Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Repeal Day

A few days ago, this country celebrated the 78th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition.  The Nobel Experiment engendered by the 18th Amendment came to an inglorious end with the ratification of the 21st Amendment.  The effects of Prohibition would be felt for decades as it had a predictably negative effect on alcohol production in this country.  It would take decades for the beer-brewing and winemaking to recover.  Not to mention, the detrimental effect that Prohibition had on the way the American public drank, most notably the fondness of tasteless, high-volume beer and sweet, overly alcoholic wine.  On the other hand, Prohibition had the effect of promoting cocktails, after all, the only sources of alcohol were generally poor quality distilled spirits: bathtub gin, smuggled rum, moonshine and Canadian whiskey.  Moreover, barmen like Harry Craddock, plied their trade in Europe and became exposed to an even wider variety of cocktail ingredients.  Not to mention, we still have a strong fascination for speakeasies and a gilded memory of that era.  In any case, Prohibition ended, thankfully, and cocktails experienced a short boom.

In my annual celebration of the end of Prohibition (really, what is better than a holiday celebrating the fact that you are allowed to drink), I had a bit of a bash, managing to fit some 30 or so people in my apartment.  Given my experience in past years, bartending all night and shaking up a storm, I decided that I wanted to give myself to enjoy the soirée and be a better host to my guests this year.  The solution? Punch, in abundant quantities.

My first instinct was to go in a very classical direction, and this idea led to the first punch being the ever so popular Chatham Artillery Punch.  This punch was one of the first I remember reading about before the more recent punch resurgence in the past year or so, especially following the publication of David Wondrich's Punch: The Delights and Dangers of the Flowing Bowl.  Moreover, having made this particular punch before to a favorable reception, I thought it a safe starting point.  The recipe I used was from the NYTimes adaptation of Wondrich's recipe, which I've found primarily deviates in the amount of lemon peel (12 in the book to the 8 here).

Chatham Artillery Punch
Peel 8 lemons
1 lb sugar
16 oz lemon juice
1 bottle bourbon
1 bottle cognac
1 bottle dark rum
3 bottles champagne
*Muddle peels with sugar and let the oleo-saccharum rest for at least an hour, then add the rest of the liquid ingredients

The second punch for the evening was the Golden Fleece Punch, which has appeared with variations on a theme under a couple of other names, including the Gowanus Club Punch and the Plymouth Pilgrims' Punch.  The underlying theme uniting these punches is the use of a gin-base, along with the inclusion of green tea, pineapple and a touch of some herbal liqueur.  The recipe is again from David Wondrich (is it really any surprise that his name comes up repeatedly when talking of punch?).  I had to make a few tweaks from the original recipe as I couldn't find a ripe pineapple at the local store and lacked Drambuie.  Thus, I made a pineapple syrup using pineapple juice and sugar at a 1:1 ratio, and I substituted Licor 43 and yellow Chartreuse for the Drambuie.

Golden Fleece Punch
Peel 3 lemons
1/4 c sugar
1 c lemon juice
1L gin
1 q weak green tea (I used Longjing)
1/2c pineapple rich syrup
2.5T Drambuie
1 L soda
*Muddle peels with sugar and let the oleo-saccharum rest for at least an hour, then add the rest of the liquid ingredients

Lastly, I had a third punch waiting in the wings, a Xalapa Punch recommended to me by Fred from Cocktail Virgin Slut, but there really was no need by the time the two previous punches were running low.  I should also add that I did end up making a very short menu for people to order off of should neither punch strike their fancy.  I do enjoy dabbling in bartending too, so I could not give up mixing entirely.  In the end, the punch route did allow me to mix less and mingle more.




Happy Repeal Day to all!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Small luxuries

Domaine Huet Vouvray Pétillant Brut
With its subtle perfume, refreshing acidity and delicate carbonation, a truly mirthful quaff best enjoyed amongst the most charming of friends.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Scotch Roundup: October

Last month, I was lucky enough to attend a Bruichladdich tasting arranged by Joe at Federal W&S.  This tasting was an especially memorable treat as we were led by Jim McEwan, the noted master distiller of Bruichladdich.  Formerly of Bowmore, Jim partnered with some investors a little over ten years ago to buy the defunct Bruichladdich distillery and restore its antique stills to functional form.  Ever since then, he has been meticulously producing small-batch scotches that have garnered significant acclaim.  As he spoke about the whiskies, his passion for the art was absolutely evident, and this passion was apparent in the glass as well.

Bruichladdich Laddie Ten
Tasting notes:
  • Laddie Ten
    N:
    Honey, ocean breeze, lemon taffy
    P: Peaches, Midori, oaky vanilla, honey on light toast
    All the barley that goes into this whisky comes from Islay itself, and the spirit is aged in bourbon and sherry casks
  • Bruichladdich 21
    N:
    Dried figs, candied orange peels, dates, pralines
    P: Raisins in abundance, honey nut cheerios, walnuts
    Aged in oloroso sherry casks, recommended without water
  • Black Art 2
    N:
    Black cherry, pomegranate, drying paint
    P: Cherries, amaretto, malted grains, kirsch, strawberries
    Jim would not share how this whisky was aged, but I would venture to guess Bordeaux wine casks
  • Port Charlotte PC6
    N: Throwing wet hay on a fire, drying herbs in a farmhouse, jamon, vanilla, toffee, sweet cream
    P: Burnt toast, vanilla creme wafers, tart apples, sichuan peppercorn, salted preserved lemon
    Second in the PC series, aged in madeira casks, worth comparing to the PC8
Bruichladdich 21
Additionally, the Organic 2003 was tasted by the group, but I did not get any.  I definitely do feel fortunate that we were among the first people in the US to get a taste of the new Laddie Ten, which is the bottling of scotch under the Bruichladdich name made entirely by the new owners.  My understanding is that the majority of the Bruichladdich on the market now is spirit distilled by the old owners, such as the 21 year.  For some hyperbolic and imaginative prose, it is worth checking out Jim's tasting notes, available on the Bruichladdich website.

Black Art 2

Monday, November 7, 2011

Refining Protocol

As a Southern in such Northern climes, I occasionally have gustatory cravings that are hard to satisfy.  Sweet tea, biscuits and gravy, barbecue, fried chicken.  Granted, a few restaurants here and there are satisfactory, but they are certainly few and far between (emphasis on "far").  Thereupon, I resolved to find a remedy in my own kitchen.  I have long made sweet tea at home, but the other items would prove more challenging.  Alas, barbecue requires an outdoor space wherein a smoker can be utilized for hours at a time, and I have no such space.  Thankfully, my friend Dan would rig up his charcoal grill as a smoker for barbecuing purposes every now and again to excellent effect.  Thus, as I was recently struck by a rather powerful yen for fried chicken, I decided to embark upon this new project.

Understand, Southern though I may be, I have never needed to fry chicken at home, nor did I have a grandmother who could teach me the secrets of frying chicken (albeit, I am indebted to my grandmother for other such culinary arcana).  On the other hand, it has become a family tradition of frying a turkey at least once a year for Thanksgiving, and often once over the Christmas holiday as well.  Therefore, frying fowl was nothing new to me, but I did want to try and refine my chicken frying methods as much as possible.

Having brined the family fried turkey on many occasions, I knew that brining was important in producing a succulent end product.  I read on a couple of occasions that the chicken should be brined for no more than 12 hours or else the meat would become too salty.  However, practically speaking, if I wanted fried chicken for dinner, then I would have to wake up at 4 am or so to start the brining.  Simply put, an incredible inconvenience.  On the other hand, other recipes have suggested using salted buttermilk to brine, and yet others describe a method of brining first in salted water, then transferring to buttermilk.  Additionally, the importance of having dry chicken to fry became apparent as all recipes either suggested air drying or patting dry with paper towels.  Having only so much space in my fridge and a desire for only so much chicken, I decided to pick 3 methods to test.

