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New York City, Clover Club & the New York Sour

New York, just like I pictured it! Skyscrapers, and … everything.

Last December Wesly and I finally, FINALLY went to New York, as we had been wanting and threatening to do for years. I wish I had collected a dollar for every time a friend of ours said, “WHAT?! YOU guys have never been to New York?!” It might have paid for the hotel bill. Well, some of it more likely.

How did we like New York? Well, let me put it this way — we’ve already picked out where we’d like to live. That’d be Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, which is a gorgeous neighborhood, full of places to go and things to do, plus it’s walking distance to one of the best bars I’ve ever been to. (Of course, if money were no object I certainly wouldn’t mind living in the East Village either.) Our first craft cocktail bar experience in New York, in fact, high on my want list — Clover Club, owned by bartender extraordinaire and New York cocktail maven Julie Reiner. An auspicious beginning to our New York drinking, I should think.

We met up with friends who lived in the neighborhood and settled in — neighborhoody, very friendly, less than a dozen seats at the front bar but comfy booths and plenty of tables. I was somewhat agog at the menu, which was voluminous and made me want to try pretty much everything. I ordered something off the menu but then one of our drinking companions ordered something I wasn’t familiar with; “I get this every single time I come here,” he said.

I was a little embarrassed that I did not remember this drink; it was pointed out that the drink appears in the excellent, indispensible tome Imbibe!. (Clearly I need to re-read the book and make some highlights.) It does not appear as a separate, stand-alone recipe but as part of a general entry on sours under the heading “Brandy, Gin, Santa Cruz or Whiskey Sour,” where the general sour of the mid-1800s — “spirits, sugar, water, lemon, ice” — receives a “notable innovation” of a float of red wine,

“to give it what one Chicago bartender called ‘the claret “snap”‘ (in the language of the saloon, red wine was always called ‘claret,’ no matter how distant its origins from the sunlit banks of the Gironde).”

That generic British term for red Bordeaux ended up being used to describe just about any dry red wine, and just about any dry red wine you have on hand will do as long as it’s got some nice fruit to it. I might not use something big and tannic like a Cabernet Sauvignon, but surely a Cabernet blend, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, or I might even go off the wall sometime and try a jammy Zinfandel.

One sip revealed this to be a stupendous drink, with the wine creating myriad secondary flavors in the sour; I even thought I tasted a hint of absinthe although there was none in the drink, but was perhaps due to hints of licorice among the flavor components of the wine. So simple yet so complex; I’m a big fan of wine in cocktails and haven’t had nearly enough of them.

Do try this drink as soon as you can. I think you’ll fall in love with it as much as I did. Upon my return to Los Angeles and to Bar | Kitchen, one of our favorite haunts, I had the pleasure of being served more of these by former New York bartender Joseph Swifka, who of course made perfect ones, and with one sip brought me right back to Brooklyn.

New York Sour

NEW YORK SOUR

2 ounces rye whiskey
3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/4 ounce rich (2:1) simple syrup (or to taste; use more if your syrup is 1:1)
1 dash orange Curaçao
1/2 ounce dry red wine

Combine the whiskey, lemon juice, Curaçao and syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously for 10-12 seconds. Strain into a sour glass, then carefully float the wine on top by pouring over the back of a spoon — you want a distinct layer floating on top of the drink, so be careful not to mix the layers. Sip and enjoy.

This was, of course, not the only drink we had at Clover Club — I really wanted to explore that menu, and explore I did. There were a few other concoctions imbibed that afternoon/evening:

Daisy de Santiago

Daisy de Santiago

The Daisy de Santiago, as collected by Charles H. Baker Jr. and tweaked to perfection by Clover Club — aged rum, lime juice, yellow Chartreuse, dash simple syrup.

Volstead Cocktail

Volstead Cocktail

The pre-Prohibition era Volstead Cocktails — rye, Swedish punsch, orange juice, grenadine, absinthe.

Clover Club

Clover Club

The eponymous Clover Club cocktail, because how could I not? Gin, dry vermouth, lemon, raspberry syrup, egg white.

