A musical prep for Tales

Mon, July 19, 2010: UPDATED with 28 more songs!

We’re not going to Tales of the Cocktail this year. (Waah.)

Vacation time and annoying little details like money didn’t quite work out, so I wish all my friends and readers who are going a GREAT time … and I don’t want to hear a single thing about it, or it’ll drive me crazy. Internet blackout for me! No Twitter! What I will do is find a great bar (which will, I hope, have left a few bartenders behind that aren’t going to Tales) and quaff some cocktails.

My friend Stevi, who does the excellent cocktail weblog Two At The Most, asked me if I could come up with a playlist to help people prepare for getting to Tales next week, which I thought might be fun. (I can’t help but shamelessly mention that there was that New Orleans box set I did a while back that was pretty good …)

I thought about how much I and so many other people enjoyed HBO’s superb New Orleans-based TV series “Tremé” this past year, and included a number of artists and songs featured on that show. If you’re a “Tremé” fan you’ll like this little quickie compilation, which I put together on iTunes using their iMix feature. It’s entitled “Tales of the Cocktail ’10 Prep!”

So, you can buy the whole list, or pick a handful that you might want to hear, or if you have an extensive NOLA music collection use the list and drag the songs into a new playlist on iTunes, whichever you like. (Alternately, you can just ignore it and make your own!) One annoying hitch — I made a 100-song playlist, and for some reason iTunes truncated it to 72 the first time I tried to upload it, so I’ve had to break it up into two playlists. There should be widgets below to take you to iTunes, but in case it doesn’t render properly here are the direct links: (Part 1, Part 2) Look for the full printed list after the break.

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Nobody Knows Nothin’

Threadhead Records have released a new single entitled “Nobody Knows Nothin’,” performed by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Clint Maedgen, along with John Boutté, Susan Cowsill, Craig Klein, Bill Lynn, Gregory Menoher, Margie Perez and Paul Sanchez, and written by John Boutté, Bill Lynn and Paul Sanchez. Proceeds will benefit Gulf Aid, a 501(c3) nonprofit corporation established in response to the biggest oil spill in US history just 50 miles off of the Louisiana coast, and are distributed to organizations focused on supporting wetlands/coastal environmental issues & the well-being of fishermen, and the regional seafood industry.

Nobody Knows Nothin'

To purchase the digital download of the song, and to help with the oil cleanup efforts, go to threadheadrecords.bandcamp.com. The song will also be available soon on iTunes.

While you’re at it, check out the song “It Ain’t My Fault,” by Mos Def and Ben Jaffe, along with Lenny Kravitz, Trombone Shorty and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, also to benefit GulfAid.org:



Buy it now on iTunes!

 

Drago Centro’s Cocktail Contest: The Finals!

You may recall that last month I wrote about an ongoing cocktail competition at Drago Centro restaurant in downtown L.A., The People’s Cocktail Contest. It went on for four weeks — each week a theme ingredient was announced, recipes were submitted through the week, and during the weekend one recipe was selected by Michael Shearin, their sommelier/beverage director and Jaymee Mandeville, their head bartender, to continue through the finals. The winning cocktail gets added to the restaurant’s cocktail menu. The preliminaries are now closed, the four final cocktails have been selected, and it’s time for the face-off!

The finals for the People’s Cocktail Contest will be held at Drago Centro, 525 S. Flower St. this Wednesday the 30th starting sometime after 6pm. I don’t have a hard start time, but that’s when they asked me to arrive. [UPDATE: Judging begins at 7pm!] I suspect there’ll be a certain amount of cat-herding involved to get everyone there, set up and ready to roll. They’ll also be unveiling their new summer cocktail menu at the event, so there’ll be plenty of good stuff to try.

This is going to be such a blast, especially because two of the other three finalists are friends of mine. I’m looking forward to meeting Jeni, week four’s finalist, too; her blog is full of gorgeous food photos.

If you can’t attend the final face-off you can still play along at home; make the cocktails and see which one’s your favorite. I posted the recipe for my cocktail entry in Week 1: Blueberry, the Bell’aspetto, last month. Here are the other three finalists’ cocktail recipes, pulled from Drago Centro’s Twitter feed (no pictures of the drinks, alas; I was too lazy):

Week 2: Fernet Branca
Finalist: Ron Dollete, lushangeles.com

TRAMONTANA

1 oz Fernet Branca
1 oz Krogstad Aquavit
1 oz Cointreau
2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

 

Week 3: Gin (or genever)
Finalist: Matt Robold, rumdood.com

DUTCH ELM DISEASE

2 oz Bols Genever
1/2 oz Scotch
1/4 oz Simple Syrup
2 dashes Angostura Bitters.

