Thursday, July 31, 2008

Got Milks? Tres Leches

Tres Leches cake is one of my many loves. This Latin American dessert consists of a yellow cake soaked in three milks (tres leches): evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk and half and half or cream. It's topped with a white icing (hopefully whipped cream). The moist cake, the milks and the frosting combine to make each mouthful a heavenly slice of creamy, dairy goodness.

Tres Leches cake is available at nearly every panaderia in LA, but it's surprisingly hard to find a good one. For one thing, as a cake soaked in milk, it needs to be fresh. It gets gloppy when old and sours pretty quickly as well.

I've gone through a number of Tres Leches phases in my life, and even made my own, which is actually pretty easy. The most commonly recommended Tres Leches among foodies is probably Porto's, the Cuban bakery with branches in Glendale and Burbank. Personally, I think Porto's, while good, is overrated. While technically proficient, their food just doesn't excite me much (though I like a beef filled, fried potato ball as much as the next person).

Lately, my Tres Leches of choice is from the bakery section of the Liborio Market. I go to the one on Third Street, east of Alvarado. Their cake has the perfect consistency - creamy but not completely sopping- and high turnover assures that it is fresh. The cake is super moist but not super sweet. The frosting isn't whipped cream, but the more typical sugar frosting you get at supermarkets, with a bit of the chemical aftertaste they sometimes have, but the overall cake is good stuff and fills my Tres Leches need better than most competitors.

Liborio Market
1831 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90057
(213) 483-1053

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: The Best of the Worst - Scotch



We've all had it happen. You want a Scotch, but you're stuck in an airport, a crappy hotel bar, or worst of all, a wedding or a convention's cash bar. You have to decide between one or two blends that are clearly at the bottom of the barley barrel.

Well, given that I've been in this scenario more times than I can remember, I decided to take one for the team and give you the best of the worst, wherein I will review the plonk you are most likely to find in said situations.

It goes without saying that all of these are blends at 40% alcohol. They are ranked from best of the worst to worst of the worst in this blind tasting.


1. Johnnie Walker Red (Owned by Diageo)

I've never been a fan of JW Red, which I previously reviewed with the other Walkers, but face to face with these low-enders, it towered over the competition. It had nice malt on the nose and an even, unoffensive taste, though it was a bit medicinal, in a bad way, on the finish. It was certainly light, but not as light as the other contenders. It was head and shoulders above the others.


2. Dewar's White Label (Bacardi Ltd.)

The Dewar's had a nice malty nose, maybe the best nose of all of these, but the flavor was quite a bit lighter than the JW. There was some malt there, but it was less discernible. It beat out the Chivas by a nose.


3. Chivas Regal 12 years old (Pernod Ricard)

The Chivas had a weak nose but was fairly decent on taste. It was a bit milky, a bit sweet, and there was a pronounced grain flavor.


4. J&B (Diageo)

J&B was light on the nose with some malt. The flavor was bland and watery. Overall, it was boring and indistinct.


5. Cutty Sark (Edrington Group/Berry Brothers & Rudd)

This is hideous stuff. It has a weird perfume fragrance which stomps out any malt, and an unpleasant sweetness. This was by far the worst of the lot. STAY AWAY!


So, just to give you a sense of how these rankings came down. I tasted them blind. Johnnie Walker was the best by far, then Dewar's and Chivas were a fairly close call for second and third. J&B was discernibly worse than the first three and Cutty Sark was an abomination.

Good luck and give my congratulations to the happy couple.

Next Wednesday: We begin a new series of American whiskey reviews.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Now Playing at Hollywood and Ivar

As many of you know, I'm a regular at the Sunday Hollywood Farmers market on Ivar Street. I buy nearly all of my produce there and much of my other food as well, and I've often reviewed the various product available.

Over the last few months there has been a new crop of prepared food stands selling a wide variety of wares. I've written about Flan King and the great buffalo mozzarella available at the Winchester cheese stand, but there are some other new stands as well. Here are some quick hits.

Vera's Tamale Express

Fresh made chips and salsa as well as tasty tamales are available at this stand. I'm especially happy about the chips as there aren't a lot of places in LA to buy real restaurant style tortilla chips. Pork and chicken tamales were very good, both with a nice bite, and the green and red salsas were delicious and fresh tasting.

