Thursday, November 29, 2007

DeVries Chocolate

I first read about Steve DeVries in Mort Rosenblum's engaging book Chocolate. Rosenblum chronicles DeVries' obsessive search for the best cacao beans and his hands on approach to every step of the chocolate making process. At the time the book came out, there were no on-line sales of DeVries chocolates, but now there are.

DeVries sells two varieties of chocolate, Costa Rican and Dominican, at three different percentages, 77%, 80% and 84%. I recently sampled a variety of his product and found it to be excellent. The only ingredients in these bars are cacao and sugar. He leaves out vanilla, which is often added to dark chocolate to lift or lighten the this is hardcore stuff.

The Costa Rican chocolate is a bit more tangy and acidic, reminding me of red wine. The Dominican varieties were my favorite. They had a smooth, almost creamy taste and a deep earthy feature. The Costa Rican, with its complexity, appealed to my head, but the deep flavors of the Dominican appealed to my heart.

Probably my favorite DeVries product, though, are the carmelized cocoa nib clusters. These addictive nuggets, pictured above, are nickel sized dollops of DeVries' 77% Costa Rican chocolate topped with carmelized cocoa nibs (nibs are roasted cocoa bean pieces). The little discs are a handy snack and not a bad pick-me up either. At under $5.00 a bag, they would make a great stocking stuffer or Chanukah gift.

DeVries chocolate is available through their website.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mezcal Miercoles: Tasting Session

As part two of our Mezcal Miercoles series, here are some samplings of the spirit of Oaxaca:


Del Maguey mezcals are some of the easiest to find in Southern California. Their single village series is stocked by many premium liquor stores. We sampled three of them. Except for the Tobala, they are named for the village in which they were made. The Del Magueys lack age statements which leads me to believe they are unaged or blanco mezcals.

Chichicapa, 47.8% alcohol

This was my favorite of all of the mezcals we tasted. It has a distinct smoky flavor, almost comparable to an Islay Scotch. The smoke and agave flavors are beautifully interwoven in a way that made me want to keep sniffing and sipping.

Minero, Santa Catarina Minas, 49.2% alcohol

The Minero is very tangy and fruity with some sweetness. This was probably my least favorite of the three, but had a very distinct flavor that others may like.

Tobala, Wild Mountain Maguey, 46.1% alcohol

Unlike the other mezcals on this list, Tobala is made with the tobala variety of agave as opposed to the more common espadin variety. The Tobala had some smoke but the more dominant flavor was fruit. Clocking in at about $120, it's almost double the price of the Chichicapa and more than double the Minero.


Los Danzantes, Reposado, 42% alcohol

Smoky and smooth this reposado (rested - aged from six months to one year) mezcal had a very sophisticated feel to it. In the Scotch realm (all things must be compared to Scotch) I'd compare it to a smooth Speysider, though it did have some smoke. I found it very of my favorites. Unfortunately, I haven't seen it in California...this bottle came from New Mexico.

El Señorio, Reposado, 38% alcohol

This smoky mezcal does not appear to be available in the US but was purchased in Oaxaca by my brother-in-law on a recent trip. It has very good smoke and great agave flavor, though it lacks some of the subtlety of Los Danzantes and is less powerful than Chichicapa. It's also con gusano (there's a worm in the bottle) which is frowned on by mezcal purists, but doesn't seem to make this stuff taste any less good.

I hope you have enjoyed our brief journey into mezcal, and if you haven't tried it, I hope you will. I leave you with this Oaxacan saying:

Para todo mal, mezcal.
Para todo bien tambien.

For all that is bad, mezcal.
For all that is good as well.

Next Week: Back to Whiskey on Wednesday

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Farmers Market: What's for Dessert?

Along with its diverse selection of food stands, the Farmers Market is filled with sweet shops of every description. As a man with a sweet tooth the size of an eclair, I've eagerly exposed myself to all of their wares as part of my quest to master the Market.