1) Brine for 20 hours, then air dry for 2 hours;
2) Brine for 12 hours, rest for 8 hours in buttermilk, then air dry for 2 hours;
3) Brine for 12 hours, pour over boiling water*, and then air dry for 10 hours;

[*The method of pouring boiling water over the chicken before air drying comes from the traditional method of making Peking duck whereby the whole duck is submerged in a pot of boiling water for a mere moment for a day of air drying.  The logic behind this treatment is that the boiling water will tighten the skin and quickly render some of the subcutaneous fat to allow for a crispier skin.]

Clockwise from right: (2), (1), (3)

For now, there are several variables that I decided to keep constant.  I used only chicken thighs with bone in and skin on.  The last 2 hours of air drying was done as room temperature to allow the cold chicken to warm up before frying.  The oil temperature was to be kept as close to 330˚F as possible, and the frying oil used was corn oil.  The frying was done in a cast iron dutch oven that contained oil about 2 inches deep.  I could fry 3 pieces at a time with my setup.  For my first experiment, the brine was closely mimicking the brine recipe from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home cookbook.

Frying chicken

The one that immediately stood out was condition (3), which was a bit drier than the other two.  Conditions (1) and (2) seemed to me to be equally moist.  However, condition (1) was certainly saltier and had taken on more of the flavors of the herbs and spices present in the brine.  There may have been a slight glimmer that (2) had a bit more of a buttermilk tang.  To me, though, the brine I used was almost too fragrant compared the the fried chicken to which I am accustomed.  I saved one piece of each to be eaten several hours later after the chicken had cooled down to room temperature.  My observations were largely the same.

The last variable before frying was how to dredge: 1) No dredging; 2) Buttermilk, then flour; 3) Flour, buttermilk, flour.

No dredging
Buttermilk, then flour

Flour, buttermilk, flour
The results of the three dredging treatments came out thus.  Visually, there was a quite noticeable difference in the three methods.  The first yielded crackling skin much like what I am used to on a fried turkey or a Peking duck; it was delicious when eaten immediately, but became more leathery as the chicken cooled.  The second method yielded an extremely thin and crispy coating that almost had a texture of very thin potato crisps, but it also did not stay this way by the next day.  The last method resulted in a noticeably thicker, audibly crunchy crust, which did stay crunchy through the next day.  Thus, I decided to stick with the latter method of coating the dried chicken in flour, then dipping in buttermilk before flouring again.

As a result, I decided to go with the method of brining first, then transferring to buttermilk with the double flour dredge.  A human trial of a second batch of chicken made with this preferred method was brought to a potluck where it was well-received.  Notably, I did not try the salted buttermilk method, and there is certainly room for more tinkering.

The Aftermath

My recipe follows below:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Shingo Gokan

Recently, I found a couple videos of one of my favorite bartenders, Shingo Gokan of Angel's Share in New York.






Seeing Angel's Share again, even in video form (in brighter lighting that I am used to and with unnecessarily overwrought slow-motion videography), made me miss it immensely.  I guess that just means that I will have to make a trip down to New York sometime soon.

As a bonus, below is the recipe of one of cocktails that Shingo taught me, the Speak Low, which has recently also come back to my mind because of the temporal evolution aspect of the drink, a broader theme worth delving into at a later time.  I had initially sampled the drink back in May, and my impression of the drink was documented earlier.

Speak Low
From Shingo Gokan of Angel's Share
50 mL Pampero Aniversario rum
15 mL Osborne Pedro Ximenez 1827 sherry
3 tsp matcha


EDIT (11/1/11): Apparently there's even a video for the Speak Low that I just now saw.  The recipe given in the video is a little different from the one given to me originally, and I would be quite interested to try the new version with the switch in rums.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Scotch Roundup: September

As Joe at Federal W&S had recently emailed me to say that he had received some bottles of Ardbeg Uigeadail, a bottle about which I had previously inquired, I decided to swing by and pick it up.  Unfortunately, as I had already made arrangements to meet some friends for dinner at Oliveira's in Eastie, I did not have enough foresight to consider that I would have to lug my precious new acquisition across town.  Nevertheless, the bottle made the trek with me and waited patiently as the rodizio churrascaria kicked into full gear, with nary a moment where my plate was without meat.  Afterward, I went home to recover and to slake my thirst.

Ardbeg Uigeadail (non chill-filtered, 54.2% abv):
Nose - smoke, smoke, soot, peat, bonfires, saline, burning leaves in autumn, smoke; after adjusting to the smokiness, jamon, lingonberry jam, bread pudding and Kansas City-style barbecue, pancakes and bacon; a savory, meaty sweetness subsumed by smoke
Taste - hit of initial spice, aggressive pepper, cigar tobacco both before being smoked and the ash after, salted caramel, worn leather, s'mores, a medicinal bitterness, cherry candy at the very end as everything else is fading; after a bit of water is added, the smoke and spice drop off a bit to reveal a touch of creamy sweetness, toffee, brioche, cashew butter, cinnamon, darkly roasted coffee

Ardbeg Uigeadail
 Later in the month, when I was down in DC, I met up with Carlos and Casie at Jack Rose.  My previous trip there was fantastic, so I was eager to go again.  Not much had changed since my last visit, although the gears seemed to be a bit better oiled.  I wasted no time in ordering my first dram, having picked the distillery of Longmorn while on the Metro ride over, as it got consistently good marks in the Malt Maniacs Matrix.  The second was a Port Charlotte because I could not afford the Port Ellen, and the third was just a random shot in the dark.  I also had a chance to try the Dallas Dhu that Carlos ordered.
Port Charlotte (PC6 is pictured, PC8 tasting notes below)
  • Longmorn 15 (45%):
    Cooked apples, lychee, mild British-style curry, lemonade sweetened with honey
  • Port Charlotte PC8 (60.5%):
    Cumin, hickory-smoked barbecue, cedar-wood sauna, peaty
  • Glenburgie 26 year (Signatory C/S collection, 1983-2010, hogshead C#9812, 266 of 289, 55.2%):
    Bubblegum, grapes, sweetened breakfast cereal, tangerines or kumquats, black pepper but not the spice thereof
  • Dallas Dhu 18 year (The Cooper's Choice):
    Very fruit forward, mango, celery, gooseberries, champagne
Glenburgie 26 year
 After Jack Rose, we adjourned to Carlos' apartment, where he was kind enough to share a bit of his Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix.  By this point, my palate was no longer as sharp as it should be to appreciate the nuances of whisky, but it tasted the most grain-forward of the scotches that night, more specifically, buttered toast.  In addition to the grain malts, it tasted of honey, nuts and fall fruits.
Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix

Monday, October 10, 2011

PX

On a muggy evening a few weeks back, I met up with Carlos on a quiet corner in downtown Alexandria.  A few revelers could be seen carousing up and down King Street, but we turned our attention down a quiet side street.  Coming to a door lit with a blue lamp, we went up the stoop and rang the bell.  As we waited, a couple ladies parked their car on the opposite side of the street and fell into line behind us.  A moment later, the peephole slid open, the darkness obscuring the observer within.  Pleasantries were exchanged in hushed voices.  The door opened a crack to let the two of us in; the women behind us were not as fortunate.

Ushered upstairs, we first passed a room full of gentlemen, nattily dressed perhaps, but clearly as an affectation, for a goodly number still had their hats atop their heads.  A gentleman does not fail to remove his hat in private spaces, much less while in the presence of ladies.  Then came the main stage, the dais upon which the master practiced his art.  A small bar with ten or so seats around it, mahogany and marble, matching the rest of the dimly lit room, all mahogany and white upholstery.  We continued on, however, into the last room, a parlour of sorts, the type that would easily play host to a salon of literary wits.

