)

The Bitter Truth
   (A new brand of bitters
   from Germany: orange, lemon,
   aromatic bitters and more!)

Bittermens Bitters
   (Fantastic new small-batch
   bitters company with forth-
   coming products including
   Xocolatl Mole Bitters,
   grapefruit, "tiki" spice,
   and sweet chocolate bitters, wow!)

*     *     *

   (The study of booze with Camper English)

Ardent Spirits
   (Gary & Mardee Regan)

The Art of Drink:
   An exploration of Spirits & Mixology.
   (Darcy O'Neil)

Bar Mix Master
   (Brad Ellis, New Orleans)

Beachbum Berry:
   (Jeff Berry, world-class expert
   on tropical drinks)

   (Seamus Harris, N.Z. & China)

The Cocktail Chronicles
   (Paul Clarke's weblog)
   (Group drinks blog by Vidiot,
   Mr. Bali Hai, Kosmonaut,
   Chico and me).

The Cocktail Circuit
   (Joseph Mailander)

Cocktail Nerd
   (Gabriel Szaszko)

A Dash of Bitters
   (Michael Dietsch)

Drink A Week
   (Alex and Ed)
   (Lauren Clark)

DrinkBoy and the
   Community for the
   Cultured Cocktail
   (Robert Hess, et al.)

DrinkBoy's Cocktail Weblog

Drink Trader
   (Online magazine for the
   drink trade)

Esquire's Drinks Database
   (Dave Wondrich and
   his forbears)

Happy Hours
   (Beverage industry
   news & insider info)

Imbibe Magazine
   (Celebrating the world in a glass)

Jeff Morgenthaler
   (Bartender/mixologist, Eugene OR)

Jimmy's Cocktail Hour
   (Jimmy Patrick)

Kaiser Penguin
    (Rick Stutz, bringing us cocktails
    and great photographs)

King Cocktail
   (Dale DeGroff)

La Fée Verte
   (All about absinthe
   from Kallisti et al.)
   (Ladies United for the
   Preservation of
   Endangered Cocktails)

Fine Spirits & Cocktails
   (eGullet's forum)

The Ministry of Rum
   (Everything you always wanted to know)

The Modern Mixologist
   (Tony Abou-Ganim)

Mr. Lucky's Cocktails
   (Sando, LaDove,
   Swanky et al.)

Mr. Mixer
   (Hundreds of cocktail recipes ...
   in Hungarian. Well, why not?
   Sajnos, nem beszélek magyarul.)

Nat Decants
   (Natalie MacLean)

Off the Presses
   (Robert Simonson)

Oh, Gosh!
   (Jay Hepburn, London)

Rowley's Whiskey Forge
   (Matt Rowley)
   (Matt Robold, The Rum Dood)

Save the Drinkers
   (Kevin Kelpe, Boise, Idaho!)


Spirit Journal
   (F. Paul Pacult)

Spirits and Cocktails
   (Jamie Boudreau)

Spirits Review
   (Chris Carlsson)
   (Beverage Tasting
   Institute journal)

Trader Tiki's Booze Blog
   (Blair Reynolds)

Vintage Cocktails
   (Daniel Reichert)

The Wormwood Society
   (Dedicated to promoting accurate,
   current information about absinthe)

Let's eat!

New Orleans:
Culinary Concierge (N.O. food & wine magazine)
Mr. Lake's Non-Pompous New Orleans Food Forum
The New Orleans Menu
Notes from a New Orleans Foodie

Food-related weblogs:
Chocolate and Zucchini
Honest Cuisine
Il Forno
KIPlog's FOODblog
Mise en Place
Sauté Wednesday
Simmer Stock
Tasting Menu
Waiter Rant

More food!
à la carte
Chef Talk Café
Chowhound (L.A.)
Food Network
The Global Gourmet
The Hungry Passport site and weblog)
A Muse for Cooks
The Online Chef
Practically Edible
Pasta, Risotto & You
Slow Food Int'l. Movement
Southern Food & Beverages Museum
Southern Foodways Alliance
So. Calif. Farmer's Markets
Zagat Guide

In vino veritas.

The Oxford Companion to Wine
Wine Enthsiast
The Wine Spectator
Wine Today
Zinfandel Advocates & Producers

Wine/spirits shops in our 'hood:
Colorado Wine Co., Eagle Rock
Mission Liquors, Pasadena
Silverlake Wine, Silverlake
Chronicle Wine Cellar, Pasadena

Other wine/spirits shops we visit:
Beverage Warehouse, Mar Vista
Wally's Wine & Spirits, Westwood
The Wine House, West L.A.

Reading this month:

Lisey's Story, by Stephen King.

The Ghost Brigades, by John Scalzi.

In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan.

Listen to music!

Chuck's current album recommendations

Luka Bloom
La Bottine Souriante
Billy Bragg
Cordelia's Dad
Jay Farrar
The Frames
Sonny Landreth
Los Lobos
Christy Moore
Nickel Creek
The Old 97s
Anders Osborne
The Proclaimers
Professor Longhair
Red Meat
The Red Stick Ramblers
The Reivers
Zachary Richard
Paul Sanchez
Marc Savoy
Son Volt
Richard Thompson
Toasted Heretic
Uncle Tupelo

Tom Morgan's Jazz Roots

Miles of Music

New Orleans

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

No Depression


Appalachian String Band Music Festival - Clifftop, WV

Long Beach Bayou Festival

Strawberry Music Festival - Yosemite, CA

Talking furniture:

WWOZ (New Orleans)
   Broadcast schedule
   Live audio stream

KCSN (Los Angeles)
   Broadcast schedule
   Stream the last "Down Home"
   for 1 week after broadcastk

   Live MP3 audio stream

Bob Walker's New Orleans Radio Shrine
   (A rich history of N.O. radio)
   (Comprehensive listings)

Air America Radio
   (Talk radio for the
   rest of us)
Joe Frank
Grateful Dead Radio
   (Streaming complete
KPIG, 107 Oink 5
   (Freedom, CA)
KRVS Radio Acadie
   (Lafayette, LA)
Mike Hodel's "Hour 25"
   (Science fiction radio)
Raidió Idirlíon
   (Irish language & music)
Raidió na Gaeltachta
   (Irish language)
RootsWorld's Rootsradio
RTÉ Radio Ceolnet
   (Irish trad. music)
WXDU (Durham, NC)

Films seen this year:
(with ratings):

In the cinema:
Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (****-1/2)
Atonement (****)
No Country for Old Men (****)
Juno (***-1/2)

Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (***)
Eastern Promises (***-1/2)
Omagh (***-1/2)
Transformers (**-1/2)
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (**-1/2)
Across the Universe (***-1/2)
Sicko (****)
Michael Clayton (****)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (****-1/2)

Lookin' at da TV:

"Battlestar Galactica"
"One Tree Hill"
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"
"The Simpsons"
"Top Chef"
"Father Ted"


A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans (Joshua Mann Pailet)
American Museum of Photography
California Museum of Photography, Riverside
International Center of Photography

Ansel Adams
Jonathan Fish
Noah Grey
Greg Guirard
Paul F. R. Hamilton
Clarence John Laughlin
Herman Leonard
Howard Roffman
J. T. Seaton
Jerry Uelsmann
Gareth Watkins
Brett Weston

The Mirror Project
(My pics therein: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.)

My photographs at Flickr


The Amazing Adventures of Bill,
by Bill Roundy

Bloom County / Outland / Opus,
by Berkeley Breathed

Bob the Angry Flower,
by Stephen Notley

The Boondocks,
by Aaron McGruder

Calvin and Hobbes,
by Bill Watterson

by Garry B. Trudeau

Electric Sheep Comix
by Patrick Farley

Get Your War On
by David Rees

by Jonathan Rosenberg

L. A. Cucaracha
by Lalo Alcaraz

by Peter Blegvad

Lil' Abner,
by Al Capp

Lulu Eightball,
by Emily Flake

The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,
by Eric Orner

by Walt Kelly

Suspect Device,
by Greg Peters

Ted Rall,
by Ted Rall

This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow

XQUZYPHYR & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak


Polly Ticks: (Progressive politics & news)
Daily Kos (My favorite political weblog)
Eschaton (The Mighty Atrios)
Hullaballoo (The Mighty Digby)
Media Matters for America (Debunking right-wing media lies)
Orcinus (David Neiwert)
PostSecret (Secrets sent in via postcards; astonishingly beautiful, funny and sad.)
Talking Points Memo (Josh Marshall)
TAPPED (The American Prospect Online)
Think Progress
TruthOut (William Rivers Pitt & Co.)

Borowitz Report
(Political satire)
The Complete Bushisms (quotationable!)
The Fray (Your stories)
Landover Baptist (Better Christians than YOU!)
Maledicta (The International Journal of Verbal Aggression)
The Morning Fix from SF Gate (Opinions, extreme irreverence)
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The Onion (Scarily funny news/satire)
"Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An exegesis", by David Neiwert. (Read this.) (Not the actual White House, but it should be)

Weblogs I read:

American Leftist
The BradLands
The Carpetbagger Report
Franklin Avenue
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
Jesus' General
Making Light
Neil Gaiman's Journal
Not Right About Anything
August J. Pollak
Sadly, No!
This Modern World
Your Right Hand Thief

L.A. Blogs

Friends with pages:

mary & rick
mary katherine
michael p.

The Final Frontier:

Astronomy Pic of the Day
ISS Alpha News
NASA Human Spaceflight
Spaceflight Now


Locus Magazine Online
SF Site


"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

-- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States (1901-1909), speaking in 1918

"There ought to be limits to freedom."

-- George W. Bush, May 21, 1999

"You don't get everything you want. A dictatorship would be a lot easier."

-- George W. Bush, describing what it's like to be governor of Texas, Governing Magazine, July 1998

"If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."

-- George W. Bush,, December 18, 2000

"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."

-- George W. Bush, Business Week, July 30, 2001

Made with Macintosh

Hosted by pair Networks

Déanta:  This page is coded by hand, with BBEdit 4.0.1 on an Apple iMac 24" and a G4 15" PowerBook running MacOS X 10.5 if I'm at home; occasionally with telnet and Pico on a FreeBSD Unix host running tcsh if I'm updating from work. (I never could get used to all those weblogging tools.)

LOOKA! Bia agus deoch, ceol agus craic.

 "Eating, drinking and carrying on..."  -- Adelaide Brennan

  Sunday, August 31, 2008

I am so not as confident as these guys.   They expected everything to hold last time, too. The inadvertent caption from WWL doesn't help either.

Uh huh.

That said, I think we're gonna get through this one.

Time to hunker down. I've got some friends who are boarded up, stocked up and riding it out in New Orleans. Latest is that tropical storm force winds at the very least will be over New Orleans, but the water level in the canals aren't terribly high now, and that once they start rising to a certain level the Corps can close the new floodgates at the 17th Street and London Avenue Canals in about 30 minutes. Also, local meteorologist Bob Breck is predicting with some confidence that we won't get a storm surge in Lake Pontchartrain, which is what did us in during Katrina. He says that New Orleans is not going to see the catastrophic flooding we saw with Katrina, but N.O. will likely get Category 1 winds from 75-99mph. The Houma-to-Raceland corridor, however, is going to get "slammed." Let's hope it weakens close to the coast, and jogs just a little more west, as I am worried about the Westbank.

My old internet pal Ed Branley, Yat Pundit, is doing a great job with his Twitter update channel.

Singin' Paul Sanchez' "Hurricane Party" and thinking of home.

Plucky Survivors, Day 4!   They're off to Charleston today.

We'll get to today's road trip journal momentarily, but first some of Mary's work, many of her dearest friends, and all of her heart are in New Orleans and so even as we are enjoying the random acts of barbecue, wacky roadside attractions, and general Plucky fun, there is a part of us that would almost prefer to be sitting in front of the television watching updates on Hurricane Gustav while worrying prayer beads and whispering "go away, go away, go away."

Our thoughts, our prayers, and our deep hope for sunny skies go out to all of the residents of the Gulf Coast.

Plucky Survivors See America!

Before we continue, we need to address a glaring discrepancy in the previous evening's write-up. No we cannot explain how a bacon-wrapped hot dog qualified for the "Anything But Pork" competition. We are equally at a loss to explain why we NO ONE at our table gave it a second thought. We are confident, however, that it was neither turkey bacon nor turkey hot dog because those are anathema to our palettes and our mouths would have rejected them as surely as a mismatched organ transplant. Let us just say that we were obviously so blinded by bacon love and the all-consuming power conferred upon us by judge-dom that we just missed the simplest thing.

Now, back to timing... we knew that the barbeque championship started at 8am, and we thought that participants would be handing out samples of their entries after that. We also knew that the event went until at least 11pm, and that it didn't start getting crowded on Friday until about 7:30pm. The math seemed to work in our favor. Math was never our strongest subject at school, we were reminded when we got there and found the vast majority of the barbeque booths had been taken down and only a handful of contestants, none of whom were handing out samples any more, remained. One, one lone saintly individual let us try some of the final bits of his pork roast, and, well, actually, who cared if he was the only one because we didn't need any more, we may never need pork again, because it was that superlative. That tender, that flavorful, that, well, good. Really, really good. Then he slathered on some of his sauce, and sure it was a little heavy on the Jack Daniels, but it was really, really good, too.

Oh, who are we kidding, of course we will need pork again-- we had a sandwich and a plate of pulled pork minutes after this porcine revelation-- but it was good.

Turkey bacon, eww.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bugging out.   My family's mostly out now; the rest will be out by tomorrow. Houston, Shreveport, Memphis, and I've got friends heading to Atlanta and points beyond. My sister's a nurse and is staying at the hospital where she works, where it should be safe -- she's on the 3rd floor, and they have water and generators. Gustav just hit Category 4, but WWL is now about to call it as a Category 5. Jesus.

The Katrina Myth.   Just in time for the next possible go-round, have posted a new short film entitled The Katrina Myth; the truth about a thoroughly unnatural disaster. "Few people understand what really happened in New Orleans or what caused it. Fewer still realize that they too may be living under a similar or an even greater threat. This video exposes the key myths and misunderstandings about the New Orleans flood."

Me Big Chief, me feelin' good ...   Via Humid Haney, a fantastic clip of Professor Longhair, Dr. John, Earl King and The Meters. (!!!)

Quote of the day.   Video here.

"As for that VP talk all the time, I'll tell you, I still can't answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day."

-- Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, John McCain's vice presidential running mate, when asked in July about speculation that she may be tapped to be the Republican Vice presidential nominee.

"Here's one hint, Sarah," says Joe Sudbury at AmericaBlog. "You might become President." We could also find a ninth-grade civics student to explain to her that she'd be president of the Senate if elected.

John Nance Garner, who was Franklin D. Roosevelt's first vice president, rather famously described the office as being "not worth a bucket of warm piss." That was then, but for the reworked version of the vice presidency under the Bush administration, Crooks and Liars offers a modern-day vice presidential primer:

1. Leave undisclosed location for the White House.

2. Tell the President what to do.

3. Order Chief of Staff to obstruct a series of investigations.

4. Snarl a few times. (Mwra! Mwra!)

5. Return to undisclosed location.

Or, as Bill Maher said, "They start wars, they enrich their friends, they subvert the Constitution and they shoot people in the face."

Plucky Survivors, Day 3!   "One of the best days ever," say Mary and Rick, as they are appointed as judges. ("Throw away the key!") No, not that kind of judge ...

Off we sailed to Myrtle Beach, for the Beach Boogie and BBQ, home to the South Carolina State Barbeque Championships, which was attraction enough. But to our nearly inexpressible delight, we, the Plucky Survivors, had been asked to help judge the Anything But Pork competition. The entrees? Any dish, as long as it didnt once squeal. No, really; we were going to be judges at a cooking competition. How jealous are you? Admit it; very. We would be if the positions were reversed.

Consequently, this has been pretty much all we've talked about for the last three weeks, give or take. We were a little taken aback when we discovered we weren't two of say, half a dozen judges, but rather two of more like thirty. Also, everyone didn't judge everything; each table of six judges got various samples of entries and rated them (from 7.0 to 10). At least, we think that's how it worked; we were running a bit late and missed any explanations. But we figured -- eat, judge, how hard can it be?

We were joined by three public access TV presenters, and another woman whose occupation we didn't catch, and they were lively bunch who were serious and knowledgeable about food, especially the vagaries of Southern flavors and spices.

