Saturday, October 31, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
For my latest installment of the Eater "A Beer At..." feature, I walked down a gritty stretch of Lawrence Street in downtown Brooklyn, and passed through the doors of Kevin Barry's.
The draft selections are the usual. I chose a Sam Adams. Daniella, the bartender, scrunches up her pretty face. "The Sam Adams is kinda messed up." Messed up? "Mm-mm." The lager's specific malady is not elaborated upon. OK. How about a Stella? Daniella moves briefly as if to draw a glass, but then stops and scrunches up her face. The Stella is messed up, too? "Mm-mm." I look at the remaining beers on tap, unsure as to whether any of them are in good health. "You do Bass?" asks Daniella. She is wearing black vinyl pants and a black halter top with a ring of silver spangles circling the bust line. She's nice, but no-nonsense. Bass, huh? Ugh. Well, if I have to, I could do Bass. I do Bass.
Kevin Barry's Bar & Grill of downtown Brooklyn is a lot like that: Rough around the edges, a little sketchy and doing the best that it can. The bar is shaped like an extended L-shaped alley, with entrances on both Lawrence and Willoughby—a good configuration if you're looking to dodge someone. Pink lights on red walls make you feel like you're in the Champagne room at some nightclub no matter where you walk. (The bar's name in some listings is actually Kevin Barry's 140 Club.) The place's handle—it's named after the Irish Republican teenage martyr who was executed in 1920—and the very Irish pub facade notwithstanding, the vibe is far from a slice of old Killarney.
A group of men holding down a corner of the long bar chew over the merits of the teams going into the World Series. Some of them might be judges for the "So You Think You Can Sing?" talent content that had been scheduled to begin at 4 PM. But no one's singing, and it doesn't look like anyone will be. A good friend of Daniella's comes in with his sister and her boyfriend. The friend looks beat, like he's just come off working 12 hours straight at a crummy job he hates. Daniella's concerned. Then, she remembers: her son's selling candy bars for a school fund raiser. She hauls out the box of chocolate. People eye is greedily, but no one's buying.
KISS-FM is hosting the talent contest, and one of the radio's staff members comes over for a splash of cranberry in her vodka and pineapple juice. She drinks and declares the cocktail much improved. An old lady in a red beret, carrying a sign sealed in protective plastic peers through the window uncertainly before entering by the Willoughby side. A manager springs into action. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no" he says in a gentle, but insistent tone. The woman quietly turns around and exits. A man at the bar mentions the time he gave a beggar some money, then saw him the next week in a fancy car. The manager and man nod at this story, knowingly.
Kevin Barry's evidently draws a healthy lunch crowds most work days; the dinner hour looks to be more sparsely patronized. Like most bars in the city, the saloon is having a Halloween bash tonight and tomorrow night. Doors open at 6 PM and close at 4 PM. 25 or older ID necessary. "We deserve the right to be selective," notes a postcard. There's a DJ booth and enough floor space to dance; the place is made for music; might be fun. After all, at what other bar can you buy jumbo chocolate bars?
Labels: A Beer at...
Thursday, October 29, 2009
I've always thought the Polish beer Zywiek was a relatively hard brew to score, even in New York. I'd see it only in the occasional Polish deli, and very rarely on tap.
That was before I paid a visit to the Queens neighborhoods of Ridgewood and Glendale. More that other New York Polish nabes, like Greenpoint, Zywiek flows like water here. It's not only in every bar and every deli, there are huge advertisements everywhere proclaiming its existence. Posters, neon signs, and round hanging signs that are to this area what the circular Guiness beacons are to Irish neighborhoods in New York.
Zywiek was founded in 1852 and started brewing in 1856. It was an actual royal beer! It was built and initially owned by Archduke Albert, Duke of Teschen and his younger brother Karl Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, and called "Zywiec Archducal Brewery". It remained in the hands of the Habsburgs until the Communists nationalized it. After the Commies were kicked out, the descendants of the original owners sued the Polish government for $77 million. (The case was settled out of court on undisclosed terms in December 2005.)
All that historical hullabaloo doesn't seem to have affected the quality. I find it a more-than-above average lager.
As to how Ridgewood and Glendale get so much of the stuff. Well, take a look at this distribution center on Seneca Road in Ridgewood. You see where their priorities lie.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Last night, I saw something I never thought I'd see. Looking around from my table for two at Carroll Garden's esteemed haute pizzeria Lucali, I saw....no one. I and my companion were the only diners. At 7 PM! Prime dining time. True, it didn't last long—roughly 10 other people had been there five minutes before, and a couple minutes later, two other people came in. But it did happen. I was alone in Lucali! Alone in a place where the waits often range between 30 minutes and an hour.
I thought perhaps the excessive rain had kept people away, but the waitress corrected me. It was game one of the World Series involving the New York Yankees. Lucali owner Mark Iacono complained to two friends, "The game is killing me tonight."
Note to self: hit up Lucali whenever a New York sports title is playing a major game.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The AMC series "Mad Men," which is set in New York in the early 60s, has done a good job of mining the city's great restaurants and bars—both extant and vanished—for background texture. We've had mentions and scenes set in such bygone food and drink meccas as Toots Shor's, The Stork Club, The Pen & Pencil, Rattazzi's, Lutece and Chumley's. Of eateries and watering holes that still exist, we've heard from Keen's Chop House, The Four Seasons, P.J. Clarke's and La Grenouille.
What's missing here?
The "21" Club, of course. Around since the 1930s, a longtime favorite of businessmen with fat expense accounts, and just a hop, skip and a jump from Madison Avenue, where "Mad Men" ad agency Sterling Cooper is located, it's a natural. The show's characters should have availed themselves of the place's red-checkered tablecloths long before now and inhaled a Southside or two. You just know that Roger Sterling haunted this place at least twice a week, and probably had his own table.
So, what gives? I asked "21"'s longtime publicist Diana Biederman and she confessed that, indeed, she has been valiantly trying to coax the "Mad Men" people into giving the restaurant a cameo, or at least a mention, for some time now. But to no avail. Biederman sent the production people volumes of historical material about "21," including clear ideas on what the place would have looked like in the early '60s. Among those material was an image of the above artwork, which hangs in a private hall on "21"'s second floor. It's an illustration that appeared in Town & Country magazine in 1961, of a smartly dressed woman about to be seated in the bar room's second section, right underneath the bell. (That's J.J. Hunsecker's seat in "Sweet Smell of Success," by the way.) Pearls, gloves, purse, patterned topcoat with shortened sleeves—you could just see Betty Draper in that outfit, couldn't you?
