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Cocktail of the Day: La Rosita

Wes always does a great job of picking the evening’s cocktail when it’s his turn, and last night was no exception. This one was in Food and Wine’s Cocktails 2005, first came to my attention via Robert Hess, seems to have originally appeared in Gary Regan’s Bartender’s Bible, and is served among other places at the Zig Zag Café in Seattle.

The La Rosita Cocktail

La Rosita

1-1/2 ounces reposado tequila.
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/2 ounce dry vermouth.
1/2 ounce Campari.
1 dash Angostura bitters.

Combine ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Stir for no less than 30 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass; no garnish.

The flavor of the agave along with the bite of the Campari make for a delightful drink and an inspired combination of flavors. Definitely give this one a try. The world needs more Campari cocktails! And more tequila cocktails too, for that matter.

 

The Réveillon Cocktail

Not long before Christmas 2005 I wanted to come up with an original cocktail that evoked the flavors of the holidays. “Christmas in a glass,” to purloin a phrase used by Seattle bartender Murray Stenson to describe one of this drink’s ingredients, was what I was aiming for. I wanted something more than just a one-note flavor, I wanted (as usual) a symphony of flavors. I think what we came up with (Wes helped a lot on this one) was pretty darn good.

In order to make it you’ll need to have made a batch of pimento dram, or Jamaican allspice liqueur. (This is because these days I seem pathologically incapable of concocting new cocktails unless they contain one or more very obscure ingredients.) Go ahead, it’s easy; all you need are whole allspice berries, 151 proof Demerara rum (or a mixture of Myers’ rum and Wray and Nephew Overproof Rum), brown sugar, water, a sealable jar and 40 days. Make some; you won’t regret it. “It’s the most important liqueur in the world!” declared Dr. Cocktail, with regards to the commercially made version which is completely unavailable outside Jamaica and isn’t exported.

Paul Clarke at The Cocktail Chronicles was kind and trusting enough to give my new drink a whirl and came away impressed. (Thanks!) He didn’t think I should tinker with it any more, so I didn’t. I liked it, so did Wes, and with one trustworthy taste test we decided we were pleased. It has a similar development history to the Hoskins Cocktail, in that I wanted no one ingredient to predominate and for them all work together toward the whole, and that in both cases Wes tried the first attempt, said “ehh” and suggested swapping proportions between two ingredients whereupon the bell rang, the lightbulb lit and we shrieked “Eureka!”. I wanted the holiday season in a glass, and I guess I did all right.

The acid test, of course, was when I made one for Dr. Cocktail at our 2005 holiday party. “Be critical!” I demanded. He’s opinionated and demanding and brutal regarding flavor and quality, and I knew that if he hesitated and tried to keep from making a face, it might mean a trip back to the drawing board. Instead, after one sip, he immediately said, to my great relief, “Oh, this is delightful!” and then added later, “It’s like suckin’ on Santa!” Well, that’s good enough for me.

You can use regular sweet vermouth in this, but if you use one of Carpano’s high-end vermouths like Antica Formula or Punt E Mes, as the recipe calls for, you’ll get even more wintry, spicy nuances in your drink. (Paul Clarke favors Punt E Mes, not only for its additional hint of bitterness but because it’s all he can get in the state-controlled liquor stores in Washington; the silly sods don’t carry Carpano Antica.) However, at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar in New Orleans, bartender Chris Hannah makes this drink with Dubonnet Rouge, and it’s wonderful.

As for the bitters, Angostura bitters will be easier to find, but Fee Brothers’ “Old Fashion” aromatic cocktail bitters work quite a bit better. As Dr. Cocktail once said, “Fee’s Bitters have one note, and that note is cinnamon.” That note happens to work very well for this drink. You can also use Fee’s new Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters, which have a lovely complexity. Of course, if you happen to have any vintage Abbott’s Bitters — which haven’t been made in over 50 years but are obtainable if you’re obsessed like me and look hard enough — which are redolent with the “apple pie spices”, the flavor is beyond amazing. In a pinch, use good ol’ Angostura.

The original idea for the garnish was a cinnamon stick, but the star anise pod emerged during the photography for the drink when it was featured in the July/August 2007 issue of Imbibe magazine, which was really cool.

Now, this drink is all clear spirits so should be stirred, but Chris shakes his specifically to produce the wintry-looking froth, and the star anise pod sitting on that is perfect for the Christmas season.

Oh, and the name? Just as I was about to bestow upon this drink the well-intentioned yet supremely dopey name “Bingle Cocktail” (named, of course, for Mr. Bingle, beloved New Orleans Christmas mascot), Wes thought better of it. The name he suggested evokes Christmas, especially Christmas eve, but also the recent New Orleans spin on the old tradition that expands the feasting of la veille de Noël all season long …

The Réveillon Cocktail

The Réveillon Cocktail

2 ounces Calvados (or other apple brandy).
1/2 ounce pear eau-de-vie (clear, unsweetened pear brandy).
1/2 ounce homemade pimento dram (allspice liqueur).
1/4 ounce or Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth (substitute Punt e Mes) or Dubonnet Rouge (Arnaud’s version).
1 dash Fee’s Old Fashion Aromatic Bitters (or Abbott’s Bitters, if you’ve got them).
Star anise pod for garnish (or a cinnamon stick, if you don’t have star anise).

