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Cocktail of the Day: San Francisco

Last week gave us a really fun (and somewhat raucous) evening at Seven Grand, one of our favorite bars — they had a reunion night for the entire original opening crew from April of 2007. Well, nearly; unfortunately John Coltharp, busy at his new gigs at The Tasting Kitchen and Copa d’Oro, wasn’t able to make it. It was great to see friends like Marcos Tello and Damian Windsor behind the stick there once again, though.

They brought back the entire original 7G menu for that night, too. Well, nearly; the Ramos Gin Fizz was missing (perhaps a bit too labor-intensive for a night when they were going to be slammed two or three deep at the bar), and of course the Bartender’s Choice drinks came at us left and right.

When I asked Damian for something whiskey-bearing but not on the special menu for the night, he offered this tasty variation on the Old Fashioned, or the Manhattan, or the Monte Carlo … sort of like all three fused at the molecular-genetic level inside a telepod (and with no fly, fortunately).

For the base spirit Damian chose Bernheim’s, a wheat whiskey from Kentucky made by the folks at Heaven Hill. The primary grain here is soft winter wheat (at least 51%, differing from Bourbon and rye in that those spirits must be at least 51% corn or rye grain, respectively), with some corn in the mashbill for sweetness and a bit of barley as well. It’s dry and crisp although with a bit of sweetness in the nose, full-bodied and fruity-nutty. Really wonderful stuff, and works very well in this drink where Bourbon might work less well. “The syrup takes the edge off the whiskey,” Damian says, and makes this a very well-balanced drink.

There’s a classic cocktail called The San Francisco; this isn’t it. I’m not certain if this is one of Damian’s own creations, but until he corrects me let’s say that it is.

San Francisco Cocktail

2 ounces Bernheim Straight Wheat Whiskey
1/2 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce simple syrup
1 dash orange bitters
Splash Bénédictine liqueur
Lemon twist

Rinse a rocks glass with the Bénédictine and pour out the excess. Combine the other ingredients with cracked ice in a mixing glass and stir for at least 30 seconds. Strain into the coated glass, add a large ice cube and twist the lemon peel over the drink. Garnish with the peel.

 

La Descarga

Los Angeles has a new rum bar!

La Descarga has been open almost three weeks now, after a grand opening night on February 2. I absolutely love how the bar is revealed to you — you read a brief description of the entrance in the above-linked article, but fortunately it didn’t give away the good parts. When you do walk in you’re transported to Old Havana, pre-Fidel and ignoring the despotic dictators and corrupt American corporations, concentrating on the good stuff — rum, cocktails, music, floor shows and letting the good times roll (I don’t know how to say that in Spanish, sadly).

Check out the profile video from the Los Angeles Times

Steve Levigni, formerly of The Doheny, is the general manager and Pablo Moix is behind the stick with a talented crew of bartenders, all of whom took good care of us on our first visit (first of many, I hope). We actually had reservations on opening night, as part of a group of friends, but unfortunately we had to cancel. We finally made it in four nights later, and they were already in full swing.

This isn’t really a full review, as we’ve only spent the one evening there so far, but Pablo and the rest of the folks behind the stick kept us and a two-deep Saturday night crowd well-oiled with excellent drinks from a good menu that will likely only get better. As it’s a rum bar that’s the featured spirit in the currently offered drinks, but I’ll be looking forward to seeing what else they’ll be offering, including cocktails blending different rums (always a favorite among aficionados of that spirit). I’m also looking forward to having a chance to sample tasting flights from their collection of 70+ rums … I’ve got my work cut out for me.

La Descarga

For an extra treat, if you go on the weekend, you’re treated to a bit of Caribbean cabaret as well.

The floor show begins

Dancer and musicians, La Descarga

You’ll want to call ahead for a reservation — they’re not required at this bar, but it’s a good idea to have one, so that you can be escorted right in without having to wait, especially on weekends. We tend not to go out on weekend nights anyway, as crowds are not my thing — and if they’re not yours either do as we do and go early, as after 9 or so it gets very, very busy — if you don’t mind them let the bar know you’re coming and you’ll become part of that crowd a lot faster. You’ll want to dress up as well; the bar prefers ladies and gentlemen to don their snappiest outfits when they visit, and at this place it’s warranted. Besides, who wants to be underdressed in Old Havana? Be a part of the fabulousness!