Parlour
We took our seats as indicated, joining the other eight occupants in the room who were all engaged in hushed conversations.  Aside from the dim chandelier, the room was illuminated by plenty of votive candles on the side tables and mantel ledges.  The ledges also were home to a variety of vintage cocktail shakers, soda siphons and the like.  After perusing the menu, I decided to make my first drink the Dreaming of the Green Can, whereas Carlos picked the Norfolk Dumpling.  I also took the opportunity while I had the server's attention to request a move to the bar as soon as a couple seats opened up.  Habitual barfly that I am, I feel more at home in that specific habitat.

While the menu certainly had many interesting drinks, I wanted to play it safe to start; after all, I think it is more useful to judge the quality of the cocktails that are more simple.  Containing roasted pineapple juice, hibiscus bitters, pimiento dram, and Barbancourt 8, my first cocktail sounded, and indeed tasted, very tiki.  Served up, unlike most tiki drinks, I was struck by how balanced it was with mellow pineapple, allspice coming to the fore, and a subsumed rum backbone.  Personally, I think I would have preferred a rum with a bit more character to stand up to the spices, such as an agricole.

Menu, Page 1
While a very good cocktail, it was by no means as adventurous nor as exciting as the Norfolk Dumpling, which contained and tasted very strongly of duck sauce.  To be honest, it tasted like Chinese food and very little else.  Out of balance, perhaps, but it showed some signs of real creativity and funk.  Thus, for my next drink, I took up the gauntlet and got the I Bet You Won't Order This Cocktail.  We had finished our previous round with perfect timing as a couple seats at the bar did indeed become available, and we made our move to the front row.

I Bet You Won't Order This Cocktail
After making introductions, Clinton, the sole bartender behind the stick, mentioned that my order was not a challenge.  Containing soy sauce, honey, citrus vinegar, smoked Blackstrap rum and Ron Zacapa, one could certainly beg to differ.  While the beautifully creamy head was one reason why a straw was needed, the intensity of the drink would be another.  The soy sauce was not overpowering, unlike the previous duck sauce, but it did lend a very noticeable umami taste to the drink that played very well with the molasses from the rum.  This was definitely a drink for sipping.

The Bar, PX
On the other hand, Carlos picked the Sampaloc Sour for his second round based on his affinity for tamarind.  If tamarind was what he was after, then the drink hit the nail on the head.  We also learned later that the tamarind syrup that the bar uses also includes some dates, which I think really made a nice bridge between the tamarind and the rum.

Next, Carlos stuck with a dried-fruit flavors sort of theme by picking the I Don't Know off the menu, which contained figs, while I challenged Clinton to make me something with basil.  Basil is one of Jose's favorite challenge ingredients, and I thought it especially appropriate as summer was winding down.  In return, I was served a Basil N' Bourbon.  As the name implies, the drink contained basil, in the form of a basil syrup, but instead of bourbon, my drink had rye.  The drink was rounded out with lemon juice, lemon bitters and a spicy ginger ale.  I found the combination to be quite perfect, with the basil playing off the rye's grass notes while the ginger played off the spice notes, and the lemon brought everything into balance.

Basil N' Bourbon
Meanwhile, Carlos was intrigued by use of spices and decided that his last drink would be the Cure All, which featured fresh tumeric.  While one typically thinks of tumeric as an ingredient in Indian curries, the freshly grated stuff was far less pungent.  The rest of the cocktail was composed of gin, blanco tequila and a coconut-basil soda, again demonstrating the inventiveness and focus on culinary ingredients.

Menu, Page 2
As the night was quickly winding down, I decided that my last drink should be in a dessert of sorts and asked Clinton to use scotch as the base.  Thus, he made me a Ron Burgundy with Macallan 12, tamarind syrup, orange juice syrup, orange bitters and orange zest.  Despite containing no chocolate, I distinctly thought I could taste something rather chocolatey along side the malts of the scotch; it must be some interplay of the ingredients that generated that mirage.  It was a perfect way to end the evening, one that I very much enjoyed.

By that point, the bar had emptied out and the hour grew late.  I thanked Clinton for a fantastic evening and promised to visit in the future.  As Carlos and I found ourselves back out on the stoop, we made plans to meet again under the light of the blue lantern and went our separate ways, leaving behind that unmarked door and the wonderful drinks within.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Elk Cove Wine Dinner

A few weeks ago, Jose and I had the chance to attend a wine dinner at Lineage featuring Elk Cove Vineyards.  Having previously enjoyed the Berkshire Mountain Distillery cocktail dinner at Lineage, I had high expectations as the prior experience was superb.  This time did not deviate from my expectations as the pairings were all very well thought out and executed.

After arriving (a bit too early), we caught the staff in the middle of a meeting, but we did not have to wait long before the wine started flowing.  With the passed hors d'oeuvre came glasses of 2010 Pinot Gris, which I thought was quite pleasant and easy-going, with notes of limes, gooseberries, and some kind of candy like Smarties or SweeTarts.  This wine was definitely one that I would consider a crowd-pleaser, especially for the likes of a late-summer garden party.  Moreover, the wine went well with a somewhat seafood inflected selection of hors d'oeuvre, including lobster salad served on spoons, gravlax on toast, and parmesan gougères with pesto.

Elk Cove Pinot Gris 2010
Parmesan Gougères with Pesto
A few minutes of mingling later, Jose and I found our seats.  We somehow managed the good fortune of being assigned to a table with a fantastic group of people, for which I suppose I much be quite thankful to Amy.  Not only was our table probably the youngest on average, but also probably the most convivial, at least from the volume of laughter, with no disrespect to anyone else in attendance intended.

People aside, we started the dinner with a salad of Late Summer Market Vegetables with Alisa Craig onion purée and Vermont goat cheese.  Particularly notable in the medley of vegetables were some tasty beets and peas.  The wine pairing for this course was a Pinot Blanc 2009.  Prior to this glass, I cannot recall previously having tasted a pinot blanc, so it was certainly a learning experience.  My tasting notes involve pineapple, raspberries, chalkiness, and lemony acidity.

Late Summer Market Vegetables
The second course was entitled Oak Roasted Mushrooms, constructed as a sort of open-faced pasty and topped by a crispy shallot and herb salad with pinot vinaigrette.  The mushrooms were absolutely delicious and presaged the coming autumn*, although it was my thought that the pastry could have been perhaps a bit flakier.  A glass of Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2008 accompanied this dish quite successfully with hints of blueberries and cherry pie woven tightly together with very silky tannins.  The mushrooms in the dish, or perhaps the oak roasting thereof, rather enhanced the wet-forest-floor earthiness in the wine and vice versa.

Oak Roasted Mushrooms
Next came the main course of Long Island Duck Breast served with fingerling potatoes, toasted hazelnuts, sweet corn and scallions alongside.  The dish itself actually struck me as somewhat unusual since it lacked the usual sweetness that one usually finds in many preparations of duck breast.  Instead, it was altogether quite savory, with the hazelnuts loudly providing both textural and gustatory punctuation.  I think the idea of preparing the duck in this fashion was to underline the compatibility of the paired wine, a Pinot Noir "La Bohème" 2009.  The wine featured blackberries and cherries heavily, the intensity of the fruit balanced in part by a bit of what I found to be either pâte sucrée or snickerdoodles.

Long Island Duck Breast
The meal was concluded by Poached Sparrow Arc Pear with almond puree and star anise ice cream.  While the pear was not poached quite as soft as I tend to prefer, the synergy with the star anise ice cream was spectacular.  The concluding wine was an equally sweet Ultima 2008, a dessert wine made from a blend of riesling, gewürztraminer and muscat.  I found it to have flavors of tarte tatin, dried apricots and marmalade, but with enough acidity as to prevent it from being cloying.**

Overall, the dinner certainly lived up to expectations with a full roster of both delicious food and wine.  Undoubtedly, Amy had to put in a lot of effort into the logistical planning before the event for it to go so smoothly, and the rest of the Lineage staff were as charming as ever.  I can only hope that more wine/cocktail pairing dinners are slated for the future, but until then Lineage will still remain one of my regular destinations. 


