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


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 …


Happy Mardi Gras!

If you’re not in New Orleans, you are (like me, unfortunately) in the wrong place. Sigh. Maybe next year.

Me Big Chief, me feelin' good ...

Back to the Indians in a bit … in the meantime, if you don’t know them already, you need to learn the four primary Mardi Gras songs:

Professor Longhair, “Go to the Mardi Gras” (audio only)

The Hawketts, “Mardi Gras Mambo” (audio only)

Al Johnson, “Carnival Time” (audio only)

Earl King, Dr. John, Professor Longhair and The Meters (!!!) — FULL VIDEO!

Now, time for some Mardi Gras Indians:

The Wild Magnolias, “All On A Mardi Gras Day” (audio only, with slideshow)

The Wild Tchoupitoulas, “My Big Chief Got A Golden Crown” (audio only, with slideshow)

Big Chief Albert Lambreaux, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and other Indians, singing “Indian Red” in memory of a fellow Indian taken by the Federal Flood after Hurricane Katrina, interrupted by Larry Ragusa (from HBO’s “Treme”)

A little brass band music on the streets …

Rebirth Brass Band, “Do Whatcha Wanna” (filmed in the French Quarter on April 24, 2008, the day before Jazzfest began)

Finally, my favorite band out of New Orleans these days:

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, “One Night Only” (performance from the David Letterman Show)



Ragusa Brothers King Cakes 2012, Nos. 4-6

Things are getting heated in the Ragusa family …

Uh oh … will we see Vincent before Mardi Gras Day?

Oh, and Happy Lundi Gras! Me, I’m havin’ red beans ‘n rice for dinner, and king cake for dessert. With all due apologies to Larry Ragusa, it will not come with a thin layer of salami and olive salad, but it will be filled with Nutella. (Thank you, La Dolce Nola!)


Ragusa Brothers King Cakes 2012, No. 3

Boy, that Marie Ragusa …

You go, Angelina!

The scary thing is … I might just want one of the King Cake flavors Larry mentioned.


Story time with Mickey D

This morning as I was reading the news I was greeted by this chuckle-inducing headline:

#McDStories, McDonald’s Twitter Hashtag Promotion, Goes Horribly Wrong

As with most people I love a good PR FAIL story, and this one’s a doozy. Last Wednesday McDonald’s sent out two tweets on their Twitter feed — only two — to spark a new marketing campaign. One of them went like this:

@McDonalds Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day #McDStories

Unfortunately, many many people leapt onto this hashtag, and their tweets tended to look like this:

@Cate_Storm #McDStories I just read that McDonalds chicken nuggets have a foaming agent in them, similar to products used for building materials

It made me think of my own recent McD story.

I must confess that I do like their fries, frozen and processed as they are. One good example of how freshly-cut French fries aren’t necessarily all they’re cracked up to be is my beloved In-N-Out Burger. Now, I love me a Double Double (Animal Style, no pickles, ketchup instead of spread), but let’s face it … their fries stink. Everybody who knows how to fry a potato knows that you have to cook the potatoes TWICE, first a blanch in low temperature oil to cook the potato all the way through, then a few minutes in higher temperature oil to get them golden and crispy on the outside. The fries can be frozen in between these two steps, so the frozen fries that go into the fryer at McDonald’s area already partially cooked. In-N-Out cuts the potato, dumps them right into the fryer only once and then out, usually resulting in limp, unsatisfying fries. But I digress.

Other than the occasional breakfast McMuffin at the airport maybe twice a year, I don’t eat McDonald’s food. I don’t eat the fries, since I’m almost never in there, and I certainly don’t eat the burgers. I used to, though — way back in my youth, I was quite the fan of the Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

Jules: 'You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with cheese in France?' Brett: 'No.' Jules: 'Tell 'im, Vincent.' Vincent: 'A Royale with Cheese.' Jules: 'A Royale with Cheese. You know why they call it that?' Brett: '... because of the metric system?' Jules: 'Check out the big brain on Brett!  You're a smart motherfucker.'

Big Macs never did anything for me, and their plain hamburgers and cheeseburgers seemed rather insubstantial. My regular order, though, was a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, large fries, large iced tea, for years. (And of course, they never ever look like the above image in real life.)

These days I try not to eat burgers all that often — although I love them, they don’t love me. Once a week at the most, and maybe even once every two weeks. This means that if I’m going to have a burger, I’m going to make it count. That means that I’m going to get my burger in a quality, independently-owned burger joint or in a restaurant that does a good burger. (Note that I don’t count In-N-Out as a typical fast food burger, as their quality is a lot higher than the national chains; the meat is always fresh, never frozen with no ammoniated pink slime mixed in, and if you order the fries well-done or “lightly well” they’re better than the garden variety fries. I will give them points for freshness.) No Burger King, no Wendy’s and certainly no McDonald’s. Pie ‘n Burger. The Counter. The Oinkster. Umami Burger. Or in one of our favorite restaurants, like Bar | Kitchen. You get the idea.

Sometimes, though, a sailor must seek any port in a storm. Last time I traveled to Houston to visit family I had to fly back through Dallas-Fort Worth airport on a night when the weather was bad. I had barely more than enough time to make my connection, and just as I was about to hop on their intra-airport monorail a huge clap of thunder and bolt of lightning struck, and the train went down. I then had to slog a very long way through that ridiculously large airport to get to my gate, only to find that all flights were suspended due to weather. It was late, I was starving, I had no idea when the weather would let me get home, and every single food vendor in that terminal was closed … except McDonald’s.

Yeah, I know, they have apple and walnut salads now, but I didn’t want a godsdamned salad, I wanted something substantial, so I went back to my old college standby of the Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

I’ve lost count of the number of years since I’d had one, and for the record it tasted exactly the same as I remembered.

Only now it tasted awful.

I’ve spent the last umpty-ump years being spoiled by quality meat, it seems. I could barely choke that feckin’ thing down.

I tried to condense my wordy story into 140 characters so that I could offer my own entry to the #McDStories hashtag festival. I find Twitter’s now-arbitrary 140-character limit to be annoying and frustrating, but I got the point across. I’ve also resolved never to eat another McDonald’s hamburger, unless it’s the only thing standing between me and the fellow airline passenger who might find me gnawing on his arm. You have my promise, McDonald’s — I won’t resort to cannibalism as long as you’re there.

Now, to plan my next burger. I’m thinking maybe Golden State or The Burger Kitchen at some point, but those are a bit far to drive. This Friday. Before “Fringe.” Pie ‘n Burger. Yeah.