LOOKA! (Bia agus deoch, ceol agus craic)     Hot Sausage Seven Widow's Kisses Pete Fountain Tuba Fats' Jazz Funeral

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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 @ 12:13pm PDT, 7/31/2009

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Talesblog 2009

Tales of the Cocktail 2009

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, AllAboutJazz.com

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

"... 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 Amazon.com 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, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul.

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
NOLA.com & 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.)

*     *     *

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)

The Liquid Muse
   (Natalie Bovis-Nelsen)

   (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)

Rogue Cocktails
   (Kirk Estopinal & Maksym Pazuniak,
   Cure, New Orleans.

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.

Nat Decants (Natalie Maclean)
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 Bands.net

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:
AlterNet.org (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.)
Whitehouse.org (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.)

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

  Friday, July 31, 2009

Cocktail of the day: The Animalito.   Last night I finally participated in TDN, Thursday Drink Night. Sheesh, it's about time.

TDN is a weekly gathering at The Mixoloseum Bar, a chat room where cocktail webbloggers, readers, enthusiasts, authors and even spirits industry folk gather on Thursday nights from 4pm-midnight Pacific time to make original cocktails, talk about them, make fun of each other and stay up too late. There's a theme each week, whether it's a specific product or a general base spirit or something like last night's theme, "Equal Proportions."

Can you make a good drink using equal proportions of the ingredients? Well sure, it's been done all the time in cocktail history. My favorite example of this is the Negroni, equal parts of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. The Sidecar began as an equally proportioned cocktail, of brandy, lemon juice and Cointreau. Thing is ... that particular Sidecar doesn't really taste balanced to me. I prefer it as 3:2:1, others at 2:1:1 (and some like the wacky Embury proportion of 8:2:1). Cocktails are all about balance, and when you're constrained by a rule like this it can get tough to make a cocktail that's properly balanced, and therein lay the challenge. The rules were to make an original cocktail using only equal proportions of your ingredients, with the exception being dashes of bitters or an egg white.

I was pretty happy with my entry, I must say. I started thinking about it on the way home, wanting to do something tequila-based and remembering something Misty Kalkofen of the bar Drink in Boston said recently, about how grapefruit bitters work well with yellow Chartreuse. DING! This one sprang fully-formed from my head, not unlike Athena. While I reserve the right to tweak the proportions later (e.g., the soda element won't be constrained to the 3/4 ounce anymore, although I measured that amount in the original drink), I think it was pretty darn good as it was.

The grapefruit soda should be a high-quality one with a signifacant juice content. I thought that Ting, the Orangina-like grapefruit soda from Jamaica, would be ideal, but it's not always easy to find. I couldn't get to Galco's before closing (and I knew they had some), so I ended up using IZZE Sparkling Grapefruit, which is 70% juices (grapefruit, apple, orange and white grape) with no added sugar. It had a terrific, fresh flavor and I think I'll stick with this one, although I do want to try it with Ting. (Don't use Fresca. If it's too tart for you try it with IZZE Sparkling Clementine or Peach.)

The name came from a rather infamous trip I took to Mexico back in college with some close friends. There were many adventures and inside jokes that survive until this day, and when I was trying to think of a name for a new tequila-based drink this one popped right out.


3/4 ounce añejo tequila (I used Partida).
3/4 ounce Laird's bonded apple brandy (you can substitute applejack, but this is better).
3/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse.
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice.
2 dashes Bittermens/The Bitter Truth Grapefruit Bitters (substitute Fee's).
2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters (substitute any other orange bitters).
IZZE Sparkling Grapefruit or Ting Grapefruit soda.
Grapefruit peel.

Combine the firsts four ingredients with the bitters in an Old Fashioned glass. Add ice and stir for 15 seconds or so. Top with grapefruit soda and stir briefly. Garnish with grapefruit peel.

Tart and refreshing, with a nice little bitter edge! I liked this very much, and so did the folks in the Mixo Bar (thanks, y'all!). I may try making it shaken and up with half the bitters and no soda, just for kicks.

Name the Rib Room's bar.   One of New Orleans' best and most elegant hotel restaurants, the Rib Room in the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel, needs our help.

The Rib Room's bar, as described at their website, "has been the hangout of choice for local antique dealers, celebrities and the politically infamous for four generations. It deserves a better name than the Rib Room Bar and that's where we'd like your input." Here's the deal:

You come up with a name for the Rib Room Bar, preferably historically and culturally meaningful. You have until Monday, August 3 at 5pm Central Time, so you have the weekend to think about it. Make your submission at their website. Ten finalists will be chosen and posted at the website by next Thursday, Augsut 6. Cast your vote, and the winner and the bar's new name will be announced on Friday, August 14.

The winner will receive a one-night stay in the Penthouse Suite at the Omni Royal Orleans, dinner for two in the Rib Room, a 2-hour poolside social for 20 friends and, best of all, "a plaque on the bar denoting your permanently reserved seat." (Oh yeah.)

Get busy!

Look for Dolin vermouths. Thank me later.   If you haven't come across some new vermouths in your local liquor emporium by the brand name of Dolin, look for them, and if you don't find them, ask. You're in for a treat.

Dolin vermouths are new to us, but in fact they've been produced by the same family in France since 1821 -- they've got a few years of experience behind them. They're all finally available in the States, imported by our friend Eric Seed and Haus Alpenz.

These have become our standard mixing vermouths, when we can manage to get them. Noilly Prat's newly reformulated Original Dry (from their mid-1800s recipe) is actually quite good and we're happy to use that, as well as Cinzano or Martini & Rossi sweet, but ... the Dolin dry is simply superb. A recent (but sadly brief) article in the New York Times describes the dry as "tart, herbal and fresher tasting than Noilly Prat." I'd buy that, plus I think it lacks the pungency that I think turns a lot of people off of dry vermouth. It's a beautifully balanced wine, and will make you a Martini that'll make you giggle. (And while we're at it, put some frakkin' vermouth in your Martini or it's not a Martini! Hie thee to the wine shop and get some Dolin Dry!)

The Dolin Rouge, their sweet vermouth, is drier than its more commercially available counterparts and more richly flavored and spiced. It's not up there with Carpano Antica Formula in spiciness and complexity (nothing is), but it's got characteristics that'll make you think of a sherry if you sip it on its own. It'll do your Manhattans very, very nicely as well.

The revelation was the Dolin Blanc, their sweet white vermouth. This stuff is so great I'd sip it on its own, chilled or over ice with a twist of lemon or orange. Sweet but not cloyingly or overly so, beautiful floral herbaciousness and spice, just an absolutely delightful apéritif or cocktail ingredient (I used it in my Rue Royale cocktail). It might be a bit too sweet for a proper Martini, but try it in a Manhattan or Vieux Carré sometime.

It won't be as easy to find as Noilly Prat or Martini & Rossi, nor is it as cheap -- it's about $15 for a 750ml bottle. That's still a good price, though, so seek it out. Now that this is readily available where I live I think I'm probably done with Vya, especially their dry. Quite unlike Dolin Dry, it doesn't play well with others.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An evening at Cure.   I think I'll now have a new routine every time I go back to New Orleans. That routine will be to head to the corner of Upperline and Freret every Sunday evening I'm in town, arriving a bit after 5pm, and spend the next several hours at Cure, which recently became one of my favorite bars in the city (and anywhere, for that matter). New Orleans has needed a place like this for a long, long time.

If you've been following along here you've seen a couple of posts about Cure, opened by Neal Bodenheimer (formerly of The Delachaise and Bar Tonique, its "ancestors," if you will) earlier this year. As I didn't go home for Jazzfest I didn't get to make it to Cure until Tales. I'm torn between saying it was worth the wait (it was) and goddammit why couldn't I get there sooner.

I had met Maksym Pazuniak, one of their bartenders, via my friend Mary when she was dining at Rambla last Christmas. That was Maks' gig at the time, and she figured we might want to get to know each other. She was right, and two gigs later I finally got to sit at the bar again while Maks was behind the stick.

I should pause here to mention that Maks and another Cure bartender, Kirk Estopinal (a NOLA native but who had worked in NYC and at The Violet Hour in Chicago) have recently self-published a book called Rogue Cocktails, featuring a 40 mostly-original "outside the box" cocktail recipes and a few classics worth revisiting. In addition to a provocative manifesto for bartending, Kirk and Maks wanted to come up with a book that didn't have the same recipes over and over again or one that required exotic produce and specially-made syrups and tinctures. They wanted a book for a bartender who works at a well-stocked bar that challenges them to think about some of their ingredients differently. The book got some nice coverage in da local papuh, and you can order the book via their Rogue Cocktails website.