Littlejohn's old-fashioned candy shop should have a warning posted in its window: "Once you eat our toffee, you may never be able to eat any other toffee again." Littlejohn's toffee is so good that it has absolutely ruined me for other toffee, the only exception being See's. LJ's toffee is a sweet, buttery smooth, crunchy concoction that doesn't stick in your teeth. Coated with the traditional chocolate and nuts, it's the butter that comes through the most, and who doesn't love butter? This stuff is one of the most addictive foods I've eaten. No matter how much I buy, I never seem to make it through a sitting with any left.

The peanut brittle, a related species, is also excellent and I love the chocolate and caramel coated homemade marshmallows. Littlejohn's is a true LA treasure that shouldn't be missed.

Country Market

Owned by Thee's Bakery, the Country Market, located in the middle of the FM, bakes up cookies, cinnamon buns, apple dumplings and other baked treats, but their true calling is funnel cakes. These cakes are to fairground funnel cakes what a high end molten chocolate cake is to a Hostess Cupcake, a creature so vastly superior that it does not appear to be of the same species. The funnels are handmade with great care and topped with a mix of homemade fruit topping (no canned glop here) and fresh whipped cream. The cake is perfectly fried, crunchy on the outside, chewy within. This was a new try for me but it immediately bolted into a regular stop. The best funnel cakes I've ever tasted, bar none. It's like the fair, but so much better.

Bob's Coffee and Doughnuts

In my Doughnut Roundup last Spring, I named Bob's as the best cake doughnut in town...get a caker glazed, with powdered sugar or even plain. They also do the best apple fritter in town and have excellent glazed doughnuts as well.


Thee's Continental Bakery

Thee's offers good croissants, cookies and sweets. I'm a particular fan of their tres leches cup, a parfait spin on the traditional Latin American "three milks" cake (though I wish they'd leave out the cherry pie filling glop). I also like their marzipan logs and little chocolate mousse filled Florentine cookies. I would pass on their cakes though, which tend to be dry and uninteresting.

Bennett's Ice Cream

Competent homemade ice cream. If you have an ice cream hankering, it will suffice, but nothing to write home about here.


Gill’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream

The best thing about Gill's is their old-fashioned soft serve, which you can get dipped in chocolate. If you are ever craving Dairy Queen or the old Fosters' Freeze, this may be your best bet. For hand scooped ice cream, go to Bennett's, Gill's no longer makes their own ice cream, but uses Dreyer's and Thrifty, which are no great shakes (excuse the pun).

T&Y Bakery

Everything looks great, but that's about the only redeeming quality of this little bake shop.

The Bread Bin

Eastern European pastries...too much dough, not enough flavor, and I'm not a fan of their bread either.

Ultimate Nut and Candy

Does the world really need 15 varieties of flavored popcorn? I'm inclined to say no. Even the traditional caramel and butter toffee corn here is overly candy-coated in a way that uncomfortably sticks to your teeth. The other candies are just so-so.

Coffee Corner

A small selection of unexceptional pastries.

Honorable Mention: Magee’s House Of Nuts

Technically, I suppose, Magee's isn't a sweet shop, it's a...nut house, but I have to mention this house of nuts and homemade nut butters. The main attraction for me is the peanut butter machine, displayed for all to see as it churns fresh peanut butter. There is something hypnotic about the way it slowly and monotonously swirls; round and round it rotates with such smooth, fluid motion making me fall into a peanut butter induced hypnosis. I could stare at this thing for's like peanut perfection.

The PB itself is good with a strong peanut flavor, bordering on sweet...but, as advertised, it's just peanuts, and it needs salt...after all, who wants to eat unsalted peanuts?

Next week: We begin the Third Tier of Farmers Market eateries

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Farmers Market: Second Tier

We continue our comprehensive review of the Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax with the second tier. These may not be my very favorites, but they are decent places that will do in a pinch.

Tusquellas Fish & Oyster Bar

Fish and chips are the mainstay of Tusquellas, and they do a competent version. The fish is crispy and the fries have a nice chewy texture, though the accompanying cole slaw is fairly flavorless. They used to do a nice fish/oyster combination, but that seems to have disappeared from the menu.