Combine ingredients with cracked ice in a cocktail shaker. Stir like hell for no less than 30 seconds, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the star anise.

Serve on Christmas Eve, throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas … or whenever you want.

Harold Lloyd Cocktail

The “mystery restaurant” where Wes ended up taking me for my 2005 birthday dinner was Lucques in West Hollywood, which pleased me no end. The food was fabulous, as were the drinks — the bar there is no slouch, and this was before the L.A. cocktail renaissance took off.

This was a suggestion from the bartender, one of their house specialty cocktails.

The Harold Lloyd Cocktail

3 ounces Hendrick’s Gin.
1/4 ounce dry vermouth.
1/4 ounce sweet vermouth.

Stir for no less than 30 seconds, until ice-cold.
Garnish with a cucumber slice.

We loved this. Does anybody remember what a Perfect Martini is anymore? If you do, how many times have you said to a bartender, “I’ll have a Perfect Martini please,” only to have him haughtily reply, “All my Martinis are perfect!”

No no no, silly sod; a Perfect Martini is one that uses half sweet and half dry vermouth, instead of all dry. Perhaps the reason why most people don’t know this is that most people have forgotten that a Martini has vermouth in in. All this horseshit about waving the closed bottle of vermouth over the shaker has nothing to do with a Martini, and has everything to do with drinking cold gin, up. That ain’t a Martini. A Martini has vermouth in it. Period. QED. I have spoken.

Hendrick’s Gin, if you’re not yet familiar with it, is a wonderful, hand-crafted small-batch gin made in Scotland, and has amongst its unusual mix of botanicals an infusion of rose petals and cucumber, giving it a unique flavor that I happen to love. We’d made regular Martinis with it, not wanting that unique flavor to get too lost in a cocktail, but had never tried it as a Perfect Martini before. That, combined with the cucumber slice and the nifty name, has made us big fans of this drink, named after the silent movie star in whose former carriage house the restaurant is housed. Safety last!

So what, it’s basically just a Perfect Martini made with Hendrick’s and garnished with a cucumber slice, right? But the cucumber-rose elements of the gin plus the aroma of that garnish really do make this a different experience, and I would argue that the drink deserves its own name. Besides, anyone serving interesting Perfect Martini variations as a house cocktail in 2005, when even top-notch restaurants like Patina and Spago were churning out disgustingly sweet liqueur-filled concoctions as their house cocktails gets to name their drinks whatever they want.

The Hunting Horn

This one’s from a recent addition to my collection of cocktail books: The Saloon in the Home, or A Garden of Rumblossoms, compiled by Ridgely Hunt and George S. Chappell, with many lavish engravings by John Held, Jr. It was published in 1930, three years before the end of Prohibition (my copy is autographed by the authors and inscribed December 1930), and is a collection of temperance songs, poems, stories, sermons and rants … interspersed with lots and lots of cocktail recipes. It’s hilarious, and I love it.

This cocktail falls right into the same category as the Manhattan, Rob Roy and Rory O’More/Tom Moore cocktails — just substitute the base spirit and stick to the classic formula.

The Hunting Horn

2 ounces applejack (use Laird’s bonded straight apple brandy).
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
1 dash Angostura bitters.

Stir with cracked ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with a cherry.

We rather liked it.

You could try spiffing this up somewhat by using Calvados instead of applejack, and you could spiff it up even more by using Carpano Antica Formula or Punt e Mes instead of garden variety Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth.

On the same page of the book were two little temperance anecdotes and another cocktail recipe (which we have yet to try); I’ll share those with you too.

OH YEAH?

“Ten years from now hundreds of thousands of men who voted against us and struggled to keep the saloon, will go down on their knees and thank God they were overwhelmed at the ballot-box and this temptation far removed from them.”

– William Jennings Bryan, Columbus, Ohio, November 19, 1918.

AN UNFORTUNATE INCIDENT

“Very early yesterday morning, I saw a young gentleman of my acquaintance whom I knew to be too fond of ardent spirits, sitting upon a doorstep, quite exhausted from a daring feat he had been performing. On his knee were two strong door knockers, three bell pulls, and part of an area railing, all of which he had drunkenly taken into custody.”

– Dr. Henry Monroe, 1865.

The Whitney

One part Scotch whiskey.
One part Sherry.
The juice of half a Lemon.
One tablespoon of Grenadine.

Here’s to Mr. Bryan and Dr. Monroe … drink up!

What are you doing New Year’s Eve?

[NOTE: Cinnabar, alas, closed in 2005. She is sorely missed.]

Well, what we did, to answer Ella Fitzgerald’s musical question, was go to Cinnabar.

Wes and I went with our friends Chris and MJ to our favorite local restaurant’s annual end of the year bash, featuring a multi-course prix-fixe dinner, a jazz combo, hats and noisemakers, bubbly and a steady flow of cocktails from their renowned cocktailian bar.