One of their outside-the-box ideas was inspired by a drink found in Charles Baker's Gentlemen's Companion from the 1930s, a fizz in which the only base spirit is 90-proof Angostura bitters. Um ... but we add bitters to cocktails by the dash. Aren't they supposed to be "non-potable" by government definition? Supposedly, yes ... but it seems they're quite potable if you know how to handle them.

Here's an adaptation of that fizz, turned into a sour. Do give this a try -- considering, as Kirk and Maks say in the book, that "it's the cocktail equivalent of eating a tablespoon of salt," I think you'll find it much more pleasant than that, surprisingly so.

(adapted from Charles H. Baker Jr. by Kirk Estopinal, Cure, New Orleans)

1-1/2 ounces Angostura bitters.
1 ounce simple syrup.
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice.
1 egg white.

Dry shake the egg white with the lime juice for half a minute. Add the bitters and syrup plus ice and shake hard. Strain into a cocktail coupe.

We served this to our friend Devin when he was visiting. He loved it, and couldn't wait to go back home and try it out on our friend Chris, with whom he imbibes on many occasions. "Taste this!" he said, after making one for Chris and exhorting him to guess what was in it. "I incorrectly guessed Fernet Branca and nutmeg and then Gammel Dansk and saffron. It was interesting." It's good. Try one.

Now, thinking that it is indeed possible to make a drink in which the only base spirit is a high-alcohol, supposedly non-potable aromatic bitters, how would they give it a local twist? Well, Peychaud's bitters, of course, and giving it "the Pimm's Cup treatment." May I present their creation (to our mutual amazement)?


(by Kirk Estopinal and Maksym Pazuniak, Cure, New Orleans)


2 ounces Peychaud's bitters.
1 ounce lemon juice.
1 ounce simple syrup.
2 strawberries.
3 cucumber slices.
3 swaths of orange peel.
3 swaths of grapefruit peel.

Add all ingredients but the Sanbittèr to a mixing tin. Muddle thoroughly and let stand for 2 minutes for the flavors to blend. Shake hard with ice, and double strain over fresh ice in a Collins glass. Top with Sanbittèr and garnish with a cucumber slice.


This drink is incredibly light and refreshing, with a bitter edge that kicks in a while after the initial finish, and slaps your palate in the best possible way. The cherry, anise and spice flavors of the Peychaud's harmonize beautifully with everything else, and one extra little edge of bitterness from the Sanbittèr on top. (In case you're not familiar with it, it's a San Pellegrino product, a bright red soda sold in 50ml bottles that's like a non-alcoholic Campari and soda.) And look at that color! It's a bit labor-intensive (try to avoid ordering six of these on a night when they're three-deep at the bar), but worth the effort. Bravo, y'all.

The bar itself is in a reclaimed firehouse, elegantly designed, a nice long bar plus tables and a few booths, and one bit of intensely New Orleanian décor that I'm not sure too many other food-and-drink establishments have had the stones to hang in the bar.


Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's the national bird of New Orleans, Periplaneta americana, the American cockroach. I don't know about y'all's, but the ones in New Orleans fly. They tend to like to aim for your face. Guaranteed to make a grown man scream like a girl. (*shudder*) Okay, back to the drinks ...


This was a nice one Wes had, an original by Maks, called Black and Bluegrass: Sazerac rye, Averna, Aperol, Clément Créole Shrubb, Angostura & Peychaud's bitters, with a grapefruit twist. Beautifully complex, multi-layered, a drink that continues to reveal itself to you as you go along -- just the kind I like.

Cure also has an excellent kitchen -- you can get good alcohol-soaking bar snacks or have dinner. We decided to do both, and began with the former:


Their Cured Meat Plate features scads of Spanish hard chorizo and Serrano ham, plus marinated olives and cornichons. Yum.

Next came one that Michael ordered, and considering that it's based on a not-defunct-but-hard-to-find ingredient, I'm wondering how long they'll be able to continue serving this one:


The Fall of Man is based on half distilled spirit and half bitters, as are several of the drinks there. In this case it's Bourbon whiskey and Unicum, a Hungarian bitter liqueur that oddly enough is currently not available in this country. During the Drink.Write conference we had an opportunity to meet and talk to Isabella Zwack of the Zwack Distillers family in Hungary, who told us the story of her father's escape from the Nazis in World War II, to Chicago bearing little more than the clothes on his back and the secret recipe to his family's bitters recipe. After the war when Hungary came under the Soviet bloc, the family's distillery was nationalized and the new owners -- i.e. The State -- demanded the recipe. He gave them another recipe, which was what was produced during the Communist era, and after the fall of eastern and central European Communism the family took over the distillery once again. Where I remain confused is by what's currently being marketed as "Zwack" in the U.S. -- in Europe it's called "Unicum Next," a lighter, sweeter and less bitter version of Unicum. From what Isabella was saying, though, Zwack liqueur is the original Unicum (?!). Or what I got out of it, at least ... for the moment, though, what we knew as Unicum isn't currently available here, although she said it would be again. There were still a couple of cases of Unicum left at Vieux Carré Wine and Spirits, which Maks is considering buying out, because the currently availble Zwack liqueur "does not work in this drink," he says. A rather long digession, which is only to say that you should order this cocktail at Cure while you still can. It's incredibly complex, even more so than the last one, challenging and wonderful.

Next came the drink that wins the award for the longest cocktail name I've ever encountered, which we had difficulty remembering even while sober. Maks apologized for the length of the name but very pointedly did not offer to change it.


(by Maks Pazuniak, Cure, New Orleans)

2 ounces Cynar.
1 ounce Rittenhouse 100 proof rye whiskey.
Pinch of salt.
2 pieces of lemon peel. Herbsaint.

Combine the Cynar, rye and salt in a mixing glass and stir briefly to dissolve the salt. Express the oil from the lemon peels and drop into the mixing glass. Add ice and stir, then strain into an Herbsaint-rinsed cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

That said, he did admit that they tend to refer to it as "Growing Old" for short. This is sort of an inverse-Manhattan in which Cynar ("chee-NAHR," an Italian bitters based on artichokes, in case you're not familiar with it) is substituted for both the sweet vermouth and the bitters, with a really nice savory element added by the salt, which enhances the flavor of the amaro and gives it more balance. If you try this one at home, make sure you only use the barest pinch -- you don't want to make it taste salty, you want to make it taste seasoned. Both the salt and the lemon oil, as Maks reminded me later, help bring out the "artichokiness" of the flavors in the drink.

Cynar is but one of many amaros I saw on the shelf behind the bar, Cure's wonderful wall of booze. They had all my favorites, most of the ones readily available in the States, in fact, and then I spotted one that I've been having a hard time finding. Nobody in L.A. seems to have Amaro Nardini, which is produced by a maker of grappas and grappa-based liqueurs. Amaro Nardini is a grappa-based amaro too, with a flavor profile that (according to what I'd read) featured bitter orange, gentian and a bit of peppermint. I told Kirk I'd been wanting to try that one, so he poured me a taste. I tasted all that, plus a bit of nutmeg and clove, cinnamon, anise, a hint of coffee and a little candy sweetness, almost like toffee. Hoo, yum! Then Kirk smiled and asked if he could make me a cocktail with it. That's a silly question. He then proceeded to apply a 2x4 to the side of my head ... again, in the gentlest and best possible way.


(by Kirk Estopinal, Cure, New Orleans)

2-1/2 ounces Amaro Nardini.
1/4 - 1/2 ounces simple syrup (to taste).
1 whole egg.

Dry shake the egg for at least 20 seconds, then add the other ingredients with ice and shake hard. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass and add a single large ice cube.

A flip, containing nothing else but simple and amaro. I'd never thought of it, and I'm not entirely sure but I think Kirk made it up on the spot. It was fantastic -- creamy and rich and spicy and sweet ... there's a magic, an alchemy that happens when an egg yolk goes into a cocktail, as Maks and Kirk talk about in their book when they show you two whole egg-bearing drinks, one of which I've had and the other I haven't. The Coffee Cocktail (port, brandy, whole egg, simple and Angostura) is named for its color rather than its falvor, and the Chocolate Cocktail #2 (ruby port, yellow Chartreuse and whole egg), which apparently tastes something like chocolate ("a mindfuck cocktail," they call it). Whole eggs in cocktails, folks. It's a good thing. Drink more flips!

