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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 @ 3:41pm PST, 1/30/2009

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If you like, you are welcome to send e-mail to the author. Your comments on each post are also welcome; however, right-wing trolls are about as welcome as a boil on my arse.
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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)

2009:   Jan.

2008:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

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!    Due to launch 6/09)

*     *     *

   (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 Chanticleer Society
   (A worldwide organization of
   cocktail enthusiasts.)

Charming Cocktails
   (Cheryl Charming)

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)

Colonel Tiki's Drinks
   (Craig Hermann, Portland OR)

A Dash of Bitters
   (Michael Dietsch)

Dr. Bamboo
   (Craig Mrusek, bring art and
   alcohol together for a
   better tomorrow!)

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

   (Robert Hess)

Drink Dogma
   (Bobby Heugel, Anvil Bar & Refuge,
   Houston, TX)

Drink Trader
   (Online magazine for the
   drink trade)

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

Fine Spirits & Cocktails
   (eGullet's forum)

Happy Hours
   (Beverage industry
   news & insider info)

Imbibe Magazine
   (Celebrating the world in a glass.    All-new site with recipes and back issues!)

In the Land of Cocktails
   (Ti Adelaide Martin & Lally Brennan,
   "The Cocktail Chicks," of Café Adelaide
   & Commander's Palace, New Orleans)

Jeff Morgenthaler
   (Bartender & mixologist, Portland, 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.)

Liquid Architecture
   (Kim Haasarud)
   (Ladies United for the
   Preservation of
   Endangered Cocktails)

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

Le Mixeur
   (The Munat Bros. host
   cocktail gatherings in
   Seattle, and write about them
   here. I'm jealous that I can't go.)

The Mixoloseum
   (Blog, cocktail chat online
   & Thursday Drink Night!)

The Modern Mixologist
   (Tony Abou-Ganim)

Moving at the Speed of Life
   (Keith Waldbauer, Barrio, Seattle WA)

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

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

The Munat Bros.
   (Seattle-based brothers and
   ardent proponents of fine drinking.)

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!)

Scofflaw's Den
   (SeanMike Whipkey & Marshall Fawley)

   (Marleigh Riggins & Dan Miller)

Spirit Journal
   (F. Paul Pacult)

Spirits and Cocktails
   (Jamie Boudreau)

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

Thinking of Drinking
   (Sonja Kassebaum, Chicago)

Trader Tiki's Booze Blog
   (Blair Reynolds, Portland OR)

Two at the Most
   (Stevi Deter, Seattle)

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

*     *     *

The Tiki-licious Luau Spirited Dinner, July 17, 2008
   (Eleven dishes of wonder by Chef
   Chris DeBarr, with fabulous
   tropical cocktails by Jeff "Beachbum"
   Berry and Wayne Curtis. Full review
   of the 11-dish, 4-course meal, with
   photos and recipes for all 5 drinks.)

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

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:
Frost/Nixon (****)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Director's Cut (****)
Hellraiser: Bloodline (**)
Serenity (*****)
Third Man Out (***)

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 Abominable Charles Christopher
by Karl Kerschl

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

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.

Hot Sausage Seven Widow's Kisses Pete Fountain Tuba Fats' Jazz Funeral

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

  Friday, January 30, 2009

Luau, Beverly Hills.   Holy crap, it's the 30th already. Sunday it'll be February. WHOOSH!

A couple of weeks ago we got together with our friends Bryndon and Bob and checked out the newest star it Los Angeles' tiki constellation, Luau on Bedford Dr. in Beverly Hills. Locals will fondly remember the original Luau, which was in a different location (Rodeo Dr., I believe) and closed aroudn 1980. Patrons of the old Luau will apparently find the new one to be less kitschy with the faux-Polynesian decor, not to mention a considerably more upscale menu (and commensurate prices ... this place is expen$ive).

The main thing that brought us here is the fact that Jeff "Beachbum" Berry did their cocktail menu, so off we went.

Our first surprise was to see how small the drink menu was, which seems a bit odd for a tiki bar/restaurant. I'm told that Jeff provided them with over 30 drinks, but they only currently offer about a dozen. Those dozen, however, were very good.

Beverly Hills: The Luau Coconut

Ahh, such a pleasure to see this one. Our old friend, the Luau Coconut, so fondly remembered (or not-remembered, perhaps, given how hammered I was) from the Tiki-licious Luau Spirited Dinner during Tales of the Cocktail '08, a stunning collaboration between Chef Chris DeBarr and ace tropical drink-slingers Wayne Curtis and The Bum. It was one of the most extraordinary meals I'd ever had, and ... I wish I remembered it better, sigh.

This was one of Jeff's concoctions served at the dinner. The combination of fresh coconut water from a young coconut plus creamy coconut milk makes this drink really delicous and refreshing. I posted the recipe back in July, but here's a refresher:

Luau Coconut

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 and serve.

Garnish with a pineapple chunk, a long straw and long handled iced tea spoon for scooping out the young coconut flesh.

To prepare the coconut: Remove the top of the coconut with a large knife. Instructions here. Drain the coconut water into a container and strain. Set aside coconut water and empty shell for use.

Truly tikilicious.

Now, for the food ... given that we didn't reserve in advance, we were only able to get a table for about an hour, and we weren't terribly interested in a full meal anyway. We wanted drinks, and appetizers to help soak up the alcohol. Many of the dinner entrées were stupefyingly expensive, but the appetizers were reasonable and looked tasty. Turns out they were:

Siu Pork with Guanciale

This was classic Char Siu Pork but with the addition of Guanciale, my beloved Italian unsmoked hog jowl bacon , a modern riff on the Chinese / Polynesian restaurant staple. The guanciale, which was barely more than a garnish, still gave it some great crunch and contrast, and a nice touch of richness. The glaze was deeply flavored but not overly sweet too, which was appreciated.

Unagi with Crispy Risotto Cake

Next, Glazed Unagi with Crispy Risotto Cake, a fun take on the unigi (freshwater eel) presentations from sushi restaurants. Great idea and presentation, and the risotto cake was indeed crispy and a fun touch. I thought the unagi was fishy-tasting, though ... maybe it'd be better on a different night.

Pulled Kurobuta Pork Spring Rolls

This one was inspired too -- Kalua Pulled Kurobuta Pork Spring Rolls, a bit of an unwieldy name but perfectly descriptive. I love Hawaiian kalua pork, and they used a high-quality product for it too -- rich and unctuous, mmm. I've never had kalua pork as a spring roll filling before, and we really enjoyed this one.


Drink time! This one's one of my favorite tropical cocktails, and if memory serves me right ("Watakushi no kyoku ga tashika naraba ..."), it was created at the original Luau. Marvelously complex flavor, you'll want to make a batch of cinnamon syrup and keep it on hand just for this drink.

Jet Pilot

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce grapefruit juice
1/2 ounce cinnamon syrup
1/2 ounce Falernum
1 ounce Coruba fum
3/4 ounce Cruzan Dark rum
3/4 ounce Lemon Hart 151 rum
1 dash Angostura Bitters
6 drops Herbsaint

Shake with 1 cup cracked ice, pour into Double Old Fashioned glass. Add crushed ice to fill. (The new Luau blends theirs.)

I'm too much of a lazy bastard today to find falernum and cinnamon syrup recipes, so go check out Rick's site, he's got 'em. (I had my first workout session with a trainer today, and she gently but firmly kicked my ass. Anyone got a spare wheelchair? But I digress...)


Next up, a Luau Grog, their take on the venerable Navy Grog, which for years was my drink of choice at the late, lamented House of Lee in Pacific Palisades. My favorite local tiki bar after Tiki Ti, I was a regular there for years. Tommy was the bartender who kept me medicated with my large and potent Navy Grogs, and Albert, the world's most expressionless waiter (whom we loved) kept the rumaki, kung pao shrimp and cheeseburgers coming (they had great burgers, and perfect crinkle-cut Ore-Ida fries, great for soakign up Grogs, Fogcutters and Scorpions). Luau's Grog took me back ... ahh.

Luau Grog

3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce grapefruit juice
3/4 ounce soda water
1 ounce honey mix *
1 ounce gold Puerto Rican rum (I use Cruzan Estate Dark, not being a fan of Puerto Rican rum for the most part)
1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
1 ounce Demerara rum
1 dash of Angostura bitters
2 ounce crushed ice

Put everything into a blender saving ice for last. Blend at high speed for no more than 5 seconds. Pour into a double old-fashioned glass. Serve with an ice cone.

* For the honey mix, heat one part honey and one part water until honey is thoroughly dissolved. Once cooled & bottled, it will last about a week in the refrigerator.

Dr. Bamboo has the best article on ice cones I've ever seen.