Biederman thinks she may have came close at the end of the second season. There was a scene in the final episode—where Betty beds down in the ladies room of a bar with a stranger—that the publicist feels may have once possibly been intended as for "21." But, Betty sits at a stool, and Biederman had told the show that "21" did not have stools in the 1960s. (The loss may have been for the best. Sex in the bathroom? It's not really a "21" moment, is it?)
One thing we know for sure—with the third season almost over, there's no chance of "21" getting its due this year. Let's hope Matthew Weiner wises up and sets a scene there in 2010.
You're asking yourself, "What's the absinthe of the month?"
Well, friend, the Absinthe Museum of America, located in New Orleans, has the answer for you. It is Lucid Absinthe Supérieure.
The museum plans to announced a new "absinthe of the month" every month. The way this liquor category has exploded in the last 12 months, I actually think they can keep this up for at least three or four years and never run out of absinthe brands. (Whether people will care in three or four years is another matter.)
Lucid, of course, was the first genuine absinthe out of the gate when the green stuff became legal in the United States in 95 years.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Is there a happier red wine than a good bottle of Morellino di Scansano?
I always enjoy this Italian wine when I drink it, yet then seem to forget about it afterwards and unconsciously discount it as inconsequential and minor. Then I drink another and I'm happy all over again. It's Chianti's younger, friskier cousin, not so heavy and concerned with itself and tradition, but more interesting in bright conversation and living in the moment. The wines come from the environs of the village of Scansano (natch), in the Maremma, which includes a part of the coast of southern Tuscany. Morellino is what the locals call the Sangiovese grape varietal.
The name means "Little Cherry of Scansano," and a more appropriate name there never was. Bright, bouncy cherry flavor is almost always found in the best bottles. Moris Farms, a fine producer in Grosseto, rarely disappoints, and a 2007 I just had was deep yet bright. It had a wonderful dark cherry nose with tinges with spice, sweet tobacco and charcoal and lightly perfumed. In the mouth, it was beautifully dusty and dusky, with more charcoal, cherry and blackberry. It was as light as can be (even at 14%), yet full of depth, like a cheerful person with a lot of character.
This particular wine was vinified in stainless steel tanks and put in bottle after only four months. Morellino need not see wood or age for very long, two reasons for the buoyancy. The mix must by 85% Sangiovese. Moris Farms used 90 % Sangiovese, plus 10 % Merlot and Syrah.
Also, it's cheap. Roughly $15.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Official proclamations from City Hall are usually pretty stiff and stuffy. But not the one New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented to the St. Regis Hotel in honor of the 75th anniversary of the introduction of the Bloody Mary to New York City. The St. Regis—whose King Cole Bar is celebrating the famous drink through a variety of guest recipes through the month of October—has hung the document in one of its windows for all to see. I don't know if it was meant to be funny and tongue-in-cheek, but it is:
"After a long night in the city that never sleeps, many New Yorkers turn to the ultimate Sunday morning cure-all: The Bloody Mary. While the origins of its name are unclear, there is no disputing that this popular culture here at the St. Regis Hotel. And to on this day, the City of New York is proud to join this landmark institution in celebrating the 75th anniversary the birth of the Bloody Mary.
"Bartender Fernand Petiot invented the drink when he was working at the upscale King Cole Bar in the St. Regis New York. The original recipe he uses while working in Paris contained vodka and tomato juice. But on a fateful day in 1934, Petiot spiced up his drink with salt, pepper, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. The rest, as they say, is history, and the drink quickly became the signature cocktail of the King Cole Bar. Christened the Red Snapper (since Bloody Mary seemed too vulgar for the clientele at the time) it has become a mainstay on the menus of restaurants and bars throughout the five boroughs and far beyond.....
"I am proud to joing the St. Regis New York, the King Cole Bar, and countless New Yorkers in raising a highball glass to this iconic cocktail. Cheer!"
Such pomp! Such circumstance! All for a cocktail! I love that a Mayoral Proclamation is encouraging drinking and actually includes the word "highball."
To honor the anniversary, the St. Regis invited bartenders from elsewhere to provide their spin on the Bloody Mary. There are 15 different kinds on offer through the end of October, along with a few that require 24 hours advance notice, as if they were a soufflé or something. These include concoctions by Alain Ducasse, which involves homemade bouillabaisse; and Wylie Dufresne, which features clear “Bloody Mary consommé,” horseradish-infused vodka and celery bitters, and then carbonates the results with a CO2 tank. Sheesh!
Among the readily available Bloody Marys are inventions by such people and restaurants as Dale DeGroff, the Palm, Back Forty, Blue Smoke, Charlie Palmer, Prune, and The Spotted PIg. 15 different Bloody Mary mixes are a tall order for any bartender. And, sure enough, the day I dropped by, a weekday, only five of the 15 were available. The bartender advised coming on the weekend, when all 15 would likely be on tap. Among the five, I tried the Landmark, which is composed of tomato sauce, black pepper, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, olive juice, Frank's Red Hot Sauce, ketchup and stout beer. 'Twas good.
I hope to get back and try the Ducasse, just because the idea of having to order a cocktail a day in advance is just too...well, you're just not confronted with that situation often, are you?
Jim Beam is doing just fine with its first major launch in Jim Beam Black—the black-cherry-infused bourbon Red Stag.
I figured the red stuff was performing all right; I've seen it in plenty of back bars around New York (more in standard taverns than in high end bars so far). But the people at Jim Beam recently told me that, in the four or five months since the product was introduced, it's moved 90,000 cases, making it what they call the biggest launch in whiskey ever. For now, the distribution is limited to the U.S, but with that kind of success out of the gate, that policy won't last long.
The mind behind Red Stag is one Tom Wilkins, who, if you believe the story, had been mulling over the idea in the back of his head for years before Beam finally took a stab at it. Many names were played with, but Wilkins' original one is the name they went with. Red Stag is made by infusing four-year-old bourbon with fruit essence; no actual whole fruit is used in the process. I asked the Beams folks about the phrase on the label, "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Infused With Natural Flavors," and if they tussled with the government over the exact wording. No, they said. Surprisingly they had no problem whatsoever.
