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RH at the Andaz

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, Wes and I have a tradition for our birthdays. The birthday boy gets taken out for a fabulous meal … somewhere. The destination is a closely-held secret, and the birthday boy never knows where he’s going to end up until we pull up in front of the place. Keeps things fun. I love surprises!

This year I had no idea where I was going to end up, mostly because of my horrendously unreliable memory. A mere two months ago, Wes read me a review by S. Irene Virbila in the Los Angeles Times of a new restaurant — a hotel restaurant, in fact, that got a rare rave from her. It sounded fantastic, and I promptly forgot about it.

So yeah, when we pulled up in front of the newly-renovated Andaz Hotel (formerly the Hyatt) in West Hollywood, he reminded me of that rave review and I said, “Ooh!” Very exciting!

Make no mistake — this is not just a hotel restaurant. Chef Sebastien Archambault is making some of the best French food in town.

RH is named for the hotel’s old nickname, “The Riot House” which comes from the days when rock ‘n roll musicians stayed there and would throw TV sets out the windows), and Chef Archambault cooks the food of his native Périgord in southwestern France while featuring California ingredients.

And what could be more Californian than a plate of seasonal raw vegetables and a tangy dip?

RH at the Andaz, West  Hollywood - Crudité plate

Raw parsnip … never had that before, only cooked. I rather liked it.

There was a cocktail menu, so of course we tried it out. First, Wesly got what they called the “Los Angeles” cocktail:

Not to be confused with the (superior) cocktail of the same name at Seven Grand downtown, this one has Woodford Reserve bourbon as its base spirit, with “Anjou pear” (muddled, perhaps?), cinnamon and agave syrup. It was tasty but too heavy on the agave syrup.

I got one called the “Red Ferrari,” described on the menu as being made with blanco tequila (I chose Corzo), pomegranate juice, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh lime juice and agave syrup. I was confused by this one. It’s got “red” in the name and lists pomegranate juice as one of its ingredients, but there’s not a hint of red in this drink. I even asked our server to double-check, and she came back and assured me that the bartender had squeezed fresh pomegranate juice into the mixing glass. It must be the relatively rare white pomegranate, then, because I noticed neither the color nor much of the tartness. I did notice, once again, too much agave syrup.

Sadly, the cocktails were not very well-balanced and not that great, although they are at least making an effort. This was the only glitch in what would prove to be an absolutely spectactular meal.

Let it begin.

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Po-boys and the President

A couple of New Orleans-related links …

First, the New York Times writes about the upcoming New Orleans Po-Boy Preservation Festival. Why, you might ask, would such a venerated bastion of New Orleans cuisine need special efforts to preserve it? Read up on the situation, which includes one of my most hated interlopers, the invasion of the mass-food monoculturalism of horrid chains like Subway, the lack of off-street parking at po-boy shops, and more. Fortunately, there are still many places in the city where you can get it done right. And, of course, the bread is just as important as the filling, some say more so. The filling can be great but if the bread ain’t right, it ain’t a po-boy.

The associated po-boy makers have also managed to prove that po-boys are actually good for you!

Recently, Leidenheimer [one of the top po-boy bread bakers] financed a nutritional analysis that Katherine Whann said found that a gravy-dressed roast beef po’ boy, on Leidenheimer bread, with mustard, lettuce, tomato and pickles, has fewer calories from fat and less saturated fat than a comparable tuna sandwich from Subway.

That, plus anything from Subway tastes like cardboard that’s been put through a de-flavorizing machine.

I wish I could be in town for the festival, not only to eat lots of po-boys, but to see this battle royale:

And in what organizers are calling a French Bread Fight, a combatant portraying Jared Fogle, the calorie-conscious Subway pitchman, will square off against a combatant representing John Gendusa, the baker who, in 1929, fashioned the first modern New Orleans-style, French bread loaf, the base on which po’ boys have since been built.

If all goes the way it’s planned, as fragments of crust fly and a partisan crowd shouts, Mr. Gendusa will beat Mr. Fogle with a loaf of stale bread.

Jared, your ass is goin’ down.

Second, Doug MacCash writes a tremendous recollection of one of the greatest music venues ever, the riverboat President in New Orleans. You’d get on board a ship. The ship took off down the Mississippi, and the band began to play. By the time the band’s finished, the ship’s docked once again. How can you beat that?

I saw a lot of great shows there, but not nearly as many as I could have. The list of people who played there makes my knees weak. Man, I remember some great shows there, though … from local acts like The Cold and The Radiators to a bunch of unknown kids from Ireland who called themselves … what was it, You Two? Oh no, wait … they were called U2.

It’s a swine of the times

A few weeks back Wesly and I met up with Mary, Steve and Diana at Langer’s Deli, which is widely recognized as having the best pastrami anywhere (and I even know some New York Jews who agree — let the arguing begin!). When we parked at their parking lot a block away, we saw the most bizarre mural painted on the building wall next to it.  For a few minutes we were scratching our heads and saying, “WTF?”

swine

Finally Steve was the one to get it. “It’s swine flu!”   We thought the snot streaming out of the pig’s nose was the killer touch.

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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

THE CRESCENT CITY BLOSSOM
(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.

MENEHUNE GONZALEZ
(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 GrogOld 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

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

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

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

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.

60/40 (A Parting Gift)

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!

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!

 

Absinthe Suissesse (and another fabulous dinner at Café Adelaide)

Things are a little different around Café Adelaide now — there’s a new chef in town. Danny Trace is off to Destin to take the Exec Chef gig at the new Commander’s Palace (and On the Rocks Bar!) that’l forthcoming, and now heading up the kitchen at Café Adelaide for the last few months has been Chris Lusk, among other things a former sous chef at Commander’s in the Garden District. He blew us away from the outset with the meal he served us during Jazzfest (which, um, I haven’t written about yet … but I’m getting to it!). You’ve undoubtedly heard me sing the praises of Café Adelaide enough — let’s get right to the food porn.

We began with an extended sojourn at the Swizzle Stick Bar, where as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago we started with a lovely morning cocktail, the Absinthe Suissesse:

Absinthe Suissesse

Absinthe Suissesse

1-1/2 ounces absinthe (substitute Herbsaint or pastis if you can’t find absinthe near you)
1/2 ounce orgeat
1 egg white
1 dash orange flower water (optional)
2 ounces heavy cream
1/2 cup crushed or cubed ice

Serve either shaken or blended; old traditional method is to shake vigorously for 15 seconds with crushed ice, or blend with cubed ice. Serve in an Old Fashioned glass.

In his classic tome Famous New Orleans Drinks and how to mix ‘em, Stanley Clisby Arthur gives an entirely different recipe for the Absinthe Suissesse. I’m far more used to the one above, which is what you’ll get if you order them just about anywhere in New Orleans. However, apparently if you ordered one in 1937 you were likely to get the following, which is … well, not one I’d care to drink, but certainly interesting!

Absinthe Suissesse
(Stanley Clisby Arthur 1937 version)

2 ounces absinthe or absinthe substitute (e.g., Herbsaint)
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 teaspoon sugar
2 ounces charged (sparkling) water
White of one egg
1/2 ounce white crème de menthe
Cherry garnish

Mix the sugar with the sparkling water, vermouth and absinthe. Add the egg white. Fill the glass with cracked ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a wine glass in which there is a cherry with crème de menthe poured over it.

This is strange indeed. I may have to try it one day; then again, I may not, as I am not a fan of crème de menthe in the least.

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