Ah, time for more food -- appetizer and dinner.


Chopped Duck Liver Crostini, oh yeah. Three words near and dear to my heart: "duck," "liver" and "mousse," in this case sherry-marinated and served atop crisp diagonal slices of toasted French bread and topped with Hawaiian black lava salt. I don't quite remember, but I think this lasted on the plate for less than one minute.

How 'bout something to go along with the next dish? We'd been talking about mezcals, especially the lovely smoky single-village mezcals from Del Maguey that Ron Cooper's been bringing in (and are we oh so glad he is). I had forgotten about this one, looking at my photos and trying to remember what it was. Fortunately Maks reminded me yesterday, then ... ding!

Mezcal Old Fashioned

This is a Mezcal Old Fashioned, my very first, oddly enough. I've become quite a fan of Old Fashioneds made with añejo tequila (usually with varying combinations of Angostura, orange and grapefruit bitters; still haven't decided on my favorite combination yet, so I'll have to drink a lot more of them to find out). I had never tried one with mezcal before ... and this is the reason you go to bars like this -- to try new things, and these bartenders love to have people try new things. This was made with Del Maguey Chichicapa, one of the single-village mezcals I hadn't tried before we have San Luis del Rio and Minero at home, and I've tried the Albarradas and Santa Catarina Minas in a tasting flight at Hugo's in Houston).

Wow ... writing about this now I can't believe I forgot about it. Warm and dry (although there's a hint of sweetness -- not sugariness), with a very comforting smoky finish. Yet again I'm going to have to gulp on payday and drop a well-worth-it $70 or so to pick up a bottle of this next week.

What better to go with a wonderfully smoky cocktail than ...


Now for the pig: Cochon de Lait Panini, roast pig with spicy cabbage slaw on panini bread, grilled and with a Creole mustard potato salad on the side. Gorgeous. Just what we needed for them to bring on more drinks!


(by Kyle Davidson, The Violet Hour, Chicago)

1 ounce white rum.
1 ounce Cynar.
1/8 ounce fresh lime juice.
1/8 ounce rich Demerara sugar syrup (2:1).
1/4 ounce green Chartreuse.
Sprig of mint.

Bruise the mint sprig with the other ingredients in a mixing glass. Stir with ice for half a minute, then strain over fresh ice into an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with another mint sprig.

This is a drink from their book, but created by Kyle Davidson from The Violet Hour. It appears on the "Rogue Cocktails" menu insert with the regular drink menu, and is a must-get. Again based on half-spirit, half-amaro, all the ingredients play off one another so well. It's absolutely out of this world. It's another one of those drinks that let the bitterness of the amaro be more assertive but still keep it in check (Cynar is relentlessly bitter, and one of the only amaros I don't drink by itself). The description from the book tells you exactly what to expect:

Picture yourself in the limestone-walled courtyard of an Italian villa off the coast of the Riviera. You are surrounded by fragrant herbs and flowers, and the sea air is blowing gently. The sun is bright, but it's not hot, and you have nothing to do all day but relax and savor the sensations all around you. Drinking this cocktail is kind of like that if somebody suddenly punched you in the stomach just as you were begining to doze off in the sun. In a good way.

Um ... yeah you right.

I had had a little trouble remembering the mezcal Old Fashioned, which thanks to the magic of post-editing due to Maks reminding me in email the morning after I posted this I was able to remember. (Of course! How could I forget that one! Um, maybe because you had about seven drinks that night?) Fortunately, it was not lost to history. However, my last drink of the night I remembered very well. Maks and I had been talking about my experience at Anvil in Houston, and how Bobby Heugel made me that wonderful room temperature cocktail from their menu called The Brave (smoky single-village mezcal, blanco sotol, amaro, Curaçao and bitters, merely swirled together in a wine glass with a flamed orange peel), plus the knockoff of that drink that I came up with for one of the Drink.Write sessions (more on that one later). He pondered, and came up with another room temperature digestivo cocktail that I enjoyed very much, and which I don't think had a name:


1 ounce rye whiskey.
1 ounce Aperol.
1 ounce Amaro Ramazotti.
3 barspoons Cointreau.
1 dash Peychaud's bitters.
1 dash Regans' orange bitters.

Combine in an Old Fashioned glass and swirl to mix.

That hit the spot.

All in all we spent about six-and-a-half hours there, and for the first three hours we more or less had the place to ourselves, along with Maks, Kirk and Rhiannon Enlil, one of A their other excellent bartenders. Unfortunately I didn't get to meet Neal, or Ricky Gomez (about whom I've heard wonderful things) or any of their other crew, but ... next time. Michael and Louise and Wes and I had a great time, and ran into tons of people from Tales later on in the evening. Not long before we left, Don Lee of PDT in New York came by and showed Rhiannon his techniques for making a Ramos Gin Fizz in which you don't have to shake it forever ("Do it this way and you shouldn't have to shake it for any longer than you would a Pisco Sour," he said) while giving it a thick, meringue-like head that rises from the top of the Collins glass like a soufflé. Unfortunately I was too snoggered by this time to actually remember most of this, so I'll have to get it from him again later. Ah well.

When teleportation is invented, my Sunday bar crawl will begin at Cure. Then The Varnish, maybe Alembic in S.F., Teardrop Lounge in Portland, Sambar in Seattle. Monday night's bar crawl might start with Chris McMillian at Bar UnCommon in NOLA, then on to Seven Grand, Heaven's Dog in S.F., and finish with Murray at Zig Zag in Seattle. (Can you tell I'm really ready for teleportation? If for no other reason that to allow me to visit my favorite bars in the same night!)

[Edited 10:45am, July 30, thanks to an email from Maks that filled in a couple details my sodden memory kept from me. Thanks, Maks!]

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  Thursday, July 23, 2009

"A new calling for a bold band of bartenders."   So went the headline for Betty Hallock's article in the Food Section of yesterday's Los Angeles Times about the fast-growing local cocktail community -- bartenders and serious cocktail enthusiasts who get together to network professionally as well as socially and to spread our gospel, "People shouldn't be drinking garbage." As I keep saying, we should expect no less from drinks that come to us across the bar than we would with dishes that come from the chef in a restaurant's kitchen.

The organization and networking among bartenders and enthusiasts is such an exciting development, all over the country and especially in L.A. As the article said, there was no bartending or cocktail community, there was no cocktail scene at all, and there were damned few places to get a decent drink. All that's changing rapidly, and I'm really happy to be a small part of it (as the article mentioned, I write the newsletter for The Sporting Life, the name we've adopted for the L.A. "cocktail community").

Bartending was once considered to be a noble and honorable profession -- you really had to know your stuff. The '60s and '70s stomped on that, and so much of bartending became little more than the dispensing of a bottom-shelf spirit along with a fizzy mixer from a gun, and something someone did in between real jobs rather than something did as their life's calling. Fly-by-night bartending "schools," which still plague us, don't help. ("You can become a fully-trained professional in only one to two weeks!" Um, no, you can't.) The dedication and sheer talent of all my bartender friends is a joy to behold ... may their ranks swell!

Sazerac cookies? I'm in.   The Times-Picayune reports on some local New Orleans bakers who've been inspired by the city's historic and now-official cocktail, the venerable Sazerac. The one I can't wait to try is for frosted Sazerac cookies, which I absolutely cannot wait to try (even though I suck at baking). Just look at the recipe for the frosting alone:

Frosting for Sazerac Cookies
(from a recipe by Suzonne Stirling)

2 cups confectioners' sugar
5 teaspoons Sazerac rye whiskey
1/2 teaspoon Herbsaint
1/2 teaspoon Peychaud's bitters
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 egg white, beaten

Combine all of the ingredients and whisk until the mixture is smooth and spreadable.

Oh my. Bowl. Spoon. Gone. (I'll make the cookies anyway, but I'd better make them first. If I make the icing first it'll disappear and I probably won't ever get to the cookies.)

Tempest!!!   OK, I'm seriously dating myself here, but what the hell ...

In 1981 I was the supreme Tempest champion of the Village Aurora Cinema 6 (and by extension, the entire Westbank of New Orleans).