Carmela Ice Cream

I previously reviewed Carmella's stand at the Larchmont Farmers' Market, but they've moved to Hollywood. Their latest great flavor: Strawberry/Balsamico Sorbet.

Organic Coffee

I can't remember the exact name of the stand that sells organic roasted coffee (Organico Reserva?). It's all cold brewed and iced for the summer and was quite nice. They serve a fairly dark roast, which I like. I believe the coffee is Costa Rican.

I love the proliferation of prepared take-home food at the Market, and I hope there is more to come. My real hope is that our friend Nina, over at Sweet Napa will get a stand for her wonderful candy bars. We'll keep you posted.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Diplomatic Rum


Rum is the latest booze to get the premium makeover. The one-time pirate nectar now comes in fancy bottles and shares shelf-space with Grey Goose, Milagro Tequila and other high end bottles with frosted glass and uber-modern designs.

I'm no rum expert, but I've tried a number of the high end rums and haven't been that excited about them. In many cases, the oak overwhelms the sugar, giving them less of a rum character and more of a whiskey taste. And if I want whiskey, that's what I'll drink.

That all changed when I tried Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva. Diplomatico is a Venezuelan rum made by Destilerias Unidas, a well-respected South American spirits company. The Reserva Exclusiva is the top of their line, a twelve year old rum made entirely in pot stills (as opposed to continuous stills). The other expressions are the A├▒ejo, aged four years, and the Reserva, aged eight years.


Tasting

Dimplomatico Reserva Exclusiva (Destilerias Unidas), 40% alcohol,

There is little to say except that Diplomatico is everything a rum should be. The predominant smell and flavor is sugar...thick, black molasses, maple sugar candies, oh so sweet but not cloyingly so. This is not rum pretending to be whiskey. This is rum which has reclaimed its sugar and held it up to the light. There is something beautiful about sugar and the nose of Diplomatico is similar to what you smell if you go to Hawaii and get a whiff of fresh cut sugarcane or the aroma of a newly opened bag of demera sugar.

The taste does not let you down; it is as bold and dramatic as the scent. Beautiful notes of cane sugar, dried fruit and other sweets. The alcohol weaves itself naturally into the sweetness, yo ho ho indeed.

This stuff is not yet widely available, but it seems that it is slowly becoming so. The first time I tried it was from a bottle that had been brought back from Venezuela. Now, it's available at Hi-Time Wine for $32.99, quite a bargain for the quality of this rum.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: The Mystery of Finlaggan


In the world of Scotch, few things inspire more intrigue than the release of a "mystery malt." What, you may ask, is a mystery malt? It is a single malt of uncertain origin.

As you may recall, within the world of Scotch, there are many independent bottlers who buy casks of Scotch from distilleries and market them under their own labels. In most cases, these bottlers reveal the source of the malt, but in some cases they do not, and those bottlings are known as mystery malts. We do not know why a given mystery malt does not reveal its source; sometimes it is because of a contractual obligation, other times it may be because the bottler is trying to market a distinct brand apart from any distillery, such as Ian McLeod's Smokehead.

Whatever the reason, mystery malts, especially Islay mystery malts, inspire no end of guessing and hypothesizing over the source.

Today, I will try Finlaggan, a popular mystery malt from Islay bottled by the Vintage Malt Whisky Company which is 40% alcohol. It is available for a bargain basement $16.95 at Trader Joe's.

Now, I've heard much speculation that the contents of Finlaggan are, in fact, a young Lagavulin. Frankly, I'm always skeptical of such claims. First, since there has been a recent scarcity of Lagavulin, nearly every Islay mystery malt is rumored to be Lagavulin. Second, because of this scarcity, why on earth would the distillery be selling it on the cheap to independent bottlers when they could be expanding their own brand? Of course, it's possible that in response to the scarcity, they overproduced and are selling off young whiskey, but they could probably make $100 a pop on a five year old release (a la Bruichladdich) as opposed to putting it in someone else's bargain malt. Then again, they could also be locked into a long-term contract with the bottler.

Caol Ila, on the other hand, a high quality but less sought after Islay malt, is known to produce lots of whiskey for independents, and is probably a more likely source for any given Islay malt than Lagavulin.