So the first section was the actual "anything but pork" part of the Anything But Pork competition, and we had small samples of seven dishes, including fried shrimp with a mango corn salsa, beef with a bleu cheese sauce, dirty rice (1/3 of which was black pepper), watery chili beef kidney bean chili, stuffed jalapeno, bacon-wrapped hot dog stuffed with shredded cabbage, and a perfectly

done London broil with a nice peppery crust.

And the food porn continues, plus historic Savannah and Charleston, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, August 29, 2008

Yes we can!   In case you missed it ...

It was a home run, grand slam, Cubs-win-the-World-Series kind of speech. (And to get this boy to use a baseball metaphor, unlikely as that is ... it had to have been a hell of a speech.) Easily the best political speech I've heard in my life, not counting ones from the historical record.

There were 84,000 people there to hear Barack's speech. (Wow.) By the way, if you're not busy tomorrow, the McCain campaign still has plenty of free tickets left for his VP announcement tomorrow at what Josh Marshall calls "the aptly named 12,000 seat Nutter Center." However, if you've signed up for McCain's early notification program, you'll be the first to know. Around 6am you'll get a knock on your door ... "Telegram!"

Although I can't wait to see the debates, November 4 can't get here fast enough.

8 . 29 . 2005   Three years ago today, Hurricane Katrina was doing this:

Hurricane Katrina
Click for archived page with animated image of Katrina's path

Whike Katrina devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast, who bore the brunt of its leading edge and stronger eastern side, New Orleans should have dodged the bullet and come through relatively well ... and for a few hours she did. Then, the failure of the federally designed and built levees and floodwalls became the worst manmade disaster in the history of this country. While this was happening, George W. Bush and John McCain were doing this:

Let them eat cake.

Remember that.

How's New Orleans doing? Well, a while back a friend of mine was telling people, "It's a lot better than you think, and worse than you can imagine." Dr. John says, in a great song from the funky, righteous burst of anger that is his most recent album City That Care Forgot ... "We gettin' there."

The city has about 70% of its pre-flood population back, according to some sources; other sources say it's less. One by one, the FEMA trailers are going away (but not all of them). There are 955 restaurants now open in the city, 146 more than there were before the federal flood. The city's arts and culture are thriving. Tourism is coming back up (summer was very strong this year), although convention business is still sluggish. While the mayor may be an ineffectual idiot, a lot of work is being done at the grassroots community level. The universities are packed again, and require local community service from their students (many of whom seem to be glad to offer it anyway). There is an abundance of teacher applicants. Some things are up, some things are down ... "we gettin' there."

From Bill Quigley, a human rights lawyer and professor at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, here are some excerpted figures from an AlterNet article posted today:

Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast three years ago this week. The president promised to do whatever it took to rebuild. But the nation is trying to fight wars in several countries and is dealing with economic crisis. The attention of the president wandered away. As a result, this is what New Orleans looks like today.

0. Number of renters in Louisiana who have received financial assistance from the $10 billion federal post-Katrina rebuilding program Road Home Community Development Block Grant -- compared to 116,708 homeowners.

0. Number of apartments currently being built to replace the 963 public housing apartments formerly occupied and now demolished at the St. Bernard Housing Development.

0. Amount of data available to evaluate performance of publicly financed, privately run charter schools in New Orleans in 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 school years.

.008. Percentage of rental homes that were supposed to be repaired and occupied by August 2008 which were actually completed and occupied -- a total of 82 finished out of 10,000 projected.

1. Rank of New Orleans among US cities in percentage of housing vacant or ruined.

1. Rank of New Orleans among US cities in murders per capita for 2006 and 2007.

4. Number of the 13 City of New Orleans Planning Districts that are at the same risk of flooding as they were before Katrina.

10. Number of apartments being rehabbed so far to replace the 896 apartments formerly occupied and now demolished at the Lafitte Housing Development.

11. Percent of families who have returned to live in Lower Ninth Ward.

17. Percentage increase in wages in the hotel and food industry since before Katrina.

20-25. Years that experts estimate it will take to rebuild the City of New Orleans at current pace.

25. Percent fewer hospitals in metro New Orleans than before Katrina.

32. Percent of the city's neighborhoods that have less than half as many households as before Katrina.

36. Percent fewer tons of cargo that move through Port of New Orleans since Katrina.

38. Percent fewer hospital beds in New Orleans since Katrina.

40. Percentage fewer special education students attending publicly funded, privately run charter schools than traditional public schools.

41. Number of publicly funded, privately run public charter schools in New Orleans out of total of 79 public schools in the city.

43. Percentage of child care available in New Orleans compared to before Katrina.

46. Percentage increase in rents in New Orleans since Katrina.

56. Percentage fewer inpatient psychiatric beds compared to before Katrina.

80. Percentage fewer public transportation buses now than pre-Katrina.

81. Percentage of homeowners in New Orleans who received insufficient funds to cover the complete costs to repair their homes.

6,982. Number of families still living in FEMA trailers in metro New Orleans area.

8,000. Fewer publicly assisted rental apartments planned for New Orleans by federal government.

10,000. Houses demolished in New Orleans since Katrina.

12,000. Number of homeless in New Orleans even after camps of people living under the bridges have been resettled -- double the pre-Katrina number.

14,000. Number of displaced families in New Orleans area whose hurricane rental assistance expires in March 2009.

32,000. Number of children who have not returned to public school in New Orleans, leaving the public school population less than half what it was pre-Katrina.

39,000. Number of Louisiana homeowners who have applied for federal assistance in repair and rebuilding who still have not received any money.

46,000. Fewer African-American voters in New Orleans in 2007 gubernatorial election than in 2003 gubernatorial election.

55,000. Fewer houses receiving mail than before Katrina.

71,657. Vacant, ruined, unoccupied houses in New Orleans today.

124,000. Fewer people working in metropolitan New Orleans than pre-Katrina.

132,000. Fewer people in New Orleans than before Katrina, according to the City of New Orleans current population estimate of 321,000 in New Orleans.

214,000. Fewer people in New Orleans than before Katrina, according to the US Census Bureau current population estimate of 239,000 in New Orleans.

453,726. Population of New Orleans before Katrina.

368 million. Dollar losses of five major metro New Orleans hospitals from Katrina through 2007. In 2008, these hospitals expect another $103 million in losses.

Long, long way to go.

Here are some local organizations you can help out: A non-profit organization teaching home rebuilding to volunteers and community residents; facilitating access to social services; working with youth; and experimenting with models of sustainable economic development in the Lower Ninth Ward.

NENA: The Lower Ninth Ward Neighborhood Empowerment Network Association (NENA) was established in the aftermath of Katrina to play a lead role in rebuilding New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward. Organized and controlled by residents of the Lower Ninth Ward, NENA addresses not only the immediate recovery needs created by the storm's destruction, but also the institutional neglect and disinvestment that plagued the neighborhood long before Katrina. NENA works with current Lower Ninth Ward residents, displaced residents living in other parts of New Orleans, and the broader diaspora who want to return to the neighborhood.

New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity

The New Orleans Musicians' Clinic: The NOMC is an innovative not-for-profit occupational medicine and wellness partnership offering comprehensive health care to our community's most precious resource: our musicians. Collaborative partners are LSU Healthcare Network, Daughters of Charity Services of New Orleans, and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation.

New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund: NOMRF, a grass roots 501c(3), was founded after Katrina by and for displaced musicians, and has provided housing, transportation, instruments and grants.

Voice of the Wetlands: By redirecting the Mississippi River from it's natural flow, south Louisiana's wetlands are being taken over and destroyed by the stronger current of the Gulf of Mexico at an alarming rate. The loss of south Louisiana's wetlands contributes to the loss of our unique culture, our heritage, our wildlife, our people and their livelihood. VOW is an organization that is made up strictly of volunteers who dedicate their talent, time and resources to bring global attention to south Louisiana and the world's coastal erosion problem.

(P.S. -- Go away, Gustav.)

Plucky Survivors, Day 2!   Mary and Rick trekked from Atlanta to Savannah yesterday, and so the adventure began.

So when we checked into our hotel yesterday, we both noticed a tiny round metal canister sitting on the generic welcome letter. "Cool!" thought Mary, "lip balm!" "Cool!" thought Rick, "Candy!" Imagine our disappointment when we found it contained foam earplugs. Imagine what other emotions we experienced when we found out why they were needed...

Plucky Survivors See America!

We began at Oakland cemetery, a former pauper's field turned Confederate burial ground turned cemetery for everyone, lined with uneven brick paths and full of massive monuments, some of which are sadly toppled thanks to a tornado that touched down in March. We paid respects to Margaret Mitchell (author of Gone With the Wind, who died in an accident at age 49), and the unknown Confederate dead, honored by a statue of a giant lion slowly dying from a bullet wound...

From the cemetery we went to the Martin Luther King National Historic Site. This is a cluster of buildings erected next to the new Ebeneezer Baptist church, across the street from the historic original, and down the street from the nice Victorian where Dr. King was born in 1929. The first building holds excellent exhibitions on MLK and his historic context. There was a room containing the mule cart that carried Dr. King's casket during his funeral procession, plus all the dry official documents that were issued upon his death "by gunshot wound to thorax." Such a simple stark phrase to sum up not just the death of a man but what seemed at the time to be the death of a dream, of justice itself. The exhibit also had letters sent by children to Dr. King's children after his death. One in particular was a drawing of three kids, all sad faced and crying, and underneath it read, in tipply child's handwriting, "Sorry about your daddy." [...]

Out front is Dr. King's tomb, a shining white sarcaphagous set in a placid lake of blue water.

There is nothing we can say about that.

Except; that tomb, and the toppled statue pictured here may be the iconic starting images for what we think is emerging as the theme of this trip; endurance and resilience. Anything from minor adversity to catastrophe can topple and break plans and lives, and it seems impossible to piece it together again afterward. And yet; Sherman marched through Atlanta and left it in ashes and here it is, alive. Dr. King is tragically, senselessly murdered, and here we are, this same night, about to see a black man accept the nomination as the Democratic candidate for President of the United States. It's forty years later, and that's much too long, but it happened, what surely on April 4, 1968 seemed utterly hopeless.

To say nothing of the food porn ... pork! And cakes and pies and ice cream and and and ... mmm. More adventures and tons of pics, so check out the rest of Day 2, and maybe even drop 'em an email and say hi.

Tomorrow, on to Charleston!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, August 28, 2008

If you live in Los Angeles   you have official permission to skip my radio show tonight to listen to Barack. Hell, I'm gonna miss it -- I've put together a first hour of long live pieces from Jazzfest for anyone who might be out there, but me, I'll have the TV on at the radio station.

Yes we can.

Tales of the Cocktail: Liqueurs and Cordials.   The world's pokiest event recapper here, with more details of Tales ... only 40 days after the fact. Hey, that's not bad for me.

Next after the amari was a seminar with the slightly unwieldy title of "History of Liqueurs and Cordials, and Their Important Role in Cocktails Both Classic and Contemporary," with a panel consisting of Rob Cooper, whose family business is Jacquin et Cie and who founded Cooper Spirits International, makers of the fabulous St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur; Dr. Cocktail; Dave Wondrich and mixologist Chad Solomon of Cuff and Buttons. I thorougly enjoyed the session, but unfortunately am missing most of my notes from that one ... d'oh.

One of the liqueurs prominently featured was the long-lost and elusive Crème Yvette, named for the French actress Yvette Gilbert around the turn of the 20th Century, which has been out of production for decades. It's a violet-based liqueur similar to crème de violette, but with the addition of vanilla and other spices to give it more complexity. There was some vintage Crème Yvette on hand to taste, as well as a new version that, we hope, will be hitting the market again in early 2009 and will give yet another great boost to the world of cocktails.

I'm still a big fan of crème de violette -- it's a necessasry component in the original Aviation and several other cocktails -- but cannot WAIT for Yvette to make its return. We tasted a lab sample of the new stuff, and I found it to be a bit rounder and more balanced than the violette, fruitier and a bit less floral. (It'll be great to make Blue Moons with this.) It was grapey in the nose, with a definite fragrance of vanilla. On the palate it was citric, with fruit up front and the floral aspects of the violets in the finish. Lovely, lovely stuff.

The early arrivers were also regaled with handmade versions of this infamous layered cocktail, made by Dave Wondrich himself! (I wasn't an early arriver, ended up way in the back, and didn't get one. Hrmph.)

Pousse Café

1/3 Plymouth Sloe Gin.
1/3 Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur.
1/3 Crème Yvette.

Layer ingredients in a cordial glass by carefully pouring each liqueur very slowly, based on their density (heaviest first) into the glass over the back of a barspoon.

Serve layered, and sip slowly.

We were also excited about the potential return of another long-lost classic liqueur, which was made by Jacquin, the company run by Rob Cooper's dad and grandfather since just after Prohibition. Forbidden Fruit is a brandy-based pommelo liqueur (a citrus fruit similar to grapefruit) sweetened with honey, and it's fabulous, fabulous stuff.

Forbidden Fruit liqueur

There's a bottle of vintage Forbidden Fruit, with a fuzzy Rob Cooper in the background. (I have a tiny 1/10th pint size miniature that's still mostly full.) If the bottle looks familiar -- like the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch -- well, actually like a Chambord bottle -- it's because both liqueurs were made by Jacquin at the time. The Chambord brand was sold off to Brown-Forman many years ago, so when Forbidden Fruit returns it won't be in that iconic bottle. There's no timetable yet for its return -- we sampled a lab batch as well as the vintage, and the lab batch isn't quite there yet. We did get a cocktail, though, one of 26 Forbidden Fruit cocktails listed in CocktailDB and, I hope, the start of many more:

The Tantalus Cocktail

1-1/2 ounces brandy.
3/4 ounce Forbidden Fruit.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.

Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Here's one more recipe for a cocktail with a powerful liqueur as its modifying ingredient. If you've never had green Chartreuse before, find a good liquor store that has a good selection of miniatures and try it. It'll blow you away, and you may be unprepared for the depth and complexity of its flavor. (It's powerful stuff too, at 110 proof!) It looks to me to be a variation of the Last Word cocktail, one of my favorites, adjusting the proportions in favor of the gin and swapping out simple syrup for the maraschino.

Daisy Mae Cocktail
(from the Flatiron Lounge, New York)

2 ounces Junipero gin.
1 ounce fresh lime juice.
3/4 ounce green Chartreuse.
3/4 ounce simple syrup.

Shake with ice and strain over the rocks in an Old Fashioned glass. Garnishsed with a mint sprig.

Most of my pictures turned out to be crap, but I did get a shot of one of the interesting bottles Rob brought along:

Jacquin combo bottle

I love those old bottles containing four chambers with four liqueurs. Not terribly practical, but nifty anyway.

Next seminar ... Gary Regan and LeNell Smothers, and American whiskies. (Boy, that one will be on fire.)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Plucky Survivors 3 begins today!   My good friends Mary and Rick are off on their third annual road trip across the backroads and byways of America. This year it's Savannah to Charleston to Myrtle Beach to Asheville to Knoxville to Lexington to Louisville to Chattanooga to Atlanta and everything in between, for the next 11 days.

Plucky Survivors See America!

Mary says, "Join us as we blog daily about everything from the Scopes Monkey Trial Museum to the 52 hole Biblically themed mini-golf course, from the Martin Luther King memorial and grave site to the Col. Sanders museum, from Hillbilly Hot Dogs to the South Carolina State BBQ championships. And, of course, as we play Cow!, the best road trip game there is. It's daily food and road trip porn for those who like that sort of thing."

We'll be posting daily updates from their road trip journals here. Stay tuned!

Oh, crap.   Well, isn't this just dandy, with the three-year Katrinaversary being on Friday?

It's still way too early to tell, but some computer models have it landing either just east or just west of New Orleans at potential Category 4 strength. However, I'm hearing that Bob Breck, local N.O. weatherman and meteorologist with TONS of experience with hurricanes, seems to think that dotted-line path is the least likely one. In fact, he says:

Geez... reading all the doom & gloom scenarios, one would think we all gonna die from Gustav. Let's be reasonable. 1) Latest info from recon aircraft indicates Gustav has WEAKENED as he interacts with the mountains of Haiti. 2) The forecast error at 5 days is nearly 300 miles! As I have said in the past...I want New Orleans to be the bulls eye at 5 days because it won't come here... it will be on either side of the center line track by a large distance. 3) It's far too soon to cancel your weekend plans just because some "computer models" say Gustav is coming into the central Gulf. Today is only TUESDAY. We'll have a much better handle on where the storm is going by THURSDAY, 2 days from now.