As Cinnabar is one of those rare places where you can get a really good cocktail, we made certain to hit the bar first. As I may have mentioned before, their bar (including the back bar) was rescued from the late, lameneted Yee Mee Loo bar in Downtown L.A., which was bought up and scheduled for demolition about 14 years ago (then sadly sat derelict because the raze-and-build-condos plan didn’t come off quite like the developers planned). It’s gorgeous, and there are always fun and interesting people around it. Behind the stick was Eric, the new bartender hired to replace our pal Bob, their longtime weekend bartender who left to go back to school. We’re still keeping an eye on Eric — really nice guy who made us spectacular Booker’s Old Fashioneds, but something was a little off with that Negroni I had later. Next time I’ll have to ask him how he makes it, because Cinnabar is famous for their own take on the Negroni (basically doubling the Campari and adding orange bitters), a take we’ve become particularly fond of:

The Cinnabar Negroni

2 ounces Campari.
1 ounce gin.
1 ounce sweet vermouth.
2 dashes orange bitters.

Shake and strain; orange wheel garnish.

This is a big, delicious, bitter slap upside the head, in the best possible way. Wake up that palate and get it ready for some food!

We caused a bit of a ruckus when it became apparent that no one had remembered to notify the restaurant that one of our party was a vegetarian (“I keel you!”, said co-owner Flame, with much justification), but Chef Damon came through beautifully, and our vegetarian didn’t go hungry (although we probably could have gotten more of a planned menu if we had remembered to call … oh well).

Here was the menu I chose:

Amuse Bouche:
Sevruga Caviar on a Crispy Potato Lollypop, with Lemon Crème Fraîche.
A thin slice of potato, stuck on a lollypop stick and fried crisp until it’s like a thick chip … whimsical! Plopped on the side was the dollop of crème fraîche and the caviar.

Appetizers:
1. Foie Gras Terrine with Lemon Pear Compote
. Just say “foie gras” to me and I’m all over it. About a 3/8″ slice of terrine, which went well with the sweet compote. It was gone very, very quickly.)

2. Dungeness Crab Cake in Shredded Phyllo with Avocado Vinaigrette. This was one of the highlights of the meal. It looked gorgeous, like a bird’s nest or some kind of chrysalis, sitting in a pool of thick, green, spicy vinaigrette. The crab cake was wrapped in the shredded phyllo and quickly deep-fried, but was light and crisp and without the slightest trace of oiliness. The sweet crabmeat and the spicy vinaigrette were perfect together.

Intermezzo:
Lychee Sorbet, served in a Champagne flute.
This was wonderful, not too sweet and a perfect palate cleanser. I lucked out, as Wes and MJ were served a raspberry sorbet (” … the kiiind you find in a second-hand store” … um … sorry) which was good but not as good as the lychee.)

Main course:
Filet Mignon and Foie Gras wrapped in Phyllo with a Ruby Port Glaze.
Okay, there’s a bit of a motif here … I was going for foie gras all around, having chosen this entrée instead of the Roasted Maine Lobster Tail with Tarragon Hollandaise and the Macadamia-Crusted Turbot with Lime Leaf Butter and a Rock Shrimp Spring Roll, so I ended up doubling up on the phyllo as well. No worries; how often do I get to eat phyllo anyway? This was solid, not shredded, and the dish was like an upscale Beef Wellington. The filet was perfect; tender and medium rare. On top inside the pastry was a luxurious level of richnessa added from the slice of foie gras, and the tart Port sauce cut right through all that richness with a fruity tang. I so rarely eat filet that this was a real treat. I washed it down with a glass of the house Bordeaux, which I forgot to write down.

Dessert:
Ginger Macadamia Nut Cake with Citrus Chocolate Mousse and Chocolate Sauce.
The other choice was a mixed berry mini-cheesecake with a berry coulis, which I’m sure was good, but … jeez, in the face of this other choice, who in the world would order it?! We did see someone at the next table who had one, and I imagined him to be some kind of chocolate hater whom I regarded with a mixture of contempt and pity. This dessert was out of this world — rich rich rich without being overwhelming, with the touch of spiciness from the ginger keeping the richness in check. I looked both ways and wiped up the chocolate sauce with my finger when no one was looking.)

We were having such a good time that I didn’t even think to take pictures of the dishes (duh) until the dessert arrived, even though I had meant to shoot the entire meal. Ah well. If my mind weren’t so absent and if my camera weren’t so clunky, I’d probably manage to do it. I’ll have to work on at least one of those this year. Anyway, here’s dessert:

It tasted even better than it looks.

Then came party hats, noisemakers, bubbly and FIVE! FOUR! THREE! TWO! ONE! HAPPY NEW YEAR!! (*hoooooooonk*) Hugs, kisses, Auld Lang Syne.

It was a really fun way to spend New Year’s, and we’ll probably do it again. To cap it all off, they weren’t in a hurry to get rid of everybody, so we hung out for another hour or so and sobered up enough to drive home safely. Now I’ve gotta spend the next week eating rabbit food to make up for all that foie gras …

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