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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.


My Dinner with Ludo

So, a little while back my new friend Noelle said some of my favorite words:  “Hey, I’m going to a fabulous dinner in a couple of weeks!  You must come with me!”  The tragedy was that Chuck would be out of town at the time, and would have to miss out.  I decided to man up and have a good time anyway.  As it happens, he ended up drinking all that same evening at Anvil in Houston, under the most excellent attentions of barmaster Bobby Heugel.  I’m sure Chuck will be writing about this in short order, so we’ll all be able to see just how much he was not, in fact, suffering.

What Noelle had in mind was a Ludo Bites dinner, a kind of guerrilla-style dining experience orchestrated by Chef Ludo Lefebvre.  The December incarnations of Ludo Bites are taking place at the Royal/T Café in Culver City, which bills itself as “LA’s first Japanese style cosplay café.”  What this means for civilians is a fascinating fusion of café, shopping and art space in an open, relaxing environment.  Which, I might add, happened to be whimsically decorated for Christmas.

Noelle arrived first, saw me drive by, called my mobile and said, “Park anywhere, it’s Sunday, the meters don’t matter!”  Yay for Sunday!  We were joined in short order by Noelle’s friends Kara and Mei-Lan, which made our party three girls to one boy, which made me the evening’s official Chick Magnet.  I’m just sayin’.

We perused the evening’s menu with high anticipation and growing fascination.  It’s a menu of small plates, larger than tapas but still ideal for sharing, which after all is the whole point, isn’t it?  (I told the story of a good friend who for a metaphorical few minutes dated a girl we ultimately never met, because at a dinner out one evening it was discovered that She Did Not Share Her Food.  It sounds like a sad story, but the ending is the best kind of happy, believe me.)  Within moments, I heard more of my favorite words, again I believe from Noelle:  “Let’s just order the whole menu, share everything and then see how we feel.  ‘Kay?”  It was perfectly ‘Kay by me–after all, it was only ten small plates plus dessert–and Kara and Mei-Lan raised no objections.  Let the games begin!

I’ll apologize right up front for my food photography, which is nowhere near Chuck’s in quality.  The lighting out our table was very dim and very warm, although we did have the benefit of the glow from more than one Christmas tree, and as you shall see there were mishaps along the way.  And I was too lazy to get up from the table to use the thoughtfully provided lightbox.

The first plate was described as “Tuna Sashimi, Sushi Rice Ice Cream, Yuzu Soy Sauce Gelée, Smoked Ginger Oil.”  (The word “Yuzu” had been scratched out and replaced with “Soy Sauce” written by hand.)  I’m not sure how different the yuzu gelée would have been, but I love me some sashimi, tuna in particular, and this dish was remarkable.  The tuna was a nice little slab, enough for four good bites (and a good thing, too).  The ginger oil and soy gelée made interesting flavor counterpoints to the rich, velvety tuna, and that alone would have been wonderful, but for me the sushi rice ice cream was what put it over the top.  It was heavy, but in a good rather than a bad way, like the luxurious weight of a goose-down duvet on a chilly Saturday morning, when you don’t have to get up, not just yet.  It was just sweet enough, with only enough sugar to register and not enough to overwhelm the subtle flavor of rice.  I think I said something like, “I’ll be needing several pints of that, to take home.”

The second plate to arrive:  Egg “Meurette”, with Red Cabbage and Lardo Toast.  That’s right, lardo toast.  Sauce meurette always fascinates me because the dark flavors of its constituent red wine and stock seem like they would be well paired with meat, but traditionally it accompanies eggs or fish.  Here the egg was perfectly, perfectly soft-poached.  The slivered red cabbage added some crunch for good textural contrast, although without adding much actual flavor to the concentrated essences of the sauce.  The lardo toasts — oh, the toasts!  More great crunch against the softness of the egg, and spread with pork fat … what’s not to love?  I would gladly have stolen this whole plate for myself, but I couldn’t come up with a good enough distraction on such short order.

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L.A. folks, come drink some punch!

Doing anything Thursday night? Then you should come to Malo Cantina in Silver Lake this Thursday, December 10 at 8:00pm for a punch competition, “Twas the Punch Before Christmas.” Your $12 admission gets you six different punches made by competing mixologists, hot buttered rum plus tons of all-you-can-snack great Mexican food.

Oh, and I’m one of the competing mixologists. Hoo!

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

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Go forth and conquer

So, I’ve been taking the train to work the last few months.  It’s a bit of a hassle, but not overly so, especially for Los Angeles.  It gives me some extra time to read, it’s not nearly as much trouble as it could be (did I mention that I live in Los Angeles?), and it can actually be quite interesting on occasion.  So I’m consciously counting it as a small blessing in my life right now.