Stir with ice for 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

 

Week 4: Lemon
Finalist: Jeni Afuso, Oishii Eats

MOMO RYE FIZZ

1/2 fresh peach
1 oz simple syrup
2 oz Rittenhouse 100 rye whiskey
1 oz lemon juice
Club soda

Muddle peach with simple syrup. Add rye and lemon juice. Shake with ice, strain into tall glass over ice, top with club soda.

Wish us luck! No matter who wins, it’s going to be a lot of fun. Join us if you can.

 

A Bourbon cheat sheet

First of all, if you haven’t seen the site Liquor.com, and if you’re not subscribing to their daily email newsletter, you should go see it and subscribe now. It’s all about cocktails and spirits, and you’ll see many familiar names go by in the bylines: David Wondrich, Dale DeGroff, Audrey Saunders, Jim Meehan of PDT, H. Joseph Ehrmann of Elixir, and many more. The website is still relatively new and not quite all there yet, but the newsletter is particularly nice; it’s a great little boozy tidbit in your mailbox every day.

To entice you (and as a useful li’l list for us all), here’s an excerpt from a recent non-byline Liquor.com post about how to choose a Bourbon based on ones you already like, with the help of Knob Creek’s “whiskey professor,” Bernie Lubbers:

From how long the spirit ages to the proof, there are a number of key factors that contribute to the flavor of bourbon. But today we’re focusing on the most basic: the three grains used to make the whiskey. While all bourbons must be at least 51 percent corn and usually contain some barley, the third grain can vary from brand to brand. Using that so-called “flavoring grain,” Lubbers divides the whole bourbon category into three main groups. “I try to find the common dominator,” he says.

There’s the “traditional bourbon recipe,” which calls for about 70 percent corn and then roughly equal amounts of rye and barley. [...] Then there’s the spicy “high-rye recipe,” which includes a higher percentage of, you guessed it, rye. [...] The last group is the “traditional wheat recipe,” which, according to Lubbers, has a “sweeter and softer” taste since it’s made from corn, barley and wheat.

While the bourbons in each group will taste different, there’s a good chance that if you like one you’ll like the rest. With Lubbers’ assistance we created a cheat sheet that breaks down the most popular brands into these three categories. Now it’s time to go back to the liquor store.

TRADITIONAL BOURBON RECIPE:
Baker’s
Booker’s
Elijah Craig
Evan Williams
Jim Beam
Jim Beam Black
Knob Creek
Old Crow
Wild Turkey

HIGH-RYE RECIPE:
Basil Hayden’s
Buffalo Trace
Bulleit
Eagle Rare
Four Roses
George T. Stagg
Old Forester
Old Grand-Dad
Woodford Reserve

TRADITIONAL WHEAT RECIPE:
Maker’s Mark
Old Fitzgerald
Rebel Yell
Van Winkle
W.L. Weller

This was nicely enlightening, and I was unsurprised to see most of my favorite Bourbons in the high-rye category, being the lover of rye that I am. I was also pleased to see Old Forester in there, which was my first Bourbon — it was the only one Dad kept in his bar when I was a kid. (That, and the super-mild blended Seagram’s V.O. were the two whiskies he kept around.)

Then again, I really love Booker’s, which is in the “traditional” category; that beautiful caramelly sweetness with nuts and vanilla (and the ass-kicking proof) really does it for me. I’m also a fan of Maker’s, which we still keep around primarily for sipping; Buffalo Trace has replaced it as our default mixing Bourbon at home.

I never was that much of a fan of Jim Beam, but after trying Evan Williams over the past couple of years I’d like to try to keep some of that around. I’ve never tried Baker’s at all, so we’ll have to add that to the list.

I’m always happy to buy more Bourbon!

(Oh, and subscribe to the liquor.com newsletter! *nudge*)

 

An evening with Chef Ludo

The intense and immensely talented French chef Ludovic Lefebvre just finished up the fourth incarnation of his “pop-up” restaurant LudoBites, a few weeks ago. This time it was held from early April ’til May 28 at what’s normally a small, respectable lunch-only spot in downtown Los Angeles, Gram and Papa’s (whose motto, “Slow food, fast” is almost just like that of our beloved Oinkster, which is “Slow fast food”), but during those dates, at night, it became one of the best restaurants in the city.

When LudoBites 4 was announced, apparently reservations for the entire run sold out in 18 hours. Thanks to our friend Noelle grabbing a table for eight on Saturday, May 8 we were able to enjoy Ludo’s food, and for starters I’ll say it’s one of the most extraordinary meals I’ve ever had in this city.

Some people don’t like Chef Ludo. These tend exclusively to be people who’ve never met him, never eaten his food and have only seen him on the TV show “Top Chef Masters,” where his demeanor has been described as “cantankerous.” (What, a chef, cantankerous? No! I don’t believe it!) Remember, folks, that that show is TV, and TV ain’t real, no matter how often the misnomer “reality TV’ is bandied about. These shows are edited to make good TV, so let’s get any perceptions based on a TV show out of the way.