Fingers crossed.

Oh, but the really good news, that should fill us all with confidence, is that RayRay "Do Nothing" Nagin has decided to come back home from the Democratic Convention to "oversee preparation" for the hurricane.

The comments section of, usually where you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy, provided the perfect response to this story, though, in the first comment posted: "I was hoping he would stay in Denver where he can do us less harm."

This is on the heels of last Friday, when RayRay was given an award. The award-givers were called "The Excellence in Recovery Host Committee," which no one had ever heard of and which turns out was packed with RayRay's cronies, donors and supporters, and the award he was given, which no one had ever heard of either, was called "Award of Distinction for Recovery, Courage and Leadership." Several of the community leaders who were named to the committee that very week, including the president of the City Council, said they had no idea Nagin was to be honored; Council president Jackie Clarkson said she thought flood survivors were to be honored. The event was organized by RayRay's personal photographer, who's also become a self-appointed mayoral assistant and media relations czar, who's only known by the name ... Bernardo.

The event, held at the Ritz-Carlton, was picketed by about 75 people out front, who carried signs saying, among other things, "NAGIN IS AN IDIOT."

I am not making this up.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva 15 Year Old Rum.   There's been a new trend the last several months where cocktail bloggers have been offered review samples of products. "Hey, free booze!" you might say. Not so fast. A lot of these, as the bloggers who were the recipients of these offers will confirm, were crap trendy products completely uninteresting to them. (Shocking pink, impossibly sweet liqueurs, and the like.)

A while back I started getting offered samples as well, and they were invariably vodka. I must confess to not having a lot of interest in vodka, preferring spirits that actually taste like something. Yes yes yes, I can get into lengthy argu-- er, discussions with vodka drinkers about the subtleties of flavor in a well-made vodka, and they're absolutely right. I just don't enjoy drinking plain vodka for the most part (unless it's Zubrówka), and it bores me. Not only that, I'm a believer in Audrey Saunders' adage that for the most part a vodka cocktail is a cocktail with a hole in it; any subtlety in a vodka's flavor pretty much disappears when it's mixed.

Imagine my delight, then, when I was offered a sample of something that not only interested me but excited me. Now that the disclosure is out of the way, let's talk about a rum I've been curious about for a while but until recently had never tried until I got a bottle in the mail -- Ron Matusalem.

Matusalem is a rum from the Dominican Republic, but they are quick to point out that they are a Cuban spirit. How does that work? In 1872 the Matusalem distillery was founded in Santiago de Cuba by two Spanish immigrants, Benjamin and Eduardo Camp, and their partner Evaristo Álvarez. They brought along the Solera system from Spain, used to make Spain's sherries and brandies, in which a series of barrels are used to age a wine or spirit. A portion from the last and oldest barrel is bottled, then that barrel is filled from the next-to-last barrel, etc. The aging process is reflected in the name they chose for their rum, which is Spanish for Methuselah, the old patriarch who according to biblical legend lived to an age of 969 (nine hundred four years of retirement -- golf, shuffleboard and getting in his wife's hair ... oy) and a nod to the old Spanish proverb, "Esto es màs viejo que Matusalem" -- "It's older than Methuselah."

The beautifully crafted rum took off, and by the mid-1950s Matusalem had half of the Cuban rum market. Then we all know what happened in Cuba four years later ...

The Álvarez family and their company were forced into exile, and the brand nose-dived. Fortunately, in the mid-1990s, Claudio Álvarez Salazar, great-grandson of Evaristo, won a court settlement granting the Matusalem brand back to him and his family. He took what was left of the company back to its roots, started making their rums the old way and ... voilà! Ron Matusalem was relaunched in 2002.

Here's the stuff they sent me a few weeks ago:

Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva 15 Year Old Rum

Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva, 15 years old. "The Cognac of Rums" was what it was called back in the day, according to the distiller. They describe it as a "super premium" rum but also call for its inclusion in cocktails. Well, let's give it a try, shall we?

This is the first time I've ever evaluated a spirit for a review, even just as semi-formal one, but I want to do it right. Fortunately a month ago Wesly and I took a course at Tales of the Cocktail with Paul Pacult called "How to Taste Like A Professional," which comes in handy for this sort of thing. Our palates aren't nearly as educated as his, but we can certainly continue to train them by taking his advice, which is basically to smell and taste the spirit, do it properly, and let the spirit sit in the glass for several minutes to see what else it releases as it aerates. Sounds like fun.

Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva, in the glass

First off, it's pretty stuff; a beautiful amber/honey color in the glass. First sniff ... sugar cane. Then vanilla, and plenty of it. "Grandmother's attic," was one of Gregg's observations when he, Wes and I first tasted this a week or so ago, and he meant that in the best possible way. After a few minutes more vanilla, then a buttery aroma developed. Five to seven minutes in the glass, and I actually laughed in surprise -- I got the flavor of pecan pralines, right out of New Orleans. (Unsurprising, as the ingredients in pralines are sugar, butter, pecans and sometimes rum.) Really delightful.

Now, let's have a taste ... a bit of alcohol up front, although it's bottled at 40%. It's pleasantly hot, though; I get that not so much on the tongue but on my lips. Despite that bit of heat it's very smooth. We all found that 5 to 8 minutes in the glass eliminated the burn. It's delicate and refined but wouldn't be easy to overpower. Very complex, with plenty of vanilla, butter, toasted pecans, a touch of cinnamon. More aeration also brought out more oak wood as well. It had a nice finish too; I could still taste it almost 15 minutes later. Hoo-boy. We poured some more. This is really terrific stuff. Not too sweet, with more of a brown sugar flavor that strong molasses, crisp, woody, buttery caramel, yet still dry enough. The first time we tasted this we also tasted an actual Cuban rum, Havana Club Añejo (um ... we teleported to Canada to do that ... yeah, that's it), and I have to say that Fidel's boys got their butts kicked. Clearly Matusalem was the superior product.

Now, is this a rum I want to reserve for sipping only? I'm tempted, but I'm a believer in Gary Regan's adage of "Garbage In, Garbage Out" when it comes to cocktails, and I'm not shy about using the good stuff. I certainly will sip this on occasion, but what else shall we try? One of my favorite ways to evaluate a whiskey is to use it in an Old Fashioned, and I've been doing that with añejo tequila these days as well. So let's try one of those ... Wes did the honors.

Rum Old Fashioned

Rum Old Fashioned

2-1/2 ounces Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva rum.
1 teaspoon simple syrup.
2 dashes Angostura Bitters.
1 lime wedge.
1 good-quality cocktail cherry.

Combine rum, syrup and bitters in a mixing glass and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass over fresh ice. Garnish with the cherry and the lime wedge, but do not squeeze the lime; leave the option for the drinker.

This made an absolutely gorgeous Old Fashioned. Wes went light on the syrup, as we didn't want to oversweeten. The lime makes a lovely garnish and would probably complement the flavor nicely, but we thought leaving the squeezing up to the individual would be a good idea if you're serving these.

Okay, what else shall we do? I thought of a Daiquiri, and that'd be a great way to drink this stuff too; keeping it simple with lime and sugar. I wanted to try and see how it'd blend with other ingredients, though, and while thinking of something Daiquiri-like the lightbulb went off over my head. I went to our cocktail bookshelf and dug out Jeff "Beachbum" Berry's most recent and stupendously wonderful book, Sippin' Safari and flipped around until I found the recipe I was thinking about.

This is a drink by the man who started the whole world of tiki cocktails and cuisine, a native of New Orleans named Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, who later changed his name to Donn Beach, but was known the world 'round as Don the Beachcomber. Jeff says this drink "is a good example of how Donn had mastered the art of blending rums of different body, character and origin to create a flavor no one rum could approach on its own. Try this with 2 ounces of only one of the rums listed above, and you'll get a serviceable but utterly unexceptional Daiquiri."

Don's original recipe called for Golden Stag rum; Jeff suggests substituting Appleton Special Gold from Jamaica, but I decided to let the Cuban spirit by way of the Dominican Republic take the forefront. The other two rums called for are a half-ounce each of "aged dark Jamaican rum" -- Jeff recommends Appleton Estate Extra, which I absolutely love (talk about the Cognac of rums, yeesh!) -- and Louisiana rum, for which I used Old New Orleans Dark 3 Year Old rum.

Golden Stag

1 ounce Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva rum.
1/2 ounce Appleton Estate Extra rum.
1/2 ounce Old New Orleans Dark rum.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.
1 dash Angostura Bitters.
Lime wheel.

Shake with ice for at least 12 seconds, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the lime wheel.

God ... what a gorgeous drink! This ain't no ordinary Daiquiri; blending those rums together creates a new and wonderful whole, and the Matusalem anchor works great. The dash of bitters helps to tie it all together, with the sweet and tart in balance.

I'd say go ahead and mix Matusalem Gran Reserva with just about anything you care to (although if you do a Cuba Libre I'd go easy on the cola). Definitely sip this when you're in the mood for a sippin' rum, though. And the clincher? The distillery describes this as a "super premium" rum, but Beverage Warehouse carries this for $29.95! That's hardly a premium price, and at that price you can afford to go through this without too much worry about your wallet.

And there you have it, my first review from an actual professional sample. That was fun! Let's do it again!

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   New episode up, with Robert helping you out if you were wondering what the heck you can do with that bottle of Fee's peach bitters you ended up with, besides a few dashes on top of a Bellini.

The Renaissance Cocktail

As we all know, bitters are a crucial ingredient for many cocktails. A few old recipes referred to peach bitters, but no product survived to modern days. Fee Brothers then produced their version, and I took it on myself to see if I could come up with a few cocktails that might be able to make good use of it. The Renaissance is one of them that I came up with. I think that it is a delightfully approachable drink that is just slightly on the sweet side.

That looks like a lovely late summer drink. I think we might need one tonight.

Poor misunderstood vermouth.   I'll admit. I'll come clean. I ... I ... My name is Chuck, and I used to hate vermouth. "Hi, Chuck!"

But as is the case with so many instances of hate, it really came down to fear. I was afraid of vermouth. I'm not sure why, but I think I have a good idea, and I think it's a similar story with a lot of people. I probably tasted some vermouth from my dad's bar way back when, and it was likely the same bottle of dry vermouth that had been in his bar since 1965.

Vermouth is wine. It goes bad. It's fortified, so it doesn't go bad quite as fast as regular wines, but it's got a limited shelf life, should be used as quickly as possible and kept in the fridge after opening. Use that wine preserving gas, too.

For those who still fear vermouth, I cannot encourage you enough to give it a go. After having my vermouth and Martini epiphany at the hands of Dale DeGroff ... well, use whatever clich´ you like -- the shackles fell from my wrists, the light shone down upon me on the road to Damascus, Cher slapped me in the face and yelled "Snap out of it!" A properly made "wet" Martini is a joy to behold, and don't even get me started on the joys of sweet vermouth, which is so good I'll drink it by itself. But don't just take my word for it, let's listen to a pro.

My friend Paul Clarke takes a look at poor, misunderstood vermouth in a new article in the San Francisco Chronicle, examining the wholly unwarranted fear and loathing. As Dave Wondrich said in the article, "Bartenders are taught to treat (vermouth) like toxic waste." (This must stop!) Learn some history, how to store it properly, and some yummy drinks you can make with vermouth.

Way cool!   Scott Haefner flies kites. Not only that, he attaches his Canon digital camera to it, fitted with a fisheye lens, takes pictures, then converts them into really nifty Quicktime VR 360° panoramas. Check 'em out.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, August 19, 2008

An Olympic cocktail.   Eric Felten has a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal about the history of drinking and cocktails in the Olympics (I love that Frank Sinatra wanted to start an Olympic Drinking Team). There's even a yummy-looking cocktail recipe, which I'll post here; read it soon, as the article will go away in a few days.

Appropriately enough, there is an Olympic Cocktail that managed to find its way into old cocktail books. Equal parts brandy, orange curaçao and orange juice, sadly, it is an over-sweet monotone.

But there are others, including the drink devised by Nino Mastalioni, a hotel barman in Rome, who in 1960 tried to reflect in a glass the international character of the games. He combined one part each American rye whiskey, German kirsch, Russian vodka, London dry gin, along with Campari (to represent his native Italia). Nino was happy to customize his concoction -- replacing the whiskey with tequila for his Mexican guests, or aquavit for the vodka if a Dane stepped up to the bar. But any way you try it, Mastalioni's Elixir of Olympus is fiercely alcoholic and only marginally potable.

Far better is the Mount Olympus cocktail created by Wembley bartender Jock Nelson for London's 1948 games. Equal parts Greek brandy, Lillet blanc and orange curaçao, Nelson bragged the drink was "guaranteed to give anyone enough zip to run a four-minute mile." The original cocktail is too sweet and viscous for my taste, but with a little adjustment it's possible to find a gymnast's balance for the Mount Olympus. I boosted the proportion of brandy, replaced the generic curaçao with Grand Marnier and added a bit of fresh lime juice to keep the sweetness in check.

Mount Olympus

1-1/2 ounces Metaxa.
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier.
1/2 ounce Lillet blanc.
1/4 ounce fresh lime juice.

Shake with ice and strain into a stemmed cocktail glass. Garnish with orange peel.

We had one last night. Very lovely.

If any of y'all have an Olympic cocktail of your own, or are inspired to create one, please post it in the comments!

Whiskies (and a Cognac) You've Never Tasted.   The seminars continue at Tales of the Cocktail ... after thoroughly enjoying our first seminar with the renowned Paul Pacult, we decided to try another, the one of the above title. Actually it was just called "Whiskies You've Never Tasted" in the course description, but if you read the fine print they slipped a Cognac in there too. "Tasting will cover the differences in top-end bourbon, Irish, single malt and blended Scotch as a way of describing top quality in various expressions. Attendees will be among a select few to taste the rare, unparalleled whiskey expressions" of the spirits offered. Um ... sign me up.

Wes and I managed to score front-row seats, and were greeted by a pretty sight:

Whiskies (and a Cognac) You've Never Tasted

The tastes

Oh my. Let's go through what we tasted:

Martell Creation Grande Extra - A masterful blend of Cognacs 18 years or older. Gorgeous copper-mahogany color, with almonds, toasted nuts, butterscotch, vanilla and figs in the nose. On the palate, a glorious explosion of vanilla, with cinnamon and even that unburnt tobacco aroma I love so much (which turns to crap when it's set on fire). Aboslutely superb stuff, and at $300 per bottle I'm unlikely to be tasting such a thing anywhere else.

About 3/4 ounce of a fabulous Cognac

That's about 3/4 ounce of the Martell Creation which, at retail price, would run you about nine bucks. This seminar more than paid for itself, between Paul's observations and the value of the amazing spirits we tasted.

Chivas Regal 25 Year Blended Scotch Whisky - The closest I'd ever come to tasting this was when a very generous cow-orker supervising our team on a slow day bought us a bottle of Chivas Regal Royal Salute, their 21-year-old blend. We sat around on a dead day in the sound studio and passed it around, and it was mighty fine. This stuff was better. It's been brought back on the market to pay tribute to the first 1909 import of a 25-year Chivas, and I'd say it was probably worth the wait. More stunning color -- deep amber and wildflower honey. You could smell the toasted grain, plus a lovely floral bouquet of Scottish heather. The taste was very dry, with elements of wood and leather, a hint of apple and a light, fresh finish. This is another $300 bottle of whisky, and another one I'm not likely to have at home either.

Midleton Very Rare, 2007 Release - This is a blended Irish whiskey that we've had before; we picked up a bottle of the 2003 release on our last trip to Ireland (they're numbered, and we got bottle 56!). I adore this stuff, and if possible the '07 blend is even better than the '03. Apple, pear, dried fruit and a bit of toffee in the nose, and on the palate ... fruit!! Apples, pears, peaches, plus wood, more toffee, and sheer elegance. Paul summed up everyone's feelings on this whiskey thusly: "If I could afford it, I'd bathe in it." This, along with the 25-year Chivas above, should be waved in the face of any Scotch snobs who turn their noses up at blended whiskey while claming that only single malts are worth spending money for. Master blenders like Colin Scott at Chivas and Barry Crockett at Midleton are geniuses and artists. It's incredibly difficult to create blends like these. Midleton ia also more affordable than the two examples above, running about $120-130 per bottle.

Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve - Another Irish whiskey, from the house of John Jameson, formerly made in Dublin but now made at the Midleton distillery in Cork, as are most Irish whiskies these days. (There are only three working distilleries left in Ireland -- Midleton in Cork, Bushmills in Antrim and Cooley in Dundalk, Co. Louth. Cooley is the only independent, Irish-owned one too; Midleton is owned by Pernod Ricard, and Bushmills by Diageo.) I've been a fan of Jameson's standard release, but this one ... ooh. Rarest Vintage Reserve is a bland of the oldest and rarest of Jameson's stock, blended then re-aged in ruby port barrels. Beautiful legs in the glass, with Port, grapes, dried peach and jammy fruit in the nose. On the palate, dried fruit and fresh peaches, baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and after sitting out for a bit, a little chocolate-covered toffee even! Alas, $250 a bottle, though.

Wild Turkey American Spirit - I'm a fan of regular Wild Turkey, both the Bourbon and the rye, so I was eager to try this stuff. It's a 15-year-old single barrel Bourbon, bottled at 100 proof. First whiff ... caramel! Not surprising, given the sweetness of Bourbon and the long aging, but this one is a caramel bomb in the best way. Also got whiffs of toast and wood as well. Very smooth on the palate despite the high alcohol content. Toffee and dark caramel. Pretty good, but for the same price I prefer the Black Maple Hill Bourbon.

Glenlivet Nàdurra - Finishing up our tasting with another Scotch, a non-chill filtered cask strength whisky (112 proof) that's been aged for 16 years in American Bourbon barrels and named with the Scots Gaelic word for "natural." It's a little harsh on the nose, given the high alcohol content, but it's recommended by the distiller to be had with water and not neat. A little bit of spring water later ... wow! An explosion of aroma -- fruit, flowers, spices, honey and oak. First taste ... the same, only more so, with a long, peppery, toasty, nutty finish. Nice nice! And at only about $65-70 a bottle, it won't put you in the poor house.

All that for a $40 seminar ticket. Not bad. And no, I didn't spit any of it out, but I prepared myself for this that day, and wasn't planning to have Jeff Berry and Wayne Curtis kill me with kindness and volumes of rum later in the evening either. I was just following the lead of our teacher, who said, "I ain't spittin' any of this stuff out today!"

Paul Pacult, describing his tasting process And ... yum.

Cocktail garnishes gone mad.   I'm all for bringing up the cocktail experience to its best heights, primarily by having it taste wonderful and be served in an enjoyable setting. However, one bar in Sydney seems to have gone not so much over the top but off the edge of the flat Earth:

All I did, as usual, was order a drink. Which only partly explains why I found myself here, seated in a cordoned-off side room at Zeta, a plush, dusky, high-ceiling downtown night spot -- holding a booze-filled pineapple and wearing a blindfold along with headphones hooked to a specially programmed iPod.

All the while, someone was spraying my face with what smelled like Hawaiian Tropic suntan oil.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the world's most elaborate cocktail garnish. The Tiki, the drink I ordered, is one of four sensory cocktails to make their debut this month at Zeta. They join au courant classics like a Ping Pong and Clover Club on the deliciously freewheeling cocktail menu, which also features a martini served on a bed of smoldering tea leaves and a bourbon-and-Coke "ice cream cone" forged in liquid nitrogen.

The sensory cocktails work like this: order the daiquiri, and you're tucked into a semiprivate spot where you sip your drink blindfolded while listening to 18 minutes of Cuban music on an iPod. All the while, a waitress spritzes you with a cigar mist made by simmering crumbled cigars in water and simple syrup.

The idea, said Grant Collins, Zeta's consulting mixologist, is "to heighten the link between the drink and the experience. Listening to the music makes your mind drift, and the blindfold heightens your sense of smell." And the smoky mist? It's a sensory trick to make you think you're in Havana. Blind and piercingly alone, but still, you know, in Havana.

All right, I call bullshit on this. This consulting mixologist has apparently forgotten that drinking is supposed to be a social experience, not something to be done while blindfolded and wearing headphones. What this bar is doing is undoubtedly charging a premium price -- paying a waitress to stand there for 20 minutes spraying someone in the face with cigar-infused sugar syrup and suntan oil -- for what's essentially a dolled-up Piña Colada plus lots of wankery. Sheesh.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, August 18, 2008

Ní bheidh a leithéid arís ann.   Ronnie Drew, Irish folk singer with a voice like whiskey and razor blades, and founding member of The Dubliners, passed away on Saturday from complications of throat cancer, at the age of 73.

Ronnie Drew, 1934-2008

Ronnie was a tremendous figure in Irish music for nearly 50 years, and it's safe to say that Irish traditional and folk music as we know it today would be very different indeed, if it were around at all, without the influence of Ronnie, The Dubliners and the folk music resurgence they help launch in Dublin in the early 1960s. Although you may only be marginally familiar with him, or perhaps not at all, his passing is a huge loss for Ireland and Irish culture. From AJ O'Flaherty's blog in Ireland: "His loss is enormous. Thoughts and prayers go out to his family. It was like hearing a family member died. He epitomised wisdom, wit, joy for life, love and passion for music. The word legend is used a little loosely at times, but we truly have just lost a legend and he will be sorely missed." Here Joseph O'Connor remembers him in a lovely piece in the Irish Independent.

The Dubliners, 1964

Shane Macgowan of The Pogues said, "Everything we have done, the Dubliners have either done it or they could do it better!" Bono of U2 said, "Music to inspire, to console... an optimism that was contagious... that's what U2 took from The Dubliners. Ronnie has left his earthly tour for one of the heavens -- they need him up there, it's a little too quiet and pious. God is lonely for a voice louder than His own."

I won't write a long history here; do some Googling on The Dubliners, and head over to iTunes or your local independent record store and buy a best-of compilation. Oh, and if you're already familiar with them, here are the lyrics of one of The Dubs' biggest hits, "Seven Drunken Nights", including the two final nights Ronnie was never allowed to sing on radio or TV. And it's a folk song, for feck's sake!

Here's a very early performance, pre-Dubliners, when they were still called "The Ronnie Drew Group," doing "McAlpine's Fusiliers":

Here's a later performance of "Finnegan's Wake":

Just listen to this fantastic version of "Easy and Slow":

And raise "The Parting Glass."

Here's to you, Ronnie Drew.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

When a bitter liqueur helps your palate mature ...   That's amaro!

(Okay, that was bad. Sorry. Here's hoping I won't be assaulted by the ghost of Dean Martin.)

I'm usually not one to toot my own horn too much, but I think it's a credit to my stamina (and my liver) that my hangover on Friday morning, July 18, was not nearly as catastrophic as it could (or should) have been. Six Scotches, ten gins, four wee gin cocktails, nine brandies, three wee brandy cocktails, three wee cocktails, then five HUMU-HUMU-MONGOUS tropical cocktails at the Tiki dinner the night before; then as Wesly mentioned, after that I visited the Partida / Plymouth / St. Germain suite on the 9th floor, then my friend Eric Alperin of The Doheny handed me one more drink ... and that's when my brain shut down. The next day I marveled at Seamus' and Rick's excellent posts on the dinner, and especially wondered how Seamus was able to pull off such a great post right after the dinner. (I was more occupied with the daunting task of walking.)

So, to continue with the pokiest and longest-running Tales of the Cocktail recaps of any cocktail blogger out there ...

We slept through the media breakfast at Brennan's and managed to rouse our carcasses ("Quiet darling, your Auntie Mame is hung") to get to one of the most-anticipated seminars of my schedule: "Amore Amari: A Very Bitter History of Bitter Spirits in Apertif Service and Cocktails," presented by Averna, Campari and The Bitter Truth. Wesly and I have been mad for bitters for years, obsessively collecting as many varieties as we could (including our best score ever -- three pristine, full 18-ounce bottles of Abbott's Bitters), and over the past year or so have become amaro fanatics as well -- the bitterer the better.

Hostetter's Stomach Bitters ad, 19th Century

Eric Seed of Haus Alpenz led the panel and began by talking about the history of bitters in cocktails, and how up until the beginning of the 19th century bitters were truly strictly medicinal, and medical miracles were attributed to their regular use. Our favorite of the historical ads that they showed were for Hostetter's Stomach Bitters, the makers of which exhorted you to "Renew Vigor and Make Life Worth Living!" Hostetter's also helped you "renew your life-giving blood currents" and took care of your dyspepsia, malaria, indigestion, fever and ague, nervousness, kidney, bladder and bowel disease, neuralgia, rheumatism, menstrual cramps and hysteria. While I can't vouch for most of those claims, bitters then and now are great for indigestion and overindulgence, and many of us have but a few teaspoons of Angostura in soda water to settle our tummies.

Eric also reviewed several of the primary styles and components of bitter liqueurs. Wormwood-based bitters, in addition to absinthe, include relatively mild examples such as vermouth, which comes from wermut, the German word for wormwood, plus some massively and wonderfully bitter concoctions such as Gorki List from Serbia. (My good friend Dule, from Belgrade who now lives in Zurich, loves the stuff and always keeps a bottle on hand "to test the mettle of my guests." You'll be able to test your own mettle soon; Eric plans to bring Gorki List to the States later this year.)

Gentian-based bitters, which have an almost horseradish-like bitterroot flavor without the burn, include Suze from France and Averna from Sicily, and gentian is also an ingredient in most aromatic cocktail bitters such as Angostura. Cinchona bark, from which we get quinine, is the bitter agent in tonic water as well as in quinquinas, aperitif wines like Lillet, Dubonnet and bitters such as Amer Picon. Citrus bitters are sought for their flavor, aroma and sweetness as well as the bitter components. They make very popular amari (Campari, to name the most popular, and it's "younger brother" Aperol), as well as beloved cocktail bitters such as the wealth of orange bitters we're able to enjoy now from Fee's, Regans', The Bitter Truth, Hermes and the wonderful new Angostura Orange Bitters.

LeNell Smothers also spoke about her massive collection of bitters at her shop in Brooklyn (and I'm preparing a frighteningly large order for her), and Stephan Berg of the wonderful new bittersmakers The Bitter Truth came from Germany to speak of his products and also regale us with some wonderful history of Angostura and Abbott's Bitters.

We also had three terrific cocktails:

Les Voûtes

1-1/2 ounces Rittenhouse Rye 100 proof
1/2 ounce Martini & Rossi Rosso Vermouth
1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse
1 splash Clear Creek kirschwasser
2 dashes The Bitter Truth Orange BItters

Stir over ice many times over, strain into chilled cocktail glass.

This is a lovely Manhattan variation, and shows what can be achieved with just a small amount of an aromatic herbal liqueur, changing the character of the drink completely. Yellow Chartreuse plays with other ingredients a bit more readily than the green, which has such a unique and assertive flavor that it tends to dominate if not carefully balanced. The kirsch gives it a bit of cherry flavor while keeping it dry, and the orange bitters tie everything together beautifully.

Negroni Transalpina

2 ounces Martini & Rossi Rosso Vermouth
1 ounce Plymouth Gin
1 ounce Campari
2 dashes The Bitter Truth Orange BItters
1 teaspoon apricot eau de vie

Shake first four ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass and float the eau de vie.

This Negroni variation is heavier on the vermouth (we like the variation called the Cinnabar Negroni, which doubles the Campari), and a bit of dry apricot brandy (the lovely Marillien that Eric's Haus Alpenz imports) also adding fruit flavor without the potential of overly cloying sweetness from too much liqueur. This reminds me of a drier, more bitter Martinez.

La Cola Nostra

1-1/2 ounces Pampero Anniversario Rum
1 ounce Averna
1/4 ounce St. Elizabeth's Allspice Dram
1 ounce Bubbly Brut Cuvée
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce Fee Brothers Rock Candy Syrup

Shake and strain.

A Daiquiri variation, again demonstrating that a little liqueur can go a long way flavorwise. Here we have only 1/4 ounce of Eric's new product, St. Elizabeth's Allspice Dram, and it lends great character and spice to the drink. The Averna gives it a lovely bitter component, with the sparkling wine lightening it all up. Funny name too, but you do get a sense of kola nut flavor (itself a very bitter ingredient, if you've ever tasted one on its own) in this mixture of flavors with the most well-known Sicilian amaro.

As great as this all was, perhaps the best part was at the very end, when we were invited to come up if we were interested in tasting some of the myriad stash of bitters they'd brought, including ... vintage 19th century Boker's Bitters, the bitters used to make the first Manhattan cocktail. (If we're interested? Ya think?) Stephan placed one precious drop on my hand and I tasted ... and wow. Wow wow wow. Amazing body and spice and depth of flavor, baking spices like cinnamon and clove and ginger and all kinds of strange and wonderful things and YUM. It reminded me of Abbott's, but without the elements you get from the barrel aging in the latter. It still tasted terrific, and I wish Stephan had had enough to make us all Rittenhouse Manhattans with it. We got more tastes from LeNell and Eric, and as Jay Hepburn put it, "I have the wonderful aroma of 10 different bitters on my hands."

I'd be happy to smell like that (and taste all those wonderful tastes) every day!

Johnny's Po-Boys.   Food Porn of the Day, from one of my favorite Quarter poor boy joints, on St. Louis just up from Decatur. It's a perfect little joint, with po-boys and plate lunch specials and an only-in-New-Orleans atmosphere that I love. We squeezed in lunch between the Amaro seminar and the upcoming Liqueurs seminar, and wolfed down two excellent poor boys:

Fried Catfish Poor Boy
Fried Catfish

Creole Hot Sausage Poor Boy
Creole Hot Sausage

Being carless, I figured we might not make it to Gene's this time, and I was still perfectly happy with the hot sausage at Johnny's. You almost can't go wrong there. Their slogan is "Even our failures are edible," and I've only ever had one failure there -- a crab cake poor boy whose cakes were not crabby enough, too bready and mushy -- and although I didn't care for it, it was indeed edible. Every single other sandwich I've had there in my life was spot-on great, though, so that's still a pretty unbeatable batting average.

How to eat like Michael Phelps.   Jon Henley, a writer for the UK Guardian, after hearing that Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps consumes 12,000 calories a day to fuel his body (described by a Bristol University nutritionist as "6ft 4in and 192lb of pure joy") and his incredible athletic feats, decided to have a look at what 12,000 calories actually entails ... and tries to eat it. Video, hilarity and misery ensues.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mixology Monday XXX: Local Flavors, Grand Recap.   The roundup is in! Kevin at Save the Drinkers posted his smashing compendium of all the Mixology Monday "Local Flavors" drink submissions, which includes forty-nine cocktails, several syrup and shrub recipes, plus a glass of tap water. (Well, that's certainly local.)

Bravo Kevin, and all the MxMo participants. Damn, I'm gonna have to goof off for two days to get all this read ...

The British Invasion, with Charlotte Voisey.   Colin and Brian at Small Screen Network have been busy -- four videos went up today, all featuring mixologist extraordinaire Charlotte Voisey, who's also the brand ambassador for the lovely Hendrick's Gin:

Episode One: In this very special series, filmed during Tales of the Cocktail 2008, Charlotte Voisey, Hendrick's Gin Brand Champion, brings the classic American cocktail hour together with the very British afternoon tea. In this episode, Charlotte discusses the history of each traditional gathering.

Episode Two: In this episode, Charlotte discusses tea; how it is made and how it can play in cocktails.

Episode Three: In this episode, Charlotte mixes up the Quechuan Mojito using Bolivian Green Tea and Hendrick's Gin.

Episode Four: In this episode, Charlotte mixes up The Jamboozle using blackberry jam.

Stock up on Hendrick's!

The L.A. Home Tiki Bar Tour.   Aw crap, I'm sorry I missed this ...

We've got a decent selection of tiki mugs and glasses, and can make a mean tropical cocktail, but we wouldn't measure up for a home tiki bar tour. That said ... boy, I sure do covet that ready-made bar from Tiki Farm.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Tiki-licious Luau Spirited Dinner!   One of the best and most-anticipated events during Tales of the Cocktail is the Spirited Dinners, which take place in about 20 restaurants around the city, on the same night, at the same time. The restaurant's chef will work out a special prix-fixe menu, and one or more renowned mixologists / bartenders / bar chefs / what have you will work with the chef to create cocktail pairings to go along with each dish. It tends to be an amazing burst of creativity both in the kitchen and behind the stick, and is invariably tons of fun.