All that, plus a few more drinks (Bob had an excellent original-style Mai Tai, fragrant with orgeat) and a big plate of light, crispy and very non-greasy fried calamari. We were well-sated, and didn't need to go anywhere else for dinner (although we did have to walk around for a while before I was ready to drive home). I'd stop it for drinks again, certainly appetizers, but I'm still unsure about spending what they're asking for dinner. But man, that Jet Pilot ...

(Incidentally, all the photos from Luau were taking by the light of my iPhone. I love taking pictures of food and drink in restaurants and bars, as you may have noticed, but I'm often self-conscious about popping off the flash. Not only can it be bothersome to my neighbors, but it also tends to not be very good lighting. I picked up this idea in a food photography forum, and the results were surprising. Two phones help -- Wes filled with his G1 Android phone on a few shots -- and the color balance can be somewhat bluish (correctable via white balancing and/or Photoshop), but I was very pleased.)

L.A. bartenders, represent!   My friends Eric, Matty and Marcos, three of the very best bartenders in town, are featured in articles on a site called Food GPS. They talk about bartending vs. mixology, their approaches to the craft, their originals and inspirations, and more.

Seek these guys out and you will thank me -- Eric's about to open The Varnish, a speakeasy that'll be in a back room behind the newly reopened Cole's at 6th and Main downtown (which itself has a fine saloon featuring perfectly-made classic cocktails), Matty's at The Hungry Cat at Sunset and Vine in Hollywood (and will be at The Varnish a few days a week too, yay!), and Marcos is at The Edison downtown. The latter is one of the most stunningly gorgeous bar spaces you'll ever see, and now that Marcos, Chris Ojeda (formerly of Osteria Mozza) and general manager Aidan Demarest (formerly of Seven Grand and The Doheny) are running things, you know you can get a really good drink there too.

Hmm, I'm going to have to add a list of cocktailian bars to the stie sometime. It could be difficult to maintain, as I tend to be more loyal to bartenders than specific bars, and these guys move around a lot. With several of them opening their own establishments, though, it'll be easier to keep track of them finally!

Dry! Sweet! Dry! Sweet! Shall we say, pistols at dawn?   ("We can say it ... I don't know what it means, but we can say it."

Fortunately no actual dueling commenced when Gary Regan and John Myers, two formidable forces behind the stick, were delivering a cocktail presentation and Myers let rumble with the shocking news that we've been making Rob Roys incorrectly all along -- the original recipe appearing in The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book in fact called for dry vermouth, leading to Gary's public humiliation and several hours in the pillory. (OK, not that last one, but how much fun would that have been?)

Turns out Gary decided to look it up himself, and it turns out to have been a big load of peanut butter -- as we all knew, and as Gary explains in his recent Chronicle story on the event, it was sweet all along. ("I confronted Myers. He blames aphasia," said Gary. Hey, I think I'll try that excuse sometime ...)

Wes got to the article before me, and served these up the other night. Delightful and unusual, yet I still think I prefer the original. Gary, Wes and I prefer Peychaud's Bitters in a Rob Roy, but I like Myers' idea of orange bitters too. Perhaps a dash of the latter too?

The Dry Rob Roy

2 ounces blended Scotch whisky. (We used Famous Grouse, Gary used Johnnie Walker Gold Label.)
1 ounce dry vermouth (We used Noilly Prat, Gary Martini & Rossi.)
2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters.
1 dash orange bitters, optional.
1 lemon twist.

Stir with ice for 30 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon twist.

I'll try this with Vya to see if they play well together (Vya dry can be tricky in cocktails), and with the "new" old original formulation of Noilly Prat dry that's just ekeing out into the market.

A Bacon Explosion in New York.   The enthralling, beautiful and horrifying Bacon Explosion I wrote about a few weeks back has hit the New York Times, resulting in greatly increased profile and at least a dozen people emailing it to me. (So sweet that my friends and readers know me so well.)

Nothing new to report -- we haven't tried one yet but we wili -- but the new article includes more pics and instructions, so have a look. In fact, we're going to try two ... one with Italian sausage meat as the recipe calls for, and one that I'll make with my homemade Creole hot sausage. (Holy crap.)

The chefs of the sea!   Dolphins, those ever-amazing creatures, apparently have fairly sophisticated means of preparing their food. Australian scientists have observed them "going through precise and elaborate preparations to rid cuttlefish of ink and bone to produce a soft meal of calamari." How very cool.

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  Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cocktails of the day.   We had busy days Tuesday -- up early to watch the inauguration (I was at work at 8am, setting it up on the big-ass TV) and home late. We didn't think ahead to research an Inaugural Cocktail (although there was some awful-looking red, white and blues ones on some web sites) and just drank Old Fashioneds instead. Wes did some digging, adn we did come across Eric Felten's recent article about an inaugural punch, along the lines of one served at Andrew Jackson's inauguration, which was apparently quite a do:

"A monstrous crowd of people is in the city," Daniel Webster wrote on Inauguration Day, 1829. "I never saw any thing like it before. Persons have come five hundred miles to see General Jackson; and they really seem to think that the country is rescued from some dreadful danger."

After the oath and his address, the old general climbed on his horse and headed for the White House. As one witness told it: "The President was literally pursued by a motley concourse of people, riding, running helter-skelter, striving who should first gain admittance into the executive mansion, where it was understood that refreshments were to be distributed."

The unruly bunch pushed into the White House, clods standing on the silk-upholstered furniture in muddy boots to get a glimpse of the new president (who was trying not to be crushed by his well-wishers). "The reign of King Mob seemed triumphant," wrote Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, appalled. When the stewards finally delivered buckets full of Orange Punch, the crowd lunged for the pails, overturning furniture, smashing the glassware, and -- perhaps worst of all -- spilling the punch itself. Quick-thinking waiters lugged the remaining barrels of punch out onto the White House lawn, enticing Jackson's admirers to take the party outside.

John Steele Gordon has a more detailed account:

The crowd grew so dense that there were fears for Jackson's safety. He soon escaped out a window and returned to his hotel. The crowd was finally lured out of the White House when the liquor was carried out onto the lawn. The place was a total shambles, with many thousands of dollars in damage due to broken glass and china and ruined upholstery and carpets.

Oh my. They should have had more buckets of punch at this inauguration, which might have helped the crowd move along a bit better.

In any case, Felten provides an excellent updated version of the type of orange punch that might well have been served to the teeming masses at the White House that day.

Andrew Jackson's Inaugural Orange Punch
(Adapted by Eric Felten, with tweaking by me)

3 parts fresh orange juice.
1 part fresh lemon juice.
1 part mulled orange syrup.
1 part dark rum.
1 part Cognac.
2 parts soda water.

Mulled Orange Syrup:
Combine 1 cup sugar with the peel of one orange in a saucepan. Muddle the sugar with the orange peel until the orange oil is released from the peel, and the sugar becomes damp. Add 1 cup water and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add some mulling spices to taste (a couple of cinnamon sticks, some whole cloves and allspice berries). After 15 minutes, remove from heat and let it sit for several hours. Strain.

Combine ingredients in a punch bowl with a large block of ice or optionally, for historical accuracy, in buckets. Serve in punch cups with a little crushed ice, and give each glass a dash of Angostura bitters or, even better, Jerry Thomas' Decanter Bitters. Okay, so Andy was inaugurated the year before Professor Jerry was born, but Dr. Siegert's Angostura bitters weren't exported until 1830, and it was years before his company was established to make the product on a large enough scale to keep up with the demand. So this is less historical accuracy than 19th Century flavor. Heck, try making up a batch of Boker's Bitters, or Doc's recipe based on Boker's, H & H Aromatic Bitters.

Punch in a bucket, mmmm.

If you're looking for other cocktail ideas, here's what else we've been drinking this week. Wesly adapted the first one from a more traditional recipe to suit the whiskey used, and spiked it with a little bitters. We use Rittenhouse bonded rye most of the time, but Wes wanted to try this one with the 6-year Sazerac -- it has a great flavor but is a little less punchy and forward than the Rittenhouse, so he upped the amount. "Playing to your base spirit," he says.

Oriental Cocktail variation(by Wesly)

2 ounces Sazerac 6-year rye whiskey.
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
3/4 ounce Cointreau.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters.

Combine ingredients with ice and shake for 12 seconds or so. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Next we tried one from the Savoy Cocktail Book. It calls for Candadian Club, but as we don't keep that (or any blended Canadian for that matter), we substituted a lighter rye. Basically, it's a Dry Manhattan spiked with a dash of maraschino and absinthe, which adds subtle tastiness.

Lawhill Cocktail

2 ounces Old Overhold rye whiskey.
1 ounce dry vermouth.
1 dash Angostura bitters.
1 dash maraschino liqueur.
1 dash absinthe.

Combine in mixing glass with ice, stir for 30 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

I like the old practice of adding one or two dashes of a liqueur to augment a recipe, or turn it into a new drink altogether -- it's really growing on me.

New Neko Case single!   From the forthcoming (March 3) album Middle Cyclone, the fabulous Ms. Case gives us "People Got a Lotta Nerve", available for listening online as well as a free download! Plus, Neko and Anti Records are donating $5 to the Best Friends Animal Society for every blog that posts the song.