What's not on the bottle is the word "liqueur." For whatever reason, Beam seems averse to calling Red Stag a liqueur, though, technically, as it is alcoholic beverage that has been flavored and sweetened, it is by definition a liqueur. One of the Beam people explained to me that a liqueur bears the connotation of possibly containing suspect ingredients, but that doesn't really pan out. There may be some such liqueurs on the market, but there are also many, many, fine, upstanding liqueurs. Perhaps the word "liqueur" don't register as a positive with their designated target audience. Moreover, Jim Beam invented the drink to introduce non-bourbon drinkers to bourbon, not introduce non-bourbon drinkers to liqueurs.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I'm always on the look-out for obscure wines or grapes I haven't tried before. More often than not, this urge steers my buying. Why get another California Cab or Australian Shiraz when you can try a Mondeuse from Bugey?
A what from the where, now?
A Mondeuse from Bugey. Bugey is an area near western Savoie—an eastern, cool climate wine region in France very near Switzerland. And Mondeuse? If you want to talk obscure French varietals, Mondeuse is really plumbing the depths. The grape was hit hard by the phylloxera epidemic. By 200, the French were planting just over 200 hectares of the underdog. It seems to have bounced back a bit since then.
My Bugey Mataret 2006 was 100% Mondeuse. Imagine that. Thierry Tissot is the vintner. The grapes are grown on steep slopes near the Alps, and hand-picked. It's a weird wine, I have to say. Takes a lot of warming up to. It's got an inky purple color, yet the alcohol is a light 12%. The nose is wildly floral and herbal. Dusty blueberry with a circle of evergreen, sage, thyme, wild plum and violet. Lovely, really. The wine is seriously dry and seriously tannic. It'll dry out your mouth. Firm structure. The impression is concentrated, but light, and a bit tight. (It tasted much better the second day.) Sometimes I felt like I was drinking violet-flavored mints. This may not sound all that appealing, and, I have to admit, I probably won't buy this wine again. But it was an experience.
At the same time I bought the Bugey, I picked up a Kiralyudvar Tokaji 2005 from Hungary, made from the Furmint grape. I've had much more experience with Furmint, which I associate with wonderful acidity and vibrant fruit, than I have with Mondeuse, so I felt on surer ground. (I believe there is also some Hárslevlu in the mix.) I know Kiralyudvar ages their whites. Still, I wasn't prepared for the crazy green-orange hue of the wine. Beautiful, and strange. It looked like the juice from a not-quite-ripe tangerine. Tangerine came through in the nose, too, as well as kumquat and diesel notes. Bright tangerine again on the palate, right from the start, as well as guava, lemon, more kumquat (kumquat!), young leaves. Great acidity, as expected, yet super juicy. I'd get this one again.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Christie’s will be selling off a choice haul of rare spirits at November 14 auction. There will be more than 40 lots of whisky, bourbon, cognac, armagnac, and rum for those who have the scratch, including items from the cellar at the Park Avenue Liquor Shop.
Spirits sales are relatively rare in the high-end auctions, which are typically the province of fine wines. For a long time, New York State had a law that forbid the auctioning of spirits. By contrast, spirits have been auctioned in Europe and England for many years. That New York law was struck down in 2007, and Christie's was the first to step up with a curated auction of spirits, in December of that year. (It was, in fact, the first liquor auction in New York since Prohibition began in 1920.) The coming event is only Christie's second such auction.
Among the items on offer is 1964 Bowmore Trilogy (pictured above) direct from the Bowmore distillery in Scotland. This is made up of the newly-released Gold Bowmore, White Bowmore (released in 2008) and Black Bowmore
(released in 2007).
From the venerable Park Avenue Liquor Shop comes some more fine and rare single malts, including 55-year-old Macallan in a specially-designed Lalique crystal decanter (estimate: $11,000-$15,000) and a Glenfarclas 50-year-old, bottled from a
1955 distilled single cask (estimate: $4,800-$6,000). Also on the block will be a limited-edition Hardy Perfection Cognac in an engraved Daum crystal decanter ($5,500-$7,000); a millennium bottling of Armagnac from Baron de Sigognac that was allowed to mature for nearly a century (estimate: $2,000-$3,000); and three lots of Distiller’s Masterpiece 18-year-old Kentucky Bourbon, a collaboration between Jim Beam’s grandson and master distiller Booker Noe and master Cognac blender Alain Royer (estimate: $500-$800 per bottle).
Another choice artifact is a ceramic demijohn (1 imperial gallon) of British Imperial Rum pot-distilled in Jamaica and sourced from the final stores of the Royal Navy (estimate: $4,500-$6,000). I personally would love to sample that.
The total sale of wine and spirits includes over 800 lots and is expected to realize in excess of $2.1 million.
The theatre had Al Hirschfeld. The cocktail crowd has Jill DeGroff.
Jill is cocktail pioneer Dale DeGroff's wife, and can be seen accompanying her husband at various cocktail events. As her husband's better half, she's had ample opportunity to meet the eminent bartenders, mixologists and "brand ambassadors" of the world, and has caught their essences in ink and paint.
Jill has just published a compilation of some of her sketches in a book titled "Lush Life," published by the invaluable cocktail imprint, Mud Puddle. On the cover is seemingly universally beloved cocktail author and eccentric Gary Regan, in long hair mode (as opposed to long beard mode). Inside, you'll find portraits of such figures as Audrey Saunders (above), Julie Reiner, Jim Meehan, David Wondrich, Simon Ford, as well as bartenders Chris McMillian, Misty Kalkofen, Giuseppe Gonzalez, Chad Solomon, John Myers, Chris Hannah, and others. They're accompanied with brief biographical sketches that range from the perfunctory to the revealing. The best are ones written by the subjects themselves.
There's little chance that the average reader will be familiar with any of the subjects. But that doesn't matter much. The caricatures are a pleasure in themselves. DeGroff's likenesses are ripely drawn and colored. There's a bit of haziness around the edges and the lines, which is appropriate, given most of the people spend the bulk of their time in bars, where lights are low and eyesight gets fuzzy as the night goes on. Having met most of the people in the book, I can testify to DeGroff's ability to capture the essence of a person—not necessarily exactly how they look, but how they look when you think of them. Too many of today's caricaturists err on the side of naturalism or are Hirschfeld manques; that is not the case here. There's something about her style that reminds me of Jazz Age Vanity Fair caricaturist Miguel Covarrubias.