I worked as an usher at the aforementioned theatre (which, as all movie theatres in New Orleans, was referred to simply as "da show"), and we had several arcade-style video games in the large lobby. I had long since aced Asteroids, and had gone about as far as I was ever going to get at Defender (another old favorite), but the one that really intrigued me was Tempest. Remember that one? Colorful vector graphics, a circular controller that you spun to control a little spidery thing that fired at other spidery things that would grab you, spikes that woulc come from the center of the different geometric web-thingys which you crawled around the edge of? It was oddly alien and really fun, and I got very, very good at it. The high score on the machine was invariably taken by CET.

Then one day the manager's kid (who had a tendency to be kinda snotty) beat my high score and knocked me off the top with a score in the low six figures. Fair enough, he played well. But then he came up to me, pointed at it and quite literally said, "Nyah, nyah, na nyah-nyah!" Nonplussed at first (and thinking, "What are you, in sixth grade?"), I then quietly snapped. I turned and walked to the concession stand, reached into my wallet, plucked out a $20 bill and slapped it down on the counter. "Quarters, please." The girl behind the counter gaped. This was a lot of money to spend on games when we were making $3.35 an hour, but she swapped the bill for a roll of quarters and handed them to me. Without a word, I walked over to the Tempest machine, put in my first quarter, and began to play.

What I achieved before too many minutes went by was a sort of Zen state, a kind of trance, in which all faded away but the alien world of the Tempest playing into which I was utterly absorbed. There are levels to Tempest, and if you continue to play you can pick up at the same level where you left off when the previous game ended, if you inserted your quarter quickly enough. I did, and kept going. And going. And going.

I still don't quite remember how long I was at it, but I ended up with a cheering crowd around me, and I achieved levels in Tempest which no one had ever seen before. The red level. The yellow level. The invisible level. I had become one with the machine. I was the little vector graphic spider. And I was invincible.

When I finally finished my score was in the tens of millions. I looked at the other kid, who looked utterly defeated, smiled at him, then went home.

All that to say ... last night I discovered that the Atari website has vintage '80s arcade games you can play in an emulator window online. I saw Asteroids, Battlezone (loved that one), Centipede, Missile Command ... and ...


It's not quite the same without the circular controller -- I'd have to practice a LOT to get back my skillz, using only the left and right arrows on the keyboard. But I want to get back to the invisible level again.

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  Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Spirited Dinner at GW Fins with Jeff "Beachbum" Berry & Martin Cate.   It was a tough decision which Spirited Dinner to go to this year -- so many menus looked great, we were teetering between Wolfe's in the Warehouse and Iris and we thought long and hard about trying someplace new to us -- but in the end it was kind of a shoo-in. Jeff "Beachbum" Berry was mixing for another dinner this year, and last year he and Wayne Curtis made fantastic drinks to accompany Chef Chris DeBarr's "Modern Tiki Cuisine" for one of the best meals I'd ever had ... well, as much of it as I remember.

Bum and Wayne's drinks contained a total of 7-1/2 ounces of rum during that three-hour meal, and it didn't help that earlier in the day I'd had tastes of six Scotches, ten gins, eight brandies plus the Cocktail Hour event (inexplicably and invariably scheduled right before the Spirited Dinners). Once I finally decided that I wanted the Bum's drink pairings again, especially since this year he teamed up with Martin Cate, formerly of Forbidden Island and soon to be proprietor of Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco, I knew some preparation was in order. I decided I'd better take it easy during this year's Tales Thursday so that this meal wouldn't completely liquefy me -- no taking three seminars in a row that involve copious amounts of spirits tasting in which Chuck fails to make use of the spit buckets.

Rick, giving friend that he is, helped out by adding an additional rule to his previous list of ten: "Chuck is not allowed to drink before the Spirited Dinner." Despite that, I did manage to make it to the Cocktail Hour event, which 1) should be in the Presbytere every year, as it was a beautiful location for the event, and 2) should never again be scheduled before the Spirited Dinners unless they're willing to provide buckets for us to be poured into. Fortunately the gods were looking out for me at Cocktail Hour by causing my favorite bartenders to all run out of cups by the time I got to them.

A short walk from the Presbytere took us to GW Fins, one of the city's newer restaurants (i.e., opened during the 21st Century rather than the 19th or early 20th) and a renowned destination for seafood. Theirs was one of the two or three most exciting looking menus on the Tales site, plus we knew a ton of people who were going to this one too, all elements for a great evening. Wes and I sat with several of our friends from Seattle and Portland, and we toasted each other with the welcoming cocktail, first of six for the evening.

Welcoming Cocktail, Spirited Dinner at GW Fins

(by Martin Cate)

2-1/2 ounces Moët & Chandon White Star Champagne
1 ounce Plymouth Gin
1 ounce St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1/4 ounce Stirrings Blood Orange Bitters

Combine gin, St. Germain, and bitters in an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir until well chilled and strain into a Champagne glass. Top with Moët & Chandon. Garnish with a thin, 8-inch orange peel spiral.

Finally, after we had settled in and begun enjoying our aperitivo, our intrepid mixologists, Beachbum Berry and Martin Cate, arrived (along with GW Fins' chef de cuisine) to welcome us and talk a little bit about what was to come, and how quickly their ideas for perfect cocktail pairings came to them as soon as they saw the proposed menu.

Bar and Kitchen      The Mad Tiki-tenders!

Some will argue that cocktail pairings are even better than wine pairings, as you can tailor the drink to the food very precisely. Whether you believe that or not, I'll say that this particular meal featured some of the best food-beverage pairings I've ever had.

And now ... dinner is served!

1st Course: Chilled Melon Soup

We started with a Chilled Melon Soup, in the center of which was a huge scoop of jumbo lump crabmeat topped with cilantro sprouts. Mixed into the soup were little balls of watermelon plus cantaloupe and honeydew melons, plus cubes of lime gelée, which provided a delightful little burst of tartness and change of texture every few bites or so. The soup was bright, cool, refreshing and delicious -- the lightness of the dish was welcome to those of us who'd been having hollandaise-napped egg dishes for breakfast or huge piles of fried seafood for lunch. And, oh my Gawd, that crabmeat ... I'll eat pretty much anything that has a scoop of jumbo lump crabmeat in the middle.

1st Cocktail: Menehune Gonzalez

Accompanying the watermelon soup was our first cocktail, the Menehune Gonzalez, made with blanco tequila, a great white agricole rum from Martinique, green Chartreuse and a housemade hibiscus tincture, a bottle of which being provided to each table so that each guest could add some to his or her individual serving as they pleased. Lovely drink, and the flavors of both the base spirits and the Chartreuse played off one another quite nicely. The hibiscus gave it some color affinity as well as a bit of extra tartness, along the lines of the lime gele in the soup. We were off to a grand start.

(by Martin Cate)

1 ounce El Tesoro Blanco tequila
1 ounce Rhum Clément Première Canne rum
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce orgeat
1/4 ounce green Chartreuse
Half an egg white

Shake vigorously and strain into a small ice-filled old fashioned glass.

Top with 3 to 4 drops hibiscus tincture.

To make a hibiscus tincture, take an ounce of dried hibiscus flowers (jamaica) and steep in about 5 ounces of alcohol (vodka or overproof white rum) for a couple of days, then strain and bottle.

Quick on the heels of this great opening to the meal was our second (well, technically our third, but second course) cocktail, Captain Vadrna's Grog -- Old New Orleans Cajun Spiced Rum, lime and grapefruit juices and demerara syrup. Nice big aromatic cinnamon stick as garnish, and ... a pirate flag! Almost immediately, my friend Rocky and I broke into a chorus of "Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life For Me" (assisted by some quick Googling on Rocky's phone, as we both ran out of lyrics after the first verse). Pretty quickly a fair swath of the restaruant was singing along, undoubtedly to the bewilderment of the guests who were there for the restaurant's regular menu and not for the Spirited Dinner.

2nd Cocktail: Captain Vadrna's Grog

(by Jeff Berry)

2-1/2 ounces Old New Orleans Cajun Spiced rum
1/2 ounce white grapefruit juice
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce Demerara sugar syrup (1:1)
Dash Angostura bitters

Shake well with plenty of ice, then pour unstrained into a double old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and vanilla bean both speared to a lime wedge, floated in drink.

Word trickled back from the bar that once Bum and Martin heard that they said they knew the party had finally started ... either that or had already gotten out of hand, I forget which.