Mr. Brown

Mr. Brown

I had a bit of Wesly’s Mr. Brown, which seemed an Old Fashionedy version of a Revolver Cocktail — Bourbon, coffee liqueur, vanilla syrup, orange and Angostura bitters, and not nearly as sweet as it sounds. He also had one called Zombies in Stereo — Apple brandy, Calvados, Pommeau, Bonal, yellow Chartreuse, lemon, maple syrup (holy hell).

And because it was on the menu, which it almost never is, I finished with a magnificent Widow’s Kiss

The Widow's Kiss

The Widow's Kiss

Dried rose petals did indeed fall from between the pages.

Only I lied, I didn’t finish with that. At that point, I was … well, happy. And as is my wont when I’m happy in a bar, I decided to buy shots for the bartenders and server (and Wesly and me, of course).

Later on Wesly said, “Amazingly enough, you were mostly okay when we left the bar.” We did indeed finally leave the bar, heading back to the subway and to Manhattan, where we were meeting other friends for dinner at a Midtown gastropub. I don’t recall which beer I ordered, but I do recall that it was about 7.8% ABV, that it came in an absurdly large vessel, and then I recall …

 
 
 
 

Eating in Shropshire

There’s a persistent myth that the food in England is bad.

Well … years ago, such assertions might have had a basis in truth, such as the joke my friend Peter told me upon returning from having spent his junior year of college in London: “How does every English recipe begin? ‘First you bring the water to a rolling boil …’” Boiled meats, yeah, not so much.

A lot has changed since then. Over the past few decades many British cooks and chefs have been training in Europe and learning how to better use the wealth of wonderful ingredients that they’ve always had — beef, lamb, cheese and more. Sure, it’s possible to get bad food in England, but it’s possible to get bad food in Paris (and New Orleans, for that matter).

The myth reared its head quite frequently upon our return from Europe last month when I told friends how wonderful all the food was, not only in Paris and Barcelona but in England as well. I’m happy to continue to dispel that myth today.

A while back we went over the fab food we had in London, and it only got better when we left after a day and a half in London to drive out to the rural west with John and Fiona to their home in Shropshire near the Welsh border.

Shropshire arrival

At breakfast time Fiona didn’t mess around. She knew who she had in their house.

Three kinds of Welsh bacon!

Not one, not two but THREE kinds of Welsh bacon! Dry cured back bacon and streaky bacon from Llandinham, and smoked streaky bacon from Neuadd Fach Baconry in Hyssington, about 20 minutes up the road into Wales. (I just want to keep saying the word “baconry.” In fact, I want a baconry for my birthday.) The back bacon was some of the best I’d ever had, meaty and tender, and the streaky was very much like some of the artisanal bacons we get over here. Wonderful stuff.

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Drinking in London

Given that London is one of the world capitals for cocktail culture, as well as the capital of a country that makes some of the best beer in the world, one can drink very well in London indeed.

Having only one day in which to do it is beyond frustrating.

All in all, though, we did a fairly good job imbibing on our whopping one whirlwind day in London, culminating in some truly fabulous cocktails. Before all the tippling began, we started our day with a non-alcoholic beverage which was memorable enough not to get lost amidst all the ciders, beers, bitters, ales, porters, stouts and cocktails.

Copella Apple & Elderflower Juice

Fiona made us breakfast both mornings at Hampton Court (and for the next three days in Shropshire too!), and her breakfasts featured a wonderful product called Copella Apple & Elderflower Juice from Boxford Farm in Suffolk. Holy bejeebies, that stuff’s good — fresh-pressed and filtered apple juice, not from concentrate, and very gently infused with elderflowers. It makes me want to get out the Laird’s Straight Apple Brandy and St. Germain and start making cocktails. I now want this for breakfast every day, but it seems that I’ll have to move to the U.K. to do it. Sigh. (You lot across the pond are lucky to have this!)

While we were omnomnomnomming on our bacon and sausage baps, pork belly butties, bits of black pudding and tastes of curries at Borough Market, we sampled another of the great British institutions — cider. Specifically, New Forest Cider from Hampshire, who had a lovely little shop in the market. Hard ciders these were, of course, in varying strengths and varieties, including the wonderful pear cider that’s called “perry.” As it was a bit nippy that day we had a hot mulled cider with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice (oh boy), plus I sampled the perry as well. Wonderful stuff that, fairly hefty at 7% ABV, which can sneak up on you. Just a bit of a fizz, light and peary (perry!) and very refreshing.