Friday, September 16, 2011

Scotch Roundup: August

While I had gotten quite interested in scotch back in college, with many thanks to my roommates most notably for their encouragement, I had not really built up much of a scotch collection after moving to Boston.  More recently, my visit to Jack Rose in DC had rekindled my interest in scotch.  Having remembered a friend back in St. Louis giving me the recommendation of getting in touch with a fine fellow named Joe at Federal Wine and Spirits for all things regarding scotch in Boston, I sent off an email and was quite pleased to learn about a monthly scotch tasting program there.

Perhaps I should not have been too surprised, but upon my arrival a couple minutes late, I was told that the tasting session had become quite full with an excess of attendees.  Fortunately, an impromptu tasting had been spontaneously scheduled for later in the evening since there were a number of us who could not get in.  Thus, after a bit of a wait, we were rewarded with a tasting of five scotches from the collection of independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail.  My tasting notes in summary:

Gordon & MacPhail in the cellar at Federal W&S

  • Connoisseur's Choice: Littlemill 1991, bottled 2007
    Savory malts, fennel seed and other spices, dried orange peel, chicory, very peppery, apples
  • Benromach 10 year
    *Distilled from peated barley at a Speyside distillery owned by G&M; aged in both bourbon and sherry casks that are then blended and married in oloroso casks for a final year
    Sweeter toffee, a hint of peaty smoke but without the brine, mulled wine, spiced cake, candied oranges, dried fruit
  • Connoisseur's Choice Glenesk 1984, 20 year
    Pears, cooked apples, banana, full of fruit, heather, honey, warming spices
  • Macphail 25 year
    Honey, nuts, very buttery, smooth and mellow, nectarines, sandalwood
  • Mortlach Cask Strength 1993
    Lemons, heavily spiced, Sichuan peppercorns, oak, grapefruit, gingerbread, challah
In addition to these 5 lovely scotches, the visit to Federal also gave me a chance to pick up a scotch for my own home collection.  While I would have liked to pick up one of those featured in the tasting, they were all sold out by the time I came around.  They were also out of the Ardbeg Uigeadail that I was interested in.  Instead, Joe introduced me to a bottle of Murray McDavid Laphroaig 1998 11 year, aged in Château Pétrus casks from one of the most prized estates of Pomerol, Bordeaux.  The aging in former red wine casks certain gives it a very distinct wine-like character, not to mention a pinkish color.  At first, toasty malts with a touch of smoke, but that develops into citrus peels, cherries, blackcurrants, and strawberry shortcake.  Its certainly on the sweeter side of scotches with the merlot heritage shining through, but it does not ever lose balance.  Extremely tasty, eminently balanced, and too easily quaffed as a nightcap.

Murray McDavid Laphroaig 1998 11 year

    Saturday, August 20, 2011

    L'Entente Cordiale

    A few weeks month* ago happened to be not only Bastille Day, but also the First Night of the Proms two days in a row.  Thus, in order to celebrate the occasion, I threw a little bash with a Franco-Anglo theme.
    Invitation
     I must thank Felicia immensely for her wonderful artwork and the effort she put into designing both the invitation seen above and the menu seen below.  For the invitation, I had simply asked for something along the lines of Alphonse Mucha's recognizable art nouveau style.  Since Mucha invariably had female figures in his posters, I suggested Britannia and Marianne as symbolic figures.

    Menu front

    Menu back
    As is obvious on the menu, half the drinks were inspired by the Union Jack and the other half by the Tricolore.  There are number of classic cocktails on the menu, including the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, Lion's Tail, English Rose, Blue Train Special, Absinthe Frappé, Boulevardier, Vermouth Cassis and the French 75.  In addition, I included a couple drinks from the local bar scene: the Parisian Orchid from Green Street and the Thames River (which I misremembered as the River Thames when writing my menu) from Fred at cocktail virgin slut.  Lastly a couple drinks are variations of my own.

    The cucumber gimlet is an idea that I've seen floating all over the place, but I think my method is slightly unique.  To be more correct in my nomenclature, the drink is rather a sweetened rickey rather than a gimlet.  At the time I wrote the menu, my intention was to use cucumber juice to make a syrup to sweeten the fresh lime juice in a gimlet rather than using Rose's lime cordial.  However, I drifted away from this idea in favor of making a cucumber-infused soda because I wanted more subtlety.  The soda was made by first shredding a whole cucumber and letting it steep for 4 hours in 1 L of water.  Then, I transferred this cucumber flavored water into my iSi soda siphon along with 4 thin wedges of cucumber, seed removed.  I proceeded to carbonate, borrowing a trick seen at Clio and Drink of flash infusing the liquid inside.  The resultant soda had a noticeable cucumber taste, but one that was more subtle and fragrant.  This flavor was not lost when used in the rickey, and provided a refreshing, herbaceous background that flitted in between the gin and lime.

    The second original drink on the menu is the Stone of Scone, named after the legendary Scottish stone upon which the monarchs of Britain are crowned.  As should be obvious from the name, the drink uses scotch as a base.  I was thinking about the use of tea in a number of punches and cocktails, and while the tea is usually brewed separately as an ingredient or turned into a syrup, I wanted to use tea without the dilution.  Thus, I decided to infuse the scotch with tea, using Earl Grey in particular because I wanted the rich citrus fragrance of bergamot in addition to the tannic tea.  For the infusion, I used 4 Earl Grey teabags in 2 cups of scotch and allowed it to infuse for 2 hours.

    To balance the tannins and the scotch, I added lemon juice to the mix.  During this thought process, I also saw a guest post in cocktail virgin slut about damson gin.  I rather like the idea of damson gin and was about to start from scratch to make a cocktail featuring it instead of scotch, but I was sadly unable to procure a bottle in time, so I found the next best thing to be Japanese plum wine.  As the plum wine is quite sweet already, only a dash more grenadine was needed to round it out.  I also used a dash each of Angostura and orange bitters.  Lastly, the Famous Grouse I used for the infusion was not smoky enough for my tastes, so I decided to rinse the glass with a bit of Bowmore, the only Islay I had on hand.

    Stone of Scone
    2 oz Earl Grey-infused scotch
    3/4 oz plum wine
    1/2 oz lemon juice
    Dash grenadine
    Dash Angostura bitters
    Dash orange bitters
    Shake and strain into a glass rinsed with an Islay scotch. Lemon twist.

    Stone of Scone
     As for the name, there's an extra bit of wordplay.  The stone is so named because it was kept at Scone Abbey in the village of Scone near Perth.  However, the word scone is also often associated with afternoon tea.  Pronounced differently despite the identical spelling, perhaps, but I thought the idea of Earl Grey and plums also hearkened of afternoon tea.  The next step would be to somehow incorporate some clotted cream..


    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

    Whistler/Vancouver

     If only there were no high-voltage transmission lines..