We were thrilled with the Spirited Dinner at Commander's Palace we attended last year, with haute Creole cuisine by Chef Tory McPhail and cocktails by Dale DeGroff and Audrey Saunders (don't get much better than that, folks), but as happy as we were that night, we were also bummed and kicking ourselves in the head that we weren't also somewhere else. Not far from our Garden District paradise, on St. Charles Avenue, another spectacular meal was coming from the kitchen of Chef Chris DeBarr at The Delachaise, with cocktails by our friends Paul Clarke and Darcy O'Neil. The meal was themed as a tribute to Lafcadio Hearn, and as you'll see Chris kicks major butt when it comes to themed meals -- he is one of the most amazingly thoughtful and creative chefs around. (You can read about that meal in Chris' posts here and here, and Paul's account with more on the cocktails, here.)

This was one of those times where we wished for the power of bilocation, or one of sf author David Brin's "kiln people" from his novel of the same title, in which we could send a replica of ourselves to go do something we were unwilling or unable to do, then downloads its memories into our own heads. Alas, the technology has yet to catch up (that'll be great for Jazzfest conflicts too), so we resolved to take an extra close look at what Chef Chris would be doing Spirited Dinner-wise in 2008.

As it turned out, Chris was planning a Tiki-themed dinner along with the ever-stupendous Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, world's foremost authority on tiki and tropical cocktails, and Wayne Curtis, author of And A Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails, one of my favorite books last year. (Jeff's latest, Sippin' Safari, was one of my other favorites.) This was a triple-threat combination that was not to be missed, and although the Commander's dinner looked pretty good, it was pretty much a foregone concluson that we'd finally make it to the Delachaise for a Spirited Dinner this year.

There were a series of complications, though. First off, just a couple of weeks before the dinner, Chris left his position at The Delachaise. (Eek.) This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, for the dinner at least, although not so much for Chris' gig and income at the moment -- the dinner was moved to a place in the Bywater called The Country Club. It was perfect; the kitchen is run by Chef Miles Prescott, a friend of Chris' who had been his sous chef at The Delachaise, and the whole place is friendly and spacious with just the atmosphere we needed for the dinner's theme.

The next complication was not so perfect. You may recall from the Tales recapping I've been doing that Thursday, July 17, was a pretty big day in which not everything went as it should have; to wit, I did not avail myself of the use of the spit bucket at all the spirits tasting seminars we attended that day. Let's recap the running tally, shall we? 10:30am to noon with Paul Pacult, and six Macallan single malt Scotches. 12:30 to 2pm, Juniperlooza! with tastes of 9 gins, one sloe gin, and four small 2-ounce cocktails utilizing various gins. 2:30 to 4pm, tasting 10 French and Spanish brandies, plus three 2-ounce cocktails. 5 to 7pm, the Cocktail Hour event, featuring about 30 mixologists dishing out 2-ounce or so tastes of their concoctions. I remember getting one from Wondrich and probably two more. THEN we headed out for the Tiki dinner, where five utterly fantastic (yet LARGE) tropical cocktails were served.

The dinner was absolutely spectacular, as you'll see in the following paragraphs. It was, actually, one of the most spectacular meals I've had in years, if not ever. I enjoyed every bit of it and had an immensely fun evening -- that much I know. It's just that ... well ... the details ended up being a bit hazy the next day, much to my near-infinite regret.

So kittycats, we have a guest food pornographer today to help fill in the details. Wes is now going to make his Looka! debut, and as you'll see he does a fantastic job recounting our stunning meal and the amazing drinks that went along with it. Jeff Berry was kind enough to offer to share the recipes with anyone who was there or at his seminars later on, and I thank him from the bottom of my liver for that. Chef Chris also wrote a wonderful, amazingly detailed post about his concepts for and execution of the meal which you simply must read in its entirety, especially if you were there (and from which I will quote a few passages amidst Wes' reminiscences). Starting below, the voice will be Wesly's, with my photographs and addenda added by yours truly appearing in [bracketed italics]. And now we switch you live and direct to The Country Club at 634 Louisa Street ... take it away, Wes!

#     #     #

First off, you must not mock me if I am ever so slightly less fantastic a food pornographer than is Chuck. He is, after all, the expert. I am only the poor, barely adequate, yet sober substitute. As you shall see, therein lies my virtue.

Our group arrived at The Country Club on Louisa Street on time -- not bad for a bunch of drunks, although in fairness it was but a short cab ride from the Monteleone Hotel. It was just dusk, and against the slowly darkening sky the front windows of the club shone in bright welcome. The cool air inside washed over us as we opened the front door -- there may be no more delicious sensation than that of air conditioning escaping past you into a Southern summer evening. A few steps more and we were in Havana.

The Tiki-licious Luau Spirited 
Wayne Curtis and The Bum, a-mixin'

Is there any sound finer than the incendiary clatter of ice in a cocktail shaker, or the delicate clink of ice as it falls into a glass? I think not. Our tireless bartenders Jeff "Beachbum" Berry and Wayne Curtis were already hard at work behind the bar when we walked in. A good thing, too, as their job for the evening entailed preparation of five different, elaborate tropical cocktails for a discerning crowd of 60. That's a lot of mixing, a lot of high standards, and a lot of liquor. Yo ho ho indeed.

Southern hospitality may seem a cliché to some, but in truth it's a long-standing tradition with its heart unarguably in the right place. Perhaps the first act of hospitality is that of welcome, and to my mind you'll find little more welcoming than a cocktail upon arrival. If that cocktail happens to be named after a childhood icon of grace, beauty and style, so much the better.

Welcoming Cocktail:

(by Jeff "Beachbum" Berry)

3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce orange juice
3/4 ounce honey mix **
1/2 ounce Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
2 ounces 10-Cane rum
2 to 3 dashes Bittermen's Elemakule Tiki Bitters
A small purple orchid flower.

Shake with ice cubes. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with the orchid flower.

** HONEY MIX. Equal parts honey and water, heated till honey dissolves. Bottle and store in fridge.

This was a lovely concoction, light yet flavorful, playful as a tropical drink should be, beautifully balanced between sweet, tart and the velvet bite of ginger (not at all unlike the relationship between Mary Ann, Lovey and Ginger herself). It was a perfect "starter" cocktail, offering the promise of earthly delights to come yet graciously leaving the imbiber sober enough to enjoy them. First Note to Self of the evening: Stock up on Tiki Bitters as soon as Bittermen's releases them (and all their other fantastic forthcoming products as well). [Here's Seamus' photo of the drink, about 2/3 consumed already, but you'll get an idea of what it looks like and how pretty it is with that orchid garnish.]

The Tiki Queen!
And if the cocktail is served by a local icon of grace, beauty and style --
i.e., by Jeanne Vidrine, the Tiki Queen of New Orleans -- so much the better.


"A trio of variations on 
the theme of Poke and Sashimi"

"A trio of variations on the theme of Poke & Sashimi"
Tiki ceviche, The Green Hornet, and Lafcadio's Sushi.

What better way to kick off a tropical meal than with fresh fish? I love sushi and sashimi anyway, and although it may have been dichotomous to add ceviche to the mix, it was a brilliant choice by Chef Chris and the result was harmony on the plate. Gorgeous fish, immaculately prepared, elegantly presented, and apparently simple -- but this was a deception of the best kind; read Chris' preparation notes for a peek into the secret life of a chef who suffers from the dread curse of Inspiration. All three bite-sized pieces of heaven were completely delicious, but for me the Tiki ceviche was the stand-out, a surprising bloom of tropical fruit, sweet and tart together again. Simply beautiful. The smooth cucumber granita made for a perfect palate cleanser before moving on, and the little burst of Serrano chile heat playfully admonished us to keep our wits about us. Some of us managed to do so.

Chris: "The fish for the Green Hornet was Spanish mackerel, marinated in Miles's ponzu. We didn't have yuzu juice, which is hatefully expensive anyway, but oj worked fine. The chile peppers in the icy cucumber granita were serrano chiles, which is why that carried some good heat. We used fresh lychee, papaya, and peaches with the cloudy sake and rambutan puree for the Tiki Ceviche, along with coconut vinegar, lime juice, ginger and garlic."

More Swanky Canapes

"Spice Islands Surf & Turf"
Jumbo Louisiana shrimp in tamarind sauce on rice cracker
Java beef satay, marinated in many flavors, including tamarind
Crab & Corn Johnnycake, with avocado, romesco sauce & wasabi caviar.

Next was another plate of small tastes. If you've ever visited New Orleans, chances are you've had jumbo Louisiana shrimp, but never like this. The tamarind sauce was bright and sharp, and the pink Vietnamese rice cracker not only added a splash of color to the plate and made for great textural contrast with the shrimp. It also reminded me of some of our favorite banh mi places in Los Angeles, where you can buy snacks like shrimp-flavored rice chips in a bag. The beef satay resembled a dear and familiar friend, but the sauce turned out to be vastly different from the usual (and half-expected, shame on me) peanut sauce. Instead it was sweet, tart, a bit fiery -- and perfectly delightful. The johnnycake was a variation on a dish of Chris' that we had enjoyed previously. The hearty, crusty cake with rich crab and sweet corn was intact as I remembered it, but brought to different life with smooth avocado and romesco sauce and the double pop of wasabi-flavored flying fish roe. Holy crap! I couldn't help but laugh aloud.

Chris: "The lovely pastel shrimp crackers used for the tamarind shrimp are a lovely Vietnamese product, Banh Phong Tom Mau, that I first encountered many years ago in a wonderful Jellyfish salad in a Doraville, GA restaurant. They take about 20 seconds in a deep fryer, as they expand from little coins smaller than a quarter to puffy crunchy wavy bites of wonderment."

The Tonga Zombie

First Course Cocktail:

(Adapted from the Tonga Room, San Francisco, 1950s)

1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce passion fruit purée mix ***
1/2 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
1 ounce Cruzan Estate Light rum
1/2 ounce 151-proof Bacardi rum
1/2 ounce Old New Orleans 3-year dark rum

Shake vigorously with crushed ice. Pour unstrained into a tall glass.

GARNISH: Red and green cocktail cherries speared to pineapple wedge by skull & bones flag pick.

*** PASSION FRUIT MIX. 2 parts Funkin passion fruit purée to 1 part sugar syrup.

This dangerously smooth and stealthy combination of a trio of fruit juices and a trinity of rums moves slowly, like a zombie (think George Romero, not "28 Days Later"), but it advances implacably and will knock you to the ground if you don't keep two steps ahead. That Funkin passion fruit purée is great, wonderful stuff. Second Note to Self: Don't forget the Funkin passion fruit! (Sorry, it's just fun to say.) You will notice from the picture that this is not an insubstantial pour, no mere token, far more than just a taste. That's worth keeping in mind. And the fruit flag garnish incorporates an actual (albeit tiny and paper) pirate flag, which of course instigated a round of exclamations of "Yarrr!" and "Avast!" and "Shiver me timbers, thou lusty wench!" What else would you expect from a bunch of drunks? [Stock up on wee pirate flags, and on the ingredients for this drink, as International Talk Like A Pirate Day approaches.]

Now, for the second round ...


Wahine Shrimp

"Wahine Shrimp"
Louisiana shrimp roasted in a "grass skirt" of shredded phyllo,
lemony N.O. barbecue sauce, and grilled pineapple.

I had been looking forward to the "Wahine Shrimp" ever since I had first read its description on the Spirited Dinners menu announcement. This is quite simply a fabulous dish, one of the best tastes I've ever had in my mouth, and one I would very much like to have in my mouth again. I think it was also the most whimsical and visually delightful of the evening's many offerings, and that's a tough contest indeed. "Barbecue shrimp" is of course a classic New Orleans dish, and although very different this is a loving nod to that classic. But if the idea of a shrimp wearing a grass skirt doesn't make you think of smiling dusky maidens dancing slowly on sunset beaches, then you may need a vacation. Badly. Another fantastic set of flavor and texture contrasts, and just fun to eat.

Phnom Penh Pork Belly

Phnom Penh Pork Belly
Kurobuta pork braised in star anise caramel,
with "Forbidden" sticky black rice and bamboo shoots.

If you want to kick my salivary glands immediately into overdrive, the words "pork belly" are all you need. This dish, the Phnom Penh Pork Belly, looks pretty substantial, but this is the serving for our table of four diners. Clearly this cuts down on plating and clean-up time, but perhaps more importantly it's a great way to encourage friendly sharing. Although any one of us could easily have consumed this solo, it's probably for the best that it was a shared dish -- it was rich, unbelievably so, and falling apart at a touch, with buttery meat and velvety fat in almost equal measure. The savory braise of star anise and caramel was delicious, fascinating, and wholly new to me -- clearly I need to get out and try more Cambodian cooking. Positively sinful and decadent. [Out of all these phenomenal dishes it'd be hard to pick one, but this one was just out of this world. I want to have it all the time.]

Chris: "The Phnom Penh Pork Belly is a fantastic recipe, swapped around a little, from the excellent Cambodian cookbook, The Elephant Walk, based on the recipes from the successful Cambridge, Mass. restaurant. I love Cambodian cuisine, although I've only had it in one place, in San Francisco. Everything I try from the cookbook, or read about in people's travels, or that I had in SF has been stellar. The idea of cooking meats in savory caramel sauce, which is the basis of this pork belly, is an old idea. I don't know if the French learned it in their travels to Indochina, or if they developed their sugary/savory concepts in Santo Domingue (Haiti), or whether the Cambodians had this concept in their arsenal long ago using palm sugar, or got it from Imperial Chinese chefs, but it's a great method. I think the pork belly was probably mentioned by more people as their favorite dish of the whole evening. It really is an exotic Khmer classic featuring star anise, fish sauce, and mushroom soy sauce as principal elements to underline the greatness of Berkshire/Kurobuta pork belly. I thought the grapefruit punch worked really well with the pork belly and the Wahine Shrimp because both dishes needed something to cut their richness, while the grapefruit's bitterness worked in tandem with the charrred endive and umeboshi vinaigrette in the Outrigger Canoes."

Black Bean & Banana 
Blossom Pupusa

Black Bean & Banana Blossom Pupusa
with Hoja Santo queso, Salvadorean slow and salsa verde

Mmm, pupusa. We love pupusas, and we love the big plastic jug of slaw that's served with them at our favorite local Salvadoran restaurant, Las Cazuelas. With this meatless pupusa, Chris provided a perfect counterpoint to the other dishes in this selection. It was perfectly grilled, crispy on the outside but soft inside, and the filling of black bean and banana blossom was silky and piping hot. The slaw was authentically Salvadoran, cool and crisp and tart.

Grilled red endive "Outrigger Canoe"
with jackfruit, jumbo lump crabmeat and umeboshi vinaigrette.

Unfortunately there's no picture of the next food item, which is a shame as it was highly photogenic. I suspect there's a good reason for this, which we may delve into later on. In any case, the "Outrigger Canoe" was constructed of grilled red endive and filled with a blend of jumbo lump crabmeat and young jackfruit. As I recall, Chris mentioned that he had previously done this dish using mango rather than jackfruit. Soft, ripe mango would have been lovely, but I think the brightness of the jackfruit worked extremely well against the mellow, full-mouth richness of the crab. The slight bitterness of the endive was nicely mellowed by the grilling, so rather than standing out in stark contrast it worked to bring the other flavors together.

Second Course Cocktail:

(by Wayne Curtis)

2 ounces white grapefruit juice
1 ounce Old New Orleans spiced rum
1 ounce Clément Créole Shrubb
1 dash Angostura Bitters
6 drops (1/8 teaspoon) Herbsaint
Lengths of spiral-cut grapefruit and orange peel, one each, for garnish.

Shake well with ice cubes. Pour unstrained into an old-fashioned glass. Coil spiral-cut peels inside glass.

Hmm, I'm sensing a motif here -- there's no picture of the Pamplemousse Punch, either. [Rick got a shot of it, though.] What, you may well be wondering, is up with that? I think it's time for me to 'fess up for Chuck: by this point, he was well and truly tanked, although he didn't quite realize it himself. I'll let him explain to you himself How I Got To This Sorry State, but the simple truth is that he was sloshed, smashed, three sheets to the wind. He was very drunk indeed. He seemed to enjoy his punch all the same, and well he should have done. The mellow but slightly fiery spiced rum was complemented perfectly by the clean orange of the Creole Shrubb, and the bitter grapefruit and herbal astringency of the Herbsaint combined in a beautifully balanced punch. New Orleans has been described as the northernmost city in the Caribbean, and this drink is the perfect embodiment of that deeply romantic idea.