2nd Course: Prosciutto-Wrapped Figs

Before we got too far ahead of ourselves, the 2nd course arrived: Prosciutto-Wrapped Figs with mâche, cinnamon mascarpone and candied pistachios. I'd almost eat this as a dessert -- fruit stuffed with spiced cheese and wrapped in pig. It's many of my favorite things, on a plate! Oh, and greens to make it officially salady, but ... the sweetness and nuttiness of the mche went beautifully with the spiced rum in that cocktail. So did the cinnamon-spiced mascarpone, which caught the cinnamon and nutmeg notes of the rum. The lettuce was gorgeous with the pistachios too, and the candied crunch of the nuts was balanced by the tart citrus juices. Salads are notoriously difficult to pair with wines, but this one, even with its balsamic drizzle, was superb with this drink, and the drink was superb with the dish.

Third cocktail! Oh my, this is a big one. Served in a pilsner glass -- we're not messing around. This was the Hedgehog's Dilemma -- caramelized mango, lemon juice, Noilly Prat dry vermouth, passion fruit syrup, Myers's Platinum rum and Angostura bitters. A fantastic drink, and on its own I'd be more than happy to order it again from any tiki bar's menu.

3rd Cocktail: Hedgehog's Dilemma

(by Martin Cate)

Half of a fresh mango
Teaspoon of raw sugar

1 ounce Noilly Prat dry vermouth
1/2 ounce passion fruit syrup (equal parts 2:1 simple syrup and Funkin Passion Fruit Purée)
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce simple syrup (optional - to taste)
1-1/2 ounces Myers's Platinum Rum
Dash Angostura bitters

Dice half of a mango into 3/4. cubes. Toss with 1 teaspoon of raw sugar. Saut in a non-stick skillet over medium heat until the mango chunks are browned on all sides. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a mixing glass, add the mango chunks and dry vermouth and muddle. Add the remaining ingredients and shake with cracked ice. Double strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with mango chunks and a lemon twist on a skewer.

It's so rare to get mango in a really good cocktail (those nasty mango-flavored rums and vodkas just don't cut it) and this one, with tart passion fruit and tempered a bit by the vermouth, was probably the best mango-based cocktail I'd ever had (at least that I can remember). But when paired with this ...

3rd Course: Wood-Grilled Louisiana Shrimp

Wood-Grilled Louisiana Shrimp, with lemon and papaya relish. This is classic New Orleans cuisine, adding the consideration that New Orleans is the northernmost port in the Caribbean. Heads-on shrimp (which you can almost never get in a restaurant in places like California, lest wimpy, timid patrons run screaming from the dining room at the sight of the monster on their plate, still wearing its head . where so much of the flavor is!), perfectly seasoned, nice and peppery but not too much so, with the tropical flavor of the papaya in the glaze and the sauce that married so beautifully with the drink that I practically wanted to buy them a wedding present. This dish was such a synthesis of classic Creole and Caribbean flavors and techniques, with that drink sailing up to meet it, that it made me very happy.

Four pretty huge shrimp were both quite enough, considering we'd be having five courses, yet left me wanting more. Then entire pineapples were brought to the table.

It was our next drink! Applause and giggles greeted this one, as the pineapples had straws sticking out of them ... we lifted the lid to find the whole fruit filled with a beverage, man! This was the Miehana -- pineapple, orange and lime juices, Cruzan Estate dark rum, Cruzan Coconut Rum and Grand Marnier. Also very refreshing, and not as sweet as you'd think it might be.

4th Cocktail: Miehana

(by Jeff Berry)

1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce orange juice
1 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
1 ounce Grand Marnier
1 ounce Cruzan Estate Dark rum
1 ounce Cruzan Coconut rum

Shake well with ice cubes. Pour unstrained into a cored pineapple. If necessary, add more ice to fill.

It was another drink I'd be happy to have in any tiki bar, but in a tiki bar you're generally not going to get anything like this:

4th Course: Pineapple Basil Glazed Mahi

Our 4th course was Pineapple Basil Glazed Mahimahi, with coconut-cashew rice, crispy plantains and lemongrass butter. This is the kind of dish people wished they could have gotten in the "Polynesian" restaurants in the 1950s and '60s, because it epitomizes what that cuisine aspired to but rarely attained. Gorgeous tropical flavors, a perfectly grilled piece of fish, and all of the flavors of the dish and the cocktail working in harmony with each other. This dish actually made us all laugh -- that's how delightful it was. And lest you think it was overly sweet, it wasn't. The acids in the cocktail helped cut through the sugars, the richness of the lemongrass beurre blanc added richness to balance the acids and sugars, the plantains added texture and starch and were decidedly not sweet but the flavors complemented everything else. That drink with this course is one of the best food-drink pairings I've ever had. Fun fun fun.

5th Cocktail: Pupule

(by Jeff Berry)

1 ounce unsweetened pineapple juice
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce Bols white crème de cacao
1/4 ounce Chambord
1 ounce Angostura 1919 rum

Shake well with ice cubes. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a small purple orchid.

Another cocktail arrived (good lord, was this really the sixth drink?), called the Pupule. Most certainly a dessert cocktail, but again, not overly sweet and well-balanced.

5th Course: Frozen Peach Souffl

Our dessert was a Frozen Peach Soufflé, with a raspberry coulis and a few fresh raspberries. Simple, delicious and summery, and entirely appropriate given that it was roasting outside. The rum, with hints of chocolate plus more raspberry, were just the thing to have with this dessert. It's such a pleasure to have a dessert cocktail that's not filled with heavy cream or with enough liqueurs to make it as sweet as a candy bar.

We had a fantastic time, fantastic food, fantastic drinks (and Rocky realized that the Miehana came in the ultimate go-cup), but it wasn't quite over yet. There were lovely parting gifts!

60/40 (A Parting Gift)

We were each presented with a bottled cocktail called the 60/40, a combination of 60% Averna amaro and 40% St. Germain elderflower liqueur, which went right into the back pocket. It was the perfect amount of liquor to last us until we could walk all the way to Arnaud's French 75 Bar for nightcaps . right across the street. (Okay, the 60/40 survived intact until after we went home.)

Thanks again to GW Fins for a memorable meal, Martin and Jeff for the drinks, and to Jeff for providing the recipes and coring all those pineapples!

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  Thursday, July 16, 2009

"We have liftoff, 32 minutes past the hour, liftoff on Apollo 11."   I grew up wanting to be an astronaut.

This took over from when I graduated from the policeman/fireman stage at about age 4, when I became aware of space flight and rocketships, and fell in love with them. I kept a scrapbook of Gemini and Apollo missions, mostly clippings from the newspaper (and boy, I wish I still had that).

The one that excited me the most, though, was Apollo 11. We were finally going to the moon. Liftoff for the mission was 40 years ago today, and I remember watching the launch on TV.

Follow the mission, forty years later to the second, at the amazing website from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, called We Choose the Moon -- featuring actual photographs and footage from the mission, plus animated simulations, following the trajectory and with minute-by-minute recordings of all broadcasts from Houston flight control and communications between Houston and Apollo 11, in real time. After the landing you can go back and pick up the mission at any point you choose, but right now follow it as it happens. Landing at Tranquility Base is on Monday.

Pork. Fat. Salt. Sugar.   Basic food groups? Well, not quite. (They forgot chocolate and chile and alcohol.) What they did offer us is a beautifully written recipe for ... something wonderful.

Bacon caramels!

Bacon caramels. I'm making them soon.

Never eat anything bigger than your head.   You know, I loves me a bacon sandwich. A lot. THIS MUCH. But I have always tried to live my life via B. Kliban's advice, and it's suited me well so far. Do I really need a bacon sandwich this big? It's only theoretical for me, as I doubt I'll find myself in Birch Run, Michigan to dine at Tony's .. but who knows?

My favorite bit in the description: "Restaurant was recommended to us by an older Jewish man on the plane." Did these guys piss him off on the plane? Is this attempted assassination by treyf?

Is there such a thing as too much. (Yes, actually.)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Looka! turns 10.   Y'know, I didn't even notice this go by last week -- I was so busy (yet functionally inebriated) at Tales of the Cocktail last week that it slipped my mind completely. I thought it wasn't for another week or so.

However, upon checking this morning, I realized that almost one week ago today was this weblog's 10th anniversary. The first post was on July 9, 1999 ... back when the list of all the weblogs out there could more or less fit above the fold on a single browser screen. The vile word "blog" had only been concocted (more or less as a joke) by Peter Merholz only a couple of months earlier, and would be cemented into the vernacular when the Blogger service popped up four months later.