The Gumbo Pot

Having lived in Louisiana for a couple of years, I love Cajun and Creole food. Uncle Darrow's was my mainstay back when they had a little sandwich shack on Venice Boulevard, but since that closed, there's not much in the way of Cajun food east of the 405 and north of the 10. The Gumbo Pot, the lone Cajun contender is popular, but for me, always seems to disappoint. The po-boys are made from lackluster bread, and while the cornmeal battered oysters are good, there aren't nearly enough of them on the po-boy. The gumbo and jambalaya are passable but nothing to write home about, and the alligator is mostly a good novelty dish. I still go from time to time because, as I said, it's hard to find good Louisiana food in LA, but it mostly makes me dream of real Cajun food.

Singapore’s Banana Leaf

Another relative newcomer, Singapore's Banana Leaf may be the only restaurant in LA claiming to serve Singapore-style food. A combination of the flavors of India, Thailand and Indonesia, my favorite dish at Singapore's Banana Leaf is the Roti Paratha, fried Indian bread served with an awesomely flavorful curry sauce. I also enjoy the Cane Juice which has a wonderful sugar cane taste.


Moishe's dishes out standard Middle Eastern fare...falafel, hummous, kabobs, etc. Nothing thrilling, but all done fairly well. Their best dish is the lamb kabob, which is perfectly cooked and well seasoned.

Next week: Sweet Shops of the Farmers Market

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Introducing Mezcal Miercoles

Whiskey Wednesday is on hiatus, south of the border, for the next two get ready for Mezcal Miercoles.

I love the whiskey, but sometimes you need a break, and when I do, I often reach for mezcal, the Mexican agave based liquor that is growing in popularity. So, join us for the next two weeks as we explore this enticing drink.

First, the basics:

What is mezcal?

Mezcal is a distilled spirit made from the agave plant. Agave is a large succulent with leaves shooting out in a flower-like pattern. The American century plant, which you may be familiar with if you live in the southwest, is a variety of agave.

But isn't Tequila made from Agave?

Yes. Tequila is actually a type of mezcal, just as Bourbon is a type of whiskey. In practice, however, when people talk about mezcal, they are usually referring to the Oaxacan variety, and that is how I will use the term here.

Tequila must be made with the blue agave species. Mezcal, in contrast, can be made from any variety of agave but most mezcal is made from the espadin variety. Most Tequila is made in the western Mexican state of Jalisco (home of the town of Tequila which gave the drink its name), while most mezcal is made in the southern state of Oaxaca.

Is mezcal aged?

It can be. Pursuant to Mexican law, mezcal uses the following age designations:

Blanco (White): Unaged
Reposado (Rested): Aged from six months to one year
Añejo (Aged): Aged more than one year
Extra Añejo (Extra Aged): Aged more than three years

Gold tequila, as in Cuervo Gold, is an unaged Blanco with gold color added.

All of the aging takes place in oak barrels.

The Extra Añejo designation is new and, consequently, many Tequilas and mezcals currently labeled Añejo are actually more than three years old. Unlike whiskey, exact age statements are rare on mezcal labels, so it is sometimes a guessing game.

Is mezcal a new drink?

Hardly. Mezcal dates from the sixteenth century when the Spanish colonists brought distillation to the Americas. In recent times, it has often been equated with fire-water and moonshine, largely due to worm-in-bottle rot gut being put out by large producers. In Oaxaca, however, it has long been considered a refined spirit made by artisans in small batches.

Mezcal was late in coming to the premium spirits party sweeping North America, and it suffered through the 1990s watching its upstart cousin Tequila become chic and expensive. But now, finally, mezcal is getting some recognition as the complex and interesting spirit that it truly is.

Now is actually a great time to get into mezcal because, while it is getting some recognition, most mezcal hasn't yet made it to the triple-digit, sold in a unique hand-blown bottle status that makes so many Tequilas and whiskies out of reach financially.

What does mezcal taste like?

Mezcal has its own flavor profile. Oaxacan mezcals do not taste like Tequila, though they have some commonalities. Mezcal tends to have sharper, stronger flavors, often with intense smoke or tangy qualities absent in today's smooth premium Tequila. To me, it's a more distinctive flavor than that of Tequila, and the various mezcals offer more variety of flavor than do Tequilas, which tend to stick to a pretty consistent flavor profile.