The other thing to keep in mind is that since it is a mystery malt, the bottler can change which whiskey goes into it. My bottle may be Lagavulin, yours may be Caol Ila and someone else's may be Laphroaig. There is simply no guarantee that it is all from the same source, though this site reports a correspondence with Finlaggan in which the bottler claims they use only one malt for all their bottlings.

In the end, it's really pointless to discuss the mystery. We're all better off hanging up our Sherlock Holmes hats and enjoying the malt for what it is...so here it goes...

Tasting

Plenty of peat and good Islay notes on the nose. No mistake about what region this comes from. There is a nice char on the taste but it has an overly diluted taste. The peat is definitely up front, but it is submerged in water, like some sort of peaty submarine. I can see why people think it's Lagavulin. It definitely shares some of those heavily smoked characteristics, even if they are hidden underwater.

Finlaggan is not a great whiskey but provides a decent amount of smoke at a rock-bottom price. I'm guessing it would do well in a Smoky Sazerac.

Next Wednesday: What to drink at your nephew's Bar Mitzvah

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Yes They Got 'Em for Sale: Tamales Alberto

LA is a tamale paradise, filled with perhaps as many versions of the wrapped, masa-laden treats as there are cheeses in France. There are the Central American, banana leaf wrapped tamales filled with a moist masa, meat and green olives; the mole saturated Oaxacan versions; the Salvadoran sweet, fresh corn tamales that get thrown into the deep frier to crisp them up; the various arrays of sweet dessert tamales that come out for Christmas, and then there are the traditional Mexican tamales, filled with masa, salsa and meat.

There are numerous LA vendors of great tamales in the mid-city area. Mama's Hot Tamales on the South end of MacArthur Park gets points for variety, offering versions from countless nations. Panaderia Salvadore├▒a, with branches on Beverly and 6th, makes the best of the fresh corn variety (tamaels de elote), but for the traditional Mexican variety, Tamales Alberto has them, and to quote the Robert Johnson song referenced in the title "they're red hot."

Tamales Alberto is a stand on Temple west of Glendale Boulevard, which serves big bags of tamales to go. The queso tamales are studded with a spicy red chile sauce, the chicken include a tangy chile verde, the mole in the excellent mole tamales are in the Puebla style (less thick but just as tasty as Oaxacan). They also have pork, bean and cheese and a number of sweet varieties. All are excellent and easy to take-out for a party or quick dinner. And at $13 per dozen, you can't beat the value.

Tamales Alberto
1644 W Temple St
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(213) 484-4485

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cranky Friday

A few people have noted that my reviews tend to be positive and have asked why nothing ever get the thumbs down from me. I actually think I tend to be fairly critical, but it's true, I tend to post about places that I find delicious and exciting. I figure that's more helpful to the reader. After all, who needs to hear that Pupuseria X on Alvarado is only mediocre. The only exception I make is for places that have received lots of attention. In that case, I may post a contrarian review if I disagree.

That being said, I have a few genuine dislikes and pet peeves that I figured I would take the opportunity to air. Having had a grueling month at work, I'm particularly cranky, so I thought it was time to unleash some venom.

Vosges Chocolates.

Okay, first let's discuss the hideous bacon flavored chocolate. I know the trend is to put bacon on everything these days, and I love bacon as much as the next Jew, but ughh...it tastes like bad chocolate with Bac-O Bits...I couldn't even finish the thing and for me and chocolate, that's saying a lot.

The bacon flavor is just putrid icing on the really bad cake though. Vosges dresses their chocolate in gourmet packages and sells it at up-market venues like Whole Foods and Intelligentsia, but the truth is, it's crap. Vosges contains additives, like soy lecithin, that better chocolate makers disdain. These additives are undoubtedly supposed to make it taste creamy, but instead give it a greasy, artificial mouthfeel. They try to cover for this by mixing with strong flavors like chili and salt, but to me, that just makes it worse, and they make the flavors so strong, it creates and unbalanced mess. Yuck!


