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Drago Centro’s Cocktail Contest: The Finals!

You may recall that last month I wrote about an ongoing cocktail competition at Drago Centro restaurant in downtown L.A., The People’s Cocktail Contest. It went on for four weeks — each week a theme ingredient was announced, recipes were submitted through the week, and during the weekend one recipe was selected by Michael Shearin, their sommelier/beverage director and Jaymee Mandeville, their head bartender, to continue through the finals. The winning cocktail gets added to the restaurant’s cocktail menu. The preliminaries are now closed, the four final cocktails have been selected, and it’s time for the face-off!

The finals for the People’s Cocktail Contest will be held at Drago Centro, 525 S. Flower St. this Wednesday the 30th starting sometime after 6pm. I don’t have a hard start time, but that’s when they asked me to arrive. [UPDATE: Judging begins at 7pm!] I suspect there’ll be a certain amount of cat-herding involved to get everyone there, set up and ready to roll. They’ll also be unveiling their new summer cocktail menu at the event, so there’ll be plenty of good stuff to try.

This is going to be such a blast, especially because two of the other three finalists are friends of mine. I’m looking forward to meeting Jeni, week four’s finalist, too; her blog is full of gorgeous food photos.

If you can’t attend the final face-off you can still play along at home; make the cocktails and see which one’s your favorite. I posted the recipe for my cocktail entry in Week 1: Blueberry, the Bell’aspetto, last month. Here are the other three finalists’ cocktail recipes, pulled from Drago Centro’s Twitter feed (no pictures of the drinks, alas; I was too lazy):

Week 2: Fernet Branca
Finalist: Ron Dollete, lushangeles.com


1 oz Fernet Branca
1 oz Krogstad Aquavit
1 oz Cointreau
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.


Week 3: Gin (or genever)
Finalist: Matt Robold, rumdood.com


2 oz Bols Genever
1/2 oz Scotch
1/4 oz Simple Syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters.

Stir with ice for 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.


Week 4: Lemon
Finalist: Jeni Afuso, Oishii Eats


1/2 fresh peach
1 oz simple syrup
2 oz Rittenhouse 100 rye whiskey
1 oz lemon juice
Club soda

Muddle peach with simple syrup. Add rye and lemon juice. Shake with ice, strain into tall glass over ice, top with club soda.

Wish us luck! No matter who wins, it’s going to be a lot of fun. Join us if you can.


“Treme” – Beyond Bourbon Street

Before you watch “Treme” this Sunday (and you are going to watch it this Sunday … right?), check out this terrific half-hour behind-the-scenes special for historical background, creator commentary, the Mardi Gras Indian tradition, the food and music scenes, and much more.

Steve Zahn, actor (“Davis McAlary”): “It’s post-Katrina, but it’s really about life after, it’s not about Katrina. Katrina is the backdrop.”

John Goodman, actor and New Orleanian (“Creighton Bernette”): “[It's about] dealing with everyday things that just become insurmountable.”

David Mills, co-exec. producer (R.I.P.): “This show is an argument for what’s best about the American city — a city gets knocked down, but there’s that impulse to stand back up.”

Full-screen version



Gulf Aid Benefit Concert this Sunday, May 16

If you’re in the New Orleans area, there’s no other place for you to be on Sunday of this weekend, May 16, than at Mardi Gras World‘s River City Plaza for Gulf Aid, a benefit concert to raise funds to stop the oil from destroying our wetlands and provide financial aid to affected fishermen and their families. It’s a presentation of WWOZ 90.7 FM New Orleans in conjunction with Mardi Gras World, SDT Waste and Debris, Rehage Entertainment and others, and the lineup of talent will be stellar.

NASA photo from the International Space Station, showing the giant oil slick approaching the Mississippi Delta (top right)

NASA photo from the International Space Station, showing the giant oil slick approaching the Mississippi Delta (top right)

An aerial view of the oil leaked from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead, May 6, 2010.

An aerial view of the oil leaked from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead, May 6, 2010.

Unemployed commercial fishermen and their families wait in line to receive charity handouts in Hopedale, La.

Unemployed commercial fishermen and their families wait in line to receive charity handouts in Hopedale, La. (via the Boston Globe)

See all 40 photos at the Boston Globe.

As David Torkanowsky said on ‘OZ yesterday, this is to raise money to support people who, along with our musicians, are the mainstay of our culture — the people who provide our seafood. A lot of them are out of work right now, and we need to make sure they can feed their families — families that comprise multiple generations of fishermen from Texas to Florida. (Aside from that, we can hope and pray that there’ll still be safe seafood for them to catch after the disaster in the Gulf.) Beside the impacted seafood fishing families, the benefit is for the families of those who lost their lives in the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and also to provide for wetlands protection and restoration.