How do I drink mezcal?

Mezcal should be enjoyed like any fine spirit...neat in a snifter or other glass that allows you to enjoy its aroma. While there are a few mezcal cocktails out there, I don't think the strong flavor of mezcal lends itself particularly well to mixing, but then, I'm not generally a cocktail buff.

Where can you buy mezcal in LA?

Premium Mezcal is still somewhat hard to find in LA, but you'll find decent selections in the same premium liquor stores where you find good whiskey selections. This includes Wine & Liquor Depot in Van Nuys and Hi-Time Wine in Costa Mesa.

What are some good mezcals?

Next week, we will have a Mezcal tasting comparing a number of Mezcals. If you are looking for a place to start, the Del Maguey series of single village mezcals offers a variety of different style mezcals, each made in a different Oaxacan village. Next week's tasting will include a variety of Del Maguey mezcals.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Best of the Farmers Market

For my big Third and Fairfax roundup, I'm dividing the food stands into three tiers. The top tier are the very best, places worth a special trip to the Market. The second tier are very good; maybe not worth a special trip, but good choices if you happen to be there. Third are the rest..the unexceptional and unexciting.

This week is the top tier. These are my very favorites, the old standbys I rely on most and a new try that impressed me. I'm still tasting, so this list isn't complete and more may qualify for the top tier (and sweet shops will be handled in a separate post). They are listed in no particular order.

Monsieur Marcel's

This French Bistro started as a small cheese kiosk and has expanded into a full-on restaurant with its own seating and a gourmet market. This French bistro makes the best fondue in LA. They have a traditional Gruyere based fondue, which is good, but the highlight is their signature Fondue Savoyarde which includes other more flavorful cheeses such as Morbier and Roquefort. I also enjoy their moules frite and their croque monsieur. Take pains, though, to avoid their adjacent gourmet market of the same name which is vastly overpriced.

Moishe's Village

This stand, specializing in Boerek, was a new try for me but one that will definitely enter my pantheon of staples. No, Boerek was not that movie about that guy from Kazakhstan. It is a Turkish pastry served at a stand adjacent to the original Moishe's Middle Eastern stand. It's similar to a rectangular pizza, topped with cheese and your choice of toppings...I can't get enough of the egg. Two eggs, sunny-size up are fried onto the dough. The soft whites and fluid yolks mesh with the cheese and dough to create a delicious doughy, cheesy, eggy delight. I also enjoyed the spinach and cheese as well as the interesting sides like Swiss chard tzatziki and white beans in tomato sauce. As far as I know, Moishe's Village is the only place in LA where you can get this particular, pizza-like version of Boerek (as opposed to the Armenian meat pies of the same name available in Hollywood).


I was a late convert to the Mexican stalwart at the center of the market, and I still think this Mexico City style snack shop tends to be a bit overrated by reviewers, but that may be due to the dearth of good Mexican in this part of mid-city. They make a whopping eleven different type of tacos, but I find their pre-made fillings to be generally underseasoned. Their mole is popular, but it pales in comparison to the excellent Oaxacan moles you can get at numerous locations a mere ten minutes away. However, their chilaquiles (a breakfast dish consisting of fried tortilla chips with sauce) are some of the best in town; I like them with the tangy salsa verde. They also make an excellent version of queso fundido (Mexican fondue) topped with chorizo, which is a dish that's not easy to find in LA. And they do a great nacho plate, of all things, though sometimes the plate could use a few more minutes under the broiler.

Patsy D’Amore’s Pizza

In a city in which good pizza is a scarcity, Patsy's tends to fly under the radar, but this FM stalwart (with mandatory photo of the owner mugging with Frank Sinatra) consistently pumps out good, thin crust New York style pies. The toppings ain't much, so stick with plain cheese.