Dale DeGroff is depicted a couple times, and son Leo gets a page. Dale penned the Foreward. (Wonder how hard it was to score that coup.)
Monday, October 19, 2009
As season three of "Mad Men" meanders to its conclusion (the desultory pace of the season hasn't exactly been a plot locomotive—not that I'm complaining), one theme has become apparent: things aren't going well for master ad man Don Draper. He's slipping. The world's changing fast and he's not changing quickly enough to keep all his various balls in the air. Certainly, he seems to be on top of the world. He is feted at Sterling Cooper's 40th anniversary party; he landed a huge client in Conrad Hilton for whom he's flying all over the globe; he and his wife just had a new baby; and he's bedding a lovely new mistress. But Hilton is demanding and capricious, ladling out and withholding love like a fickle father; his marriage has not recovered from the revelation of his past infidelities, with Betty cold and snappish and secretly looking elsewhere for comfort; the mistress, daughter Sally's former teacher, is borderline cuckoo and a likely disaster in the making; he's been forced to fire art director Sal and, in the process, reveal an ugly stripe of homophobia; and, worst of all, Betty found the keys to his secret desk drawer and now knows that he's really Dick Whitman, that his (and, thus, her) life is based on a whopper lie.
None of this has caused him to drink more. He drinks as much as he always has, and doesn't seem to think it will ever catch up to him. Don does, however, get a blast from the past when invited one night to Hilton's suite in the Waldorf=Astoria, where "Connie" is pouring from a thin glass flask. This, we learn, is Prohibition booze, of which the old, old Hilton has a case. Don drinks it and winces. "I remember this," he says—a reference to his rural, hardscrabble upbringing.
Otherwise, the whiskey that's winning the prize for most spotlight appearances this season is Johnny Walker Red. Don and that prison guard drink a bottle in the hospital while waiting for their kids to be born. And, in episode 9, Lucky Strike scion Lee Garner, Jr., empties a bottle, with disastrous results—he makes a pass at Sal and, when Sal rebuffs him, gets the poor guy fired. I'm guessing Johnny Walker has a placement deal with MM, but that's OK—the whiskey was dominant in the U.S. market and is entirely period appropriate.
Neither does liquor do any good for struggling, pompous copywriter Paul Kinsey. While working late on a campaign for Western Union, he drains a bottle of what looks like Scotch. The only identifiable word on the label is "North," plus the number 20, which could be an age statement. A fair guess is this is North Port, a Highland single malt that did indeed have a 20-year-old expression. It was situated north of the royal burgh Brechin and was built in 1820 by a family of bankers and farmers. It remained a family distillery until its buying over by the D.C.L. (Distillers Company Ltd.) in 1922. The distillery was closed in 1983 and demolished. There's now a Safeway on the spot.
The North Port causes Kinsey to forget mid-morning the genius idea that struck him the night before. As everyone says to him later, "I hate it when that happens."
Sad, angry Betty, meanwhile, continues to put a considerable dent in the wine cellar.
Labels: mad men
Friday, October 16, 2009
The latest column for Eater:
Limerick House—this Chelsea tavern's name despite the big sign saying just Limerick's outside—is a friendly bar situated on W. 23rd Street, just steps from the F train, a good place for a quick one before heading off to wherever you're heading. Nobody seems to pay much attention to it despite the fact that it's just off a hugely busy intersection. Its anonymity may have something to do with the dark, rather severe two-story brick facade, which belies the rather narrow and cozy space inside. It kind of disappears before your eyes. Take away the neon beer signs and it would look as drab and bunker-like as a labor union's headquarters.
Inside, the back bar looks 50 years old if it's a day. There's plastic over the tables. The many mirrored beer signs are covered with Halloween cobwebs. A sign says there's a $5 charge for whining. The second floor is occupied by a private party room which, as is the case with many of these Irish pubs, looks forlorn and far less inviting than the bar room proper.
Mikey, the old bartender, has the mussed gray hair of a man who just came in out of a gale and a whinnying Irish accent that sounds like it's about to break into song. The language most often spoken by the staff, however, seems to be Spanish. That includes a vivacious Venezuelan waitress who is obviously popular with the male workers. She wasn't on duty one recent night but was sitting at the bar anyway, with her visiting sister, because "I drink for free." And what she drinks is rum and coke. "I'm from Venezuela. I drink rum." What she eats is arepas, which she makes from scratch at home in Astoria. She speaks perfect, and rapid, English—the result of a year abroad in England and summers spent at English camps in Minnesota. In the U.S. for two years, she still brims with enthusiasm for the city and its possibilities. Like every other barmaid in New York, she wants to be an actress. Musical comedy, specifically. She just graduated from Stella Adler. The call of Broadway resounds all the way down to South America.
How was business last night, she asked Mikey. Busy. The Masons from the century-old hall next door came by after their weekly Tuesday meeting. They are regulars. The waitress is upset. "Aw, I lost money." Masons, we are informed, tip big.
Labels: A Beer at...
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Maker's Mark makes one thing and that's the way they're going to keep it. [Chuck Cowdery]
Surplus-plagued Australia is busy ripping up wines. [Adelaide Now via Dr. Vino]
Another Bordeaux vintage that's supposed to be the best ever. [Telegraph]
Eric Asimov wants you to give the Carignan grape a chance. Hey, I always have! Rustic, earthy and wonderful. [The Pour]
Michael Broadbent's libel action against Random House, publishers of Benjamin Wallace's 'Billionaire's Vinegar', has been settled out of court. [Jamie Goode]
Everyone seems to be trumpeting the wines of Jura lately, this time Alice Fiering.
Shocking: The New York State Liquor Authority thinks beer pong is not that great an idea. [Gothamist]
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Every new bar has to have a gimmick if it hopes to capture the New York drinking public's fickle attention these days. Bar Celona, a swanky new Spanish tapas lounge in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has found a good one, and one that makes sense, too, in context.