    I would rather not bore you with all the quotidian details.  Suffice it to say, weather was lovely for refreshing constitutionals and the scenery most charming.  Aside from the sunshine, coastal breeze, montane air and abundant verdancy, the comestibles have been delightful.  A quick summary of particularly noteworthy nosh follows:
    • Nita Lake Lodge charcuterie, Caprese salad with balsamic sorbet, and roasted pheasant with potatoes au gratin (Alta Bistro, Whistler)
    • Steamed mussels with coconut, lime and white wine; venison with mushrooms and spatzle (RimRock Cafe, Whistler)
    • Late night snack: Nostrala raw cows' milk cheese from Kootenay Alpine Cheese Co. and venison prosciutto from Oyama Sausage Co. on Granville Island paired with Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Valley merlot 2009
    • Local cherries and blueberries from the farmers' market; wild blackberries picked at a scenic overlook off the Sea to Sky highway
    Abundance of fruit at the Granville Public Market
    • Food truck hopping: Okonomi dog at Japadog and Korean short rib taco at Roaming Dragon
    • Beard Papa! (nostalgically reminds me of Taipei)
    • Takoyaki, seared marinated ahi tuna steak, grilled beef tongue, yaki udon, and stewed pork belly at Guu Garlic 
    Takoyaki at Guu Garlic
    • Miso ramen at Benkei
    • Dim sum at Good Choice including some very good congee, har gow, pea shoots, fupi juan and dan ta.  The dan ta were so good in fact that we ended up tripling our initial order after having relished the first.
    While I was unable to try any of the cocktail bars in Vancouver for one reason or another, the trip was marked by a significant consumption of local wine from BC's Okanagan Valley.  I certainly was not really aware that BC had a wine growing region, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality.  Other than the Jackson-Triggs mentioned above, a couple favorites:
    • Cassini Pinot Noir 2008: strawberries, cherries, floral hints of violet or lavender, earthiness of damp loam lurking, silky tannins, but noticeably still a bit young, would definitely improve with a couple years of age
    • Cedar Creek Merlot 2008: lots of ripe blackberries, blackcurrant jam, round and satiny, chocolate covered cherries, the type with a bit of kirsch, touch of warm wood sitting by a fire to dry
    Sad to have missed many things including cocktails, oysters and sashimi, but that simply means that I'll have to return in the future.  The climate definitely suits me.

    UBC Rose Garden looking across the Strait of Georgia

    Friday, July 29, 2011

    Restless

    I, upon waking,
    felt overwhelming ennui.
    Bow tie, salvation.

    Friday, July 22, 2011

    Government work, Part II

    The next day, we decided to head up to the Adams Morgan area to visit Jack Rose, a new bar that had just opened a couple weeks before.  Having read about it on UrbanDaddy as a "library of whiskey," I was quite intrigued.  As we walked closer, however, I immediately noticed a line that had formed in front of the establishment, with the people standing in line dressed as if to go clubbing.  This sight gave me significant consternation and other feelings of foreboding.  Good whiskey and club are not words that are commonly associated.

    Thankfully, we discovered upon reaching the door that the line was for the rooftop bar, and that there was no line for the main bar downstairs.  Later we learned that the ground floor bar had only just opened for service a couple days prior, and there was a general feeling of being unfinished around the edges.  However, the description of the place as a "library of whiskey" is not far from the truth, and not just any library.  The Library of Congress and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault come to mind, any available wall space in the rather large room was covered in shelves stocking whisk(e)y.  Purportedly, there were close to 500 bottles of rye and bourbon, and twice that of scotch.  We were lucky to snag a nice booth in the far corner with a semicircular banquette, and we had arrived just in time as the bar soon began to fill with those people outside who decided that having a drink inside beat waiting in line.

     Many whiskies adorn the walls of Jack Rose

    There did not seem to be service at our table, so we went over to the bar to order drinks.  One difficulty with such a large selection of whiskey is curating it and presenting the list in some comprehensible form.  In this department, Jack Rose needed work as there was no list.  Thus, ordering a dram depended on what labels one could read and what labels one can remember offhand.  For my first drink, I wanted something to ease into as I had not had much scotch in some time.  I ended up getting the Glenkinchie 12, as the distillery is one that I had heard of, but never tried before.  This whisky came across with a lot of heather, honey and nuts; it was good, but nothing fantastic.

    As some in my group had been before, they caught the attention of Rachel, the beverage director, and Bill, the proprietor.  Both of them were rather amiable despite the increasingly hectic atmosphere as more patrons filled the bar.  After being introduced, Bill asked what my pleasure was, and I joked that being a Tennessean, born and raised, I had to have certain loyalties.  This quip turned out to be quite fortuitous as he mentioned that he was about to open and try a bottle of George Dickel 10 year old special barrel reserve with another patron and that he would pour me a taste as well.  In addition to notes of corn, oak and straw that I expect from George Dickel, there was also strong hints of sugarcane and banana.  It ended up being a particularly special treat as I have since learned that this expression of George Dickel is no longer bottled.

    My next dram was Abelour A'bunadh, another whisky that I had heard of before, but which I have never tried.  This one also came with both Carlos' and Rachel's recommendations.  Despite being a whisky that is certainly on the sweeter side, it definitely had far more depth and intensity than the Glenkinchie.  Full of caramel, chocolate sauce, dates, raisins, PX sherry, but put into frame with strong spice on the tongue.  Unfortunately, I did not catch which bottling of the A'bunadh it was, as bottlings can vary in taste quite distinctly.

    In the mean time, Arthur and Casie started with Yamazaki 12, but then moved into cocktail territory.  Clare also stuck with cocktails, including the namesake Jack Rose.  Of what I tasted of the cocktails, I would personally stick to the whiskies.  Whereas the quality of cocktail served was not bad, it was nothing extraordinary, unlike the multitude of whiskies from which to choose.  Carlos, on the other hand, drank only scotches, like me.  However, his tastes led him to the smokier end of the spectrum, getting the Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist 1990 first and the Ardbeg Corryvreckan second.  The Airigh Nam Beist was simply superb, one of the best whiskies I think I have thus far tasted.  At first, the nose brought iodine, peat and the idea of a Norse funeral.  However, the taste was quite balanced for an Islay.  Smokey peat was there, but subsumed by the symphony of other flavors: velvety cashew butter, tart apples, salted toffee, coffee, lavender and black pepper.  On the other hand, the Corryvreckan struck me as tasting exactly like burnt toast, maybe spread with a bit of Nutella, but thoroughly burnt nonetheless.

    By the end of the night, as the bar was clearing out, Carlos and I both got half pours of the Bunnahabhain 12 and the Bunnahabhain Heavily Peated Unchillfiltered Signatory 1997.  Trying the 12 first, I was struck by how extremely slight the presence of peat is, despite Bunnahabhain being an Islay distillery.  Instead, I tasted a lot of dried grass, papaya and other tropical fruit.  The contrast was even more notable after sipping the Heavily Peated, which tasted more similar to what I have come to expect from Islay whiskies.  The latter was characterized by roasted nuts, seaside driftwood, throwing wet hay on a campfire, burnt toffee.

    Bunnahabhain Heavily Peated Unchillfiltered Signatory 1997

    Bill was a great host, and it was truly wonderful to try some of these delicious and rare whiskies.  Of the ones we tried, I believe the Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist, the George Dickel 10 year Special Reserve and the Bunnahabhain Heavily Peated Signatory are no longer bottled expressions.  There were a few snags in service, slowness and bartenders who are not thoroughly educated on the offerings, the latter problem exacerbated by the lack of a menu or list.  The slowness seemed to be caused by unfamiliarity on the one hand and only one cashier terminal with which to do all the monetary transactions.  Hopefully, both issues will be resolved soon as I would love to return next time I am in DC.


    Government work, Part I

    A couple weekends ago, I went down to DC for one of my frequent trips to visit my parents.  Ever since they have partially moved to DC this year, it is much easier to visit them as airfare between Boston and DC is relatively inexpensive and convenient.  Although this time, the flight down proved to be somewhat of a pain since thunderstorms in the DC area led to one flight cancellation and numerous delays.  Sadly, I was planning on having dinner with my parents, but the delays meant that that was not to be.  Instead, I had to grab a quick dinner at the Legal Test Kitchen next to the gate.  In hindsight, it did not need to be quick, as more delays soon followed.  In any case, with my dinner of a scallop and shrimp topped gumbo, I ordered a martini and specified 4:1, stirred, lemon twist.  What I got was a glass of cold gin with very little, if any vermouth, and it was shaken.  As my confidence in the bartender was similarly shaken as a consequence, I finished dinner with a dram of scotch neat and went back to waiting gate-side until we finally commenced boarding.