Pampas Grill

A relatively recent entrant into the FM, Pampas Grill puts a fast food spin on the Brazilian churrascaria. All of the traditional elements are part of the Pampas buffet: the massive salad bar, the scrumptious cheese breads, fried yuca, feijoda (black bean stew), and of course, the meat. Pampas has all the traditional churrascaria cuts: picanha (garlic beef), alcatra (sirloin), lamb leg, bacon wrapped chicken and sausage (pet peeve: why can't I find chicken hearts at any LA currascaria?) The food is good and it's a lot cheaper than you will pay at any sit-down currascaria.

The French Crepe Company

This creperie dishes out sizable crepes, both sweet and savory. The white flour creates a result that is more akin to a thin, dense pancake than a traditional French buckwheat crepe, but the results are still delicious. For savory, I love the Raclette, prosciutto and cornichon's especially good when drizzled with some of their dijon mustard salad dressing. For sweet, I like the Grand Marnier, or just the plain crepe filled with butter and sugar and topped with whipped cream.

Du-Par's Restaurant

I've written before about the great pies at this newly rehabbed diner which anchors the west side of the Market, but Du-Par's is more than just pies. The light fluffy pancakes are an LA institution and they make one of the last great Monte Cristo sandwiches.

So that's my best of the best so far. Next week, I will post my second tier. Meanwhile, I'm still trying stands; so far, I've tried 27 over the last two months. I have only two more to try that I've never been to before and three I need to revisit because it has been a while since I sampled their wares.

Onward and upward...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Whisk(e)y Wednesday: To e or Not to e (Continued)

There was a lot of discussion last week about the whisky vs. whiskey controversy on the various forums and discussion boards, including Whisky Magazine, Straightbourbon, Peatfreak and Bourbondrinker.

Commenters raised various arguments that we hadn't discussed in last week's blog. The following is a brief summary.

Not to E

The consensus on the various boards and the few emails I received seemed to support the "not to e" position. Many in this camp expressed a "'taint broke, don't fix it," logic. One poster noted that no less than Michael Jackson had endorsed the multiple spelling position.

Another reader opined that using the e generally but switching back to no e for proper nouns, as Chuck Cowdery suggests, can lead to inconsistent use in the same sentence, which looks odd and may prove confusing: "Whisky Magazine has numerous articles about whiskey."

To E

Among the e supporters, several gave examples of people assuming that, because of the spelling difference, whisky and whiskey were fundamentally different types of alcohol, leading to the exact type of confusion against which Chuck cautioned us.

Who Cares?

A number of readers seemed under the mistaken impression that this issue was somehow trivial or otherwise lacking in gravitas. It greatly saddens me that there are still people who do not take seriously issues which may not seem "sexy" but which can have lasting and life-changing impacts such as global warming, nuclear proliferation and how we spell the names of various spirits.

Can't We All Just Get Along

One poster suggested that we can live with divergent spelling practices as we do with variations of indefinite gender pronouns (e.g. "he or she" or "his or hers"). There are multiple acceptable ways to express the concept of "he or she" when discussing a group of individuals of mixed gender, including he or she, they, (s)he, and he/she. Similarly, the writer pointed out, we can live with some who use the e and some who don't. While I appreciate the sentiment, I must point out that my little blog is nothing compared to the amount of ink which has been spilled on the proper use of gendered pronouns.

So, at this point, I'd say this controversy has been fairly well explored. It will be interesting to see if our little discussion generates any response from the magazines and other publications that have to deal with spelling issues.

As for me, all of this discussion has made be hungry for my favorite pastry, but is it doughnuts or donuts?

Next Wednesday: Meet Whiskey's Mexican Cousin

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Meet Me at Third and Fairfax: The Farmers' Market Challenge

I've loved the old Third and Fairfax Farmers' Market since I first visited it as a teenage tourist in LA. When I moved to LA, ten years ago, I lived in Park La Brea, so I was within walking distance of the FM and spent ample time there in the last years of its pre-Grove existence. In fact, my oldest daughter's first trip outside the house after coming home from the hospital was for a lunch at the FM.

In a world of carbon copy food courts (do people still say "carbon copy" or does that just date me?), Cheesecake Factories and fast food, the FM is a breath of fresh air, Starbucks and Pinkberry notwithstanding. It has a vast array of eateries encompassing a number of genres and ethnicities in a casual, old fashioned market setting.