Celebrity Chefs in LA

Five years ago, you could get into nearly any LA restaurant at any time by calling, at most, a week in advance. Sona, Spago or Melisse for 4 at 7:30? No problem. But then came the celebrity chefs. Bankrolled, book writing, Today show appearing chefs who started noticing that there was life west of Vegas. You know the routine. They show up for the first month to do interviews and cook for the beautiful people after which they speed back to Manhattan. In their wake, they have given us a little bit of New York in LA, and not in a good way. Restaurants that are all but inaccessible if you're not rep'd by William Morris, reservations available before 4:30 pm or after 1:30 am and customers who have more money than taste buds. Is the food good? Who knows? Who gets in? The only good thing, there's more space than ever at Melisse. So thanks for that Mario, Tom and Gordon.


The Back Room of Dim Sum Palaces

There is no more terrible feeling than showing up at your favorite dim sum house in the San Gabriel Valley and being shown to the back room. These overflow rooms, adjacent to the main hall are the places where carts fear to tread. So far afield are they that only chinese broccoli and chicken feet are allowed in. There you sit, hungry, waiting, watching the chicken feet go by for the fifth time, wondering where the rest of the food is, dying for a pork bun, some lotus-wrapped sticky rice or any other mosel. It's a Coleridge like horror: "Dim sum, dim sum everywhere but not a drop to eat."


Boring Scotch

There are a number of Scotches which, while I wouldn't say they are terrible, are overrated and unexciting. Most of these are highly promoted Speysiders which seem to be marketing to an otherwise whiskiphobic crowd. They are fine whiskies which I can drink, but can't get excited about. Among the malts in this category are: The Glenrothes vintage series and the Glenmorangie series of finished whiskies. Yawn! (I would have added Balvenie Doublewood, but given that good ole Doc Whiskey is singing their praises these days, I will give them another chance.)


StraightBourbon.Com

One of the best sites to learn about Bourbon is straightbourbon.com. It's got a great FAQ, information on distilleries and brands (though it could use some updating) and a great forum with regular posts from distinguished whiskey expert Chuck Cowdery.

What perpetually gets in the way of my enjoyment of this site, though, is that nearly half of the posts seem to have nothing to do with Bourbon whatsoever, but instead are various right wing polemics about the myth of global warming, the right of every man woman and child to sport an uzi and the latest screed they heard on Rush or saw on Fox News.

I'm sorry, I came here to read about Bourbon. If I want to read right wing bullshit, I'll go to some right wing bullshit site...there are only, what, 35 million of those. Post something left of Mussolini on Straightbourbon and you will be called out as the Communist you inevitably are. Now, granted, the right wing posts are generally by a small minority of posters, but it gets in the way of a lot of good Bourbon information, and it's just annoying. In retaliation, I've got a mind to go to redstate.com and make 5,000 posts about the beauty of Elijah Craig 18 year old single barrel!


Michael Ruhlman

I've got no patience for this darling of the food media world. His books are overwritten and boring, as is his blog. His adherence to traditional French food is stodgy and boring. His TV appearances are, well, just boring. Please kick this guy to the curb and bring us Jeffrey Steingarten or someone who at least has a sense of humor.


Hazlenuts

There aren't many foods I flat-out dislike. In fact, about the only other one I can think of is tripe (no menudo for me thanks). But I just can't deal with hazlenuts. I hate how they grace every chocolate dessert, ruining the taste of fine chocolate with their rancidity. There is nothing worse than the pervasive smell of hazlenut flavored coffee that exudes from every pour of my body if I spend even a minute in my local 7-11. Hazlenuts are evil!! And don't even get me started on Nutella.



Wow, that felt good. I should do that more often.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: The Mint Julep


Yes, it's long past Derby Day, but don't be silly. The Mint Julep is appropriate anytime it's over 65 degrees (and in Los Angeles, that's most of the year). You just can't go wrong with mint and Bourbon.

Ingredients:

Mint
Simple syrup
Bourbon
Crushed ice
Looooove

How to Make a Mint Julep

As usual, I will pass this task off to the experts. For Morganthaler on Mint Julep, see here and here.

For perfect technique plus poetic waxings, you absolutely must watch Chris McMillian in what may be the finest example of cocktail making anywhere:



Both Morganthaler and McMillian make the traditional Mint Julep. I made the same one (yes I used a glass instead of the traditional silver cup - so shoot me). The trick is not to be stingy with the mint. Throw five or six good sized sprigs down there and muddle gently-- watch the McMillian video for technique. Mint is strong, so gentle muddling will get you all the flavor you need.