"The Green Zebra Goes to 

"The Green Zebra Goes to Oz"
A tomato trilogy: macadamia-crusted green tomato in a bush tomato profiterole
with tomato chutney, blue cheese and durian ice cream, and a wattleseed mole sauce.

At this point, Chris cleverly slipped in another vegetarian dish, a trilogy of tomatoes. I love alternating meatless dishes with meat, as this lends an enjoyable variety and helps me to feel less gluttonous (although this last bit may be only in my head). This was another dish shared by the table, and it didn't last long, so all things considered I'm impressed that there's a photo proving it was ever there. I can't say enough about how crazy and crazy-good this dish was -- the green tomatoes are a nod to another classic Southern dish, but crusted with macadamia nuts? Damn, Chris! The flavor of wattleseed in the sauce (reminiscent of coffee) and the inspired blue-cheese-and-durian ice cream (two stinky tastes that taste great together) should have left this dish feeling literally as well as metaphorically "all over the map," yet somehow did not. Outstanding.

Chris: "Besides the Trio that started the dinner, the most complicated dish of the night was the Green Zebra Goes to Oz. We had to settle for regular green tomatoes, but the reference in the name was that we were taking fried green tomatoes (we were hoping for juicy heirloom Green Zebra tomatoes...) on a culinary tour of Australia, or Oz. Macadamia nuts are an Australian product, though it took Hawaiians to successfully market them to the world, and macadamias are related to candlenuts, which are so rich in fats that they literally served as a source of energy for folks in Indonesia, Malaysia, and SE Asia. You cannot eat candlenuts raw, but macadamias are more accessible.

"So we 'pannée' the tomatoes, which is a technique I first imagined on a riff for Tomatoes Oscar, where I crusted yellow tomatoes in a pistachio, olive oil, and breadcrumb crust on one side, then topped the tomatoes with "Oscar" companions of crabmeat and asparagus, and made a tangerine aïoli that had a very similar texture to hollandaise, but was more stable and cirtusy vibrant. In this Oz dish, a chunky tomato chutney was a reminder that ketchup really has its roots in the Spice Islands surrounding Australia, just as a note in the conversation of exotic origins of so many of our basic foods.

"The Australian flavors were in the spices: bush tomato profiteroles, which I probably needed more of the bush tomato spice; lemon myrtle oil (a simple infusion of olive oil), and wattleseed, a coffee flavored spice, that I wound up adding to a molee, which I researched in James Oesland's excellent book Cradle of Flavor. Initially, I was thinking of making a mole sauce using the wattleseed kinda like chocolate. Then I read about the rendang-like sauce, named molee, featuring coconut milk cooked long and slow, so I went in that direction but kept my roasted red pepper so it was a hybrid mutant ... but tasted good.

"The scene stealer was the durian ice cream on the plate. I paired it with blue cheese (really wanted Tasmania's terrific Roaring 40s blue, but couldn't find it) to illustrate the compare/contrast of stink from out cultural perspectives, Euro-based blue cheese and SE Asia's notorious durian. The plate was warm so both melted, but kept their identity. When we ate at a high end "bush tucker" restaurant in Sydney, the chefs called durian "cheesefruit," which highlights some of its custard, garlicky, strong smelling aspects -- all unique for a fruit."

"Cochon de Lait Wearing 
Hawaiian Sunglasses"

The pork, unwrapped

"Cochon de Lait Wearing Hawaiian Sunglasses"
Kalua pork wrapped in banana leaves, with sweet potatoes, Steen's cane syrup and Hawaiian sea salt.

We're huge fans of L & L Hawaiian Barbecue, one of which just opened up in our neighborhood. More to the point, we're huge fans of Kalua Pork, which L & L does very well. (We're thinking of buying a big catering pan of just the Kalua Pork so we can take it home, freeze it and eat it over time with our own side dishes. The side dishes at L & L are authentic, but it's a lot of starch for me ... however, I digress.). The simply seasoned shredded pork inside the banana leaves was falling apart, the fat almost completely rendered -- you're soaking in it! -- and the Steen's-drenched sweet potatoes simply melted on the tongue. Another beautiful study in contrast of texture and flavor, which in case I haven't made clear is something I esteem and enjoy greatly as it makes food actually interesting rather than just good-tasting.

Chris: "The sweet potatoes were accented with palm sugar, a touch of fish sauce, orange juice, and roasted garlic, yet finished with Steen's cane syrup and more Hawaiian sea salt. That connection between Hawaiian kahlua pork and our Louisiana cochon de lait came to mind when the Hawaii football team made it to The Sugar Bowl this year."

"Buddha's Jade Serenity 

"Buddha's Jade Serenity Scallops"
Sea scallops seared with togarishi crust on a bed of green tea infused jasmine rice,
housemade dashi and fried lotus root chips.

Scallops are one of my mom's favorite things, and I like to imagine that I got my love of them from her. They're so subtly flavored, I think it's best not to go with very strong accompanying flavors or an overly complex preparation, else you risk overwhelming them and making them seem bland. The bed of jasmine rice infused with green tea provided a foundation of distinctive but restrained flavors that accented but did not overcome the scallops, and the togarishi crust added a bit of heat that I might not have expected but worked very well. The fried lotus root chips that topped the scallops added a nice crunch and made for a striking presentation.

"The Old Fashioned" 
Gulf Fish Meuniere

"The Old Fashioned" Gulf Fish Meunière
Pan-roasted wahoo with a brown butter sauce based on the cocktail:
Bourbon, tangerine juice, maraschino liqueur and Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters,
over parsnip mash with edamame.

You'll look long and hard to find a New Orleans restaurant that doesn't have Gulf Fish Meunière on the menu. And why not? It's not only a classic -- it's true comfort food. Chris must have had about a ton of fun coming up with this variation on the theme. The fish here is pan-roasted wahoo, which must have been fun, by which I mean next to impossible, for a crowd this size. It was perfectly cooked: moist, flaky, beautifully seared. The meunière (brown butter) sauce put Old Fashioneds right on the plate, drenched as it was in Bourbon, tangerine juice, maraschino liqueur and Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters. Although I don't remember this being listed on the menu, Chris mentioned on his blog that he finished the sauce with Bittermen's Tiki Bitters, which took us full circle back to the welcoming cocktail. Just mind-bogglingly good.

Luau Coconut

Third Course Cocktail:

(by Jeff "Beachbum" Berry)

1 whole fresh young coconut ****
2 ounces coconut water, drained from the young coconut
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
1 ounce sugar syrup
1 ounce coconut milk, Thai Kitchen Organic brand
1 ounce Cruzan Estate Light rum
1 ounce Cruzan Estate Dark rum

Pour coconut water, lime and pineapple juices, sugar syrup, coconut milk and rums into a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously with ice cubes. Pour unstrained into pre-prepared young coconut shell (see below) and serve.

GARNISH: A long-handled iced tea spoon, for spooning out coconut meat.

**** YOUNG COCONUT. Young coconut meat is very soft, and delicious after soaking in rum and lime -- serve with a spoon! To prepare young coconut: Remove the top of the coconut with a large knife. (Instructions at Drain the coconut water into a container. Set aside coconut water and empty coconut shell.

"You put de lime in de coconut ..." Always an excellent way to start. This drink, the Luau Coconut, was surely Wayne and the Bum's pièce de résistance, their triumph, the lofty pinnacle to which the other drinks had pointed the way. A deceptively simple combination of Cruzan Light and Dark rums, coconut water and coconut milk, lime and pineapple juices, this drink will kick your ass. It's light, fresh, satisfying, refreshing, and it's the drink that keeps on giving as you can scoop out the young coconut flesh from inside the "cup," either along the way or after you finish the delightful liquid concoction. [The combination of the light coconut water and the heavier coconut milk made the perfect consistency, and cancelled out any concerns anyone could have about a coconut milk-bearing drink being too heavy or rich. Coconut water is a fabulous cocktail ingredient that should be used far more often.] Third Note to Self: The Bum said Chris had to pay $3 for the young coconuts; they're just 99 cents each back home. [Yay!]

We have since made these at home, and it brings back this entire Tiki dinner evening in a rush. If you have a local source for young coconuts, you must give this cocktail a try. It's a good idea to take home at least one more coconut than you really need, in case one of them turns out to be a bit dry (it does happen). [Most of the time, though, you get about a cup of coconut water out of these puppies.]

[Here are two more shots of the coconut, one from Rick and the other from Seamus.]


"Baked Hawaii"

"Baked Hawaii"
Tiki-carved meringues hiding macadamia nut and Hawaiian ginger honey ice cream,
and roasted pineapple-crystallized ginger cake, surrounded by a flaming moat of 151 rum.

I knew something was up when, instead of bringing plated desserts to our tables, kitchen staff began rolling out several carts that reminded me somewhat of those used for tableside preparation of Bananas Foster. As it turned out, I wasn't too far off. The desserts were towering meringues concealing roasted pineapple-crystallized ginger cake, along with macadamia nut and Hawaiian ginger honey ice cream.

Sweet jeebus.

And then, in true crowd-pleasing fashion, the lights were lowered and the pool of 151-proof rum surrounding each meringue tower was set ablaze. The roar of approval from the crowd was deafening. You couldn't get more 1950s-Tiki-riffic if you tried. The flavors were incredible, with nuts and fruit trading off, and the kick of ginger, and the teasing lure of rum. A truly appropriate and spectacularly big finish.

Chris: "Dessert was Gargantuan, funny, and a showstopper. We encountered a slight technical glitch in that it took more layers, and time, to properly set the gigantic Tiki insides of the Baked Hawaii to our desired height, so I didn't have time to carve Moai, or the New Orleans icon of Bali Ha'i into the meringues. There were three layers of cake and ice cream, and each layer had to freeze before we could add the next. Nonetheless, the rather phallic, huge, mysterious shapes went out to the darkened dining room, doused in 151 rum, and with an aura of blue flame pooled at their base. The macadamia semifreddo perfectly matched the dessert drink, and the roasted pineapple and crystaliized ginger white cake layers added more tropicalia. I went with a meringue buttercream, which is more stable and easier to carve than straight meringue, so I feel confident now that the next time I present Baked Hawaii all the technical worries have been completely solved!

[The next time he presents Baked Hawaii, I wanna be there. Y'know, it'd probably just as well that the technical glitch prevented him from carving Moai into the meringues, because if I had seen that, I probably woulda just plotzed right on the spot.]

It has surely not escaped your notice that the dessert is shown here only in its less dramatic, plated form. You already know the reason for this: Chuck was by this point spectacularly blitzed. When he later saw pictures others had taken of the flaming meringue towers, he asked what they were. He couldn't imagine not remembering them. Frankly, neither can I, but such is life. He did have a very, very good time. [In my defense, they were wheeled into the main dining room, not exactly close to the bar area where we were dining, and getting a picture of them would have involved getting up and walking; even in the condition I was in at that moment, I must have known that this would have been ill-advised. Fortunately, Rick got a spectacular photo, linked above. Seamus got a really nice one too.]

Dessert Cocktail:

(by Jeff "Beachbum" Berry)

1 ounce coconut milk, Thai Kitchen Organic brand
1 ounce Kahlúa
1 ounce macadamia nut liqueur

Shake like hell with ice cubes. Pour into old-fashioned glass. Serve with short straws.

GARNISH: A half-teaspoon of crushed macadamia nuts mixed with shredded coconut, floated in center of drink.

[My reaction upon tasting this drink was a startled double-take: "Oh my ... oh my Gawd, that's good." The coffee and coconut milk flavors were so beautiful together that it makes me want to add coconut milk to my coffee instead of cream (mmm, that'll be good for me). The macadamia liqueur adds a deep, rich, toasty flavor to it, and is such a unique liqueur that you'll be taken aback by how good it is. We bought some to make this drink at home and it's tasty stuff. Kahana Royale is the most well-known brand, and Trader Vic's makes one as well.]

You'll notice that there are five cocktails described here, but far more than five food dishes. Each cocktail from the second on was accompanied by a "course" of three or four different dishes. I can't imagine the logistical challenge this must have been for Chris and his kitchen staff, but I can report that they pulled it off brilliantly. He is some kind of mad genius. Somebody, buy this man a restaurant! [If I hit a bit Lotto jackpot, that's one of the first things I want to do, actually.]

There is a fun epilogue, though. After we cabbed back to the hotel, I met up with Marleigh in the (as it turned out) comparatively sedate environs of the Carousel Bar while Chuck announced that he was going up to the ninth floor to check out a room party. He assured me that he would be all right. About 20 minutes later, my mobile phone buzzed with a new text message. It was from Chuck. It read: "Oh sh*t, I'm f**ked." It's not often that the word "blotto" applies, but on those rare occasions when it does, I like to make good use of it. Chuck was clearly blotto. [Eric Alperin was bartending up in the bartenders' room, and handed me a huge, delicious and strong cocktail. At this point I have no idea what it was, only that three sips into it I finally, finally realized that I was probably in trouble, and needed some assistance.]

I showed the message to Marleigh, who said, "We should go up and get him, shouldn't we?" We did go up and found him in the middle of a very loud, very crowded room. He was fine, having a very good time, and even remembered (or claimed to remember) sending me the text message. He was quite agreeable when I suggested that maybe it was time to go. We walked back to our hotel; I didn't let him cross the street by himself. I probably should have made him drink more water, but I think by then he mostly needed sleep. He slept very soundly, for a long time.

It was a very good day.

Us, with The Bum!

[In fact, one of the best days ever, and probably one of the best meals of my life, spent in the company of friends old and new. I know that now and knew it then, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute, every bite and every sip ... I just wish I remembered the details a bit better. Sigh. Thank you so very much, Chef Chris, Jeff and Wayne!]

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, August 11, 2008

Mixology Monday XXX: Local Flavor.   Yeesh, so soon already! Well, we did get a week's extension on MxMo XXIX last month, in order for our brains and livers to recover from Tales of the Cocktail, and August's has crept up on us already. This month we're hosted by Kevin Kelpe, a bartender and restauranteur in Boise, Idaho and author of the drinking blog Save the Drinkers. It was great to see Kevin at Tales again this year, and I'm comforted in the knowledge that if we stop through Boise we know where we can go to get a damn good drink.

The theme this month is local flavors, and Kevin puts it thusly:

Option 1: Gather ingredients that are representative of the culture/geography/tackiness of your respective cities and make a drink with a truly place-based style. For example, huckleberries are native to the geographical area where I live, as are elderflowers, potatoes, and extremely conservative, closet-case politicians. (I'm just saying!)

Option 2: Dig up an old drink that came from your city and revive it! If you can find the original bar, that would be even more interesting.

I really wanted to do option 1, given the bounty that's in my own backyard. We have a very old fig tree that's brimming with fruit right now, absolutely stunning figs more than half the size of your fist. I've been brewing an idea back in me brain to make some fig-infused Bourbon, using both fresh figs from my garden and dried Mission figs to give it a greater depth of flavor. By the time I finally read Kevin's post there was no way I'd have that ready for MxMo XXX, so it's going to have to wait a few weeks. We also have a large grove of pomegranates, but they won't be ready until late fall / early winter at the earliest.

So I'm gonna go for a variation on option 2, digging up a couple of new drinks that come from our city, and I'm gonna be Mr. Overachiever as I did last month and post two. They're terrific drinks from the same bar, the bar that really did the most to kick off the cocktail renaissance in Los Angeles, and were created by Los Angeles bartenders for Los Angeles; one of them is also a nod to that bar's long history ... as a jeweler in the 1920s.

You've undoubtedly heard me and many others was poetic about this Los Angeles bar; Seven Grand is one of our favorite places to drink in the city, in a year where we suddenly actually had places to drink in the city other than our house. Los Angeles had been pretty much a big zero in the quality and classic cocktail world for ages, and all of a sudden 2007 saw us take off like a Saturn V rocket. We fell in love with this bar right away, even though we didn't get our procrastinatory asses in there until they had already been open for four months, and we still love it. The key to Seven Grand is to go on Sundays through Wednesdays, earlier in the evening, when you can get personalized attention from their bartenders; John, Leo and the rest of the guys will take very, very good care of you.