I got to meet him and his fabulous wife Krissy (who runs the front of the house) only very briefly, but Ludo was charming and friendly yet very serious and passionate about food, all of which was reflected in every single plate that came to our table. Krissy was the consummate host, made us all feel very welcome and remembered Wesly from the last LudoBites (which I had to miss, as I was out of town, phoo).

Chef Ludo

Ludo recently did an interview with the “creative culture blog” yello!, where he talked about his previous versus current clientele:

We have the food trucks now (we have a lot, a lot of food trucks in LA). I think food trucks are amazing. I really love it. A chef like me, I worked all my life in high-end expensive restaurants … and now, to be affordable to everybody is just amazing. Because before, when I was at Bastide or L’Orangerie, there were a lot of customers who couldn’t afford to try my food. And now, it’s just so amazing how I meet different clientele. To be very accessible like this is how I want to be. I want to cook for everybody, not just for rich people. And I don’t need to use caviar every time to do good food. I can really create a menu that’s not very expensive for my customer. I want my customer to be able to come every week. That’s what makes a restaurant. I don’t want to be anymore “the special occasion chef,” when people just come to celebrate their birthdays or anniversaries. No. We need to be accessible.

That, my friends, is someone who understands great food and hospitality. That, my friends, is also what I’d like to aspire to as long as I’m living in this city — eating Ludo’s food every week.

He went on to say, “[W]e have people who come to the restaurant, sit down and tell the waiter, ‘I want to eat the whole menu.’ [He stares, bewildered.] No, it’s crazy. I mean, people come to LudoBites and eat the whole menu.”

Um … ahem.

Okay, here’s the deal. This was our one shot at LudoBites this time. Even though he does tweak the menu a bit during the run, and perhaps a dish drops off and a new one joins in, or it’s made in a slightly different way, this was still more or less it. It wasn’t like we could try a few dishes now and try a few later on; there were no more reservations available (although one of our dining companions managed to get in a couple more times before the end of the run). And everything looked fantastic.

So … the eight of us ordered every single dish on the menu. Two or three servings of each. For the table.

It was kind of like taking off and nuking the entire site from orbit. It was the only way to be sure.

Let us begin.

Warm Baguette with Honey-Lavender Butter and Smoked Lard

That Ludo was able to drive me nearly insane with a warm baguette and two things to spread on it is rather telling. The honey-lavender butter was amazing, but the smoked lard … not only did I want a bucket of that stuff to smear on bread and nom nom nom all night long, forsaking all other menu items, but I practically wanted to rub it all over my body. Now that I’ve left you with that disgusting imagery … ’nuff said.

Whipped Brie Chantilly with Honeycomb, Frisée Salad and Balsamic Vinegar

Next, Whipped Brie Chantilly with Honeycomb, Frisée Salad and Balsamic Vinegar. The brie was whipped for a light texture, then had chantilly cream folded into it for an even lighter (but much richer) texture.

Scallop with Spinach, Yogurt-Curry Sauce, Spring Garlic and Violet Flowers

Scallop with Spinach, Yogurt-Curry Sauce, Spring Garlic and Violet Flowers. Perfectly cooked scallop, surprisingly mild roasted spring garlic, and the foamy-but-not-foam texture of the sauce was great with the scallop.

Marinated King Salmon, German Butterball Potatoes, Crème Fraîche with Red Wine Vinaigrette

Marinated King Salmon, German Butterball Potatoes, Crème Fraîche with Red Wine Vinaigrette. I had to fight off a bit of apprehension due to the fact that salmon had not passed my lips since I got food poisoning from a bad piece of salmon last year. I knew that wasn’t going to happen this time, and dove in. The salmon was divine; fatty and tender and buttery, marinated enough for the flavors to penetrate the fish but not enough to “cook” it into ceviche, with the crisp carrot slices and strips of red onion offering textural contrast. Then those potatoes! The tangy crème fraîche on the potatoes and the vinaigrette on the salmon balanced the richness perfectly. This was terrific; I think my temporary fear of salmon is now gone. And we’re still only getting started …

White Asparagus Velouté with Mozzarella Mousse, Candied Olives, Shaved Fennel and Salmon Roe

Next, White Asparagus Velouté with Mozzarella Mousse, Candied Olives, Shaved Fennel and Salmon Roe. If you’re unfamiliar with a velouté, it’s one of the “mother sauces” of French cuisine. In its most basic form it’s a light stock (chicken, veal or fish) thickened with a blond roux (made of butter and flour). The term is derived from the French word “velour,” or “velvety,” and that’s a perfect description of what a sauce velouté or a soup derived from it feels like in your mouth. Here it’s puréed white asparagus, with a creamy cheese mousse, crisp fennel and the delightful little *pop* you get from the salmon roe all providing a wealth of textures as well as flavors. We were starting to get dizzy. Steady, boy …

So as not to kill your browser or mobile reader we’ll continue with the rest of this staggering meal after the break:

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