The three drinks I had were excellent, and this one, which Pablo was kind enough to confirm my guess of proportions, was probably my favorite. I love aromatic cocktails, and it’s particularly nice to enjoy a complex rum cocktail that contains no citrus (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s currently made with the new incarnation of Zaya rum from Trinidad, and fortunately not with rum from a barrel containing the remains of Admiral Nelson.

Tapping the Admiral

Tapping the Admiral

2 ounces aged Rum (Zaya).
1/2 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth.
1/2 ounce Cherry Heering.
1 healthy dash Fee’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters.

Stir with ice for 20-30 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe, orange peel garnish.

I had a couple of others for which I didn’t get a recipe, as I was actually talking to my friends and having fun instead of being a cocktail geek and watching Pablo like a hawk. The Tropical Holiday was nice, with a J.M. Rhum Blanc base (mmm, rhum agricole!) sweetened with simple syrup and John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum for a dose of island flavors, plus lime and bitters, topped with soda. Tangy and refreshing. Wes’ Honey Swizzle is based on Cristal Aguardiente, a rather fiery cane spirit from Colombia with an anise flavor that I found surprising and ultimately delightful when I first tried it about 10 years ago (and a belated thanks to Patrick for bringing a bottle of it to that cocktail party at our place back in ’00!). Besides the honey syrup and citrus I forget the rest of the ingredients, but I’ll return to this one as well.

I’m going to have to visit a couple more times in the next few weeks, but y’know … I think I could fall in love with this place.

They don’t serve food at La Descarga but have no fear — right next door is Tacos de Patio, open late and serving excellent street-style Mexican food. Mmmm, tacos al pastor …

Tacos de Patio

If they were smart, given who’s just opened up right next door, they’d add Cuban sandwiches to the menu.

La Descarga is at 1159 Western Ave., Los Angeles CA 90029, between Lexington and Virginia, just south of the 101.

 

Cocktail of the Day: The Robert (Bobby) Burns

Happy Rabbie Burns Day!

Or specifically, “Burns Nicht” if you’re going to be holding the traditional celebration for the Bard of Scotland tonight, in honor of his 214th birthday.

Robert Burns

(Quite a handsome bloke, wasn’t he?)

If you were hoping for that most traditional of Scottish dishes, always served on Burns Night by those celebrating the poet’s life, prepare to unleash a joyous shout of “Gie her a Haggis!” The USDA is going to relax its ban on the importation of the real MacCoy, made of the heart, lungs and liver of a sheep, mixed with beef suet, onions, oats, black pepper and stuffed into the stomach of the animal. (Mmm.)

Gie her a Haggis!

This is great news! See, thing is, though … haggis is good. I’ve had it, in Edinburgh, Scotland, no less. If you’re a Louisianian or a lover of Louisiana food who’s eaten and enjoyed boudin, then you’re pretty much there — it’s a very small leap from boudin to haggis. Think sheep instead of pork, oats instead of rice, stomach instead of intestinal casing (and the stomach is just that, a casing — you don’t eat that bit). It’s a big fat sausage, basically, no big deal, and as a waiter in a Scottish restaurant in New York said, “If you can eat a New York hot dog and not ask what’s in it, you can eat haggis.” It’s particularly good when served with the traditional accompaniments of “neeps and tatties” (mashed turnips and potatoes), some strong Scots ale, a wee dram (or four) of whisky … and, um, in my case in Scotland, a few dashes of Tabasco that I snuck out of my bag and applied when no one was looking. Untraditional but yummy nonetheless.

Of course, you’ll be needing plenty of guid Scots whisky tonight, whether you’re having haggis or not. There’s a huge world of it that I’m still only just beginning to explore, but these days I’m enjoying the maritime flavors of Islay whiskys — the wonderfully smoky Laphroaig 10-year (“like drinking bacon”), the intense “Band-Aids, sweat, leather and iodine bouquet” of Lagavulin 16-year (seen below) or the delightfully earthy, smoky, spicy, almost chocolatey Ardbeg Supernova, if you can still find it. Find a good blend too — don’t discount blended whisky, as there are many superb blends. Compass Box Asyla is a favorite, Famous Grouse is our regular mixing Scotch, and I loved the complex, nutty, spicy, fruit-and-toffee flavors of the Chivas Regal 18-year I tried recently.

Lagavulin

If you’re a cocktailian, though, how about something (presumably) named after the Bard himself?