Do you know what Spaniards love to drink most? No, not sangria. Gin. Spain is Beefeater's biggest outside market. The Spanish suck down Gin & Tonics all year long. Tad Carducci and Paul Tanguay of The Tippling Bros., which designed Bar Celona's drink menu, have capitalized on this national obsession. There is an entire category on the Bar Celona cocktail menu called "G y Ts."
“We translated Bar Celona’s ambitious culinary vision into something equally compelling on the cocktail side,” said Tad Carducci. “We’ve brought together cocktails popular in Spain, as well as totally new drinks using Spanish and Latin ingredients, and have given them a playful and memorable spin.”
Here's the menu:
G y T’s
Beefeater 24, amontillado sherry, lemon, sugar, Q tonic.
Plymouth gin, celery/apple juice, lemon, Anise del Mono, Fever Tree tonic water, fennel salt
Tomas el Gato
Hayman’s Old Tom gin, Averna, strawberries, lime BC house tonic.
Tanqueray #10, pineapple syrup, mint, Valencia orange, BC house tonic
Beefeater gin, muddled grapefruit, Pacharan, Bitter Kas
Nice to see them varying the gin from drink to drink. Each has some appeal for me, except maybe the El Prado. (Tanq #10 ain't my thing; too vodka-like.) Nice array of tonic choices, too. I'm refreshed just looking at the list.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Last year, I drank through a case of Champalou Vouvray. The wines were among the most wonderfully finessed Chenin Blancs I've had from this region in the Loire Valley.
So, when I saw the Champalou table at the recent Winebow portfolio tasting, I made a beeline for it. I was rewarded for my faithfulness by getting the chance to sample the whole 2007 Champalou line. I had indulged only in the Vouvray Sec, which are made from 35-year-old vines. But Champalou also makes a Cuvee Fondraux, also from 35-year-old vines, but planted in argilo-calcerous soil, and aged in old casks, which apparently makes all the difference. The wine has even more subtlety than the Sec, and a wider array of fruit flavors (peach, pear, melon), honey, more pronounced minerality and a stronger acidity. It costs only a trifle more and is definitely worth it
The big surprise, however, was the Petillant Brut NV. I didn't know Champalou made a sparkling. But, then, the Loire had hidden bubblies all over the place, doesn't it? It's 100% Chenin, like the others. The vines are 35 to 50 years old. The juice is ferment two months in stainless steel, and there's a second fermentation in the bottle that last five months more. This is an amazing sparkling, showing what a Chenin can do. Intensely alive and bright, spring-like, it demands your attention and demands you be happy. What a treat.
Catherine Champalou herself was there to pour, and obviously made happy by my appreciation of her wines. Loire winemakers always seem so modest. Catherine and Didier Champalou established their domaine in Vouvray in 1984. Didier works in the vineyards, and Catherine looks after fermentation and the cellar. They also apparently make sweet wines when the conditions are right, but they were not on offer.
Henry Social, the latest drinking establishment by the folks behind Carroll Gardens' popular Brooklyn Social, had a soft opening on Thursday, Oct. 8. The new space in on Henry Street, in Cobble Hill, in a former television repair shop.
Since they're just getting their sea legs now, they'll be no review here, but here's a peek at the debut cocktail menu. One note: fresh tarragon as a garnish is very big with these boys.
As for the food, there are many retro items such as turkey leg sandwich, marrow bones, egg cream, oysters, and "hamburger sandwich."
Since they're just getting their sea legs now, they'll be no review here, but here's a peek at the debut cocktail menu. One note: fresh tarragon as a garnish is very big with these boys.
As for the food, there are many retro items such as turkey leg sandwich, marrow bones, egg cream, oysters, and "hamburger sandwich."
To make sure Americans abroad feel at home this Thanksgiving, the The American Bar at The Stafford hotel has created—with good intention, I'm certain—a cocktail menu to give the cocktail lover pause. I don't know why master bartender Ben Provost thought it a properly hands-across-the-water gesture to celebrated one American invention, Thanksgiving, by assaulting another, the Martini. But this is the vodkafest he has come up with.
Pumpkin Pie Martini – Stoli Vanilla Vodka, Liquor 43, Pumpkin Puree and a splash of Bailey’s are vigorously shaken and poured into a chilled martini glass with a Graham Cracker Crust rim
Apple-Sage Martini – Apple Vodka and sour mix are added to muddled sage leaves and limes, shaken and poured into a chilled martini glass, garnished with a sugar rim and topped with an apple slice
Carrot-Ginger Martini – Stoli Vodka, spiced rum, a splash of Stoli Vanilla and carrot juice are shaken and poured into a chilled martini glass and topped with Ginger Beer
Crantini – Kettle One Vodka, Cranberry and Lime juices and a splash of simple syrup are mixed and poured into a chilled martini glass and garnished with fresh cranberries
What? Not Turkeytini?
I don't know about you, but that menu makes me want to reach for the Alka-Selzter as a preemptive strike. To add insult to injury, all the above cocktails are available for £15 each. That's $25 bucks to you and me.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Sizzling hot new scenes usually make me ill. The inevitable hoard of trendy, 20-something nocturnal bar rats; the deafening soup of chatter and too-loud music; and the inattentive, sloppy service born of of-the-moment hubris. Still, I try to enter every new bar with an open mind. And so I did with the Breslin Bar, the au courant drinking den inside Murray Hill's Ace Hotel, which will soon be joined by a sure-to-be-beloved April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig) restaurant.
It's big, to begin with. High ceilings, bisected by pillars. There's the by-now requisite taxidermy. (Thank you, Freeman's and PDT.) There was a DJ spinning tunes off his laptop. (Is it me, or can anybody be this kind of DJ?) Lots of couches, a big long farmer's table in the center. Wood paneling, bookcases, a huge American flag on the back wall. And a small corner bar in the back corner servicing the enormous space; it easily needs to be twice as big to do the job.
I took up a stool at the bar and perused the drink menu. I had plenty of time to do this. It was easily 10 minutes before anyone at the bar made eye contact with me, let alone take my order, even though I was barely two feet away from the bartenders. They weren't unoccupied. They were constantly distracted by questions from kitchen staff and waitstaff. Table orders were clearly taking precedent over bar orders. Still, a man next to me, who waited as long as I did to order, told me he came up to the bar because his party had been sitting for 20 minutes on the floor without seeing a waiter.