As you are no doubt aware, it’s kind of impossible to go anywhere or do anything in our modern world without being the target of advertising.  Been to a movie lately?  How many commercials did you have to sit through?  While you were sitting in a seat you had paid to sit in, I might add.  Grr, don’t get me started.

It will come as no surprise to you that there are advertisements on the Gold Line.  I am shocked! I hear you say.  Shocked, I tell you!  Shocked and appalled. Well, get used to it.  Most of the time they’re fairly forgettable ad posters, easy to dismiss or ignore.  But recently there’s been a series that has caught my eye and actually made me smile…and think, I guess, just a little.

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Cocktail (and concert) of the Day: The Swell Season

I’ve been a fan of The Frames for a long time (since seeing them in Ireland before their first album came out), and naturally followed that into Glen Hansard’s solo performances and his collaboration with Czech pianist and singer Markéta Irglová as The Swell Season. You may remember they won that Best Original Song Oscar last year, right? First time a song has actually deserved it in years.

My friend Steve was reviewing the show for Variety and kindly offered to bring me as his plus-one (read his review here). After several uncertain moments regarding misplaced will-call tickets that made me worry we’d miss the show entirely, we finally got in the door thanks to a very nice and helpful manager at the theatre, only having missed about half of Josh Ritter‘s wonderful opening set. That was a nice surprise; I didn’t know he’d be playing support until we got there. If you haven’t heard of him I highly recommend you check him out — he’s an Idaho-born singer and songwriter in the folk and folk-rock vein, lesser-known here but huge in Ireland, mostly thanks to Glen having spotted him early on and championed his work.

The Swell Season (with The Frames) at The Wiltern

When The Swell Season finally took the stage it’s as if we got three shows in one — Glen and Markéta began solo, as their previous performances had been, and then were joined by The Frames as a backup band. For one large part of the set we were treated to Glen performing solo (including a great rendition of Van the Man’s “Astral Weeks,” which I’ve heard him do before and could hear him do again a hundred times) — we could have all been on Grafton Street.

Markéta did get to take a few turns on lead vocals (including one with a Czech singer whose name escapes me), and although her piano playing is a strong part of the band’s sound I do agree with Steve’s observation that it’s a bit of an uneven musical partnership. Glen’s definitely way out front, with Markéta sometimes feeling like a sideman. She’s a wonderfully talented musician but the force of her personality is no match for Glen’s — almost nobody’s is, really. He’s a powerhouse, and I agree with Damien Dempsey’s comment that Glen’s the most passionate singer he’s ever seen.

Glen had mentioned that thanks to someone giving him the complete DVD box set of “Freaks and Geeks” he had become a huge fan (yay!), and to top that off got a chance to meet Jason Segal at a gig. They remained in touch and became friends, and we got an extra-special L.A. treat when Jason came on stage, sat at the piano and performed his own composition — a deeply moving, heartfelt and introspective song about using his celebrity status to coax a willing female Swell Season fan from the audience into the sack. I’m pretty sure this video was shot by the person sitting right in front of me.

And yep, apparently that’s really his phone number.

The show ended on a pitch-perfect note, with Glen bringing up The Clancy Brothers and noting that Liam Clancy is the only one left alive. He did a Clancy Brothers song for us, a traditional number called “The Parting Glass” that I actually first learned from the singing of The Voice Squad. It’s a longtime favorite and one that never fails to get the tears welling up.

Last year when Glen and Mar won their Oscar I came up with a cocktail in their honor, one that included both Irish and Czech ingredients. Wes and I revisited it the other night, and it’s still a keeper, I think. Yet another Manhattan variation, but it works and it’s tasty.

The Swell Season Cocktail


2 ounces blended Irish whiskey.
1/2 ounce Becherovka.
1/2 ounce Punt E Mes.
1 dash Angostura bitters.
Lemon peel.

Combine with ice, stir for at least 20 seconds and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Express the oil from the lemon peel and add as garnish.

For the Irish whiskey, I recommend Jameson’s or Tullamore Dew, especially the 12-year-old varieties. Otherwise, your favorite blended Irish will do nicely.

Finally, check out this terrific video clip Mary sent me — it’s from a Swell Season concert in Houston. Glen likes to have people sing along, and he’ll usually do a little run-through of the parts that require audience singing. He heard a voice in the crowd that he liked so much he invited her on stage to sing it with them.

Wow. I wanna go up on stage and sing with The Swell Season! I guess I’d better start practicing.