The song's lush and sparkling, and her voice is like settling into your favorite comfy chair. Enjoy.

And if you say right there / I'm sure you'll see the Zulu Queeeeeen ...   As we whistle and sing along with Professor Longhair's classic song "Go to the Mardi Gras," let's have a look at one member of President Obama's West Wing staff, whom I didn't realize until just the other day is a native New Orleanian.

Desirée Glapion Rogers is the new White House Social Secretary. She's got a distinguished résumé -- businesswoman and graduate of Harvard -- but that's not the impressive part for me (other than assuring us she has what it takes to do the job). She's been Queen of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club not once but twice -- in 1988 and 2000 -- and is a descendant of the legendary Marie Laveau, the most famous Creole woman of all. Miss Marie had 15 kids with Christophe Glapion, one of whom is an ancestor of Mrs. Rogers.)

How cool is that?

Frak!   (Caution: Serious fanboy geekery ahead.) The first Battlestar Galactica props auction was held last weekend at the Pasadena Convention Center, and was broadcast live over the Auction Network, which has a really cool real time bidding system.

The producers' idea was that they wanted every fan of the show to be able to have a piece of it, which is a very cool idea (and a way to make some money back on the show). Props, costumes, sets and set decoration from the largest (a full-sized Raptor, Viper and Cylon Raider) to the smallest (Gaius Baltar's handkerchief, and an custom "Galacticized" oil can from the hangar deck) were being auctioned off, plus a lot of 200 small items on eBay. I wanted in.

I harbored no illusions that I'd be able to afford anything but, but I had my sights set on one of the flags of the individual 12 colonies (which, as every good fanboy knows, are Aerilon, Aquaria, Canceron, Caprica, Gemenon, Libran, Leonis, Picon, Sagittaron, Scorpia, Tauron, and Virgon). I like flags, these are cool looking, and it'd look great hanging in our stairwell. The catalog listed each as having a value of $400-600, although I knew the Caprica flag would go for big bucks, being the most famous and visible one. I decided to go for one of the lesser- or never-mentioned colonies, probably Scorpia (natch, me being a Scorpio or Aquaria.

Prices went really, really high on the first day of the auction, but went truly insane on the second, when the lots including the flags were up for auction. $400-600? The final prices of the flags ranged from $1,200 to $3,120. Aquaria went for $1,920, Scorpia for $1,680, with Caprica going for the highest price. Sigh.

The only stuff that went for $300 or less was stuff I wasn't interested in. A lot of people got whatever they could, didn't care what, as long as it was used in the show and especially if it was a "hero" prop, i.e. actually used by a character on camera and not a backup copy or used by a double, etc. That's cool, I can respect that. The way I looked at it was that I didn't want anything that wasn't recognizably from the show, from that universe. Baltar's handkerchief? It look like a handkerchief. Characters' wristwatches? Sure, it's cool to have a watch knowing that Kara or Lee or whoever wore them in character, but they're all mostly off-the-shelf watches. That's one of the reasons I wanted something like a flag.

Simultaneous with the live auction were the 200 aforementioned items on eBay, which were aimed at people with lesser budgets, so I decided to go for one of those. Turns out I won one! The "lesser budget" thing became a bit of an eyeroller (even the relatively non-descript oil can went for $58, even though it had a custom label made by the art department). Here's my little piece of the show:

Colonial One visitor's tag, Scorpia delegate

Here's the description from the auction: "Visitor Tag worn by members of press and/or delegates when aboard Colonial One for Press briefings. This one is designated for a Scorpian Visitor and was first seen in Season 1's "Colonial Day". Heat sealed laminated tag. Measures 2.5" x 4.25" with a 15" chain."

It's a hero prop -- I've seen it -- and it comes with the Colonial seal and the name of a colony; i.e., recognizably BSG. I have a shadow box all ready for it when it arrives. I'm happy. :-)

1200 more items will go on eBay between now and the end of the series. Then, there'll be another live auction in Pasadena in May, with 1000 items, more along the lines of the things I couldn't afford before. Here's hoping we get fewer rich people and props dealers and more regular people next time.

Oh, and the mid-season premiere last Friday? HOLY FRAK!

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  Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Finally. Finally ... our long, national nightmare is over.   I began to wonder if this day would ever come.

Be the change.

Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States.

Not even the presence of the awful Rick Warren, or Chief Justice John Roberts' botched administration of the oath of office could spoil this day. It's a great day.

Pete and Woody.   The pre-inaugural celebration on Sunday was pretty wonderful and moving, and I got chills seeing The Boss up there singing "The Rising" with a gospel choir, but what finally got the waterworks going for me was when I saw him return for the finale, and saw who was standing next to him.

I gasped, and said, "It's Pete Seeger!" Then he, his grandson Tao and The Boss began to sing ... and I cried. Everything and everyone that Pete represents, up there on the Lincoln Memorial, which would NEVER have happened had, God forbid, things gone the other way ... and I knew Woody was right up there with him.

Thank you Pete, Tao, Bruce ... and especially Woody.

This machine 
kills fascists.

This land was made for you and me.

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  Friday, January 16, 2009

Cocktail of the day.   Wesly discovered the other night that Aviation gin makes a really terrific Perfect Martini.

The different botanical profile of this Dutch-style "New Western" gin, which includes cardamom, coriander and anise, along with a rye neutral grain spirit base that lends its own spiciness, grabs onto the spices and botanicals in the vermouths and runs with them to the finish line. When I took my first sip it was almost jarring, and I asked Wesly if he had put a dash or three of some herbal liqueur in it. Nope, just cocktail alchemy.

Use your best vermouths for this, if you've got 'em -- Carpano for the sweet and Vya or the newly released original formulation of Noilly Prat for the dry. Even if you use standard vermouths for this, though, it's really damned good.

The name that popped into my head for this drink (which I think needs something more than just "a Perfect Martini with Aviation Gin") makes me think of the pilot who safely landed that plane in the Hudson River yesterday and got ever single soul off and onto rescue boats. I'll drink to that.

Perfect Aviator

2-1/2 ounces Aviation Gin.
1/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce dry vermouth.

Stir with ice for no less than 30 seconds. Strain into a frozen cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist after expressing the oil.

Man oh man. So simple, yet so good.

So say we all.   Today is preview day for the massive auction of all the props, set pieces, ships, models, costumes and drawings from the amazing "Battlestar Galactia". It's tomorrow and Sunday, and just my luck -- it's right at the Pasadena Convention Center, 10 or 12 minutes from home.

All the lots are on display today, including full-size Raptors and Vipers, and I took the day off ot go check them out. (You can download the full catalog to see for yourself.)I hope to be able to attend at least some of the live auction tomorrow, but if not you can still bid online (although with a 20% buyer's premium on anything you win online, boo) and there's tons of stuff on eBay too. The producers of the show say they want every fan to be able to have some piece of the show, no matter how small. Most of the stuff will end up being too rich for my blood, but as this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own something from one of the best TV shows I've ever seen, I'm going to go for a few things. Wish me luck!

(Oh, and it struck me this morning ... I don't have to go back to work until we have a new president. It's almost over. Almost over.)

Bacon for dessert!   It's not an entirely new thing -- I was making bacon-pecan brittle years ago. Acceptance of the idea might be more new, though -- at the time people at the party where I made the brittle wouldn't touch it unless I forced them to. Of course, then they'd try to knock me down and take all of the rest of it.

TIME magazine did a lovely article on the now fairly massive acceptance of the phenomenon (ahh, you've all finally come 'round!), focusing on a place where we hope to be having dinner tonight -- Animal Restaurant, near the Farmer's Market on Fairfax. Among their other fine offerings, they do ... this.

Oh, and hell no we're not splitting one.

Make it old fashioned.   Or even an Old Fashioned, if that's what Dr. Bartender prescribes. (That's what Dr. Wesly prescribed Wednesday night, when I got home after a horrid, miserable goddamn 2-hour drive home that averaged 10mph. Old Fashioned. George T. Stagg Bourbon at 141.8 proof. Abbott's Bitters. Brandied cherry. Orange peel. I felt better.)

Wayne Curtis writes in The Atlantic of the (Yes thankya man Jesus) old fashioned cocktail bar, exemplified by a place in Boston called Drink. They have no cocktail menu (although Wayne hopes they do add one) -- your drink choice comes about thusly: "The idea is that your bartender is your pharmacist and, after a brief chat, will prescribe something based on your needs and past preferences."

My favorite bartenders here do the same thing, more or less. If I go to Seven Grand and ask John for bartender's choice, he'll ask my mood, whether I want something fizzy, or sour, or bitter, or do I want to try some whisk(e)y I've never had, and the like.