It was decent drink list. Good selections in every liquor category, aperitif and digestif sections, limited but decent wines, including a Friuli rose from Bastianich. The cocktails were five in number and not particularly inspiring. Hound on Fire is just vodka with some grapefruit juice and chili salt. The Starling, with St. Germain, Lillet White and orange peel, seemed a little light weight and two-dimensional.
Since they were bold enough to name their Old Fashioned after the Ace hotel, I asked for one, thinking they were proud of it. The drink substitutes reposado tequila for the whiskey and agave nectar for the sugar, plus orange bitters and brandied cherries (one muddled and one as garnish). It was a good, satisfying drink, smooth and potent. And I would have been fairly impressed with it if it weren't a nearly complete rip-off of Phil Ward's Oaxaca Old Fashioned, long available at Death & Co.
Liquor has played less of a central role in season three of "Mad Men" so far, though it's always there on the margins, lubricating the action. Lord knows, Brit accounts man Guy MacKendrick would have never got his foot run over by a John Deere lawnmower in episode 6 if there hadn't been plenty of Veuve Clicquot on hand at the Sterling Cooper office party. And protagonist Don Draper probably wouldn't have accepted those phenobarbital pills from a couple of young hitchhikers he picked up in his caddy if he hadn't already been enjoying a whiskey at the wheel. (The man has not learned from his car accident in season two.)
Don, it is clear, needs a bracer the moment he walks in the door after returning from work. His motions have become predictable. He enters through the back kitchen door, puts down his briefcase, gives Betty a kiss, then heads for the kitchen cabinet that contains the cheap brand of whiskey he keeps at home, and pours himself a glass. Funny how Don stocks Canadian Club at work, but a lesser brand at home. Is that because Sterling Cooper is paying for the more expensive Canadian Club? Or because he wants to impress co-workers and clients, and isn't worried about impressing Betty?
In episode 6, there are also a couple juicy location mentions. Joan's no-good doctor husband doesn't get his hoped-for promotion and spends the whole day sulking in The Dublin House, an Irish pub that still exists on W. 79th Street. And when the Brits from Putnam, Powell and Lowe, which bought Sterling Cooper last year, pay a visit, they dine at Le Grenouille, and old school French restaurant that is still going strong on E. 52nd Street.
When Don hangs out with the hitchhikers, who turn out to be con artists, in episode 7, plenty of Rheingold beer is consumed. Episode 8 takes Don and Betty on a brief business trip to Rome, to service the needs of new client, hotelier Conrad Hilton. This offers a tantalizing glimpse into how folks are quenching their thirst during La Dolce Vita. There's a lovely bottle of Panna water on the Draper's nightstand. Outside at a cafe, the worldly Betty, who surprisingly speaks fluent Italian (guess that education at Bryn Mawr paid off) orders an Asti Spumante. A good Italian wine for a hot August night. Don, a bit of an American stick in the mud, takes his usual "whiskey neat," which arrives in a tiny glass.
The weasel Pete Campbell, meanwhile, tried to connive his way into the bed of a young German au pair, for whom he's done a friendly favor, but offering "beer, or a riesling. Schnapps?" That pretty much covers the German drinking bases, eh, Pete?
Previous "Mad Men and Drinking" installments
Labels: mad men
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
They're still lying at the Pendennis Club.
Walking into the 128-year-old private club in downtown Louisville last week, I didn't last two minutes before somebody told me the Old Fashioned cocktail was invented on the premises. By now, they should know better. Several historians have eyed the claim with suspicion for some time. And in David Wondrich's book "Imbibe!" he digs up a reference to the drink in a 1880 issue of The Chicago Tribune—one year before the Pendennis was founded in 1881. Moreover, the Old Fashioned is just the old Whiskey Cocktail that people had been drinking for decades prior to then, just living under a different name.
Still, in the hazy world of cocktail history, even persistent myth-mongers have a place in the pantheon. So I determined to order an Old Fashioned at the Pendennis bar. I am not a member, of course. I was in the club to attend a bourbon tasting. But at some point toward the end, I snuck away and bellied up to the sparsely populated bar. My status was immediately questioned (probably because I was wearing tennis shoes—a dress code no-no). I admitted I was an outsider, but played up to the manager's vanity by saying I very much wanted to try the historic house specialty. He gallantly instructed the bartender to give me one on the house.
Sorry to say that the Pendennis Old Fashioned is of the muddled sort, with a maraschino cherry, orange slice and the lot. It was fine for what it was, but nothing to hold your head up and crow about. And if they're going to pretend to ownership of the cocktail, shouldn't they purvey the old, fruit-free version?
"I sometimes wish they had invented the Gin & Tonic here," groused the bartender. I commented that the Old Fashioned was an easy enough drink to make. "Yeah," he said, "but when a group comes in and orders a dozen of them at once, you might change your mind."
Aside from the newish spin on the Old Fashioned, Pendennis is charmingly antique in character. The bathrooms look a century old. There's an in-house barber shop, and a row of private phone booths. In the gift cases up front near the lobby, bottles testify to the fact that Pendennis used to bottle its own whiskey.
Back in July, I reported that Red Hook would soon get a new wine store to fill the void created by LeNell's shuttered earlier this years. The shop, Botta de Vino, would open up right next to the Baked cafe, near Dikeman Street.
Nothing's happened since then, and word on the street is that the owners of Botta don't even have a liquor license yet.
But Red Hook may still yet get a new wine store. The folks at the restaurant The Good Fork say the below storefront, on the southwest corner of Van Brunt and Van Dyke, will soon open for business as a wine store.
Which store will open first? Wait and see.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
I attended the two-day "preview" of the new Manhattan Cocktail Classic, a cocktail caucus that is now supposed to materialize in Manhattan every May. Or, rather, I attended half of it. My schedule only permitted me to hang about on Saturday. Luckily, that gave me the opportunity to attend a panel by Milk & Honey's Sasha Pestraske. Petraske doesn't do many public seminars; his appearances at events like Tales of the Cocktail have been few. (His eye-opening talk on ice, in 2007, is still talked about.) That's a shame, because his “Cocktails for Your Home Cocktail Party" at MCC was easily one of the best cocktail panels I've ever attended, well-organized, cogently delivered, full of wit and packed with useful insights and tips. He went well over the time limit, talking for two and a half hours, and the audience remained rapt until the end.