They've just streamlined their cocktail menu (I was JUST there the other day and forgot to take a look at it, d'oh), but today I'll offer you two of Seven Grand's house cocktails that were on their early menu last year, and if either of them aren't on it at the moment (which I doubt), surely they can still make it for you ... or now you can make it yourself.

The first is named after the original occupants of the beautiful 1921 building in which the bar is housed. Brock & Company were a prominent jeweler in Los Angeles, and although their days are long gone they still live on at Seven Grand. Many of the architectural and interior details of the old space were reused in the design of the new -- the glass jewelry cases formed a bank of small windows near the ceiling in the room divider, wooden jewelry drawer fronts with gorgeous brass handles were mounted on the front of the bar, and the beautiful polished wood surface of the bar itself came from the boardroom table. Then there's this very, very tasty drink named after the original occupants; I think they'd have to find it as tasty as I do.

Brock and Co.

Brock & Co.

2 ounces Knob Creek Bourbon whiskey.
1/2 ounce ginger-infused syrup.
1/2 ounce "runny" honey.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce orange juice.
Long, thin ginger slice for garnish.

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously, then pour into an Old Fashioned glass over fresh ice. Garnish with the ginger slice.

Bright, tangy, summery, refreshing, and a great drink for quenching your thirst over the next couple of months when it's gonna be HOT.

The next is another of Seven Grand's house cocktails, and although it may not feature local ingredients per se, it's named for our great city. [UPDATE: There's a bit of history here too; a quite similar cocktail appears in Harry Craddock's Savoy Cocktail Book from the 1930s, which I had completely forgotten about (and thanks to Erik and Anita for reminding me of this in the comments). This is is a slightly modernized adaptation; I'm assuming that it was the inspiration for this local version.] I suppose calling it the El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciúncula Cocktail might be a bit unwieldy, so they wisely opted to stick with the shorter, more colloquial name for the city and the drink. This is the way I make it, with my preferred Bourbon these days; use the one you like best.

The Los Angeles Cocktail

The Los Angeles Cocktail
(House version served at Seven Grand)

1-1/2 ounces Buffalo Trace Bourbon whiskey.
3/4 ounce simple syrup.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/4 ounce Vya sweet vermouth.
1 egg white.
1 dash Angostura Bitters.

Add the egg white to the shaker and shake like hell for at least 10 seconds alone, WITH NO ICE. Add the rest of the ingredents, then plenty of ice, and shake like hell for at least 15 seconds. Strain into a sour glass, wine or port glass, or something elegant.

This one's reeeeeally nice. It's basically a whiskey sour with a bit of spice added to it from the vermouth and the bitters; I like to keep this one in the California family by using Vya, a wonderfully spicy sweet vermouth made in California. Substitute Punt E Mes or Carpano Antica, if you can find them.

I'm gonna be a royal pain in the ass by throwing in a third drink, which although has the same name as a venerable, famous landmark Los Angeles restaurant of yesteryear, and the same name as that restaurant's house cocktail ... it ain't that cocktail, and wasn't served at that restaurant. I just like it, and the name makes it sound local, so there.

Dave Wondrich describes it thusly:

Fact is, we can't find a damn thing about this perfectly charming drink, and the Second Law of Mixography dictates when all else fails, discuss the drinking habits of our ancestors. (The First Law? Hemingway probably drank it.) What we know: The Brown Derby appears in Esquire's June 1939 "Potables" column. Before that, nothing. After that, nothing. Did it come from Robert Cobb's famous Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood? There is a Brown Derby cocktail we've seen connected to the eatery -- but it ain't this. (And what would they be doing messing around with maple sugar out there in sunny California, anyway?) Or is the name just because it's brown?

The only spar we've got to cling to in this sea of ignorance comes in the unlikely form of roly-poly Alexander Woollcott (the guy on whom Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner was based). In 1935, he turns up in So Red the Nose, an odd little book in which famous writers of the day contributed their favorite drinks, all renamed after their latest books. Woollcott's When Rome Burns is essentially the Brown Derby, but with lemon juice instead of the lime and maple syrup instead of maple sugar, and with the key specification that you use Medford rum. They don't make that anymore, either. But when they did, they made it in Medford -- right outside of Boston. So. The Brown Derby, or whatever you want to call it? New England's answer to the daiquiri. It might not be tropical, but it sure is tasty.

Oh yeah, that other Brown Derby? Jigger of bourbon, half-jigger of grapefruit juice, teaspoon or so of honey (stir 'em all together before you add the ice). Let us know how it turns out.

The Brown Derby Cocktail

2 ounces Jamaican rum (I like Appleton Estate V/X in this).
1 ounce fresh lime juice.
1 teaspoon grade-B maple syrup.

Shake and strain.

Thanks to Dan for turning me on to this one. The original recipe, as Dave mentioned, called for maple sugar, but maple syrup's a lot easier and cheaper to obtain, and grade-B maple syrup is such a terrific cocktail ingredient it should be used more often anyway.

Okay, so, that was really four drinks, if you include the recipe for the Brown Derby Restaurant's actual house cocktail; told you I was a pain in the ass.

Happy Mixology Monday! Now get drinking!

Bacon by the slab.   Last week I came across a pile of emails that were still sitting there unread since April; they had come in during Jazzfest, when I got horribly behind and still haven't quite caught up. (You know me and email, oy.) I'm really glad I stumbled across one from my pal Vidiot, who wrote to tell me of an article in the New York Times which tells us more wonderful things to do with bacon, including buying it in one big slab, and then ...:

[Y]ou can cook it all in one piece as the focus of a knife-and-fork dinner, as a hunk of real meat. Because it is already so flavorful, it doesnt much need to be enhanced by the Maillard reaction, so just toss a whole piece, rind and all, into a pan of simmering water and cook it gently for about an hour, or until tender. You can save the bacony water -- for example, to cook greens -- but I generally toss it; there are too many unlabeled containers of murky liquid in my refrigerator as it is. Cut off the rind and halve the bacon crosswise for ease of carving, then cut it into quarter-inch slices -- not too many, though, because this is rich stuff: the fat doesn't render away, as much of it does when you fry bacon, so you'll probably prefer to eat little and eat it slowly, savoring every bit. Believe me, it is not gross: this is noble fat.

Oh, I believe you.

Why I'm glad I don't watch TBS.   Are you ready for what I'm hoping is not the future of television commercials? Jason Kottke was watching "Family Guy" on TBS when someone walked onto his screen holding a remote, paused the show, did a little plug for his own lame show, then said, "Now, back to 'Family Guy,'" took it out of pause and walked off screen. Like this:

Jason: "Jesus Christ. I realize that Time Warner doesn't actually care about the people who watch their shows and that television programs are just the networks' way of getting people to watch advertising, but this is too much. Do these things actually work or just piss people off in droves? Is there some marketing hot dog at Time Warner who thinks that Family Guy viewers want to watch the blue collar comedy stylings of Bill Engvall? I'm sorry that the DVR is ruining your business model, but can you kick the bucket a little more gracefully?"

This would be the fastest way to get me to stop watching network television on any network that did this, and fall back on our DVD collection. I'm hoping that the public backlash from this will be so great that the networks drop this moronic idea very quickly.

Oh, but enough about me ... let's talk about I.   Why is the pronoun "I" capitalized? I have to admit I'd never thought of it, and it doesn't really make a lot of sense. It's awfully egocentric, isn't it? I like what the author of this fascinating article suggests: "i suggest that You try, as an experiment, to capitalize those whom You address while leaving yourselves in the lowercase. It may be a humbling experience. It was for me."

Hey, i'm up for that. What do You think?

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  Friday, August 8, 2008

Cocktail of the day, plus new Herbsaint/absinthe site.   Herbsaint is not only New Orleans' venerable (and inexpensive and damned tasty) pastis, or "absinthe substitute" as it's often called, it's also the name of one of the city's finest restaurants, headed by Chef Donald Link, who co-owns the restaurant with Chef Susan Spicer of Bayona.

Herbsaint the liquor was a product of Marion Legendre's liquor company for many years, appearing in 1933 as an absinthe substitute ("Herbsaint" being a play on words and a homonym of absinthe en français). Legendre was acquired by the Sazerac Company in 1948, who have been producing Herbsaint ever since.

The namesake restaurant has a pretty good cocktail list, and their eponymous house cocktail, based on Herbsaint liqueur, is mighty good too. Here's how they make it:

The Herbsaint Cocktail
(House cocktail at Herbsaint Restaurant, New Orleans)

2 ounces Herbsaint.
1 teaspoon simple syrup.
4 dashes Angostura Bitters.
4 dashes Peychaud's Bitters.

Combine with cracked ice in a mixing glass and stir for 30 seconds. Strain over fresh ice in an Old Fashioned glass. Top with a little chilled water and stir.

This week I got an email from a fellow by the name of Jay Hendrickson, who introduced me to his wonderful website called New Orleans Absinthe History, concentrating on Legendre products, including Herbsaint and original Legendre Absinthe, and other New Orleans absinthiana. He's also got what appears to be a stunning collection, including vintage bottles of 1930s- and 1940s-era Herbsaint. (Wow.)

Jay was kind enough to send me a scan from an Herbsaint recipe booklet from circa 1944 showing the Legendre/Sazerac Co. recipe for their own Herbsaint Cocktail recipe, slightly different but sounding no less yummy. (The entire booket is viewable and downloadable here.)

Herbsaint Cocktail

For the image-challenged:

The Herbsaint Cocktail
(Legendre/Sazerac Co. house version, circa 1944)

Fill a large glass three-quarters full of cracked ice.

One teaspoon of simple syrup.
Two ounces of Herbsaint.
One dash of Anisette.
Two dashes of Angostura Bitters.
Two ounces of carbonated water.

Stir well and strain into a cocktail glass.

Jay points out that the anisette used in this cocktail would have been Legendre's own brand, no longer produced. I'd recommend Marie Brizard nowadays.

I'm gonna try my own adaptation of this, which in my head tastes rather like the Ojen Frappé you get at Lüke Restaurant in New Orleans, although less sweet and more complex.

The Herbsaint Cocktail
(Chuck's adaptation, 2008)

2 ounces Herbsaint.
1 teaspoon simple syrup.
1 dash of Marie Brizard anisette.
4 dashes Peychaud's Bitters.
Chilled carbonated water.

Combine first four ingredients in a mixing glass with plenty of cracked ice. Stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and top with carbonated water.

In other Herbsaint-related news ... Jay tells me that The Sazerac Company is producing their own absinthe based on Herbsaint, shooting for a spring 2009 release pending approval by the TTB. This is tremendously exciting -- from what I've heard Legendre Absinthe was mighty good stuff, and the earliest bottlings of Herbsaint compared favorably with high-quality pre-ban absinthes. Now if we can get a New Orleans-made absinthe to use in a Sazerac cocktail ... talk about getting back to our deepest and most authentic roots for that cocktail! I can't wait to taste this stuff.

Be sure to add Jay's fascinating New Orleans Absinthe History to your RSS reader. I'm guessing it's only gonna get better and better as we apparently prepare to add a new chapter to that history.

God, I'm old.   There's a relatively new L.A. commercial radio station, 100.3 The Sound, that's actually pretty damn good for commercial radio. They do a mix of good modern/indie rock, plus older stuff you generally don't hear on commercial rock stations (Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, XTC, etc.) and some of the better so-called "classic rock."

Last night, though, as I was driving home from KCSN listening to 100.3, up came Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Karn Evil 9." I probably hadn't heard it since I was either in high school or not far out of high school; let's say 25 years at least.

I instantly remembered all the words, and every note of the music, and sang along with the whole thing the rest of the way home.

God, I'm old.

The Cocktail Spirit: Tales of the Cocktail Webcasts.   Time to continue the catch-up ... now we'll move on to Robert's webcasts from Tales, including some fascinating interviews.

Tales Webcast One: Steve Visakay, avid collector of vintage cocktail shakers and bar ware, discusses his collection and philosophy on collecting after his seminar on the same subject.

Tales Webcast Two: Robert sits down with Darcy O'Neil, chemist, writer, bartender and blogger to discuss how and why people taste the way that they do.

Tales Webcast Three: Charlotte Voisey, Brand Champion for Hendrick's Gin and winner of this years original cocktail competition at Tales 2008, discusses her invention, The Punch and Judy Punch, as well as the process she undergoes when creating a new libation.

Tales Webcast Four: Jeff "Beachbum" Berry puts his own special twist on a Don the Beachcomber classic tiki cocktail called Dr. Funk. Cheers!

Tales Webcast Five: The Morning Glory Cocktail - David Wondrich, world-renowned cocktail author and historian, discusses the significance of morning cocktails throughout history and how they fit today.

Tales Webcast Six, with 10 Cane Rum: Clean out your coconut and hop in your hula skirt. This year at Tales of the Cocktail tiki had a block party of it's own. 10 Cane Rum was there joining in the celebration and their Vice President, Rob Bryans filled us in on what makes 10 Cane the world's best rum.

Wow ... talk about yer free content! Get busy and enjoy!

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  Thursday, August 7, 2008

Google goes to NOLA.   In a post on Google's blog, Lt. Governor and should-have-been-Mayor Mitch Landrieu announces the addition of Google Street View imagery for New Orleans, all over the whole metro area.

It's been a lot of fun to play with, and interesting in that the satellite imagery is one to two years old, although all post-Katrina/Federal Flood, but the street view images are far more recent (case in point: the Lake Forest Plaza shopping mall in da East is still visible, although devastated, in the satellite pictures although it was demolished late last year, which is clearly visible in the street view). I got a chuckle out of street viewing down da ol' neighborhood and seeing the lady who's apparently the current resident of my grandparents' old house in the Ninth Ward where my mom and uncles grew up, and where I spent a lot of time as a kid; there she is, sittin' on da porch.

Now you can take a virtual drive through the city, and check out everything from the beauty of the Garden District to the once again majestic oaks of St. Charles, to the shotguns and Creole cottages in the Marigny and the Bywater to the devastation of the Lower Ninth Ward, just beginning its long struggle back. (Start at the corner of St. Claude Ave. and Forstall St. and work your way north and west; you'll see isolated signs of rebuilding but you'll still be shocked as you head into what Stephen King might call The Blasted Lands; even though much of the debris has been cleared out, it's a lot of empty lots and weeds and concrete foundations where houses and a whole community used to be.)

The Cocktail Spirit, with Robert Hess.   Let's take a little break from Tales coverage and recapping today, and catch up on Robert just talking about making some great drinks. The former is an old favorite of mine, which I discovered in my own old yellowed and crumbling copy of Stanley Clisby Arthur's book as well. The middle one is of English origin but has become a New Orleans favorite thanks to how damned refreshing it is. The latter is one of the best gin cocktails around, one I love to use when converting vodka-drinking gin-haters to fellow gin fanatics. My favorite response when serving one of these to a non-gin-drinking friend for the first time: "This is the most elegant cocktail I've ever tasted." Yeah you rite.

Heeeeeeere's Robert!

The La Louisiane Cocktail

This wonderful drink is one I first encountered in Stanley Clisby Arthur's book Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix 'Em. There, he recounts how this was the house cocktail at the "Restaurant de la Louisiane" a once famous New Orleans restaurant. While it is too late to bring back its namesake restaurant, I think this drink deserves to once more see the light of day. You've got to love cocktails which works well with ingredients in equal parts like this, it makes it a lot easier to remember the recipe. Hopefully you'll give this a try!

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The Pimm's Cup

This easy to make drink, is not only full of great flavors, and a wonderfully refreshing drink during the summer, but it also is slightly lower in overall alcohol content then most drinks and so is a good way to introduce folks to classic drinks. The common garnish is just a slice of cucumber, but it was also once popular to "festoon it with fruits in season".

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The Aviation Cocktail

This long forgotten classic has recently been seeing a hearty return, due partially to one of its core ingredients, Maraschino liqueur also being more available. The Aviation is often the first obscure drink that makes its way onto the cocktail menu of a bar that is trying to acquaint it's customers with pre-prohibition cocktails.

A few comments on these drinks ...