Over the years, I've sampled many of the wares at the FM and have many favorites, but there are some, both old and new, that I just have never gotten around to. I pledge, here and now, to cure that shortcoming. By the end of the year, I will dine at every food stand at the Market and review them here.

I'll start with my old stand-bys, move to my stand-away-froms and close up with the brand new tries. I will ignore the few chains and the mediocre food at the adjacent Grove shopping mall, as well as the newly adjacent restaurants, such as Marmalade Cafe, which are really more Groveish. This will be the old-school FM food stalls.

Next week, I'll begin with some of my favorites, the top tier of Farmers' Market dining.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

LA gets PC

After over a year of waiting, PC5 has come to LA.

What is PC5?

It's not a new brand of personal computers.
It's not the latest theory of political correctness.
It's not a previously undiscovered album by jazz bassist Paul Chambers.

To Scotch fans, PC5 is Bruichladdich's much heralded 5 year old, cask strength Port Charlotte single malt (notice how I avoided the "w" word?)...and it has finally come to LA.

Like many distilleries, Bruichladdich faced economic trouble in the 1980s and '90s and actually closed its doors in 1995. But unlike other distilleries, the Laddie, as it's known, was reopened under new ownership in 2001. The fiercely independent Jim McEwan was named production director, and the distillery has been a huge success story ever since with a reputation for innovation.

Released in 2006, PC5 is the first bottling of a Scotch distilled under the new ownership. PC stands for Port Charlotte, a long-shuttered Islay distillery which the new bottling claims as its model.

When PC5 was released last year, it sold like hotcakes across the UK and Europe. The brash, highly peated five year old flew in the face of Bruichladdich's traditional flavor profile of low-smoke, non-peated malts.

Now, more than a year after its European release, a small number of bottles have made their way to the US. They were supposed to come in May, but none showed up, and I've been hunting for them high and low since then.

I finally found some PC5 at the always reliable Wine & Liquor Depot in Van Nuys. They told me they had about ten bottles and they are going for $120 a pop.

Is a five year old Scotch worth $120? I'll let you know as soon as I try it, but if you know someone who's a Scotch fanatic or a big fan of smoky malts, it would make a fine holiday gift.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Whisk(e)y Wednesday: To e or Not to e

As you may know, there are two alternative spellings of my favorite alcoholic beverage: whisky and whiskey. In Scotland, Canada and Japan, they drink whisky. In Ireland and (mostly) here in the US, we drink whiskey. Now, to the person whose only interest is in drinking the stuff, who the hell cares how you spell it? But to those of us who write about it, there is an issue. Should we spell the word according to the type of drink we are writing about or should we pick one spelling and stick to it? Recently, a suggestion to change the standard practice by Chuck Cowdery erupted into a controversy that may soon rock the whisk(e)y world.

Deep Background

The term whiskey is said to have evolved from the Gaelic uisge beatha, meaning "water of life." Of course, the term "water of life" has been used in many European cultures to refer to the local liquor: Aquvit in Sweden (derived from the Latin aqua vitae) and eau de vie in France refer to regional spirits in those nations.

Interestingly, the Oxford English Dictionary does not differentiate between whisky and whiskey, using a single entry for both terms. It does, however, list several alternative spellings which were used in the eighteenth century, including whiskie and whiskee. It appears that no consistent spelling was being used in the nineteenth century, with American and English writers using both spellings interchangeably. The standardization of the various spellings may not have occurred until the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

The Current Practice

The current practice among malt writers in the US and UK is to change the spelling based on the type of drink being discussed. If it's Scotch, you call it whisky (e.g., Highland Park is a great whisky), if it's Irish, you call it whiskey (e.g., Bushmills is a fine whiskey)...etc. This is the usage in both of the major magazines covering the area: Whisky Magazine (British) and Malt Advocate (American).

When simultaneously referring to two whiskies with different spellings, Scotch and Irish for example, many writers use the term whisk(e)y.