I wrote up an account of the convention for the New York Times' Diner's Journal blog, including a run-down of Petraske's panel. Here it is:
It was nearly impossible not to be offered a drink within five minutes of entering the Manhattan Cocktail Classic at Astor Center on Saturday.
The convention’s first refreshments were served before noon, and they were not Bloody Marys. White Ladys (gin, Cointreau, lemon juice) were passed out in connection with one of the convention’s first seminars of the weekend, “Have Cocktail Shake, Will Travel,” an account of the fruits of the American bartender exodus that followed Prohibition.
Over at the event’s “official bar,” a dozen original creations with New York-oriented names (Little Brazil, NY Postal Road Julep, Bowery Smash) were built by a rotating teams of four bartenders. A camera crew filmed Misty Kalkofen, of the Boston bar Drink, as she delicately slapped both sides of a sage leaf—the garnish for a creation called the Botanical Garden—on the back of her hand before slipping it on top of the gin-based drink.
John Myers, a Portland, Me., bartender with a mustache of 19th-century thickness, had flown in specifically for the convention. He said his shift behind the bar was due to begin at 4:30, though he had only been given the recipes for the 12 new drinks on Thursday.
“New York is the cradle of bartending,” said Mr. Myers. “Historically, the way things are done was codified here. All the great cocktail manuals were published here. Masters like Jerry Thomas worked here.”
Lorna Wilkerson was one of the ticket-buying civilians at the convention. A Queens-raised, Boston-based obstetrician and gynecologist, Ms. Wilkerson said she would like to open a bar. “I think with the way health care is going, I don’t know how much choice I’ll have,” she said, only half-joking. Ms. Wilkerson said her interest in cocktails began when her father, returning from his first trip to Hawaii, built a tiki bar in the basement of their home.
“When I saw the event announced in July, I e-mailed immediately and said, ‘Is this for real? Because I have four c-sections in October. I’m going to move them if I can come in.’ They said it was real, so I booked my flight.”
Ms. Wilkerson has a bone to pick, however, with the higher echelon of New York bartenders. “I like the intimacy of your really good bartender, which, if you’re good, you connect on a one-to-one level. You do that as a doctor as well. That’s how it should be. I brought a friend of mine to New York two or three months ago, and she made the mistake of asking for something with vodka and basically got a tongue lashing. I think that’s unfortunate. I love cocktails. I like the history of it, the tradition of it, and I’d like to bring my friends in. I think if I opened a bar, it would be a be more egalitarian.”
She perhaps found a kindred spirit when she attended “Cocktails for Your Home Cocktail Party,” a panel led by bar owner Sasha Petraske. (All the Saturday panels were sold out except one.) Though Mr. Petraske owns Milk & Honey, arguably the most exclusive cocktail bar in New York, he is opposed to the over-intellectualization of the bartending profession. “Getting people their drinks is just as important as making them well,” he said. “No drink in the world is worth waiting 20 minutes for.”
“This is not wine,” he continued. “It’s incredibly different than wine. Cocktail are for drinking, and not thinking about. We don’t do what a winemaker does. Anybody can make a good daiquiri—but nobody does.” Ah, there’s the rub.
Among the other nuggets of wisdom to be culled from Mr. Petraske’s presentation: civilized people hold a rocks glass at the lowest point; “citrus to order is the height of service, cutting ice to order is an affectation”; don’t put Champagne or beer in a frozen glass; a home “party party” means five drinks per person, a “civilized party” three drinks per person; if you shake a drink and then fine-strain it, thus eliminating the bristling layer of ice shaving on top of the drink, “it’s like having a child and killing it”; and, if you overserve people at your party, it’s your fault.
“It’s your responsibility to not overserve,” he argued. “Your guest’s judgment is impaired; you’re sober. If they’re really aggressive about getting another drink, a way around that is to serve them a non-alcoholic drink. They probably won’t notice. If they come back to you and say, ‘Hey, you served me a non-alcoholic drink,’ then they’re probably sober enough. Serve them another drink.”
Monday, October 5, 2009
It's a black day for food and wine journalism.
Gourmet, Conde Nast announced, would fold with its November issue, after a run of nearly 70 years. The significance of the failure can't be underestimated in terms of what it means to the food world. Imagine, by comparison, the impact on the literary community if The New York folded. It's like that.
It has been widely speculated for months that Conde Nast, hit hard by the Great Recession and bleeding ad pages, would have to through one of its big food titles under a bus, but many expected it would be the more youthful Bon Appetit. Apparently, the clout of editor Ruch Reichl wasn't enough to save the magazine. Now she has won the dubious of being Gourmet's last editor.
Gourmet magazine was first published in 1941, in the dark days of food and wine journalism. It has illustrated covers and focused on Europe and New York City. Some of the most important early wine journalism in America was written by Gourmet's Frank Schoonmaker. Later on, the magazine employed Gerald Asher, Hugh Johnson and James Beard. These were collected in the valuable anthology "History in a Glass."
One of the things you expect when you attend cocktail-centric conclaves like the Manhattan Cocktail Classic (held this past weekend) is you'll discover some weird and different new cocktail trend or product looming on the horizon.
The first person I saw at the MCC was Portland, Maine, bartender John Myers. I put the question to him, and he said, "Oh, yeah. I just had something this morning that's bizarre." He was referring to Skinos, a Greek spirit that neither of us had ever heard of. It comes in a sleek, clear bottle with a thick white stripe around the center. In the stripe is cut a clear oval through which you can see, on the other side of the bottle, the word Skinos. Very chic.
The back label will tell you that the stuff inside has been savored and celebrated for not centuries, but millinnea. But it doesn't tell you what the liquid is, or where its derived from. For that, I had to go to the website. Skinos is a distillate of the resin extracted from the ancient Mastic tree. Haven't head of it? Well, that may be because you don't live on the Greek island of Chios, the only place these trees grow.
You have to really want this spirit, because it's hard to get. The tree (called "The Crying Tree") purges resin only once a year, in June and July. It takes several weeks of "pricking" and you may only get 80 grams of resin per tree. The sticky result is called Mastiha. The resin is then carted to a warehouse and hand-sorted to get rid of the bad quality resin. It is mixed with neutral spirit and distilled in bronze alembic stills. The result is combined with sugar, more alcohol and mineral water.