I don't happen to have a giant Thor-like mallet like McMillian, so I put my ice in a Ziplock bag and crush it with a rolling pin. It works just fine. Then, pour those liquid ingredients over the ice and serve with a straw. Mmmmmm.


The Party Julep

Let's face it, the Julep is a party drink and the muddle mint in every glass technique just ain't gonna' cut it for your backyard BBQ. So here is my full proof party Julep recipe. Each batch is good for about six or seven good sized servings.

An hour or two ahead of service time: Put one bunch of mint in a pitcher. Cover with four cups boiling water and add 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar, depending on how sweet you want it. Let steep for 15-20 minutes until there is a nice minty taste, then remove the mint and refrigerate.

You have now made a sweetened mint tea which will serve as your all purpose Julep mixer. Just add crushed ice and the appropriate amount of Bourbon (or not, for the kids) and serve.

This is a less sophisticated drink than the muddled Bourbon version, and you will get less Bourbon/mint interaction out of it, so choose your Bourbon accordingly. You will, however, have happy, happy guests.


The Rye Julep

When I make Juleps I usually use a good mid-range Bourbon. Woodford Reserve is my favorite Julep Bourbon, but Knob Creek, Bulleit or Maker's will do just fine.

The other two cocktails we've reviewed, the Sazerac and the Manhattan, were originally rye drinks to which bourbon is now often added (especially in the case of the Manhattan), so I wondered what would happen if we added rye to a Bourbon drink.

Rye and Bourbon, while related by ingredients corn and rye, are very different spirits. Where Bourbon is sweet, rye is spicy. But spice and mint is a combination that makes sense, so here we go again...

I used Russell's Reserve Rye for my Julep, a good mid-level rye made by Wild Turkey. The Rye Julep worked well. The spice of the rye was, indeed, a good counterpoint to the mint. The difference was actually pretty subtle, which goes to the dominance of the mint in this drink, as well as the sweetness of Russell's compared to some ryes, but I liked that little taste of rye spice.


In Conclusion

This ends our series on the classic whiskey cocktail. I've had fun playing mixologist for the past month, so I promise that Whiskey Wednesday will return to the subject with more classic cocktails and unorthodox interpretations (I mean you, JW Blue Old Fashioned).

Next Wednesday: The Mysterious Finlaggan
And coming soon: Cheap Scotch and More Bourbon

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Double-Cut Good: Mastro's Double Cut Porterhouse

Arguably, LA has never been as much of a steak town as it is now. New steakhouses seem to open daily. In a City that was once known for healthy cuisine, we have gone mad for cow. There are hip new steakhouses that look more like five star temples of haute cuisine, retro-red booth locales that pipe in Sinatra and a few legitimate holdovers, like Taylor's, which hung on long enough to be there for the rebirth.

Personally, I'm a Mastro's guy. I've been to Cut, and no doubt about it, the wagyu beef is a thing of beauty. A perfect bite of meat, fat and juice...almost like foie gras in steak-form (and similarly priced). But the run of the mill, non-wagyu steaks at Cut are just good.

At Mastro's, I have never had a good steak, they are all superb. I've never had one that was not perfectly cooked and never had one which did not make me think, upon biting into it, that this is the place for steak in LA, or maybe anywhere.

My worship of Mastro's mastery of meat was doubly enhanced recently when I ordered the immense double-cut porterhouse. The porterhouse, of course is the T-bone which includes a fillet on one side and a New York strip on the other. At Mastro's the double-cut porterhouse comes pre-sliced. Normally, I would be wary of the porterhouse because I like my fillet rare and the fattier New York strip more of a medium rare, but knowing Mastro's penchant for cooking a steak, we ordered it anyway - medium rare. True to form, it was excellent. The fillet was red and tender, the fat on the strip was cooked through - how do they do that?

The Mastro's porterhouse is one of those things that is so good that you don't want to stop tasting it, no matter how full you get; the porterhouse easily feeds two (we're big eaters and two of us couldn't finish the thing).

Add to the excellent steaks a perfectly crafted Woodford Reserve Manhattan, creamed spinach and fried onions and the excellent butter cake for dessert, served, as all desserts are, with a completely gratuitous bowl of whipped cream, and you have the makings of a gluttonous orgy rarely seen in the old, health-conscious LA.