The La Louisiane counts as a "forgotten cocktail," I think, according to Dr. Cocktail's definition for his book. It's easy enough to remember the recipe, so if you find yourself in a bar that actually has Peychaud's bitters, try to talk your bartender through one. If they're good at what they do they'll take a taste with a sip straw, and you can watch their face light up. (I hate using "they" as a singular gender-neutral pronoun and "their" as its possessive, but I also get really tired of "he or she" and "his or her" all the time. Can we not be a bit more like Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Tagalog, Bengali, Finnish, Estonian, Hungarian, Georgian, Persian, Turksih and Nahuatl, or maybe come up with a gender-neutral pronoun that doesn't sound riduclous? Just venting. But I digress ...)

I had the worst Pimm's Cup of my life at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop in the French Quarter during Tales of the Cocktail. It's a historic location, built sometime before 1772 and survivor of the Great New Orleans Fires of 1788 and 1794; it's one of the oldest standing structures in the city and supposedly the oldest continually operating bar in the country. Sadly, it's degenerated into little more than a fratboy/tourist bar, and you'd be taking your taste buds and settled stomach in your hands to order anything there other than bottled beer.

When I asked for my Pimm's cup I watched the bartender pour the Pimm's into the glass (so far, so good), then squirt lemon-lime soda into it from a gun, and then, inexplicably, soda water. Then to my horror I saw him reach under the bar and emerge with a one-gallon white plastic jug containing something that looked and smelled like industrial floor cleaner, and he topped off my drink with a couple of ounces of that. I craned my neck to get a better look at the jug to make sure that he wasn't actually poisoning me with industrial floor cleaner, and just before it disappeared back under the bar I managed to catch a glimpse of the words "SWEET-AND-SOUR MIX" on the label. The only difference between the use of this mix and an actual industrial floor cleaner in the final product was that the drink he served me did not actually poison me; the flavor profile was probably indistinguishable. The drink was completely undrinkable, and the flavor of that industrial "sweet and sour" mix was so vile as to be indescribable. Our friends who accompanied us there, a mix of Portland and Seattle drinkers and bartenders, all wisely ordered bottled beer, so I insisted they all try my drink with the time-worn invitation of "God, this tastes terrible ... here, try it!" Perhaps I fell into the I-Should-Have-Known-Better Department, but goddamn, it really isn't difficult to make this drink not-suck, and he might have been okay with just the lemon-lime soda if he hadn't put that poisonous-tasting factory product into it.

The bottled fizzy "French lemonade" works well with this too, and you can also make your own -- instead of ginger ale try using an ounce of fresh lemon juice, 3/4 ounce of simple syrup and 3 to 4 ounces of soda water. I also love the idea of "fruits in season" instead of cucumber.

In other sad Pimm's Cup news, I've been informed that Pimm's No. 1, the English liqueur on which the drink is based, is no longer actually made with gin as its base, but grain-neutral spirits. This is incredibly disappointing. I have an old bottle still, I believe, and I'd like to do a side-by-side taste test. Has anyone tried the old and new Pimm's this way?

Finally, while the common Aviation recipe of gin, lemon juice and maraschino is still a terrific drink, you really do need to try the almost-lost original version containing that tiny bit of crème de violette, which makes a huge difference. I'm seeing Rothman & Winter pop up all over the place now; check your local spirits store, and you can also find it online.

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  Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tales of the Cocktail Webcasts.   My own coverage of Tales will resume as soon as Wes and I finish the Tiki Dinner post, but in the meantime I have been quite remiss in linking to the amazing and voluminous coverage provided by the Small Screen Network (and it was extremely cool to finally meet Colin and Brian from SSN at the MotAC opening!), featuring both regular "Cocktail Spirit" host Robert Hess as well as tremendous coverage from L.A.'s own Liquid Muse, Natalie Bovis-Nelsen. So as not to overwhelm you, we'll do it in chunks over the next few days, or you can go straight to the site to catch up at your own pace. Fix yourself a drink; below is over an hour's worth.

The Liquid Muse Webcasts:

Day One, in which we meet Ann Rogers Tuennerman, founder of Tales, David Bromige, the co-founder of the yummy Martin Miller's Gin, and listen to Natalie deliver her advice to pace yourself, as your liver needs to hold up for five whole days (advice that I apparently ignored).

Day Two, in which we visit the Welcoming Reception, meet state Sen. Edwin Murray, who's primarily responsible for the legislation naming the Sazerac as the Official Cocktail of New Orleans, meet mixologist extraordinaire Tony Abou-Ganim, who has to take four work-related sea cruises this year (god, what a crap job he has).

Day Three, in which we meet mixologist Charlotte Voisey (who makes us a Daisy Belle cocktail), the ladies of LUPEC Boston several of the cocktail bloggers, including a startled-looking yours truly.

Day Four, in which we visit historic Creole restaurant Brennan's, meet Simon Ford, Plymouth Gin ambassador, and attend the notorious mixologist swag-off, conducted by Jeff Morgenthaler, in which they competed to make cocktails containing only ingredients from their swag bags.

Day Five, in which we talk to Jeff and Darcy about pairing cocktails with movies, meet the stupendous David Wondrich and hear about his upcoming book ("fifty punch bowl recipes, none of which involve grain alcohol or garbage cans") which I cannot wait to read, meet Gary Shansby of Partida Tequila (my new favorite tequila) and have a tasting.

Day Six, in which we meet mixologists and bartenders Marcos Tello, Damian Windsor and the Los Angeles-based contingent of cocktailian bartenders and the cocktail nerds who love them (L.A. represent!!), and taste more Martin Miller's Gin.

Now, are you jealous you didn't come and we did? No, not yet? Well, there'll be another blast of Tales websodes linked tomorrow (and already on the Small Screen Network website) featuring Robert Hess, which we hope will encourage you to get your butt down to New Orleans next July.

New Orleans beer news!   In the current issue featuring Dr. Michael White, OffBeat Magazine also reports on big developments for New Orleanian beer drinkers:

Kirk Coco is building a little brewery on Tchoupitoulas. Along with his partner Peter Caddoo, a former brewer at Dixie, the New Orleans native is installing equipment in a warehouse on the corner of 7th Street, picking out the right design for tap handles and perfecting his recipes. In the fall, New Orleans Lager and Ale -- or NOLA -- Brewing Company will introduce their blond and brown brews. "A very small, city-wide brewery," Coco says. "A brewery for New Orleans."

[...] NOLA Brewing Company will initially introduce itself to local drinkers with two easy-to-sip brews aimed to please most palates. Over the next year, though, look for some of Caddoo's unique beers, like a hoppy India Pale Ale sweetened with sweet potatoes.

The blond ale will be an upgrade for folks used to light American lagers. The brown, although dark as chicory coffee, is designed to quench the thirst of a city where it rarely gets cold. The head is almost effervescent, and the flavor hints at caramel without being heavy or lingering too long on the tongue. "The idea," Coco says, "was to m ake a brown ale that people in New Orleans would drink with crawfish or barbecue."

But before a New Orleans bartender can pour a pint of NOLA Brewing Company's beer, even at a bar down the street from the brewery, the kegs must travel to Jefferson Parish and back. In many other states, microbreweries like Coco's can sell directly to customers. In New Orleans, all beer must pass through one of two local liquor distributors, either Glazer's or Republic. Coco thinks that the extra hurdle has prevented microbreweries from sprouting in New Orleans. If NOLA Brewing Company succeeds, though, he hopes others follow his lead and start crafting beers for local taste.

Maybe a succesful local microbrewer can also spur people to besiege the City Council to get rid of that stupid law. (How does Crescent City Brewhouse do it? Do they really have to ship their beers to Jefferson, or is there a loophole for a restaurant?)

This is great news for the city, not only for drinkers but for city business. The beer sounds damn tasty, too. I was sorry to see the Dixie Brewery go, even though their regular lager was terrible (although the awfully-named "Blackened Voodoo" wasn't bad). I remember liking the beer at Crescent City Brewhouse (although hating the food and service), but it'll be great to see a real brewery in New Orleans again, especially one with really good beer, and a local brew that'll be poured all over town.

Restaurant reviews in Da Papuh again!   Reported in the New York Times, no less -- regular restaurant reviews have now returned to the Times-Picayune; in other words ...

New Orleans has gotten its beans back.

These are not the creole red beans that hold a sacred place on Monday lunch menus across the city. Rather, they are the measures of restaurant quality that the city's daily newspaper awards. Let other critics use stars; The Times-Picayune deals in beans.

In its Friday issue, for the first time since every restaurant in the city shut down after Hurricane Katrina nearly three years ago, the newspaper was handing out beans alongside a formal restaurant review.

"The restaurant scene is once again robust enough to withstand critiques," said Jim Amoss, editor of The Times-Picayune.

By one count, there are 105 more restaurants than before the levees failed.

Given that there is plenty of crime, political scandal and rebuilding news to fill the pages of the paper, one would think that the return of a simple restaurant review might not attract much attention. But this is New Orleans, a city dipped in gumbo and garlic butter whose essential culinary canon has not varied much since the late 1700s.

From the first days after the hurricane hit in 2005, food has played a central role in the recovery of New Orleans.

Chefs who rode into town in pickup trucks filled with red beans and rice became instant heroes. When the bakery that makes the city's airy poor-boy loaves reopened, or beloved fried Hubig's Pies reappeared on shelves of convenience stores, the city celebrated with the enthusiasm of Carnival.

"If there's anything people notice here, it's restaurant reviews," said Byron Mouton, an architect who is a New Orleans native. "They'll turn to that before they turn to any political controversy in the paper."

Brett Anderson, who began reviewing restaurants for the newspaper in 2000, returned to New Orleans a week after Hurricane Katrina and quickly shifted from critiquing restaurants to reporting on efforts to rebuild them. Mr. Anderson was part of an editorial team whose work covering post-hurricane New Orleans won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for public service.

Like other staff members, he proudly wore a T-shirt with the slogan, "We publish come hell and high water."

But not, it turned out, restaurant reviews.

:If I started back pontificating about whether the panéed rabbit was up to snuff," Mr. Anderson said, "I would have been missing the bigger story, which was about recovery."

Besides, there was not much food to critique.

"Writing reviews of M.R.E..s would have been funny," Mr. Anderson said, "but the situation didn.t really call for comedy."

As more restaurants opened, it became clear that if he resumed critiquing restaurants, he would have to take them to task for things that were arguably beyond their control, like poor service.

And there was plenty of that, as we all remember.

But that's behind us now, as things keep getting better and better, slowly but surely, in the Crescent City. And perhaps symbolically, the first review is of a local favorite that doesn't get a lot of attention from the tourists, a restaurant that suffered heavy water damage after Katrina and the Federal Flood, that was stripped down to the bare studs and rebuilt so beautifully that you'd never know anything had ever happened.

That restaurant's a favorite of mine, too. It's Mr. B's Bistro, and they got three beans.

Dr. Michael White and the glory of traditional jazz.   Getting back to a brief mention above, this month's cover story in OffBeat is about my very favorite jazz clarinetist and one of my very favorite jazz musicians ever, Dr. Michael White. We learn about his journey into the roots and soul of traditional jazz, his friendships with musical mentors born in the earliest days of jazz, his horrific losses due to the Federal Flood following Hurricane Katrina, and how he went on to write and record one of the greatest albums of traditional New Orleans jazz in the city's history, Blue Crescent.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, August 4, 2008

Happy birthday, Louis!   It's Pops' birthday today; that'd be Louis Armstrong, born August 4, 1901. He always liked to say he was born on the Fourth of July, 1900, and y'know ... that's fine with me. That way we get to celebrate his birthday twice.

Louis Armstrong

If you don't have any of Pops' music in your collection (and if you don't, gasp ... shame on you!), here are a couple of freebies, via the Internet Music Archive:

Louis always used to sign his letters "Red beans and ricely yours;" a more New Orleanian closing salutation is not to be had, and I steal it myself whenever I can. Being Monday, it's the traditional day to have red beans for dinner, and although it's way too late for you to start, here's another link to my Red Beans 'n Rice recipe, which is the best in the world (I'm sorry, I'm not being immodest, it just is; I can't help it).

Okay, that's hot.   Being the God Emperor of Procrastination and Absentmindedness isn't always easy, lemme tell ya. I've been meaning to get this post up for weeks, and finally remembered. 'Member way back in mid-June, I mentioned (and you may have heard on the news) the horrendous weekend-long heat wave, where it got up to over 100°F inside our house, to the point where the wax seal on my new bottle of Absinthe Nouvelle-Orl´ans melted? I've got an even better story.

My friend Carol, a chef and food and travel writer, actually managed to successfully bake meringues inside her car that weekend. Those of you who are familiar with baking will know that meringues need to bake in a low oven, 200°F for two hours. (That's a low oven but a monstrously hot car.) Read all about her Honda solar-powered oven at the above link.

By the way, I've mentioned it before and it warrants mentioning again (and again), Carol's site The Hungry Passport is a lot of fun, and belongs in your RSS reader.

The beer that made America barf.   A few weeks ago, the Anheuser-Busch Company was sold to a Belgian firm called InBev, and some people began whining about the loss of an "American icon," or some such twaddle used to describe the swill that is Budweiser. Those who wish to consider it some kind of positive icon of American brewing might want to consider the history as detailed in this excellent Salon article:

Ever since Budweiser was sold to Belgian brewing monster InBev on Sunday, beer drinkers have been sighing that a piece of Americana has been lost. They've got it all wrong. During its rise to President for Life of Beers, Budweiser ended up crushing dozens of local brands that formed part of this country's colorful drinking heritage.

magine the Budweiser Clydesdale team on a cross-country rampage, with a decrepit, tipsy August A. Busch Jr. strapped to the lead horse, wearing a bright red St. Louis Cardinals cowboy hat. Starting on the West Coast, platter-hoofed horses trample a can of Blitz-Weinhard, spewing suds all over the streets of Portland, Ore. Moving south to San Francisco, they stamp on bottles of Lucky Lager. In their hometown of St. Louis, they crash through the wall of a Griesedieck Bros. brewery, rolling hundreds of barrels into the Mississippi. They're seen next in Cincinnati, kicking a Hudepohl taster to death. The Clydesdales' tour of destruction ends in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Busch orders them to urinate in a vat of Piels, cackling that no one will be able to tell the difference.

Once a bigger, better-funded brewer invaded their hometowns, small-time beers couldn't compete. They either were bought up by one of the Big Three or disappeared from the shelves.

So if Budweiser was little different from Rheingold, or Utica Club, or Grain Belt, how did it drown those rivals?

From its very inception, Budweiser was a triumph of marketing over quality. Adolphus Busch, the dynasty's founder, called his beer "dot schlop" and drank wine instead. During taste tests, St. Louis drinkers spat it back over the bar. But if the Busches didn't believe in their product, they believed in their business plan. Adolphus bought licenses for tavern keepers and paid their rent. In exchange, they served Budweiser. On one of his frequent visits to Europe, he learned about pasteurization. That, and a fleet of refrigerated railcars, kept the beer fresh on cross-country shipments, allowing Bud to break out of St. Louis.

That said, some of my friends from St. Louis point out that they're more concerned with Anheuser-Busch as a huge employer and benefactor to St. Louis than with its integrity as a beer; apparently they're really good to their employees, who are very fond of the company, and they do lots of charitable events around town. Other than that, they have no allegiance to the beer itself, and one said "I only drink it when it's given to me and there's no other choice -- and even then I might politely decline."

I believe it was Budweiser that was the subject of a joke I heard from an English kid as we were waiting for a band to go on at Tipitina's several years ago. It's best told with a genuine or affected, and quite thick, London East End accent: "What's the similarity between American beer and making love in a canoe?" No, what? "They're both fucking close to water." (LOL.)

That doesn't take into account, of course, all the tremendous microbrews that are popping up all over, and that's my American beer of choice (and fine beer it is, too.) Some of my friends claim that on a hot day after mowing the lawn, there's nothing like a Bud to quench your thirst. Meh. I'd rather have something that tastes better, rather than the kind of beer the article's author describes as local water "subtlly flavored with hops and barley." Pass me an Abita Golden, Amber, Purple Haze or Turbodog, bra.

July Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

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Several of my friends and loved ones (and a few kind strangers) contribute regularly to this weblog, providing links, comments and sometimes lots more. Thanks to Wesly Moore, Mike Luquet, Mary Herczog, Steve Hochman, Dave Schmerler, Nettie DeAugustine, Diana Schwam, Andy Senasac, Michael Yasui, Steve Gardner, Michael Pemberton, Steve Kelley, Barry Kelley, Eric Labow, Tom Krueger, Greg Beron, Sean Burke, Shari Minton and Barry Enderwick.
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