If you believe the website, none other than Hippocrates touted Mastiha, saying it could cure stomach aches and fight colds. Dioscurides, a doctor & herbalist from 100 BD, also recognized Mastiha as good for the stomach, the digestion and the teeth. (It apparently has a whitening effect. Roman ladies used to use Mastiha toothpicks.)
This is the only spirit I can think of where the main tasting notes are mint and horseradish. Yet the overall liquor is sweet, owing to the sugar. I liked it. It was a beguiling combination of bitter and sweet characteristics. And it tasted like nothing else—always a plus. I suspect it will find a future in the cocktail world.
There are other Mastiha spirits in the world, by the way. As for Skinos, Lesley Townsend of MCC said they found her rather than the other way around. The liqueur is available in Canada; it's not available in the U.S. yet.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
I was greatly disheartened to hear that Chanterelle, the landmark restaurant in Tribeca, which closed recently for renovations, would not be reopening this fall as previously announced. I had been invited in June to a sort of farewell party on the restaurant's last day of business before temporarily closing. I was busy that night and had to pass on the invitation. At the time I thought it was no big deal; I would make a point of attending the reopening in the fall. Now, I deeply regret the decision.
I liked Chanterelle for many reasons. It was dignified and elegant, but not stuffy. It had standards, but not pretension. It's treated diners well. And, or course, David Waltuck is a great chef, and not the sort to go in for multiple restaurants and celebrity nonsense. But most of all, I appreciated Roger Dagorn, Chanterelle's sommelier. He was, and is, among the most informed and tasteful wine men in the city, and one of a delicate politeness rarely seen in our country and current century. At a 2007 dinner, he served me what may be the finest rose I've ever had, a Mantinia Tselepos 2004, made from the Moschofilero grape
In an era when sommeliers flit from post to post, Dagorn stayed put at Chanterelle for 16 years, allowing diners there to enjoy a certain consistency in their experiences there. He was a trailblazer in his quiet way. He stocked his cellar with small, artisanal producers in the early '90s, long before that practice became common. And he cultivated fine sake as a dinner accompaniment early on. Starting in 1999, he began putting together annual sake dinners at Chanterelle. Earlier this year, he was awarded the prestigious title of Sake Samurai in an elaborate ceremony held in Japan. He is also one of only 160-plus individuals worldwide to be designated a Master Sommelier,
New York won't be robbed of Dagorn for long. He told me he has taken the position of Beverage Director at the Porter House in the Time-Warner Building. Chanterelle had around 5,000 bottles in the cellar; Porter House has 500. I see room for growth in Columbus Circle.
Friday, October 2, 2009
The Manhattan Cocktail Classic, New York's first cocktail centered convention, begins tomorrow at Astor Center—or, at least, what they're calling a two-day preview of the real event, which will happen in May. I'll be there at the "Official Bar," which, I predict, will be where all the action is. As I reported for the New York Times, it will be manned by a rotating roster of fantastic bartenders from both New York and other parts of the country. I mentioned some of the brighter lights in the Times article, but here's a fuller tally:
Alex Day, Death & Co., NYC
Amanda Gager, Mandalay Bay Hotel/StripSteak, Las Vegas
Andrew Friedman, Liberty Bar, Seattle
Angus Winchester, Alconomics, London
Brian Matthys, Izakaya Ten, NYC
Brian Miller, Death & Co, NYC
Chris Bostick, The Varnish, LA
Charles Steadman, The Breakers, Palm Beach, FL
Chris Johnson, Bao 111, NYC
Christian Sanders, Prime Italian, Miami Beach, FL
Colin Appiah, NYC
Damon Dyer, Flatiron Lounge, NYC
Don Lee, Momofuku, NYC
Enzo Lim, The Standard, NYC
Gerry Corcoran, PDT, NYC
Giuseppe Gonzalez, Dutch Kills, NYC
Hillary Choo, Plunge at the Gansevoort South, Miami Beach
Jackie Patterson, Heaven's Dog, SF
Jackson Cannon, Eastern Standard, Boston
Jeremy Thompson, The Raines Law Room, NYC
Jim Meehan, PDT, NYC
Joaquin Simo, Death & Co., NYC
Joel Baker, Bourbon & Branch, SF
John Myers, The Grill Room, Portland, ME
John Deragon, PDT, NYC
Katie Stipe, Mayahuel, NYC
Kenta Goto, Pegu Club, NYC
Kevin Diedrich, Clover Club, NYC
Laura Cullen, Clark’s, Miami Beach
Leo Robitschek, Eleven Madison Park, NYC
Marshall Altier, Crosby Bar at Crosby Street Hotel, NYC
Michael Madrusan, Little Branch, NYC
Naren Young, Bobo, NYC
Neyah White, NOPA, SF
Phil Ward, Mayahuel, NYC
Rhiannon Enlil, Cure, New Orleans
Richie Boccato, Dutch Kills, NYC
Ryan Fitzgerald, Baretta, SF
Ryan Maybee, Manifesto, Kansas City, MO
Sean Kenyon, Steuben’s, Denver, CO
Tad Carducci, Tippling Bros. NYC
Todd Appel, Crimson Lounge-Hotel Sax, Chicago
Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, Craigie on Main, Cambridge, MA
Tonia Guffey, Prana, NYC
The following distaff members of the bar trade will step behind the bar until 1:30 PM on Saturday:
These folks, involved in other aspects of the convention, are also expected to mix a drink or two:
Aisha Sharpe, Contemporary Cocktails, NYC
Andy Seymour, aka wine geek, NYC
Willy Shine, Contemporary Cocktails, NYC
Steve Olson, aka wine geek, NYC
Tim Cooper, Contemporary Cocktails, NYC
Leo DeGroff, aka wine geek, NYC
Brent Lamberti, Contemporary Cocktails
Ben Clemons, 33 Libations, NYC
Carlos Yturria, San Francisco
Danny Valdez, New Orleans
Eric Alperin, The Varnish, LA
Jacques Bezuidenhout, San Francisco
John Lermayer, Morgan Hotel Group, Miami
Jon Santer, San Francisco
Jeff Grdinich, New Hampshire
Misty Kalkofen, Drink, Boston
Ricky Gomez, Cure, New Orleans
Matty Eggleston, The Milk of Paradise Spirits Co., LA
And don't be surprised if some others show up.