These are places where the bartender is a professional, as in Professor Jerry Thomas' day, and not merely a drink dispenser made of meat. There are sadly far too few of them still, but I hope that's one of the things that changes in 2009. We've got a long way to go and we'll probably never get there completely, but every day there's another bartender who at least understands the classics, and realizes that bottled sour mix is crap.

Hmm, I wouldn't mind owning that kind of bar one day. Hey, the Lotto jackpot's up to $50 mil!

Some great advice for '09,   in the form of a terrific new song by Luka Bloom of Newbridge in the County Kildare.

Don't be afraid of the light that shines within you ...

The new dark meat.   I have yet to see it on a restaurant menu, but there's apparently a rising interest in raccoon meat. Well ... heck, you know me, I'll eat practically anything. I'm not sure that goes for too many more people, though. One of the commenters after the story said, "My meat thermometer does not have a vermin setting."

I have actually had raccoon meat before -- some little camp way outside of Houma, being cooked by a guy who was taking me and a few other people on a boat tour through the swamp. I was taking pictures and scouting locations for a film shoot at the time, and he offered me some of his raccoon sauce piquante. I don't think he took as much care in the preparation as the guy in the linked story did, because the meat was tough and gamy. He was also fairly unsentimental about it. The raccoon had been somewhat of a pet, but had gotten hit by a car and shattered its hip. Out of mercy, he dispatched the raccoon and sauce piquanted it.

This I found out after having a taste, of course.

I had heard similarly unsentimental stories from locals in Acadiana too. There was an actual effort to get people to eat nutria meat in Louisiana. They're pests, actually, not native to the environment, and they do damage to the coastal marshes. I think that the ultimately failed public campaign of "Nutria are good eatin'!" was an attempt to get the public to join into the nutria control program. They even hired Chef John Folse to cook a big multi-course meal all with nutria meat, and appanretly it is actually quite good. Anyway, a young Cajun guy once told me that nutria are very gentle and make rather good pets themselves. "And the best thing about 'em is that when you get tired of 'em as a pet, all you gotta do is wring their neck, sell their hide and eat their meat."

Well ... okay.

Be seeing you ...   Actor Patrick McGoohan, best known for his role as Number Six in "The Prisoner" (as well as being the show's creator and executive producer) died last Tuesday at the age of 80. I was a huge fan of that show when I was a kid, even when I didn't know what the hell was going on (and as the series drew to a close many grown-ups didn't really know either), but the Kafkaesque nightmare of his situation was always gripping.

I had read recenly that the series is being remade -- or "rebooted," as they're saying, more along the lines of how "Battlestar Galactica" was remade -- by AMC, who are also kind enough to provide the entire 1967 series online for free, for your enjoyment.

I'll watch it all again, but I will NOT be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered!

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  Friday, January 9, 2009

HUGE feckin front page redesign! Good lord! (*faint*)   I've gotten a few emails from people over the last week or so that helped hammer home the realization that parts of this Gargantuan (1,500+ pages) Gumbo Pages thing of mine haven't been updated in close to 10 years.

I had old lists of links from the '90s, and all kinds of crap that was just moribund, so I got rid of it. The front page of the site was overly long, cluttered and half-abandoned, besides looking so terribly 1996. Now it's shorter, cleaner, more streamlined and should load in a jiffy, especially on mobile phones. (Disclaimer: I am not a web designer.) As an extra added bonue, if you add me to your iPhone home screen you get a custom button! How's that for 21st Centuiry? As for the old stuff ... sometime soon I'll put up a museum page of all the old link rot-filled pages. There are still a few interesting things in there, along with hundreds of dead links to nonexistent sites.

So, long time coming, and I still might tweak it some more. Lemme know what you think. The old page is stored here for comparison.

Next (I hope), conversion of this weblog to WordPress (and, I hope all the archives eventually), once I get some help.

Oh, and I realized that as of right about now, The Gumbo Pages is 15 years old. That's ... um, several centuries in non-internets years.

Cocktail of the day: The Laureate.   I've been a big fan of toddies, particularly of the brandy, whiskey and rum varieties, which have been especially good not only during this chilly season but during attempts by nasty little bugs to clog my head and chest with gunk and make me feel like crap. When this happens there's not much that can do better than a hot toddy to make me feel better.

This recipe appears in the February 2009 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, which I hadn't gotten to yet -- my friend Janice sent the page to me as soon as she saw it, though (thanks, Janice!). This one's a first for me -- a tequila toddy, a great idea from Dan Hyatt of Alembic in San Francisco. Agave nectar (which I use in my añejo Old Fashioneds) replaces the honey, and instead of black tea he uses jamaica, the tart red hibsicus flower tea. (That is, of course, pronounced "ha-MY-ka," and not like the island nation in the Caribbean.) Very inspired, and I can't wait to make one tonight.

Dan serves these in giant warmed snifters and garnishes with an entire orange wheel studded around its edge with 10 cloves, plus a fresh bay leaf. If you don't have snifters handy, feel free to cut the orange wheel down to whatever size will fit into your glassware.

The Laureate
(by Dan Hyatt, Alembic Bar, San Francisco)

2 ounces añejo tequila.
2 ounces hot jamaica (red hibuscus flower tea - see below).
1/2 ounce agave nectar.
Orange slice.
Whole cloves.
Bay leaf.

To prepare garnish, stud each orange slice around the rind with 10 cloves. Cut down to size if necessary.

Run your large snifter or whichever glassware you're using under hot water to warm it. Add garnishes, then tequila and jamaica, then stir in agave nectar and serve.

To make jamaica, simmer 1-1/2 cups water and add 1/3 cup dried red hibiscus flowers. Steep for 2 minutes, then strain and keep warm. Makes enough jamaica for 6 toddies.

Mmmmmmm, sabroso ...

Happy birthday, Robb!   Don't worry too much about turning 40 ... you still look 18. :-)

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  Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cocktail of the day: The Creole Cocktail.   What's up with Torani Amer?

It's the Torani syrup company's sole alcoholic product, unadvertised, and is a bitter aperitif that was their attempt to replicate Amer Picon. Picon's been lost in two ways -- first off, it's completely unavailable in this country, even though it's now owned by Diageo and there's no good reason for them not to bring it over, but worse than that, several years ago the recipe was changed, the proof was dropped in half and the Picon of today is nothing like the Picon of old. Furthermore, although Torani Amer has been a pretty good product that works well in some cocktails (the Hoskins being but one), it really isn't a good Picon substitute. This is primarily due to its odd vegetal quality, almost like celery was used in the flavor profile, and the orange isn't terribly up front. I've had some success swapping it out in old recipes that call for Amer Picon, but frankly it makes a pretty bad Picon Punch.

Then, around August of last year, people started to notice that something was up with Torani Amer. It was ... different.

In fact, it was better. Much better. The vegetal characteristic was almost completely, just a tiny bit in the finish. The bright bitter orange is much more upfront, and it smells and tastes like ... a real amaro! Torani seem to have quietly and with no fanfare (unsurprising, I suppose, with a product they barely acknowledge to begin with) completely reformulated the product, and it's much more like true Amer Picon, to the point where it's now a perfectly acceptable substitute as well as a much better amaro on its own.

Even though I still had a bottle of the old Torani Amer left, I went to BevMo and got a bottle of their newer stock. I could tell the difference from the moment I opened the bottle. It's wonderful, wonderful stuff.

As with a number of other cocktail geeks, I've had correspondence with Torani (there was a scare a while back that it was being discontinued, and they assured all of us that that wasn't the case), and before then I had written to tell them that I had developed a cocktail based on their product, and sent them the recipes (they sent back very nice letters and a box of Torani swag). I have yet to write them, and so far as I know no one's heard any word from the company about what's up with this. As long as the new version of the product stays the way it is, I kind of don't care, although I'm curious as to the story behind it.

I have yet to do a side-by-side taste test with Jamie Boudreau's Amer Picon substitute recipe that we've taken to calling Amer Boudreau, and it'll be interesting to see whether or not we need to keep going through the trouble of making the latter product to replace Picon, and if the new Torani will do the job just as well. (Sorry Jamie, but in accordance with your lazy-bastard status this can only be good news -- one less thing you have to go through the trouble of making!)

So, I've once again begun an obsession with Amer Picon-bearing cocktails, and rather than a Picon Punch or a Brooklyn, tonight we were in the mood for this:

Creole Cocktail

1-1/2 ounces rye whiskey.
1-1/2 ounces sweet vermouth.
2 dashes Bénédicdtine.
2 dashes Amer Picon (Torani Amer or Amer Boudreau)

Combine with ice in a mixing glass. Stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

I'm unsure of this drink's origins, other than its appearance in the Savoy. It isn't included in Stanley Clisby Arthur's classic 1930s tome on New Orleans drinks, but it certainly fits in with drinks like the Vieux Carré and the Sazerac well enough such that I'm happy to claim it as one of ours. It's really good.