If you can’t attend the concert, you have two other things to do. First, donate online to the Gulf Relief Foundation — it’s important. Every single penny of your contribution will go to where it’s needed. Next, the entire concert will be broadcast on WWOZ, at 90.7 FM locally and online to the planet, from 12 noon to 10pm Central Time.

Here’s the lineup of musicians: Shamarr Allen & the Underdawgs, MyNameIsJohnMichael, Irvin Mayfield’s Playhouse Revue, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Honey Island Swamp Band, Beausoleil, Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers with Jeremy Davenport, ReBirth Brass Band, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, Soul Rebels Brass Band, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Zachary Richard, Happy Jack Frequency, Allen Toussaint, Voices of the Wetlands All-Stars (featuring Tab Benoit, Dr. John, Cyril Neville, George Porter Jr., Waylon Thibodeaux, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Johnny Sansone, Johnny Vidacovich and Marcia Ball), Ani DiFranco, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Mos Def and Terence Blanchard, John Legend and Lenny Kravitz.

It’s amazing that this whole festival was planned and put together in about a week’s time — an awesome effort on the part of all concerned. Help make sure it succeeds and gets the job done. Go, donate and listen.


Eat Louisiana Seafood!

You may have noticed a certain lack of activity ’round these parts for the last couple of weeks. This is because I was back home as usual for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which was great as always (and I’ll have recaps, plus a “good, bad and ugly” post later on). I did have a bit of guilt during Fest, though, because I let it distract me and keep my mind off the very bad things happening in the Gulf of Mexico.

You’re undoubtedly aware of the oil rig explosion that killed 11 people, sank an offshore rig and resulted in oil gushing from drill points on the gulf floor. This is being called an “oil spill,” which is a bit of a misnomer. What the Exxon Valdez did was spill oil; this is a runaway oil well, spewing petrolem from an 18,000 foot well that’s situated a mile below water. No matter what, it’s going to be an environmental disaster, we just don’t know how bad yet. Currently it’s spewing about 210,000 gallons of oil a day, with the remnants of the wellhead and kinked piping (like putting a kink in a garden hose) restricting the current flow to this level. A high-producing well in the Gulf can produce 30,000 barrels (or 1,260,000 gallons) a day, but that’s under control. Worst-case scenarios posit an Exxon Valdez-sized spill every nine or ten days, but we’re nowhere near that yet and we hope we never will be. The scary thing is that we just don’t know. No one knows how bad it’ll get, if the kinks will let go and increase the flow, if they’ll be able to get capping done or relief wells drilled fast enough. Lots of livelihoods are in limbo right now.

One thing people are scared about is the impact to Louisiana seafood, not only to the livelihoods of fishermen but to our seafood-eating way of life in Louisiana. The good news so far is that there’s no need to panic. Seafood is currently safe and plentiful, and while a certain number of oyster beds have been closed east of the mouth of the Mississippi as a precautionary measure, most of the oyster beds and seafood producing regions are west of the Mississippi, and they’re not being affected.

Chef Brian Landry of Galatoire’s restaurant released the following facts via a Tales of the Cocktail newsletter:

Guests at Galatoire’s and other restaurants in New Orleans can continue to enjoy local seafood for the foreseeable future.

Safeguards are in place to know where our fresh fish and shellfish are caught and harvested along the Louisiana coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. As we have for 100+ years, our chef and waiters are happy to suggest the freshest seafood that we have available and answer any questions our guests have.

Galatoire’s requires all of our seafood purveyors to provide a “trip ticket” identify the geographic areas where all of our seafood is caught, in accordance with the Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries’ guidelines. These requirements increase the accountability that our fishermen and other purveyors have with us and with the state of Louisiana.

Nearly 80 percent of Louisiana’s seafood comes from hundreds of miles of coastline west of the Mississippi River, hundreds of miles away from the affected areas of the Gulf of Mexico.

Galatoire’s is working around the clock with our seafood producers to ensure that we provide our guests with the freshest fish, shrimp, crawfish and crabs available. We will be able to serve our guests their favorite dishes as we have for decades.

Fish and shellfish migrate away from water hazards. As a result, these species will move toward cleaner waters and safety.

New Orleans is located more than 100 miles inland from the Louisiana coast. We are enjoying one of the busiest weekends of the year. Anyone with plans to visit our great city and restaurant should keep those plans and come see us.