Mastro's Steakhouse
246 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210-5302
(310) 888-8782

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Oh, Sweet (Lady) Jane - Red Velvet Cake

One of these days, I will do the ultimate Sweet Lady Jane post. I have eaten at this bakery so often that I hesitate to even hazard a guess at how many pounds of their cakes I've ingested. One day, I keep telling myself, I'll do a review of their entire cake menu.

The thing about the Lady is that it is not a temple of innovation. The cakes generally do not change. The menu is standardized. For that reason, when a new one pops up, it is notable.

It was particularly notable for me when Sweet Lady Jane began offering a version of one of my favorites: red velvet cake. Red velvet cake, as you may know, is a southern treat, a deep, moist cocoa flavored cake layered and glazed with either a white butter cream or a cream cheese frosting.

I had high expectations for Jane's red velvet, and they were generally fulfilled. The cake was moist (dry red velvet is a huge, huge flaw) and sufficiently cocoa flavored. The frosting was thick and rich. It's hard to find a good velvet cake in LA, so I'm happy to add Sweet Lady to my list, but beware, it is still not a standard offering and they don't seem to carry it all the time.

Sweet Lady Jane
8360 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90069
(323)653-7145

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Meet Me in Manhattan


The Manhattan is sort of a whiskey martini as it's composed of spirit and vermouth, though it has bitters thrown in as well. I consider it the more exciting and flavorful cousin of the martini. While traditionally made with rye whiskey, the modern Manhattan often includes Bourbon, so we tried some of both.

Ingredients:

Rye Whiskey or Bourbon
Vermouth (sweet or dry, depending)
Angostura Bitters
Garnish (Cherry or lemon)

How to Make a Manhattan

There is the Manhattan, which uses sweet vermouth and a maraschino cherry and then there is a perfect Manhattan which uses both dry and sweet vermouth and a lemon twist. I tried both.

I have to admit that, like many serious drinkers, I have a deep phobia of maraschino cherries. I mean, come on, those "cherries" aren't fruit. They bear no resemblance to any cherry I've ever had; they're made in a lab somewhere out of plastic and Red Dye #5, or worse; they may be the Soylent Green of bar garnishes. In any case, I tend to shy away from the cherries but added them here based on tradition.

The recipe is simple. In a shaker or pint glass pour:

2 ounces rye whiskey
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters

Fill the glass with ice and stir or shake (I've got no dog in that fight). Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with the radioactive cherry. To make it perfect use 1/4 ounce each of sweet and dry vermouth and garnish with a lemon twist instead of a cherry.


The Rye Manhattan

Having learned my lesson with last week's Sazeracs, I stuck with the mid-level rye here and used Rittenhouse 100, although Old Overholt or Sazerac 6 year old would probably do a comparable job.

I started by making a regular and perfect Manhattan out of Rittenhouse. I was not pleased. For me, the rye whiskey Manhattan is just too densely flavored. You've got the spice of the rye, the botanicals in the Vermouth, the bitters and, in the perfect version, the twist. It's a bit of an overload. Rather than a pleasing gestalt, it's a big chaotic clusterfuck of flavors. Like atonal symphonic music or the most radical of orchestral free jazz, I struggle to find beauty in the cacophony. It's a thin line, and in the end, the composition is lacking in harmony (or harmelodics) and the sum is not greater than the whole of its parts.

Well, you can't like everything.


The Bourbon (or Tennessee) Manhattan

After my rye experiments, I was about to give up on the Manhattan when I read Tony Cecchini's Cosmopolitan: A Bartender's Life. Cecchini's entertaining work is a sort of Kitchen Confidential for bartenders, a look at the ugly and often humorous reality of professional drink slingers.

Cecchini, who prides himself on his Manhattans, includes a Manhattan recipe using George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey instead of rye. Given that I am a Dickel fan, I decided to try it, and I'm glad I did. The sweetness of Dickel provides that certain something that the rye Manhattans were missing. It pulls together all of the aromatics in the bitters and vermouth so that it tastes like one cohesive whole.

I followed that up with a Woodford Reserve Manhattan, which was also terrific.