    A couple hours later, the plane lands at DCA, but we sit on the tarmac for a good 20 or so minutes because apparently there were no open gates for us to debark.  By this point, the flight has not only ruined dinner, but became very close to ruining a reservation to go drinking as well.  Thus, as soon as we finally pulled into a gate, I ran off straight to the Metro to catch a train up to Columbia Room.  I arrived a few minutes late much to my dismay, but thankfully, I had not missed too much.

    First off, you may be wondering why I was in such a hurry to make it to the bar on time.  Granted, I generally do not like to keep people waiting for me regardless of where I am meeting them.  However, in this case, being punctual was not simply a courtesy towards friends.  To better understand, allow me to explain what Columbia Room is.  Unlike most bars where one can walk up and take a seat at one's leisure, Columbia Room requires a reservation at a specific time for a specific number of guests.  Not only is the reservation to guarantee a seat at the bar, but also represents a commitment to a prix fixe tasting menu that consists of a trio of beverages and an amuse bouche alongside.

    Upon arriving, I could see why such a policy exists.  I had been to Passenger, the watering hole within which Columbia Room resides, before, but I had not been to Columbia Room itself before.  After fumbling for a moment before knocking on the correct unmarked door, I was ushered into the antechamber of the speakeasy.  I was amiably greeted by the host, who checked my name off of the reservation ledger set upon the side table in the small, dimly lit room that felt in some ways like a parlor given the decor.  Off to the left was a private powder room separate from the facilities for Passenger, where I quickly freshened up from my journey.  Within the door to the right was the sanctum sanctorum, the bar itself.  Along one length of the oblong room was the bar with ten seats, and along the opposite wall was a raised banquette.  In some ways, it felt like a theater where the bartenders performed behind the stick and everyone else in the room faced this stage.

    Joining my friends already seated at the bar, I was first presented with a cool, damp towel, an extremely welcome refresher given the heat of the day.  Small gestures such as this really elevated the experience above and beyond the ordinary.  Another example of seemingly trivial details was that the drinking water even had a hint of cucumber, thoroughly refreshing.  By the time I sat down, the bartender was already hard at work crafting a round of drinks.

    The first drink we were served was the DCA to LAX, a light, punch-like tipple with Cocchi Americano, lemon juice, cane syrup, crème de mûre, prosecco and a blackberry garnish.  The name was even rather apropos as Arthur was to be moving out to the west coast in a week's time.  Certainly seasonal, I found it a touch sweet, and I felt that a bit of gin perhaps may have given it more balance for my palate.

    Second, we were presented with a cocktail that contained Bulleit rye, acid phosphate, wild cherry soda, Bitter Truth aromatic bitters and an orange twist (the name for which I failed to write down).  Accompanying this drink was a small plate of roasted and candied peanuts with dried cherries.  Cherries were the direct link, but the pairing went beyond that as the crunchy, caramelized, slightly spicy and buttery snack complemented the cocktail well.  The use of acid phosphate in this drink also stimulated a conversation with one of the bartenders, Katie, over Darcy O'Neil's book, Fix the Pumps, and a  recent New York Times article on the subject.

    The last drink of the night is not set, unlike the previous two, and gives both the customer and the bartender a chance to explore further.  Casie started things off by ordering a Martini upon Katie's recommendation.  Made with equal parts Tanqueray No. 10 and Dolin Dry with a dash of orange bitters and a lemon twist, this martini was infinitely better than the one I had in the airport just a few hours prior.  In addition to the unusual proportions of gin to vermouth, the other notable feature of this preparation was the use of a thermometer such that the drink is stirred to a temperature of no greater than 31ºF.

    Next, Arthur requested something with applejack since he is a fan of the Jack Rose, and Katie obliged with a Pink Lady.  Quite similar to the Jack Rose with applejack, lemon and grenadine, the addition of Plymouth gin and the white of an egg rather changes the complexion of the cocktail.  It is drier without losing the fragrance of the applejack.  Carlos then challenged Katie to make him something with rum, which resulted in the Getaway: Cruzan Blackstrap, lemon juice, Cynar and cane sugar syrup.  The richness of the Blackstrap was nicely balanced by the other ingredients, and the combination with the Cynar brought out somewhat of a smokiness.

    When I asked for bartender's choice with open-ended parameters, Katie quickly asked whether I was up for something funky, to which I replied in the affirmative.  Whether its a rhum agricole from Martinique or George Clinton's Parliament, I do love funk.  The drink that resulted was a Mezcal Old-Fashioned made with Los Nahuales Blanco, chai-infused maple syrup and Bitter Truth Aromatic, Grapefruit, and Celery bitters.  While I have had other mezcal old-fashioned cocktails before, the different bitters and unique sweetener resulted in a novel experience.

    Mezcal Old-Fashioned

    Columbia Room was a pretty fantastic experience.  Small, quiet and intimate, this bar is one for serious tippling.  However, the gravitas therein did not obscure the camaraderie.  Katie, PJ and the other bartender whose name I did not catch were all very hospitable, and we all had a great time drinking and chatting.  Perhaps because we were seated in the very center of the bar, or perhaps because we were among the last people there at the end of the night, but I felt like we were spoiled with the amount of attention that we received.  My one complaint is that it is not cheap, but as with fine dining, one pays just as much for the atmosphere and service as one pays for the quality of food or drink.

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    Overcoming sickness

    As some of you may know, I was stricken down with some nonsense midsummer's illness for a couple weeks in June that really put me out of commission.  After my initial fever subsided, I was still struggling with a particularly bad sore throat and persistent coughing, which still bugs me a little even now.  Since benzonatate, codeine, pseudoephedrine and guaifenesin failed to really help, I turned to home remedies: salt water gargles, hot tea and Chinese loquat syrup.  Oh right, and a touch of bourbon.

    For instance, adding a touch of bourbon to Korean yujacha (citron tea) was quite soothing for my sore throat.  However, as my cough became the biggest issue, I decided to ratchet up the intensity a bit.  First, I made a Frisco Sour, but I quickly realized that my taste buds were shot, making the Benedictine taste quite bizarre.

    Frisco Sour
    2 oz rye
    1 oz Benedictine
    3/4 oz lemon juice

    Next, I decided to just focus on therapy, combining bourbon, lemon juice and honey to get what I euphemistically called my cough medicine for a few days.  You'll note in the picture below that its not too dissimilar in appearance to the Frisco Sour above.  Having tasted it again after having recovered, its actually quite overpowering.  Note that I didn't dilute the honey at all.  However, when sick, it didn't taste too bad and actually let me sleep for a bit before it wore off and the coughing started again.

    Cough Medicine
    2 oz bourbon
    2 oz 1:1 syrup of lemon juice and honey

    Happily, despite my lingering cough, I can sleep fully and taste properly again.  Moreover, for me, this impromptu cough medicine worked better than the prescription codeine, so I might as well save it in my back pocket for future ailments.

    Patience rewarded

    Sometimes patience is required in more abundance than I typically possess.  Waiting is not my forte, especially not when waiting for something delicious.  However, stashing things in the back of the linen closet, out of sight and out of mind, does help the process along significantly.  Along with curing meats, infusing liquor is one of a class of projects that demands willpower.  In this particular case, I speak of my limoncello project.

    Back in March, when Meyer lemons were approaching the end of their season, I could not resist buying a few (read, a dozen).  While I could not help myself to some immediately, I did save the majority for making limoncello.  The first challenge was deciding how to make the limoncello, as there are many methods described.  One major division is the decision to use peel only or use the whole fruit.  As my understanding of limoncello is that it should be neither bitter nor sour, I opted to use just the peels.  The next question is whether to infuse with zest or with strips of peel.  In this, practicality had a lot to do with my decision.  As my zester is not particularly good, whereas my knife is quite sharp, I opted for the latter.  Additionally, pictures I have seen seem to indicate that zest yields an opaque product whereas strips produces a transparent liqueur, and I slightly favor the clearer result.