After reports that some oyster beds were being closed, long lines formed at the raw oyster bar in the Grandstand at Jazzfest, with people thinking that it might be their last chance for a while. Then there was a little flap in which an employee at Parkway Bakery and Tavern (hands down my favorite po-boy joint in the world) put up a sign that oysters were being taken off the menu due to the oil spill. That was a temporary price move rather than a safety move — owner Jay Nix sees the price of oysters spiking, doesn’t want to charge more than the current $13 for a large oyster po-boy and doesn ‘t want to have to short his customers by putting fewer oysters on a sandwich. The sign that went up was both poorly worded and unauthorized. It still makes me sad that Jay isn’t serving oysters right now — I’d be happy to pay a little extra for a while, me. In fact, we had a fantastic fried oyster po-boy at Parkway just last week. But there’s certainly a lot of concern over what’s happening.

Here’s the deal with oysters right now, from one of the best and best-known purveyors of oyster dishes in the city — Tommy Cvitanovich, of Drago’s Restaurant. He had this to say:

Louisiana has 7,721 miles of tidal coastline. The area east of the Mississippi River which is closed is where 23% of the state’s total seafood is harvests are landed. The west side of the river remains safe and open is where 77% of the harvests are landed. With 77% of our waters untouched, we are still able to serve Louisiana Seafood that are clean and unaffected by the BP oil spill.

Louisiana produces 33% of the nations seafood (excluding Alaska and Hawaii)

Louisiana is the nation’s number one producer of oysters, shrimp, crawfish and blue crab.

Oyster beds are located at least 25 – 50 miles inland from the Louisiana coast. For east bank oyster beds to be affected, the oil has to travel thru miles of bayous, canals and bays

Currently only 22% of Louisiana’s oyster beds are closed as a precaution. This is a good proactive move.

No oyster beds are currently being tainted by the oil.

These beds will not be reopened till it is determined that environmental conditions are within requirements specified by the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.

Only 30% of Louisiana’s oyster beds are east of the Mississippi River. Which means 70% of our oyster beds, which are to the west of the Mississippi River are safe and open.

NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) has said at this point that they do not expect the oil to affect Louisiana coastline west of the Mississippi river. This is GREAT NEWS!!!

90% of Louisiana shrimp come from parts west of the Mississippi River

Shrimp, crabs, and most fin fish swim away from danger – a scent of oil in the water is considered a danger. At this point these fisheries should be fine.

We’ve been eating seafood like crazy for the last two weeks — plump shrimp and fat juicy oysters and Gargantuan crawfish and astonishing soft shell crabs — and it’s all been fantastic.

Get out there and eat some great Louisiana seafood. And keep your fingers crossed that they cap that well as soon as possible.


Sweet bitters! Angostura reappearing on shelves.

O frabjous day! Calooh! Callay!

Walking into Topline Wine and Spirits in Glendale today, I saw something I hadn’t seen in many months — bottles of Angostura Bitters on the shelf. And there was much rejoicing.

If you’re even the slightest bit of a cocktailian, you’ve noticed the Worldwide Shortage Of Angostura which started kicking in last fall. Rumors flew — the recession killed the company, they were going out of business, we’d never see Angostura again (which would be a horrendous blow to the world of cocktails).

Rachel Maddow, proving once again how she is made of awesome, is a dedicated cocktailian and regularly devotes a portion of her program to cocktails and cocktail issues (tip of the hat to my sister Melissa). She recently featured Angostura on her program, taught the Teeming Masses how to make Champagne Cocktails and Manhattans (I prefer a 2:1 Manhattan ratio myself, especially as I tend to use higher proof whiskey) and not quite so much Ango. To each his or her own tastes, however.

Rachel also had an extensive interview with a couple of nice ladies from Angostura Ltd. who flew in from Trinidad to answer questions about the situation. Here’s the whole segment from The Rachel Maddow Show:

So, the official PR line is … they ran out of bottles and couldn’t get any more from their supplier. Hm.

I’ve read a variety of other stories. According to this Guardian article, Angostura Ltd. (which has been around since 1824) was once owned by Bacardi but was sold in 1997:

The firm is [now] owned by CL Financial, a Caribbean conglomerate hit by a liquidity crisis, prompting an emergency bailout earlier this year by the government of Trinidad and Tobago. CL leveraged Angostura’s profits against a series of acquisitions including a deal to buy control of a Jamaican industrial company, Lascelles deMercado. It was reportedly left with a TT$600m (£57m/US$87.5m) hole in its balance sheet.

Not good.

Interestingly, the PR line seems to be that it was only the bottles, and that production never stopped. However, a representative from Angostura USA was quoted last year as saying that production had actually stopped in June, and it would take a while to resume; you can’t just flip a switch and suddenly make bitters appear.

Whatever the real reason, let us rejoice that Ango is finally back on our shelves. Shall we celebrate with an Old Fashioned?

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