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  Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Cocktail of the day: Alberti's Night.   I've been on a bit of a Strega kick lately, finally having added a bottle to my bar. Michael's on a Strega kick too, and sent along this recipe from CocktailDB that we really enjoyed last night.

Alberti's Night

1-3/4 ounces rye whiskey (Bourbon is okay too).
3/4 ounce Strega.
1 dash orange bitters.

Combine in mixing glass with ice. Stir for 30 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

This one's pretty powerful, as Strega, although a liqueur, is 80 proof. All the drink's sweetness comes from this, but it's not all that sweet. You do get plenty of alcohol, so keep that in mind -- it packs a punch, albeit a lovely, spicy one. We like Rittenhouse bonded in this one, but you can use a lesser proof rye for nice results too, if you don't want your ass kicked by a 100 proof base spirit.

This is nuts!   Sometimes, with some of these really mad bacon preparations, you just have to draw the insanity line. (Then you think about it for a few seconds more and say, "Naah, let's do it.")

Bacon Explosion!

Oh. My. Gawd. We'd need a smoker, though, and oddly enough we don't have one yet. ("Gregg and Mike have a smoker!" Wes shouts. Um, hey guys?)

You're not the boss of me now. (And you're not so big.)   There's an intersting and fun post in this language blog about that venerable phrase beloved of so many kids (not to mention a significant number of adults), "You're not the boss of me." Although the current wave of the saying's popularity is claimed to date from the 1990s (and the TMBG song certainly didn't hurt), I remember well that my sisters were saying that to me back in the '70s, and it turns out it's older than you think. A lot older.

Obama poised to make best Cabinet appointment yet!   In an exclusive interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune, world-famous Momus Alexander Morgus, M.D. scientist Momus Alexander Morgus, M.D. reveals:

"I don't have much time to waste with you, I've been promised a call from the Obama administration," said Dr. Morgus. "They want me to be the Surgeon General, no surprise there. But I can't make Cabinet meetings so I've told him, 'Fax it in, Barack, and it's a done deal.'"

The potential fly in the ointment, said Morgus, is that the go-between, the deal-closer, is none other than Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. "Shouldn't be a problem," he said. "I've never met an idiot I couldn't help."

The hell with this Sanjay Gupta guy. The only TV personality suitable for the job is Dr. Morgus, and his depth and breadth of knowlege and experience (50 years!) leaves that kid in the dust. Has Sanjay Gupta ever invented anything like the Instant People Machine, or the The Morgussal Perpetual Cardiomachine, guaranteed to make you live 200 years? No? I rest my case. I'm hoping there's also a position in the S.G.'s office for Chopsley. This country needs an official guinea pig (as opposed to just experimenting on the rest of us, like BushCo did.).

The interview is priceless, and also lets us look forward to a March '09 special on WYES on Dr. Morgus and his 50 years (as of last Saturday) as a part of New Orleans culture.

All hail the Higher Order!

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  Monday, January 5, 2009

The Downtown Los Angeles Sub-District Cocktail Competition.   (Wow, that's a mouthful.) Cocktail competitions are fun -- sometimes they're only ways for the spirits company sponsoring them to get their brand out there, but a lot of the time it's a great way for a bartender to get a little recognition and maybe even win a prize. Marcos Tello of The Edison is organizing a new one not for a spirits company, but for our own fair city. What we hope to get out of it in a month's time is seventeen new signature drinks for Los Angeles. Let's have him tell y'all about it:

New York has for some time had The Manhattan, The Brooklyn, and The Bronx -- benchmark cocktails named after their native regions. A short while back a couple of bartenders from New York got together and decided to finish naming cocktails after their beloved neighborhoods. Cocktails such as The Bensonhurst, Greenpoint, and Little Italy. Beautifully stirred cocktails using a spirit base and vermouths, liqueurs, amaros, bitters, etc. Being a native Angeleno, I have always wanted a set of cocktails named after my own city or its neighborhoods.

Recently I bellied up to the bar at Seven Grand in downtown Los Angeles. (As you may or may not know, downtown is trying desperately to become a "full-fledged" city.) My buddy Leo Rivas served me a delicious concoction, stirred, and served up. And I thought to myself, as he was still searching for a name, why don't we name it after a one of the sub-districts in downtown? And then I thought, why doesn't L.A. have its own set of sub-district cocktails? This first one we decided to name it the Arts District Cocktail.

The point of all this is that we should have our own set of cocktails named after the city that needs our help in developing a true cocktail culture, in order for it to truly be called a "city"! So in February will have a cocktail competition in which name cocktails after the 17 Sub-districts in Downtown Los Angeles.

The Arts District Cocktail, incidentally, contains rye, Bénédictine and Cynar, although I'm unsure of the proportions. I can guess how I'd make a drink using those ingredients, but I want to get it right, so I'll publish it when I find out the exact amounts from either Marcos or Leo.

I know this is kind of closing the barn door after the bandersnatch has run away, but the deadline for entries was yesterday. (Glerp. Sorry.) Eligibility is bartenders who reside in the Los Angeles area, or who are L.A. natives but now tend bar elsewhere, and also serious non-professional enthsiasts and cocktail nerds. We might have picked up three or two more of yas from the readership here, but oh well.

The Rules: A stirred cocktail using a base spirit, modifying vermouth, liqueur (i.e. Bénédictine, Curaçao, etc.) or sweetening agent, and some type of bitter. No citrus. (Citrus is plentiful in L.A. and it's too easy; we don't want a whole bunch of sours either.) Also, ingredients have to be readily available, meaning no homemade ingredients or extremely, obscure hard to find ingredients. We want to be able to make these on a regular basis and promote making them around the city, so they should be somewhat approachable. Entrants are encouraged to do some research on the history of the district they're aiming for, to help the drink reflect both the past and present in that district.

The competition will be on the first Sunday of February. If we can coax him into town for the weekend from his until-April out-of-town gig, we hope Dr. Cocktail himself will be judging. (I'm sure Marcos has a Plan B just in case.)

I decided to go for the Toy District, bordered by 3rd Street on the north and 5th Street on the south, Los Angeles Street on the west and San Pedro Street on the east. It's filled with myriad shops for inexpensive toys, trinkets, and you-name-it. It's also pretty bustling, at least during the day. For years one of my best friends lived in a loft in the Toy District, and there we did lots of eating, drinking and carrying on. (Good, good times.) Besides the personal inspiration, I did a bit of digging and found out some interesting things about the neighborhood.

Before the wave of immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and elsewhere in Asia arrived to make the Toy District into what we know it to be today, the neighborhood was "filled with the colorful sights and fragrant smells of old Greece", according to the Los Angeles Times, and was known as Greek Town. The city's first Greek restaurant was on 4th Street, with Kalamata olive oil importers a few doors down. There were 65 Greek businesses clustered in the area, although few remain today and all but two of the original buildings have been razed.

I chose one of my base spirits, Metaxa, to reflect the flavors of the community in old Greek Town, augmenting it with rye whiskey to give it balance, a sturdier backbone and to reflect my love of the downtown drinking scene (I like to drink whiskey in downtown bars). The bitter component is Amaro Ramazzotti, complementing the floral notes of the Metaxa with bitter orange and fragrant spice (plus, the Romans had pretty much all the same gods as the Greeks). Lillet is there to help bring the flavors together, and to reflect the presence of fabulous French dip sandwiches a few blocks away. A muddled slice of ginger, as well as the ginger garnish, reflects the current Asian population of the Toy District and gives the drink a bit of brightness and zing.

Okay, I'm being silly with some of the symbolism there, but I wanted a Greek spirit and thought it'd taste good with the Italian amaro (wonderful stuff, which I want to use more often), and the other ingredients were chosen solely for taste and balance. I worked on this for about three days, and Wes and I drank most of the not-quites. (Hence, we were fairly shitfaced on Friday and Saturday and stayed home.) I'm pretty happy with the result. If you've a mind to, give it a shot and tell me what you think.


1 ounce Metaxa 7 Star.
1 ounce rye whiskey.
3/4 ounce Amaro Ramazzotti.
1/2 ounce Lillet blanc.
2 slices of fresh ginger.
1 orange peel

Combine liquors and 1 slice of ginger in a mixing glass. Muddle the ginger slice to extract flavor. Add ice and stir for 30 seconds. Double-strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with additional ginger slice and orange peel.

Here's hoping I win my district!

Making Fernet easier to swallow.   As Eric Felten writes in the WSJ, small amounts in cocktails are the way to go, substituting it for aromatic bitters like Angostura.

He writes of the Fanciulli Cocktail, basically a 2:1 Bourbon Manhattan swapping 1/4 ounce Fernet Branca for the 2 dashes of bitters, up or on the rocks. (I'd garnish that sucker with a big oily twist of orange, me.) We've done this with rye, but didn't know the Bourbon version had a name. I'll give it a shot this way, but I've become an insane amaro lover and will even drink the stuff on its own, which apparently impresses Felten: "Though some of the herbs, roots and barks that go into it are common enough in bitter drafts -- cinchona, orris, gentian -- the flavors are so powerfully concentrated that the stuff is almost impossible to choke down straight, which is why it has been used as a morning-after shock to the system."