    Thus, several months ago, I began the arduous task of peeling the lemons and then filleting the peels to remove as much of the pith as possible. After several hours hunched over the cutting board, I had the peels of 8 Meyer lemons in the jar, and I proceeded to cover them with 100 proof vodka that I had lugged over from New Hampshire.  For the first few days, I would swirl the jar daily, but then I stashed it in the back of my linen closet to make it easier to age without tempting my impatience.  After a couple months, I then made approximately 400mL of 1:1 simple syrup and added it to the jar, giving it another swirl and hiding it away again.

    Limoncello after 3.5 months of infusion

    Sadly, I forgot to take a time initial picture, but the above is a picture of the jar right before I bottled, about 3.5 months after the infusion began.  Part of the reason why I infused for so long was because I simply forgot it for awhile; putting it in the back of the linen closet really did work.  One thing that is not immediately apparent from the picture is that the color of the peels had really leached, leaving the peels a very light, whitish yellow and the liqueur a goldenrod, if not amber color.  After straining out the peels by pouring it through a handkerchief and strainer, I bottled the concoction and placed it in the freezer.

    Limoncello, bottled and chilled

    For a first attempt, its actually pretty tasty.  There is a lot of lemon fragrance, not just lemon oil, but also some floral aspects to it as well.  Additionally, since it is made with Meyer lemons, it does not seem as bright as regular limoncello, but with more honeyed sweetness instead.  A certain herbal quality is also present, thyme perhaps.  One detractor though is the presence of an alcohol burn that is rather unpleasant and probably caused by the high proof vodka I started with, although I didn't try the vodka on its own before using it.  Alas, I am not sure whether a bit of dilution would help or whether the vodka taste is irremovable.  Perhaps next time I make a batch, I will try with a cleaner tasting vodka.  Burn aside, the taste is quite pleasant and leaves a sunniness on the tongue for some time after swallowing.  Perfect for a nip after a long summer day.

    Saturday, July 2, 2011

    Self-indulgence

    For my birthday back in May, I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner as I am generally wont to do whenever I help myself to a bit of indulgence.  As it was my friend Jose's birthday a couple weeks prior, we arranged to pamper ourselves together.  The question of where to go was actually quite easily settled.  Although there are plenty of Boston area restaurants that are fantastic and on my list of places to try, one stood out in particular, Craigie on Main.

    Yes, I had been there for drinks at the bar on a few occasions, and a few other gentlemen and I did track down their renowned burger after much effort.  However, I had never been there for a full dinner, the most complete experience.  Especially with Chef Tony Maws again nominated for a James Beard Award, which he would win a few days after I made our reservation, I wanted to experience it fully.  Thus, we made our way over to Central Square late one Sunday night for the Chef's Whim, a weekly special that promises inventiveness and spontaneity.

    Joined also by Amy and Joy, our foursome wasted no time in making merry, starting with a round of aperitifs before dinner.  I chose the Bellwether cocktail, made with green apple and almond infused Dolin Dry, St. Germain, yellow Charteuse, Macon-Villages chardonnay and sparkling wine.  Assuredly, it was exactly the light aperitif that I desired, an enhanced flute of champagne in many ways with each of the other ingredients adding depth and complexity.

    Since we were not sure what exactly was on the menu until it was set upon the table before us, choosing a bottle of wine was somewhat difficult.  Thus, it seemed that the safest option would be to go for something in the middle of the spectrum.  Avoiding wines that might be too overwhelming, we decided to go for a bottle of L'Ancien Beaujolais 2008 from Jean-Paul Brun.  It turned out to be not an unreasonable choice with its lighter body laced with raspberries complemented by a backbone of earthiness reminiscent of the forest after an autumnal rain.  Consequently, it could hold up to the stronger flavors presented but never threatened to overwhelm anything either.

    With that important bit of business settled, there was naught left but to enjoy the food.  First up was a dish of squid noodles with nuoc cham, toasted garlic, and breakfast radish.  For me, this was actually the most memorable dish.  From my understanding, the squid was cut into the shape of noodles, and they had fantastic texture, not too chewy, but that ideal balance that I think of as QQ.  I would be quite interested to know how the squid noodles were cooked exactly as the texture really was quite perfect for squid.  As for the taste, Jose remarked, quite rightly I think, that the dish was quite reminiscent of gambas al ajillo with the combination of seafood and garlic.  This dish is of that category where one begs for more after the last bite has been taken.

    Next, we were served smoked and citrus cured char topped with white and green asparagus that had been shaved and maple glazed, microgreens, shallots, bulgur wheat and a buttermilk vinaigrette.  At the time of the dinner, we were very much in the middle of asparagus season, and I simply could not get enough.  The way they were prepared here was most definitely superior to my own attempt at shaved asparagus.  Here, they retained more sweetness and crispness.  I am sure that there is also some difference in quality since I bought mine from Stop & Shop.  The char was also tasty, very much like lox.  However, at times, I was not sure of the harmony in the dish and probably would have preferred just more asparagus.

    A course of tempura soft-shelled crab with a squid ink anchoiade, preserved lemons, dehydrated olives and a Louisiana-style slaw followed.  This was some of the most deftly fried soft-shelled crab I have ever had, hitting that perfect juncture of crispy on the outside and moist on the inside.  I was a huge fan of the anchoiade and had to stop myself from licking it off the plate; although, not everyone at the table shared in my tastes.  Sadly, I cannot find the words to fully describe how delightful I found this dish.

    For the fourth course, we were treated to rye straccetti, morel and rabbit ragu, guanciale.  I certainly have a soft spot for good, fresh pasta, and the straccetti was spot on: toothsome with nuttiness and spice elevating it far beyond supermarket stuff.  The morel and rabbit ragu alone was also meaty and umami-savory while not being overly rich, and it would have rescued even that insipid supermarket stuff.  And really, who can say no to guanciale.  Perhaps it can best be described as comfort food, but by no means to I mean that as anything less than a compliment.  Again, another dish that I wanted more when there was no more to be had.

    Dinner continued with confit chicken thigh topped with foie gras foam and chive flowers and served alongside sauteed spinach, young vidalia onions and a prune, almond and parsnip tzimmes.  Personally, this course could not compare with the elation from previous one.  The chicken certainly was well-prepared and quite good in its own right, but it did feel quite as exciting.  Also, I do not mean to be culturally insensitive, but tzimmes just does not quite satisfy me as it seems muddled and overly sweet to my palate.

    By this point, we were all quite full, but dessert was yet to come.  Since there were four of us, I thought it quite clever that each one of us was served a different sweet and expected to share.  This arrangement suited my tastes as I always want to try a bit of everything without feeling too stuffed at the end.  The four were: an olive oil chocolate mousse with elderflower meringue and tangerine foam; an apricot frangipane with amaretto ice cream and pistachios; a bourbon pecan ice cream tart with a bacon pecan crust and a smoked Mexican chocolate sauce; and a panna cotta with brown butter powder, cashew coriander granola, and a dried cherry and kirsch puree.  Of course, my favorite was the bourbon pecan ice cream tart because, well, just read the list of ingredients again.  I also found the frangipane to be quite good with the strong flavors of marzipan and amaretto, although perhaps the apricot got a little lost amidst all the nuttiness.  The panna cotta was like eating breakfast.  Although, if breakfast always tasted as good, I would probably eat breakfast more often.  Additionally, the brown butter powder was an excellent touch, reminding me of Grant Achatz's powdered caramel.  While the mousse was again tasty, it also failed to capture my imagination as I feel that the combination of chocolate and olive oil has become a bit of a fad.

    At the end of this fantastic meal, we probably could have rolled out the door.  All in all, it was fabulous and delicious.  I want to reiterate again that my more critical comments above are really quite nitpicking, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  Craigie certainly is on my list of recommendations for Boston's best restaurants.  Last, allow me to express my gratitude to my friends who came along, willing to indulge me as I indulge myself.