Oh yeah, first post!

My first 
Looka! post
Click to enlarge

Well ... that was boring. The fact that this li'l blog even got noticed was amazing -- if you build it they will come, I guess.

Things have certainly changed over the years. The amount of link-based weblogging (links plus commentary) I do now is fairly minimal, and that's mostly what it was in the beginning. Nowadays it's mostly cocktails, food, New Orleans culture and music. There'll likely never be another political post in here again (I'm so very tired of all that, and it attracted unwanted trolls). I'd rather use this space to write about what makes me feel passionate in a positive sense.

In the course of looking at how things have changed around here in the last ten years, I wondered which of the other weblogs I mentioned in my first post as examples of the ones I was reading at the time, the ones that inspired me to start doing mine, were still around. My online reading habits have changed drastically in the last 10 years, and I hadn't been following many of those sites for quite a while. These first two are the sites that I've credited with inspiring me to start my own weblog.

Cameron Barrett's CamWorld: Cam stopped weblogging in June of 2007, has his old site archived and now maintains separate personal and professional sites, but has not started up another weblog just yet. (Today Cam said that he just sold his old domain, camworld.com, after an offer subsantial enough to provide some serious comfort for his family. Good for you, Cam! However, he added, "The bad news, and yes, you knew there was going to be some bad news... is that the domain will eventually be a porn site, though the company behind it does not call itself as such. They're focusing on building a site for the sharing of webcams ..." And we all know what the sharing of webcams means. He should have a new personal weblog up at http://cameron.barrett.org/ up soon. If you still have old bookmarks for camworld.com, you might want to update them unless you want to look at grainy images of naked flesh.)

Brad Graham's The BradLands: Brad's site split into two parts -- Must-See HTTP://, which is still semi-active (no posts since Jan. 12, 2009, Brad!) and a more journal-oriented portion called The Daily Brad, last post November 12, 2008).

Robert Occhialini's Bump: "The original Atlanta blog." Still going strong, last post June 23, 2009.

Dan Lyke's Flutterby™!: Still going even stronger, last post yesterday, July 14, 2009.

Others from the July '99 weblog roll in the sidebar: Lindsay Marshall's Bifurcated Rivets (still going), Jeff Stendec's Cardhouse (still going), Rebecca Eaton's EatonWeb (the blog directory, still going), Jim Roepcke's Have Browser, Will Travel (still going), Honeyguide (dead), Adam Kempa's Kempa.com (still going), Kikaze (dead), group weblog Memepool (no posts since April 21, 2008), Steve Bogart's Now This (no posts since December 5, 2008), Peter Merholz' PeterMe (where the now-we're-stuck-with-it neologism "blog" was coined, still going), Jorn Barger's Robot Wisdom (generally agreed to be the person who coined the term "weblog," which I still use; moribund since 2006, but a "Robot Wisdom Auxiliary" exists on Blogger, no posts since October 14, 2008), Jack Saturn's saturn.org (defunct), Laurel Krahn's Windowseat (no posts since January 25, 2005, but her excellent site TV Picks is going strong).

So, what'd I talk about that first week?

-- A Bob Cringely column on the the dangers of near-universal reliance on security-hold-ridden Microsoft OSes.

-- Science fiction author David Brin on why "The Phantom Menace" sucks. (To be fair, that was merely my post title -- he did find some things to like, but the rest of it all boils down to "George Lucas is an awful writer and an uninspiring director of actors.")

-- Raving about how "The Blair Witch Project" creeped me out.

-- A link about how I used to be a Commodore Amiga user, and a C|Net article about the return of the Amiga after being bought by Gateway. (Yeah, like, that happened.)

-- A promise to strangle the next stranger or friend who forwarded me a virus warning or a $250 Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe, etc., or whatever the latest hoax was, plus a link to the current internet hoaxes going around.

The thing that astonished me is that all those links are still working, 10 years later. (*boggle*)

There was also talk about how Apple was going to buy out Palm (ha!); proof of the existence of the photic sneeze reflex, since my friend Fred Jasper didn't believe me when I told him that bright light makes me sneeze, and that I can actually make myself sneeze by looking into a 25-watt lightbulb; an account of how a guy who was invited to go to a "seminar" by someone he knew and trusted, which turned out to be a cult brainwashing session. Then there was a tidbit about a little-to-unknown congressperson dropping out of the presidential race, which caused me to comment:

U.S. Rep. John Kasich dropped out of the presidential race today, and I didn't even know he was in it. In fact, I didn't even know he existed. Is anybody else as bored with all this as I am already? There's not a one of these people running for president who is more exciting than a bowl of thin, cold, tasteless gruel.

Unfortunately, the 2000 presidential race would get a lot more "interesting," in the sense of the apocryphal Chinese curse. Sigh.

Anyway ... let's see if I can keep it up for 10 more years. That's a lot more cocktails, a lot more meals, and a lot of great music. Onward!

P.S. - I still hate the word "blog."

Lunch at Iris.   New Orleans Chef Ian Schnoebelen recently moved his tiny Carrollton-area restaurant Iris to more spacious digs, at the Bienville House Hotel on Decatur in the French Quarter, in the space formerly occupied by Chefs Greg and Mary Sonnier's now-departed restaurant Gamay Bistro (which Wes and I liked a lot). I still hadn't actually been there, but had been looking forward to it, not only because of the raves I've heard about the food but because of the creative cocktails concocted by their mad scientist bartender, self-described "spirit handler" Alan Walter. (Here's a neat little video about the food and drink.)

We still didn't get a chance to make reservations and sit down for a long dinner there, but fortunately Aperol, the Italian aperitivo company, sponsored a lunch for the participants in the first annual Drink.Write Conference put on by CSOWG, The Cocktails and Spirits Online Writers Group, of which I am now a member. Dave O'Brien, the friendly Aperol rep, was a warm and affable host and talked at length about his product. I know Aperol pretty well, and I'm a big fan, but I (along with a few others, I'm sure) felt a little slapped down by Dave's vehemence over how the Aperol folks hate hearing it referred to as "Campari's little brother." I'm guilty of that myself, if only trying to explain to people who are scared shitless by a bitter product like Campari that Aperol, while still refreshingly bitter, is less so than Campari. Point taken, though -- Aperol is indeed a fine product that stands on its own without having to rely on another product for its identity. (The fact that Aperol is owned by the Campari Group is neither here nor there.)

One thing I learned fairly recently is that a cocktail called the Aperol Spritz has become the most popular aperitivo cocktail in Italy, with a staggering 300,000 of them served daily in that country. I'd never heard of it, to be honest. Two parts Aperol, three parts Prosecco, over ice topped with a splash of soda in a rocks glass, and that's it. Sounds rather refreshing.

There were other cocktails that Alan had in mind for us, that were a bit more sophisticated than that.

Our first cocktail

The first, which remained nameless, consisted of Aperol, cucumber, clementine, brandy, Limoncello, tepache (housemade pineapple beer, slightly fermented, fizzy, a little sour and fascinatingly tasty), with housemade strawberry-oak bitters. Really, really good -- amazing flavors, and I loved the funky little bite from the pineapple beer. The bitters were made with local strawberries (of course), with an infusion of oak chips obtained from the Old New Orleans Rum distillery.

Onion and Oyster Soup

First course was a Vidalia Onion and Oyster Soup. "Nuh uh, brah ... can't eat no erstas when it ain't a 'R' munt'!" Translating Yat into English, there's an old adage that oysters shouldn't be eaten during hot summer months, but that's mostly passed now that we've had refrigeration for several decades, and the oysters in this soup were plump and delicious. The soup was rich and creamy and sweet with those lovely onions, with nice texture and aroma from the crispy garlic croutons.

Poussin with Rosemary Gratin Potatoes

Second course, Roasted Poussin with Rosemary Gratin Potatoes. I don't usually order chicken in restaurants, which I've been learning can be a mistake. Sometimes simple and comforting is best. Crispy skin, nicely seasoned, napped with a nutty roasted garlic jus and baby carrots and vegetables on the side. The potatoes were terrific too -- creamy and fragrant with a very enjoyable texture from the dozen or so layers of thin slices. Classic bistro food.