Sheesh, I've never had any in the morning. I'm more of a Brandy Milk Punch kinda guy in the morning.

UPDATE, 7:34pm: Wes made Fanciulli Cocktails tonight using George T. Stagg Bourbon (at 144.8 proof, woof!), Punt E Mes and, of course, Fernet. It's a hell of a thing.

The bacon that says "baa."   Ooh, this looks tasty.

Bacon lovers take note: There's a new meat in town. Cured lamb belly is showing up on menus all over, cozying up to eggs at breakfast and standing in for its porcine counterpart in wintry dinners. Because it has a lower fat, lamb bacon doesn't crisp up as well as pork. But chefs like its meaty texture and the rich, gamey flavor it adds to hearty winter dishes.

That Lamb BLT looks great.

The article is New York-centric -- anyone know of anyplace serving this in Los Angeles or New Orleans?

Food Nazi moms?   I recently came across this article about a divorced mom who's going to court to rescind her ex-husband's joint custody of their kids because she discovered that he had committed the horribly abusive crime of packing the kids a non-organic lunch featuring sandwiches on white bread (oh, the horror) and ... *gasp* ... Cheetos!

The author of the article, mouth agape with astonishment (which the irate mom mistook as support for her view) was unable to compose herself at that moment to say this in reply:

I just want to let the food Nazi moms in on what happens when your kids come to a house where junk food inhabits the pantry. They have no decision-making skills or sense of moderation when faced with the forbidden fruit roll-up. Like deprived animals, they are determined to consume the lifetime allotment of sugar they have been denied; all before pickup. I have seen one such child eat Swiss Miss Cocoa with a spoon directly out of the family-size container, only to move on to conquer a box of frosted strawberry Pop-Tarts. When faced with not one but three brands of chips, they become apoplectic and run from the kitchen clutching bags of Cool Ranch Doritos and French onion-flavored Sun Chips, later to be found in a corner curled up in the fetal position surrounded by wrappers, unable to state their name.

I've seen the same thing, many times. Sheesh.

My sister is feeding wholesome, fresh food to my nephew (the niece is still on the bottle and baby food) but he also gets French fries on occasion, and undoubtedly there'll be the fast food stops now and then. It's not going to kill him, he's not going to grow up gorging on the stuff, and he's already expressing preferences for good stuff. The tiny sips of wine she lets him take now will also help him learn how not to be a binge drinker when he goes to college.

That woman in the article is a piece of work. Wonder how her kids will turn out.

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  Friday, January 2, 2009

Cocktail of the day: The Dandy.   Wes was in the mood for rye and Cointreau, plugged those ingredients into CocktailDB and came up with this -- simple and delicious.

Dandy Cocktail

1 ounce rye whiskey.
1 ounce Dubonnet rouge.
1/4 ounce Cointreau.
1 dash Angostura bitters.

Stir and strain, garnish with lemon twist and orange peel.

We wanted a slightly larger quantity, so he upped the rye and Dubonnet to 1-1/2 ounces each and the Cointreau to 3/8 oz (2-1/4 tsp), and an extra dash of bitters. Yum.

UPDATE, 1/7/09: Further Googling revealed Erik's post on the Dandy, working his way through the Savoy Cocktail Book. The Savoy recipe calls for slightly less Cointreau, 3 dashes (about a teaspoon), but the most interesting thing about his post is how he swapped out the Dubonnet for an Italian chinato, an Italian aperitivo that's a fortified wine similar to vermouth but with more bitter characteristics from quinine, and other flavors. I've seen this but have yet to try it, and from Erik's and Jeff Morgenthaler's posts it sounds fantastic. Sigh, I get paid tomorrow ... looks like half of it's gonna end up at Beverage Warehouse and The Wine House. Again.

I want to know what history tasted like.   So says my friend Paul Clarke, who's the subject of a nice profile in his hometown paper, which is current making him blush.

Nice way of putting our obsession with classic and historical drinks, too -- "I know what the 1800s tasted like." Mmm, Improved Holland Gin Cocktail ...

Truffles, get yer truffles, cheap!   I suppose one "benefit" of the rotten economic times we find ourselves in is that if you care to spend money (frivilously, some might say) on luxury food items, the previously hyper-expensive Italian white truffles are now a much better deal.

White truffles prices collapsed as the wealthy pare back on luxuries amid the global economic crisis.

An 850-gram white truffle from northern Italy sold for 24,000 euros ($30,900) at the 10th Annual World Alba White Truffle Auction in Tokyo last night. By weight, that's 84 percent less than the $330,000 Macau casino billionaire Stanley Ho paid for a 1.5 kilogram truffle last year.

I can't think in numbers that high. Even Surfas doesn't have the white ones at the moment, but at that price above you're at $36.35 per gram, or $1,030.52 per ounce. The black ones are in stock now at Surfas for a mere $98 per ounce, a comparative bargain.

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  Thursday, January 1, 2009

Beery New Year!   And Happy New Year too!

We had a great time with our beer tasting last night, which included several from Stone Brewing Co., including their new Twelfth Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, 11th Anniversary India Black Ale, 10th Anniversary IPA plus several others, including Chicago's Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, which is aged in used Bourbon whiskey barrels, and the very strange Samuel Adams Triple Bock. (That stuff sure was interesting, but I'm not entirely sure it's beer anymore.) It was the first time we toasted the New Year with beer, and at the chime of midnight we all grabbed musical instruments -- xylophones, tin whistles, fiddle, harp and whatever else was lying around -- to bring a little noise and cacophony to all the fireworks and Mexican music that echoed through the little Highland Park valley where we were.

That, plus lots of charcuterie and cheese, plus blackeyed peas and cabbage for luck and money, was not a bad way to ring in the new year.

Oh, speaking of charcuterie ...


This spread was from Schriener's Fine Sausages in Montrose (north Glendale). I forget all the descriptions, but it's teawurst on the left, German salami, a couple of others, a beautiful, delicate French-style hog's head cheese, another salami, some blood-and-tongue roll that was mild and delicious, and in the center ... oh my ...

"Stuffed Bacon"

That's called "stuffed bacon." It's got pork belly around the edge (i.e., bacon), pork loin in the center (i.e. Canadian bacon) and with some kind of sausage stuffed in the middle. (*omnomnomnomnom*)

Time for some punch.   As disappointing as the Los Angeles Times has gotten over the past couple of years, they still do a pretty good job covering local food, wine and cocktails (I hope Zell doesn't screw that up too). Yesterday's Food Section featured a great bit on our friend Marcos Tello, resident mixologist and bartender extraordinaire at The Edison, who reminds us -- in case we've forgotten over the last 150 years -- the joys of the communal punch bowl.

Remember, punch is a real drink, the precursor to most if not all of the cocktails we drink today. It's serious stuff to be treated seriously -- it ain't dumping some fruit juice and 7UP into a bowl. Take a little care and follow the guidelines (sweet, sour, strong, weak, spice) and you'll get something mighty fine. The secret, as you'll see demonstrated here, is to muddle the lemon peels with the sugar. Here's Marcos' offering:

Whiskey Barrel Punch
(by Marcos Tello, The Edison, Los Angeles)

Peels of 3 lemons, cut in a spiral with a potato peeler.
5 tablespoons superfine sugar.
1 cup fresh lemon juice.
1/2 cup pomegranate syrup (such as Monin).
4 dashes Angostura bitters.
2 cups Bourbon (Marcos suggests Woodford Reserve).
1 (375ml) split of Champagne.
1 large block ice (see note).

In a large, sturdy bowl, vigorously muddle together the lemon peels and superfine sugar with a muddler until the peels release their oil and the sugar becomes moist and fragrant. Pour in the lemon juice and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Stir in the pomegranate syrup, bitters and bourbon. Add cubed ice to chill the mixture, and stir until the mixture is cold. Strain the mixture into a punch bowl over the ice and top with Champagne. Serve immediately.

YIELD: 15 servings. Double it for a bigger party.

NOTE: For a large block of ice, pour simmering water into a heat-proof container that fits into your punch bowl and freeze. With a vegetable peeler, peel the lemons in lengthwise strips, avoiding the white pith, and use the fruit for juice.

Don't forget the other two recipes, for Mother's Ruin Punch by Phil Ward of Death & Co. in New York, and Champagne Punch by Julie Reiner of The Clover Club, also in NYC.

Also, if you pick up the December 2008 issue of Saveur magazine while it's still on the newsstands, Dave Wondrich has an excellent article on punches (a precursor to his much anticipated next book, Punches, or the Delights and Dangers of the Flowing Bowl, to be published in 2010) which includes three recipes. Each of these makes 3 quarts, or about 24 four-ounce servings.