To E: Chuck Cowdery

Chuck Cowdery argues for a change in this standard practice. Cowdery publishes the Chuck Cowdery Blog and is the author of Bourbon, Straight one of the best books around about Bourbon and rye.

A few weeks ago, Chuck proposed, on his blog, that American writers always spell whiskey with an "e". Chuck compared the use of "whisky" by American writers to the use of other spellings that are nonstandard between American and British English:

Whiskey is one of those English words—like aging, center, color, maneuver, and many others—that Americans and Brits spell differently. American writers often struggle to use the British spelling when referring to scotch whiskey (i.e., 'whisky,' no 'e'). UK writers occasionally return the favor. An American would never think of spelling color with a 'u' just because the subject is colors used by an English painter, for example. Why should whiskey be any different?

Chuck makes an exception for proper nouns. When the word is part of a name, it would be spelled as such. This is also consistent with general American usage; for example, an American newspaper would write about the British labor movement but the British Labour Party.

Why is this issue important? Chuck is concerned that the different spelling "suggests that 'whiskey' and 'whisky' are two different words with different meanings when they are not." In Chuck's view, this creates confusion and leads people to imagine "nutty distinctions" between whisky and whiskey.

As a disclaimer, I should note that, when I started this blog, prior to Chuck's posting, I decided I would use the "e" in my blog for the same reason Chuck gives, namely, that is how we normally deal with US/UK spelling distinctions. However, I have been reexamining that position based on the debate presented here.

Not to E: Kevin Erskine

After seeing Chuck's post and being intrigued by it, I went directly to someone I knew would take the contrary position. Kevin Erskine publishes The Scotch Blog and is the author of The Instant Expert's Guide to Single Malt Scotch, the best introduction to Scotch around.

Kevin is a strong believer in using the version of the word which is consistent with the type of drink being discussed. Indeed, he has unabashedly taken no less than the Wall Street Journal to task for using the e in reference to Scotch.

Kevin takes issue with Chuck's modest proposal. From his perspective, whisky and whiskey refer to different drinks. To call Scotch a whiskey is to mislabel it. "Whisky" describes Scotch, "whiskey" does not.

And Kevin doesn't buy the analogy to words like color and colour. He thinks it's more akin to Fish & Chips. We call it by its British name rather than altering it to, say, Fried Fish Fillet & Fries, because Fish & Chips is the dish's proper name. It seems that the crux of Kevin's reasoning is not that there is a difference between whisky and whiskey, both are distilled and aged grain spirits just as Fried Fish and Fries is the same thing as Fish & Chips, it's that whisky designates a particular style and implies certain qualities. If I order Fish & Chips, I know I'm going to get a fillet of fried white fish served with malt vinegar and tartar sauce, whereas, if I see a menu item entitled Fried Fish Fillet with Fries, I wouldn't have the same expectation -- it could be salmon or snapper and I would have no hint as to the condiments.

Moreover, Kevin thinks this is a matter of respect and that imposing our spelling will be taken as typical American egotism by our friends in Scotland, Canada and Japan. Since journalism on this issue has a world-wide audience, this is not a trivial concern.

To E and Not to E: US Spellings

While we have been discussing this issue primarily as a US/UK issue, or more accurately, a US-Ireland/UK-Japan-Canada issue, there is a variance of usage even within the US. The standard spelling used for the US drink in writing is whiskey, but it's not clear cut.

The Code of Federal Regulations, which provides the official, legal definition of the term actually uses the British spelling: whisky. (27 C.F.R. §5.22). Most American whiskies, however, use the e, though not all. Makers Mark, for instance, leaves it out.

For Tennessee Whisk(e)y, which is not defined by law, the problem is particularly acute. There are only two producers of the drink and they spell it differently. Jack Daniels is Tennessee Whiskey while George Dickel is Tennessee Whisky. So, when writing about Tennessee, generically, would it be whisky, whiskey or whisk(e)y?

In a recent article about Tennessee, Whisky Magazine actually used both spellings in successive sentences, though it's possible that one was a typo. (See The Tennessee Question, Whisky Magazine, December 2007, p. 74).