We couldn’t be in London without going to a pub, of course, and although I could spend days doing nothing but pubbing we kinda had to pick just one. John’s first choice had closed for the afternoon, and then we found a fairly traditional place called The Mudlark, near London Bridge. Not the world’s best but perfectly nice, a small inside with a much larger heated outdoor seating area, what looked to be quite good pub food (bangers and mash with a variety of local sausages available) and some truly excellent beers. The ones we had were all from Timothy Taylor, a Yorkshire brewery. John and Fiona had their Landlord Bitter, a strong pale ale. Wesly got an Autumn Brew by a brewery which escapes me (care to fill that in, Wes?), and I had another Taylor’s brew, the Golden Best, an amber-coloured brew classified as a “mild.” A bit lower in alcohol that what the others were drinking, nice citrusy notes and hoppy bitterness … yum.

Sadly, I didn’t get pictures of any of the beer. Ah well. I guess I was too busy drinking it!

Whirlwinding around London the rest of the afternoon finally took us to the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair. One of London’s nicest hotels, they’ve revamped their bars a few years back and are now one of the city’s top cocktail destinations. Our gracious guide for the evening was our friend Jay Hepburn (cocktailian extraordinaire and author of the superb weblog Oh Gosh!). Of the hotel’s two bars he suggested we meet at The Connaught Bar, and we did, only a few minutes late — highly uncharacteristic of us! Well, when cocktails are concerned, we can surely walk a little faster.

It’s a beautiful space — a wonderful Art Deco look, gorgeous sparkly-silvery walls, mirrors all around, etched glass panels, a beautiful bar, very comfortable leather furniture in the booths and around the tables, and a pretty stunning cocktail menu. The main sections of the menu are “Revisited,” featuring classic cocktails, often done with the Connaught’s own twist; “Seasonal,” featuring the best of what’s in the markets now, and “Fusion,” which is kind of anything-goes, old-meets-new, and the like.

Typically difficult choice when looking at a menu like this, but after some hemming and hawing I decided on my first drink, from the Seasonal section:

The NJ Sour

THE NJ SOUR

1 fresh fig
35ml applejack brandy (I’d recommend Laird’s bonded)
10ml orange curaçao
10ml Averna amaro
20ml fresh lemon juice
15ml homemade pomegranate grenadine

Muddle the fruit and shake all the ingredients with ice. Double strain into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with a dry lemon wheel.

Oh man … absolutely delicious! I’m kicking myself that I didn’t do more with our wonderful Black Mission figs from our backyard (other than eat them) and that I didn’t learn this drink while the tree was about to fall over with the weight of all our figs, because I would have made this a few times a week. Beautiful sweet fresh fig flavor, nice touch of bitter from the amaro, just enough balance in the sweet and sour, and very refreshing.

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Eating in London

Yes, we took a trip to Europe last month! Yes, we’re procrastinating when it comes to writing about it. I’m going to start today; you can needle Wesly for his contributions as appropriate.

I do love nonstop flights, especially when they’re affordable. When they get us directly from L.A. to Heathrow with a relative minimum of discomfort for steerage coach class, all the better. Our dear friends John and Fiona Hoskins picked us up at the airport after a quick trip through immigration and Customs, and off we went to Hampton Court!

That’s Hampton Court Palace, in fact, where King Henry VIII used to live with his various wives back in the 16th Century, and where we were staying at the Georgian House, a guesthouse converted from kitchen staff housing right on the palace grounds.

Georgian House's private garden

That’s the private garden outside the house. Not bad.

When we arrived we were greeted by a tantalising aroma, which was Fiona’s 24-hour slow roasted pork:

24-hour slow-roasted pork

… served along with cracklings (the crispy skin) and a side of pasta with tomatoes and roasted red peppers … oh my. We spent the entire first evening in London at the Georgian House, catching up with John and Fiona, drinking Plymouth gin & tonics, presenting them with bottles of Torani Amer so that they can continue to make their namesake Hoskins Cocktail at home, stuffing ourselves with pork and generally having a grand time, jet lag be damned.

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