Captain Radcliffe's Punch

4 lemons.
1/2 cup superfine sugar.
1-1/2 cups sweet wine, preferably Sauternes.
1 750ml bottle brandy, preferably VSOP Cognac.
6 cups chilled water.
Freshly grated nutmeg.

Muddle the lemon peel with the sugar as shown above. Juice the lemons and add juice to the sugar and peel. Stir until completely dissolved. Strain the mixture into a punch bowl. Discard peels. Stir in the wine and brandy. Chill. To serve, stir in the water and add a large block of ice.

#     #     #

(Flaming Punch)

3 bottles light-bodied red wine, such as Beaujolais.
1 750ml bottle Batavia Arrack van Oosten.
1/2 cup superfine sugar.
1 Seville orange (i.e., bitter or sour orange), thinly sliced, seeds removed.
1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed.

In a 6 quart pot, bring the wine and arrack to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the sugar, along with the orange and lemon slices. Stir, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Transfer the punch to a heavy heatproof bowl. (Be careful; if it's not heatproof the bowl may crack.)

Dip a small metal ladle into the hot punch. Touch a lit match to the surface of the punch in the ladle to ignite it. Pour the flaming punch back into the bowl. (Have a fire extinguisher handy just in case you're a klutz.) Serve immediately so that the punch remains aflame in the glass. (You'd think it goes without saying that you should blow out your punch before drinking, but I'm saying it anyway.)

#     #     #

Regent's Punch

1 cup sugar.
1 cup cubed fresh pineapple.
2 lemons.
2 oranges.
1 Seville orange.
2 green tea bags (or 2 teaspoons green tea leaves).
1 cup brandy, preferably VSOP Cognac.
1/4 cup dark Jamaican rum.
1/4 cup Batavia Arrack van Oosten.
2 750ml bottles brut Champagne, chilled.
Freshly grated nutmeg.

In a saucepan combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water. Stir over high heat until dissolved. Transfer to a bowl along with the pineapple. Allow to macerate in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours to make a pineapple syrup. Strain and reserve, discarding solids.

Peel lemons, oranges and Seville orange, taking care to remove as little white pith as possible. Reserve fruit. Muddle the peels in a heavy bowl with the rest of the sugar, as Marcos taught you above. In a medium bowl, steep the tea in 2 cups boiling water for 5 minutes. Strain tea over peel and sugar mixture and stir until sugar is dissolved. Juice the fruit into the tea mixture. Strain through a fine strainer into another bowl, discarding solids. Stir in pineapple syrup, brandy, rum and arrack. Chill. To serve, combine mixture with Champagne in a punch bowl with a large block of ice. Garnish with nutmeg.

Good lord, that last one looks fantastic.

December Looka! entries have been permanently archived.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holiday wrap-up: Food and cocktails from New Orleans.   Yes, I've been a lazy bastard. I must confess to not really wanting to do a lot of blogging during my week back home in New Orleans, and that does have something to do with the fact that all this hand-coding of this site gets to be a huge pain in the ass. One of my New Year's Resolutions is going to be to convert this blog to WordPress as soon as possible. Given my complete and utter lack of facility with such things, I'm going to need some help. I think I have a likely candidate, but otherwise I'll probably be putting out a call next week. (I'm also going to want an iPhone-optimized version of the main home page, and I have absolutely no clue as to how to do that.)

But in the meantime ... there was lots of eating and drinking over the last week to talk about!

I spent most of Christmas Eve day shopping, as given current Draconian baggage restrictions it wasn't practical to schlep presents over on the plane. (Plus I was planning to do 90% of my Christmas shopping at Martin Wine Cellar anyway.) The best part of the day, though, was seeing my old frends David and Jennifer for the first time in (as we realized incredulously) nine years. I finally got to meet their gorgeous girls, and as they were all headed to the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park that afternoon, a lunch option near Bayou St. John was called for. None of us had been to Liuzza's by the Track in ages, so off we went.

Chicken, sausage & shrimp 
gumbo at Liuzza's by the Track

Chicken and sausage gumbo to start. Oh, yum. That's a "cup," by the way.

"Breath Taking Beef" 

Next was their "Breath Taking Beef", featuring what Gourmet magazine once called "nostril searing horseradish." (It was good, but my nostrils emerged unscathed.)

Christmas dinner

I thought I'd be remiss in talking about food this trip without including Christmas dinner at Uncle Joe and Aunt Cassie's. Let's see, starting at 12 noon, it's rice 'n gravy, macaroni 'n cheese, cornbread and giblet dressing, oyster dressing, sweet potatoes, leg of lamb, turkey, corn pudding, creamed spinach and a cheese-laden variant of greenbean casserole in the middle. That's not counting French bread, cranberries and various desserts, plus wine and cocktails (Rusty Nails were what I was making) ... urp.

Granny's brownies

My favorite dessert of all gets its own due -- my grandmother's chocolate brownies, which I've loved since I was a kid (and they're very popular in the family too). Granny doesn't make them herself anymore (she's 91), but Mom does 'em just as well.

Now, time for some more goin' out ...

Boxing Day began with lunch with my folks at Johnny & Joyce in Mandeville, a completely unassuming, atmosphere-free li'l joint that concentrates on one thing -- great, inexpensive food, mostly fried seafood. Johnny and Joyce, as I recall, had a place in Chalmette for years which washed away in Katrina, and reopened a few years ago on the Northshore. The shrimp and oysters were plump, plentiful and perfectly fried, and I had a gorgeous cup of shrimp gumbo to start. Then, as Parkway Bakery was closed for the holidays and I didn't think I'd be making it to Gene's, I got a hot sausage po-boy with cheese, part of what I'd want my last meal to be (along with red beans and rice and French fries, to name two more components). Not the best I'd ever had, but perfectly good. (The best hot sausage po-boy I'd ever had on the Northshore was at Bunny Matthews' now lamentably closed Vic 'n Nat'ly's in Covington.)

The evening's rounds began with a visit to the Swizzle Stick Bar at Café Adelaide to see our bartender friends Lu and Michael, and to sample the latest delights from their cocktail menu, one of the best in town. Louise began with an original by Chris Hannah of Arnaud's French 75 Bar. He's one of the best in town, and he's been cranking out some amazing creations lately. The Swizzle redid their menu and now has a back page featuring drinks by friends of theirs, which is very cool. This is one of 'em -- get it here or go see Chris himself at Arnaud's.

The Accoutrement
(by Chris Hannah, Arnaud's French 75 Bar, New Orleans)

2 ounces Calvados.
3/4 ounce Strega.
1/2 ounce Clément Créole Shrubb.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters.

Shake with ice for 10-12 seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with brandied cherries in the glass or on a pick.

I went for a classic, one of my old favorites and a regular feature on the Swizzle's menu. I just love being able to order this in a bar and not get a quizzical look from the bartender. "Gin, lemon and chocolate," Michael said as he put it in front of me. "Who'd'a thought?"

The Twentieth Century Cocktail

1-1/2 ounces gin.
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice.
3/4 ounce Lillet blanc.
3/4 ounce white crème de cacao.

Shake with ice for 10-12 seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Next up was a visit to a new place -- not only new to me, but brand new to the city too, having opened at the beginning of October. Rambla is a Basque-influenced Spanish tapas restaurant at the International House hotel in the 200 block of Camp Street. It's owned by the same folks who own Cuvée on St. Charles and Dakota on the Northshore, so it's already off to a good start. Mary had been in Rambla a few weeks ago, checking them out for inclusion in Frommer's I imagine, and put me in touch with their bartender Max Pazuniak, who's a really nice guy, a graduate of B.A.R. and really cares about quality cocktails. Max and his cohorts are doing a great job with the cocktail menu there, with several really tasty-looking offerings: Spanish 75, a variation on the local penchant for making French 75s with brandy instead of gin, with Max's version done with LePanto brandy de Jerez, fresh lemon juice and Cava. The Sardinia combines Tanqueray gin, fresh lemon, housemade rosemary syrup and a splash of Campari, and a Pecan Hot Toddy warms dark rum and sweetens it with a housemade spiced pecan syrup. Max offered to make this one for me, a holiday-themed variation on an Old Fashioned and one of his own creations. I'm approximating the proportions from having watched him make it, but if you want it done exactly right, go see him at Rambla and tell him hi for me.

Goodnight St. Nick
(adapted from Max Pazuniak, Rambla, New Orleans)

2 ounces Sazerac rye whiskey, 6 years.
1/2 ounce allspice dram.
1/4 ounce grade B maple syrup.
2-3 dashes Fee's Whiskey Barrel-Aged bitters.
4 or 5 fresh cranberries.
Orange slice.

In a mixing glass muddle the cranberries and orange slice. Add the remaining ingredients and shake vigorously until very cold, then double-strain into an Old Fashioned glass with ice.

I don't think St. Nick would mind being left one of these. (We always just left milk, cookies and whiskey.)