The Verdict

Chuck and Kevin are both fonts of knowledge and are as passionate as they are knowledgeable. Based on their writings, I respect both of their opinions and know that they have a deep knowledge of the drink and the industry in which they specialize (Bourbon for Chuck and Scotch for Kevin). Clearly, reasonable bloggers can disagree on this issue.

So, what of the "e"? Is its use a symbol of American arrogance and a fundamental mislabeling or is it simply a sign of consistency and standardization (standardisation?) of spellings?

The matter is op(e)n for debate...Let me know what you think.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fall Cheese Plate

As always, clockwise from 12:00...

Haystack Mountain, Red Cloud
Washed Rind Goat

After loving the Haystack Peak from this Colorado goat farm, I vowed to try more. The Red Cloud is a semisoft goat cheese with a wonderfully mild flavor, which really doesn't have much goat to it. It tastes a bit more like a semisoft cow, almost like a milder version of the famous Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Upland Farms Dairy in Wisconsin. The piece I had appeared to be fairly well aged.

I must note, however, the fact that the name is quite familiar to the Cowgirl Creamery's Red Hawk, an award winning washed rind cow cheese that looks very similar to the Red Cloud...something going on here or mere coincidence?


Washed Rind Cow

Brinata is often described as Italian brie, but I really don't think that's accurate. First of all, it has a washed as opposed to bloomy rind. Second, the scent was more like an Epoisse than a brie, though the taste is a bit more mild and earthy. All in all, an enjoyable cheese but one I'd like to try fresh. This piece had clearly been sitting around for a while.


Firm Cow
Menorcan (Spanish)

From the Mediterranean island of Menorca comes this firm, crumbly cheese with a bright orange rind. Mahon is delightfully salty but also fruity. It cries out for a sweet wine to accompany it. This would be good crumbled over salad as well.

Served with Jamon Serrano, shredded duck leg confit, cornichon and pears.

All cheese was purchased at Surfas in Culver City. I love Surfas for their gourmet items and cooking supplies, but I honestly don't recommend their cheese, at least from the in-store refrigerated section (as opposed to the cafe). This is a case of pre-cutting and pre-wrapping cheeses until they sit around for God knows how long and can be victims of moisture and other bad things, and I've had my share of bad experiences with Surfas' cheese. Cheese, like wine, is a living, evolving thing and should be treated with more care.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

One Two Three, Look at Mr. Lee: Lee's Sandwiches

Lately, my (very) significant other has been on a banh mi fix, a yearning for the Vietnamese sandwiches which combine meat and pickled vegetables on a baguette. A great banh mi is the perfect gestalt of crunchy and chewy, tangy and savory, sour and salty.

Unfortunately, there is not much choice of banh mi in the mid-city area. We enjoyed the grilled pork banh mi at Gingergrass and the sardine sandwich at Vietnam Soy Cafe, both in Silverlake, but we yearned for more.

So, on a recent trip to Orange County, we had to stop at an outlet of the famous banh mi chain, Lee's Sandwiches (We stopped at the Beach Blvd. location in Westminster, right off the 405).

This place had it all. Large, fresh baguettes, crunchy marinated veggies and a host of excellent fillings. We most enjoyed the chicken with it's big chunks of marinated bird and the creamy, livery pate but also enjoyed the BBQ pork with its thin slices of Chinese style char siu pork. Priced at an amazing $2.20 per sandwich, this may the best deal in Southern California.

Frustratingly, there are 12 Lee's in Southern California and not a single one within the LA city limits. The closest to my area of mid-City is probably the Alhambra branch. This is a commercial oversight bordering on the criminal. A Lee's would mop up in's a guaranteed success. I mean, I would go three days a week and I'm pretty sure my SO would go five. Come on, if we can have 20 million shops dedicated to boba and tart frozen yogurt, the least we can get is a decent banh mi.

Most offensive is that the menu reveals a Lee's in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City gets banh mi but not LA??!! This is a massive offense and flies in the face of all that is right in the world.

For now, I will drive to get my banh mi, but please, Mr. Lee, go North and fill our empty Los Angeles baguettes with your love.