Continue reading …

How to make a Manhattan

I always try not to make any assumptions about my readership. I know there are a lot of cocktail geeks, nerds, and– er, ahem, aficionadoes and enthusiasts out there, but new folks discover this weblog all the time and might be new to the joys that the cocktail brings into our lives.

One of the very greatest cocktails in the history of Humankind, in the top five certainly, is the Manhattan Cocktail. Even though it’s basic — whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters — there are many subtle variations. Bourbon or rye (I prefer the latter, but I’ve had dynamite Bourbon Manhattans depending on the Bourbon), brand of sweet vermouth, 2:1 or 3:1 (I think 4:1 is not enough vermouth), type of bitters. We’ve made dozens of variations, and enjoyed them all.

For the record, you may not omit the bitters in a Manhattan any more than you would cook a steak without salt and pepper. It’s worse than that, actually, and you are free to politely but firmly correct anyone who claims that “nobody wants bitters in a Manhattan,” which I’ve actually had some bartenders say to me. It’s like a chef saying that no one wants their food seasoned.

Here’s how we make them at home most of the time.

Manhattan

The Manhattan Cocktail

2 ounces Rittenhouse 100 proof rye whiskey.
1 ounce Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.

Combine in a mixing glass with cracked ice and stir for 20-30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a brandied cherry or, for a drier and more sophisticated flavor, express the oil from a lemon peel over the drink and garnish with the peel.

Continue reading …

Smoky Cocktails

Here was our view of the Angeles Crest fires last night, looking off our back porch.

Angeles Crest Fire, 8/27/09

One of my friends wrote us a real estate ad: “Mordor-adjacent, with dramatic views of Mount Doom.”

That’s about eight miles away. It’s far, and we’re not particularly worried so far, but it’s scary and freaky and very disquieting to see sheets of flame coming off the top of that mountain. So, a sheet of flame that’s about 3/8 inch tall from eight miles away is how tall exactly? 0.375″ in degrees of arc, divided by …. uhh … math geeks, feel free to chime in. (I’m figuring about 80 feet.)

Well, we figured that if the air was going to be full of smoke (oddly enough, we hardly smelled any last night, due to the lack of wind), we ought to drink some smoky drinks too. Scots whisky was appointed.

Copper Swan Cocktail
(Created by Gary Regan, 2000)

2-1/2 ounces Highland Park single malt Scotch whisky.
3/4 ounce apricot brandy (liqueur, not the eau-de-vie).
Lemon twist.

Stir with ice for 20 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and serve up with a twist or, if you prefer, into an Old Fashioned glass with fresh ice.

The name came from the swanlike copper neck of old copper pot stills, which are traditionally used to make single malt Scots whisky. This was one of a series of single malt Scotch cocktails Gaz created, resulting in aghast cries from those who assert that one should never mix a single malt Scotch. “Garbage in, garbage out!” he rightly replied. I chose to use Rothman & Winter’s Orchard Apricot rather than Apry for its lower sugar content. We didn’t have any Highland Park 12 in the house, so I went with the 18. Lest you gasp in horror … this was a frakking fantastic drink.

Lucques Restaurant in West Hollywood, CA makes a variation of this that looks interesting, kind of a blend between this, a Rob Roy and a Breakfast Martini. It’s sufficiently different such that it should have its own name, I think, although they still call it by the same name as the original. I think it deserves at least a numeric distinguishment.

Copper Swan Cocktail No. 2
(Adapted by Lucques Restaurant, West Hollywood, CA)

1-1/2 ounces Highland single malt Scotch.
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1 tablespoon apricot preserves.
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters.

Combine with ice, shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Given the proximity of the fires, and the “Oh, FECK!” factor, even though they weren’t close enough to be really worrisome, we resolved to keep drinking, and stayed in the Scotch oeuvre. This next one is from Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book, yet in a Gargantuan quantity for six people. We adapted it thusly and found it to be delightful, like a Rob Roy but with near-equal proportions, far more bitters and a little more sweetening to offset the bitters. Lovely.

Flying Scotsman

1-1/2 ounces Famous Grouse Scotch.
1-1/4 ounces Carpano Antica sweet vermouth.
1 teaspoon Peychaud’s bitters.
1 teaspoon simple syrup.

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Lemon twist garnish.

We’re still not getting much smoke tonight, although my eyes burned a bit this morning. The fire’s moving toward Altadena, and we have good friends who are only about a mile away from its current position. Wish them, and everyone else in Altadena and La Cañada-Flintridge, the best of luck.

 

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