Next up was a trip to Lüke, one of my very favorite places in the city. Not just mine -- when my friend Rocky in Seattle saw my update that I was eating there, he sent back, "I hate you with a deep and burning passion. From Hell's Heart I stab at thee!" (Envious, a little? Heh. Aah, he knows that I'd have teleported him there in a second if I had the technology.) As is my wont, when I go to Lüke I frequently drink an Ojen Frappé:

Ojen Frappe

Ojen Frappé

2 ounces Ojen (substitute dulce anis del mono or Marie Brizard anisette)).
3-4 dashes Peychaud's bitters.
Splash seltzer.

Pack an Old Fashioned glass with crushed ice. Add ojen, bitters and seltzer, and stir until the glass is frosty.

Ojen (OH-hen) is an anisette formerly made in the village of Ojén in Spain, with the last remaining version of it being made by Manuel Fernandez in Jerez. Turns out that the people in Spain, and even the people in Ojen, got out of the habit of drinking it and there was really only one place in the world where it was still being consumed at all -- New Orleans, where it's been popular for Unfortunately we weren't enough to keep an entire distillery going, and they decided to close. Aghast at the prospect of losing one of our traditional beverages, New Orleans bought all remaining stock, and I read in an article by one Ned Hémard that the owners of Martin Wine Cellar actually commissioned a huge final run of the stuff before the distillery shuttered.

Lüke apparently bought a big chunk of the remaining stock so that they could offer the cocktail on their regular menu, and it's one of the last bars in the world where you can get one. (Commander's and, I think, a few other places still offer it regularly.) The liqueur itself is still pretty easy to find -- Martin and Dorignac's regularly stock it, and Michael tells me that Vieux Carré Wine & Spirits always has it too.

That, plus this, is what set Rocky off:

Choucroute Garni, at Luke 

Choucroute garni, or "dressed sauerkraut," is a classic Alsatian dish of sauerkraut and onions cooked in pork stock, white wine (usually Riesling or Gewürzraminer) and spices (usually juniper berries, cloves, black pepper and more), along with pork products of various kinds. At Lüke the choucroute comes with housemade spicy pork sausage, Berkshire pork belly and pig knuckles.

It was absolutely heavenly.

To round out our evening we headed to the Renaissance Père Marquette Hotel to visit the dean of New Orleans bartenders, Chris McMillian. He now holds court at The Bar Uncommon, a bit of a pun on the hotel's location on Common Street near Baronne Street. (I love me a good pun.) Chris is a gracious and extremely knowledgeable host, and at his bar you're always certain to be served something wonderful.

Now that Plymouth has finally begun releasing their magnificent sloe gin in the U.S. (albeit in maddeningly small quantities), we're finally able to begin exploring what a wonderful liqueur it is, and how it's really the only sloe gin you should be using, at least until Stephan Berg is able to get his new Bitter Truth Sloeberry Blue Gin into the States without us having to pay €51 a bottle with shipping from Germany. Until then, stick with the Plymouth and avoid any American-made product, which is more likely to taste like Robitussin than sloe gin.

Here's a wonderful Negroni variation he made us, with sloe gin sitting in for the sweet vermouth:


1 ounce gin.
1 ounce Plymouth sloe gin.
1 ounce Campari.
1/2 ounce orange grapefruit juice.

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

(I'd swear in court that I heard Chris say it was orange juice, but Michael says Chris said grapefruit and has made it that way for him three times. I must be losing my mind.)

Next up was a lovely Old Fashioned variation of Chris' that he's currently calling "New Orleans is Drowning," adding that "I gotta come up with a better name for this." The bitters represent our Caribbean heritage, the Cognac is for the French, the rye for the Americans and the Campari rinse is for the Italians. (The Spanish, Afrcans, Irish and Germans get short shrift in this drink, but frankly adding three more ingredients would tend to get things a little crowded. Maybe we can come up with a No. 2 version to honor those other parts of New Orleans' mix.) In the meantime ...

"New Orleans Is Drowning"

"New Orleans is Drowning"
(A perhaps soon-to-be-renamed Old Fashioned variation by Chris McMillian)

1 ounce Cognac.
1 ounce rye whiskey.
1 sugar cube.
3-4 dashes Angostura bitters.
Splash of water.

Add the sugar and bitters to a mixing glass, then the water. Crush the sugar cube with a muddler and muddle until the sugar is dissolved. Add the Cognac and rye and stir with ice until well chilled. Rinse an Old Fashioned glass with Campari, then strain the Cognac-rye mixture into it and garnish with an orange peel.

I'm hoping I remembered the details correctly on this one. I was getting a little fuzzy in the memory department by this point.

The final drink of the evening was something Chris called a Jane Deaux, and I'm afraid I don't remember much about it other than it was gin muddled with fresh ginger and some lemon juice, and something else, and it was really good. I did manage a picture, though.


Family, good friends, good food, good cocktails ... and a good visit home. Doesn't get much better than that. I'm back in L.A. now, having made the year's final visit to Seven Grand for yet more cocktail cheer, where Dave took mighty good care of us. I managed to pick up a dose of sniffles and coughing while I was back home, so Dr. Dave first served up something that cures what ails ya:

Hotty Toddy

2 ounces Cognac.
3/4 ounce honey syrup (combine honey and hot water 1:1 to make).
Hot water.
Nutmeg and star anise.

Grate a bit of nutmeg and star anise into a small stemmed glass (an Irish coffee glass would work well). Add the Cognac, honey syrup and hot water and stir to combine. Garnish with a nice oily lemon peel.

Next up was a tall drink Dave whipped up, also medicinal, with fresh grated ginger and rye. He asked me which rye I wanted and I wanted one with a punch (well, it's medicinal after all), so we went with the new release of Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye, which I love. It's powerful, coming in at 127.5 proof, and it screams "RYE!" at you, big and spicy and fruity. I felt it could stand up to all the other ingredients and still be assertive, and that it was. (Given the way I'm still coughing as I write this, I should go upstairs and make another one right now.)

Rye Brouhaha at Seven Grand
(Yeah, crappy iPhone pic, but what're ya gonna do?)

Rye Brouhaha

2 ounces rye whiskey.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.
1/2 ounce pineapple juice.
1-2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger, to taste.
1 egg white.

Grate some fresh ginger into a shaker and add the whiskey, juices, syrup and egg white. Shake like mad until cold and frothy. Strain into a tall glass with ice, then top off with a bit of seltzer. Garnish with a slice of fresh ginger.

Next I wanted an Old Fashioned but with a whiskey I had never had before. Dave immediately recommended the 2008 release of William Larue Weller Bourbon, the fifth member of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection which had somehow eluded me all this time. It's undoubtedly my obsession with the Sazerac 18 year rye and the Handy Rye, plus the "haz-mat" George T. Stagg and the lovely Eagle Rare 17 that had kept me distracted. I'm sorry I waited, although I had read later that previous years' releases of WLW were somewhat weak. Not this one.

This is a gorgeous whiskey, not as punchy as a rye (it's wheated, as I recall) but it gets a lot from the wood -- vanilla, caramel and holiday spices like cinnamon. It's also beautifully smooth, with no alcohol burn despite its high proof (125.3). I'm gonna have to dig some of this up if I can (limited availability and all), as if I haven't already spent a fortune on whiskey the last couple of weeks ...

Old Fashioned with William 
Larue Weller Bourbon
(Another crappy iPhone pic)

And here I am, having a lazy day, getting ready for our New Year's Eve celebration tonight. We're headed to Gregg and Mike's for a Stone Brewery (makers of Arrogant Bastard) beer tasting, including some of their special release from years past. Yum! I'm also going to bring along a couple of traditional New Year's dishes -- Black-eyed Peas for luck, and smothered cabbage for money:

Smothered Cabbage

Yep, it's smothered in bacon fat.

Smothered Cabbage

1 package bacon, 12-16 ounces (I like Benton's, Nueske's or Niman Ranch, but Oscar Meyer will do fine)
1 large sweet onion, sliced
1 head of cabbage
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
Juice of 1/2 large lemon
1 ounce cider vinegar
1/2 tsp ground allspice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut the bacon into 1/2" pieces and place in a large pot. Cook over medium heat until crispy, then remove bacon and put aside. Reserve all the resultant bacon fat.

Cut the onion from pole to pole, cut off stem and root ends and slice the onion. Cook the onion in the bacon fat until it's translucent and tender. Add the apple and cook until tender.

Quarter, core and coarsely shred the cabbage. Add to the pot and toss with the onions and fat until coated. Add lemon juice, vinegar and allspice. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, then uncover, add bacon, toss again to mix and add salt and pepper to taste. Cook a minute or two more until the cabbage is barely tender. Eat, moan with pleasure and make some money this year.

YIELD: 6-8 servings

That's your New Year's Day menu, although we're getting a head start on ours tonight.

Have a happy and safe New Year's, and may 2009 please be better than 2008.

Peace and love, y'all.

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