Second Cocktail

I loved our second cocktail too, another with an Aperol base but also made with both fresh watermelon juice and a cooked watermelon syrup, which gave a deeper flavor as a counterpart to the brightness of the fresh juice. This was topped with Chinotto, a bitter Italian soda that looks like Coca-Cola but is a lot less sweet and a lot more bitter (can you imagine how good Coke would be if they based the flavor more on the kola nut than on sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup? Sheesh ...) This was finished with lemon, and was refreshing and complex.

Bittersweet Chocolate Torte

Dessert! Bittersweet Chocolate Torte with coffee ice cream. Works for me.

We'll have to make a point on our next trip home not only to have dinner at Iris but to show up an hour or two earlier to see what Alan and his crew come up with for us. If the complexity and creativity of these two drinks is any indicator, we're likely to be happy. As much as we enjoyed this, little did we know that we hadn't yet begun to have our minds blown at a New Orleans bar. More to come.

The horror of hangovers.   Our friend Wayne Curtis (author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails and a New Orleanian), in the course of research for his book, became well acquainted with our old foe, "the cold grey dawn of the morning after;" i.e., the hangover. Wayne did a seminar on that very subject at Tales, and spoke to Times-Picayune restaurant writer Brett Anderson about his thoughts on the hangover. "Curing one element exacerbates another. It's sort of like being married."

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  Sunday, July 12, 2009

Two evenings at the French 75 Bar.   Yeah yeah, I know, no posts in a week. I'm at Tales of the Cocktail! I'm busy, dammit!

I've also been doing posts for Talesblog, which is kinda my job for the week, but now we'll start catching up on crossposing my work from over there. Make sure you don't just read them here, though -- go to Talesblog itself and read everybody's posts, or you're really be missing out.

Now, what've we been up to ...?

Going into one of your favorite bars and seeing your favorite bartenders is always a good thing.

When that bar is Arnaud's French 75 Bar on Bienville Street in New Orleans, you're doing great just walking in the door. Seeing and hanging out with and getting drinks from both Bobby Oakes (who only works there rarely now, as he's got a day job) and Chris Hannah (one of the most innovative bartenders in New Orleans) well, in that case you are most certainly in the right place.

We had beautiful Sazeracs from Bobby on Thursday night (made properly, i.e. not overly sweet, which is still the bane of Sazeracs in the city of its birth), and the brandy-based version of the French 75 later on. I'm starting to come around on the brandy version, which New Orleans bars in general and this one in particular tend to serve over the original gin version. The gin version is great as an apritif, but the brandy one does work quite well after dinner as a digestif. (Of course, if youve overindulged to the point of discomfort and incipient food coma, as we did at Mandinas on Friday night, youll just have to skip right to the Fernet.) It was a real pleasure to see Bobby again, too.

On Friday before our dinner at Mandina's we stopped into the French 75 to see Chris, and were as usual bedazzled by his drinks. I ordered his original cocktail, The Bywater, which has become a favorite of mine -- aged rum, green Chartreuse, Averna amaro and falernum (oh boy, this is good). Our friends Louise and Michael, who are local and see Chris often, recommended a Vermouth Sour he had served them recently, and it was superb -- spicy but light, flavorful and very very refreshing.

We also tried the Sue-Ellen O'Hara (Scarlett's younger, meaner sister), which was wonderful, and contains Southern Comfort (!) and TWO kinds of bitters: Cynar and Amaro Cora, with a splash of cranberry and club soda. The recipe had two ingredients thatd normally get me running Comfort and cranberry. However this was the first time Id had Amaro Cora in a bar. I'd never had Cora bitters in a cocktail anywhere but Ted Haighs house and our house (where is he getting this stuff?!). Im not a fan of Southern Comfort, but the balance between the sweetness of that product and the double dose of amaro woke me up to its possibilities as a cocktail ingredient, long after I'd dismissed it. I didn't get a chance to talk to Chris about it, but my guess is that the mention of Southern Comfort would draw in the tourists, who would then get a bit of an education about bitter liqueurs.

Chris is also offered a selection of Daiquiri adaptations based on the Nine Muses of classical Greek mythology, after whom several New Orleans streets are named. (You oughta hear how we pronounce them, too.) The Polymnia Daiquiri, besides the base of rum and lime, is sweetened with hibiscus and spicy love; the Melpomene (thats MEL-po-meen, yall) is sweetened with honey and spicy love. For each sweet Daiquiri theres a bitter one too, keeping the balance and teaching all those Crown and Diet Coke drinkers what sophisticated adult beverages should taste like.

The Praline Rock 'n Rye was amazing as well, simply praline-washed rye whiskey. He used the same technique for making simple rock 'n rye dissolving sugar in alcohol but since pralines consist not only of sugar but butter and pecans as well, the flavor-carrying fat in that candy will transfer its flavor over to the alcohol. Chris said it took a long time for the pralines to dissolve, about three days, but after that he froze it to skim off the fat, then filtered it, and its served in a small glass on the rocks with a star anise garnish. Sweet. Gorgeous. And very New Orleans.

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  Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth, y'all!   I dunno what y'all have planned today (beer, barbecue, fireworks?), but Wes and I married two close friends this morning. Not a bad way to spend a holiday! (Yep, for real -- on Thursday we were sworn in as Deputy Commissioners of Civil Marriage in Los Angeles County, for a term of office lasting from midnight until 11:59pm, today only. You may call me Mr. Deputy Commissioner for the rest of the day.)

Congratulations, Marleigh & Dan! :-D

We're off to the reception in a bit, but in the meantime let's have some holiday-appropriate music.

This first one was recorded during one of the joint shows that Los Lobos and the Grateful Dead did in July of 1989. I was at a couple of those shows, and they were fantastic. (Good lord, was that really 20 years ago?!)

Perhaps my favorite American song, and my own preference for the national anthem. Rock on, Woody.

One of my other favorite American songs is by Dave Alvin, with my favorite version being by X. I couldn't find a video of X doing "Fourth of July," so here's Dave himself doing it this year, along with his current backup band The Guilty Women.

Have a safe and fun holiday. Tomorrow we're off to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail!

Cocktails of the Day: Wedding.   I've got a ton of 'em to share today. First, an original by Wesly.

Last month we were asked by our friend Fiona Hoskins (co-namesake of the Hoskins cocktail) in Shropshire in the U.K. to come up with an original cocktail for her niece's wedding. Wes has had good luck so far with wedding cocktails, and took the lead on this one. The parameters Fiona sent over regarding the bride and family's quaffing preference is that the drink be based on either vodka or white rum, and on the sweet side. Well! As we despise vodka cocktails and sweet cocktails, we began with latching on to the rum!

The trick was, how to make it so that it'd be sweet enough to please the bride's palate but not so sweet that its creators would spit it out? (Its creators would actually prefer to come up with something that they'd enjoy drinking themselves.)

Wes' idea was to use Plymouth Sloe Gin as one of the sweet elements, since it's quintessentially English but also has a really great tartness that helps give the cocktail balance. The other sweet liqueur is St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur which all you cocktailians know well (and we also knew that the English are fond of their elderflower cordials) and that's not as sweet as most other liqueurs. He initially added some lime juice for balance but that was too much going on -- once he took it out completely it became a not-really-there cocktail idea to a drink he'd order again. (There was quite enough tartness in the Sloe Gin.) There's also a dash of Angsotura bitters for spice, and two drops of vanilla extract for complexity and a gorgeous bouquet.

It's a Wesly original, pretty much all the way -- my job on this one was to be the taster and sounding board. Here's Himself with a few comments, from his email to Fiona:

This drink bears some resemblance to a drink called the Millionaire Cocktail. The Millionaire also starts with rum and sloe gin, but adds apricot flavored brandy. A variation also adds lime juice. This seems quite busy to me. Ours of course uses the St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, which we think is simply a fantastic product that adds something unique and beautiful when used properly. We also started out with some lime juice, for brightness and because the St. Germain is rather sweet, and I was afraid it would dominate. However, the sloe gin (which I was intent on including, because I love the flavor profile, and it's so very very English!) brings quite enough tartness on its own. In fact, I wasn't really crazy about any of our experiments until I finally left out the lime. You could play with the balance between St. Germain and sloe gin, if you want to make the drink more or less sweet, but I like the balance that results from the equal amounts. The vanilla adds not just flavor but a wonderful aroma. The final drink is flowery rather than fruity (appropriate, I think, for a drink called "Rose"), definitely sweet but also with some tartness running through it from the lovely sloe berries.