    Monday, June 27, 2011

    Classical education, Part III

    Although I did not have to work the morning shift again on Tuesday, I did wake up early again because I wanted to attend the Botanical Bartending seminar that began in the morning.  When I got there, it was nice to run into Elizabeth at the seminar, who I had met the day before at the Aging seminar.  When we first sat down, we were greeted by a lovely cucumber gimlet that looked and tasted as if it came straight from New Age spa retreat in Sedona.  It certainly a great way to start the morning, though, with something so deliciously light and refreshing.

    Cucumber collins with Hendrick's, yuzu, lemon, simple syrup, soda and cucumber slices pickled in mirin and blueberry juice

    I was certainly surprised by the sheer scope of the seminar.  Sponsored by Hendrick's gin, the seminar consisted of 13 bartenders having been each assigned one of the 13 botanicals found in Hendrick's to create a cocktail that accentuates that botanical.  As you may easily gather, the first botanical featured was cucumber, for which Hendrick's is quite famously known.  From there, we moved through cocktails that featured juniper, coriander, caraway, cubeb, chamomile, elderflower, yarrow, rose petal, orange peel, lemon peel, angelica root and orris root.  One interesting fact was that unlike the Tanqueray from the day before that puts all the botanicals in a basket to infuse with distilling, Hendrick's uses a basket for most of the botanicals, but that the rose and cucumber are added after distillation.  In many ways, this protocol makes sense to me since one would not desire a "cooked" rose or cucumber aroma or taste.

    Hendrick's place mat showing all the botanicals

    While there were too many to go through individually, I would just like to highlight a couple that were my favorites.  First, the cocktail featuring cubeb, a spice similar to allspice and black pepper, was so unusually delectable that I quickly finished off the sample.  Created by Nico de Soto, the cocktail contained Hendrick's, Dubonnet, cubeb distillate, sugar and egg white.  Unfortunately, it is by no means a drink that I can recreate, lacking the rotavap needed to make the cubeb distillate that is essential to this drink.

    The place mat now covered with the 13 cocktails

    Second, I was rather drawn to the angelica root cocktail, despite the creator, Ivy Mix, mentioning that she does not find angelica root to smell pleasant.  Perhaps it is because angelica root reminds me of Chinese apothecaries and grandmotherly remedies, but I rather enjoyed the smell and taste.  Sadly, I was not able to catch the recipe.

    After this seminar, I had wanted to go to the Science of Taste talk given by a number of Bostonians.  However, since it ended up starting late, I was not able to attend since I had to tend to my volunteering duties yet again.  This time, I was assigned to ticket checking duties at the beginning of each seminar, so I was able to wander around and chat during the time between events starting.  As the Classic as a whole was coming to a close, though, things got a little more hectic with cleanup.  At one point, I had run across the street to buy disinfectant, and on my way back to the Astor Center, I ran into Shingo of Angel's Share on the sidewalk.  Since we were both busy at the moment, we made plans to meet up later.

    Having finished tidying and cleaning at the Classic, I set off to find Shingo since it was his night off.  A PR person for Tanqueray had mentioned the day before that Tanqueray and Esquire were hosting a lounge into the evening, so Shingo and I decided to meet up there.  I took a cab up to the Andaz Hotel on 5th Avenue right across the street from the NY Public Library, where I made my introduction to the hostess and was promptly whisked up to the penthouse suite.  There, Angus Winchester and Steve Olson were entertaining behind the bar, alongside a barber offering hot shaves in the adjacent room.  In addition to meeting Shingo there, I also happened to run into Ali whom I had met volunteering the day before, as well as a couple Danish gentlemen, Henrik and David, from Copenhagen.


    Right before we left, Angus treated us to some special nips.  One was a gunpowder rum from New Zealand, the likes of which I had never had before.  The nose smelled very much like a combination of molasses and firing range while the palate came across with a lot of flinty minerals and charcoal in addition to the more traditional taste of dark rum.  The other was a replica of the Mackinlay scotch found intact in Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic hut a hundred years after his expedition.  A sample of this scotch was extracted and tested at Whyte and Mackay, the current holding company of the Mackinlay distillery and apparently a replica was blended by the master distiller.  The replica was so smooth and had significant notes of peat, smoke and spice, but richly honey as well.  I must again thank Angus for his hospitality and generosity.

    As the festivities at the Tanqueray lounge wound down, Shingo offered to take me to see B Flat, the bar opened by Angel's Share's previouds bartender.  Not one to pass up the opportunity, we went straightaway.  I had never been before and was looking forward to it, as I could not think of anybody better with which to go.  In many ways, B Flat does remind me somewhat of the ambiance of Angel's Share, with the dark wood, jazz and Japanese staff.  One difference I noticed immediately was that most of the signature drinks of the menu seemed to skew quite sweet.  Wanting to make an appropriate comparison, I ordered a Jack Rose, which I have had at Angel's Share many times before.  I do not know whether it is a personal bias or whether the ingredients varied slightly, but I swear that the Jack Rose at Angel's Share was more fragrant and delicate than that of B Flat.  Of course I cannot say with certainty or rigor that Angel's Share is absolutely better than B Flat, but I am quite comfortable saying that Angel's Share will remain my bar of choice in New York.

    By this point, it was getting late, and I had not gotten a proper dinner yet.  A little cheese or hors d'oeuvres here and there can tide me over, but in the face of the drinking I need food.  Shingo came to the rescue by suggesting a visit to his favorite spot for ramen in New York.  We headed uptown again to a place called Moco.  With its modern lounge-y atmosphere it did not look at all like a place to get good, traditional ramen, but Shingo told me that the chef will occasionally make top-notch ramen.  The all-Japanese staff should have been another clue.  We started with teba gyoza, or chicken wings stuffed like a dumpling, and quickly moved on to big, steaming bowls of shio ramen.  Perhaps it was simply the hunger speaking, but it really was some of the best ramen I have ever had.  Rich, meaty broth, toothsome noodles with good bite, tender charsiu and other delicious toppings.  Washing it all down with shochu, I could have called it a night then and there.

    While I did have to part ways with Shingo, I had one more destination before the conclusion of this epic trip.  Hopping onto the 4 train into Brooklyn, where I had never ventured before, I found myself outside the Williamsburgh Savings Bank building at One Hanson Place.  Had it not been for the stream of people entering, I would have thought that I was at the wrong place.  Incidentally, I ran into Justin, a fellow Classic volunteer, outside, so I knew for certain we were at the right place.  Entering the main room with its high, vaulted ceilings, arches and art deco mosaics, the space was quite impressive and overwhelming.  This was the Anti-Gala, the closing party for the Classic, which brought together all the volunteers, bar fellows, liquor reps and organizers that had put the whole weekend together.  It was an opportunity to let of steam, relax and just party.  As a result, there were no cocktails, just beer and shots.  Mind you, though, the shots were certainly not trivial.  I remember rounds of Michael Collins single malt and Hibiki 12, but there were others as well.  Oh, there was also absinthe and brûlée ice cream.



    Final drink tally for that Monday:
    Hendrick's seminar
    -Cucumber collins
    -Sample of 13 botanical cocktails
    Astor Center main bar
    -Devil Point
    -Yamazaki, cointreau, tarragon, lemon
    Tanqueray Lounge
    -Tanqueray and Tonic (2x)

    B Flat-Jack Rose

    Moco-Shochu

    Anti-Gala
    -Shots of whisky (4x)
    -Dos Equis (2x)

     Lastly, I would like to thank again all the people who made this trip such a wonderful experience.  In no particular order: Shingo, Angus, Ted, Jamie, Kristen, Tim, Justin, Elizabeth, Robert, Rich, Ali, David, Henrik, Jake, Jaimie, Georgia, Monica, Stephan, Allison, and many more I'm sure I'm forgetting.  A special thank you to Pat who let me stay so graciously at her apartment and being such a bother, especially since I visited just before boards!