We used Old New Orleans Crystal rum, because we had an open bottle begging to be finished off, but you should by all means use your favorite good quality rum that's readily and reasonably available. (Chuck recommends Cruzan Estate Light Rum, and recommends against Bacardi.) Plymouth sloe gin is the only quality product available here, and I'm sure you should have no trouble finding it there. Be sure to use an eyedropper for adding the vanilla - it's easy to go overboard. (We used single-strength extract, so you'll need to adjust appropriately if yours is double.) If you're making just a few drinks, you can add the vanilla as you mix, but this I think would be too much trouble for mixing at an event. You will make your bartender happy if you "doctor" your rum with vanilla ahead of time, 25 drops of (single-strength) vanilla extract per 750ml bottle. This in our opinion is far preferable to buying "pre-fab" vanilla infused rum, as there are only a few readily available, and not always of very good quality. This way you can still use your favorite rum but get that vanilla bouquet.

We got lovely notes back from the bride and her mom, both of whom loved the drink (yay!). Wes named it after the bride, and we look forward to meeting them when we visit in September.

Sally Rose

2 ounces (60 ml) white rum.
1/2 ounce (15 ml) Plymouth Sloe Gin.
1/2 ounce (15 ml) St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.
2 drops vanilla extract.

Stir over ice in a cocktail shaker, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and serve.

It's a gorgeous color too -- I'd consider garnishing with a rose petal. (No pictures, alas ... we had WAY too much to do this week!)

Now, for some in honor of Marleigh and Dan's wedding ... no time for an original here either, unfortunately, but CocktailDB yields a few interesting-looking wedding-named cocktails:

The Royal Wedding Cocktail

1-1/2 ounces gin.
3/4 ounce Swedish Punsch.
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice.
2 dashes Grand Marnier.

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass, then add 3 dashes grenadine after the cocktail is poured, so that it sinks to the bottom of the glass.

#     #     #

The Wedding March Cocktail

1-1/2 ounces light rum.
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice.
1 egg white.
1 teaspoon simple syrup.
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters.

Shake the ingredients dry (without ice) for at least a half a minute to froth up the egg white. Add ice and shake for at least one full minute. Strain into a large cocktail coupe, and dash the bitters on top, swirling the drops with a toothpick. (For a gorgeous presentation, load a Misto mister bottle with Angostura and do a couple of sprays onto the top of the egg froth.

#     #     #

The Wedding Night Cocktail

1-3/4 ounces light rum.
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice.
1/4 ounce grade B maple syrup.

Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. (Optional - invert amounts of maple syrup and lime for a sweeter drink)

Congratulations again, y'all!

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  Thursday, July 2, 2009

Going to Tales of the Cocktail? Where y'all wanna eat?   In case you haven't noticed the li'l icon over amidst the jumble of the right-hand sidebar, I'm once again writing for Talesblog, the group weblog for this year's Tales of the Cocktail. Even if you're not heading down for Tales but might be in New Orleans sometime in the near future, my most recent post is something you might want to check out -- it's this year's list of my recommended places to eat, which includes the fabulous new Green Goddess, Chef Chris DeBarr's new restaurant.

Food porn galore, so check it out!

Space is big.   You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.

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  Wednesday, July 1, 2009

An evening at Anvil Bar & Refuge, Houston TX.   A five-hour evening, no less. It was an evening in which I thoroughly enjoyed every single minute, and the only bad part is that Wes wasn't there.

As you may have noticed from the video I posted the other day, it's a great space -- cozy and not too spread out, but it feels very open and inviting thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows facing the street. Plenty of seating at the bar, plus a big comfy sofa and a few tables make for a very comfy space. Anvil's owner/partner and head bartender Bobby Heugel greeted me warmly, immediately produced a pint of ice-water (which was refilled as soon as it was low for the entire evening) and presented me with their intriguing menu.

Anvil Bar and Refuge, Houston TX

Coming on Sunday is a blessing, as the crowds were small (although steady), and I had plenty of time to hang out and chat with Bobby. The slight curse was that it was the end of the weekend and he was out of a couple of ingredients (herbs, primarily) that'd come in again the next day. No worries, though, as there was plenty of great stuff to drink.


First drink was The Haab, based on blanco tequila. The primary flavor moderator is Xtabentún, a liqueur from the Yucatán in Mexico that's based on rum and flavored with aniseed and fermented honey. The honey comes from the xtabentún flower, which means "vines that grow on stone" in the Mayan language. It's lovely stuff, and worth seeking out. The Haab is rounded out with pineapple and lemon juices, and finished with Anvil's wonderful house-made lavender-vanilla bitters, the next big batch of which you can see steeping in a big 3-gallon glass jar at the end of the bar.

Vanishing Act

Next was The Vanishing Act, which is kind of a cross between a gin sour and a violet fizz: 2 ounces gin, 1 ounce lemon juice, 1/2 ounce honey syrup, a barspoon of crème de violette and an egg white, shaken like hell and misted on top with Angostura bitters that had been loaded into a Misto sprayer. He uses this technique for several drinks, including their fantastic Pisco Sours, and it's beautiful as well as very aromatic.


Next was the most unusual cocktail on Anvil's menu, one Bobby recommends people work their way up to, and which he describes as their most intense:

1 ounce Del Maguey Minero Single Village Mezcal.
1 ounce Hacienda de Chihuahua Plata Sotol.
1/2 ounce Averna.
1 barspoon orange Cura&ccedi;ão.
Misting of Angostura bitters.

Combine all ingredients in a large wine glass and swirl to combine. Garnish with a flamed orange peel and serve at room temperature.

Yep, you heard me. Room temperature. No chill, no dilution. Talk about intense. And it was ... intensely delicious. Very, very unusual, and Bobby said he'd recently been fascinated with the idea of room temperature cocktails. I absolutely adore all the Del Maguey mezcals, but I had never tried sotol before. It's made from a wild plant native to Chihuahua, Mexico, called the "desert spoon," or Dasylirion wheeleri, or simply the sotol plant. It's really good, and very interesting stuff -- smooth, herbal, a bit grassy and a bit smoky. I didn't taste much of it on its own, but as of today I have my own bottle (Hacienda de Chihuahua is the brand, and they make a plata, reposado and añejo as with tequila). The smokiness of the mezcal, the herbal qualities of the sotol, the bitterness of the amaro ... plus the wine glass increases the bouquet tremendously. Just a knockout.


Next Bobby made me a Hoskins, my signature cocktail, and let's just say that it was without a doubt the best one I'd ever had. (I really, really appreciated this.)


Finally, a bartender's choice to finish the long and very fun evening, and the bartender couldn't have chosen better. Manhattan, Rittenhouse 100 rye whiskey, Carpano Antica, bitters and a house-made, Bourbon-soaked spiced cherry. It doesn't get much better than that.

I met some very nice people, did some rather enjoyable cocktail evangelizing and got into a spirited conversation with a very nice but very drunk fellow about Hunter S. Thompson and the films of Terry Gilliam, and chatted with Bobby about room temperature cocktails, vintage Amer Picon, Texas rum, his ideas for a Texas gin (lots of juniper, citrus, lavender and all kinds of botanicals all over Texas) and had a stupendous time.

If you're in Houston, head down to the Neartown/Montrose neighborhood, have a terrific high-end Mexican dinner at Hugo's, then walk a couple of blocks down to Anvil for the best cocktails in the state of Texas.

Cocktail of the day: The 1820.   Jeez, where did June go? Where did 2009 go, for that matter?! It's July already, Tales of the Cocktail is upon us in one week, and I'm so insanely busy getting ready for that and a wedding we're taking part in on Saturday that I might just go supernova.

Today's cocktail is outta da paper, rather than one I've had the time to research and make and photograph and such, but it looks like a terrific one I'll try at my earliest convenience. Speaking of the Del Maguey mezcals above, Gary Regan has a Cocktailian article in the San Francisco Chronicle about his change of heart regarding mezcal, and his appreciation for a lovely cocktail using it that he got from Misty Kalkofen of Drink in Boston. Read about it and have a go!

The 1820
(by Misty Kalkofen, Drink, Boston)

1-3/4 ounces Bols Genever.
1/4 ounce Galliano l'Autentico.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice 1/2 ounce Lavender Simple Syrup (see recipe in the article).
1 bar spoon Del Maguey Minero mezcal.
1 dash Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters.

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

No time to mix tonight, but I think this'll be kicking off Cocktail Hour tomorrow night.

June Looka! entries have been permanentlyarchived.

[ Link to today's entries ]

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