So, make mine a Bourbon Manhattan or even better, a Tennessee Manhattan. Thanks Tony!

Next Wednesday: The Mint Julep

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Fresh Mozz

The cheese stand at the Sunday Hollywood Farmers Market that carries Winchester Gouda is now also carrying a delicious fresh mozzarella di bufala made by a dairy in Chino. They have both big and mini-balls of the stuff and it all tastes creamy and fresh. The mozz is usually made the day before the market, so it's as fresh as can be. They also have fresh buffalo ricotta and a few aged and smoked buffalos, but for me, there is nothing like the rich, solid cream feel of fresh buffalo mozzarella.

Check it out!


The stand is at the north end of the Sunday morning Hollywood Farmers Market (on Ivar, between Selma and Hollywood Blvd.), on the west side of the street.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: The Sazerac Cocktail


The Sazerac is the traditional New Orleans cocktail. In fact, as of last week, it is the official cocktail of New Orleans.

The esteemed Sazerac combines the spicy flavor of rye whiskey with the anise-licorice of Absinthe and New Orleans' own Peychaud’s bitters. Combine that with sugar and a lemon twist and you're on your way to an amazing cocktail experience.

Ingredients:

Absinthe or substitute
Rye Whiskey
Peychaud's Bitters (Peychaud's bitters are difficult to find, but are available at kegworks.com)
Angostura Bitters (Not part of the traditional recipe, but something suggested by Morganthaler which I think works very well)
Sugar Cube
Water
Twist of lemon

To make a Sazerac:

For instructions, read Morganthaler here and here, watch McMillian and check out Drinkboy.

The Sazerac is one of my all time favorite cocktails. It makes sense, I suppose, given that I'm a big fan of both of the major ingredients: rye whiskey and Absinthe.

More than anything, this drink is about spice. There is something wonderful that happens when rye, with its spicy, savory flavors meets that deep licorice taste that you get from the combination of absinthe and Peychaud’s bitters. I really do think this is the king of cocktails.

On my quest for the perfect Sazerac, I experimented with the following three variations.



The Rittenhouse-Lucid Sazerac

Both Morganthaler and McMillian use Sazerac 6 year old rye (Sazerac is both the name of this cocktail and an excellent brand of rye whiskey produced by the Buffalo Trace distillery), but I'm all out of Baby Saz, so
I did my first batch with Rittenhouse 100. Since Absinthe is now legal, I decided to use the real thing instead of Herbsainte or another substitute. For this batch, I used Lucid.

Rittenhouse is a little less spicy than Saz, so I imagine the spice level was somewhat lower, but the Rittenhouse married well with the Absinthe and gave the drink the perfect balance of rye, licorice and sweetness. This was a really wonderful Sazerac which highlighted the flavors of both rye and anise. The sugar and lemon further bring these flavors to the fore.



The Handy-St. George Sazerac

This time, I went for the Cadillac Sazerac, with Thomas Handy Rye, a barrel strength version of the Sazerac brand rye and St. George Absinthe. Now it's true that Handy is a fine rye worthy of sipping neat, but its namesake, Thomas H. Handy, was the nineteenth century New Orleans bar owner who invented the modern Sazerac by substituting rye whiskey for the brandy that had previously been used in the cocktail. Given that history, it only seems appropriate to add Handy whiskey to the cocktail.

Since I was using the barrel strength Handy to make this Saz, I used only 1 1/2 ounces of rye and a half ounce of water.

Interestingly, the bold flavor of Handy didn't come through as strongly as I would have guessed. That may be in part due to the fact that St. George is a much stronger flavored Absinthe than Lucid. Even though there is only a smattering of Absinthe in the drink, I found myself tasting more of the tongue numbing Absinthe and less of the interplay between rye and anise. The combination didn't really work for me the way the Rittenhouse-Lucid version did.

Interestingly, when sipping Rye neat I prefer Handy to Rittenhouse and when drinking Absinthe on its own, I prefer St. George to Lucid...it just goes to show that what you like on its own may not make the best cocktail.



The Smoky Sazerac

The strong flavors and counterpoint of the Sazerac cocktail got me thinking...what would happen if you replaced the spice of rye with another strong flavor, say smoke. I have a lot of very smoky Scotch to choose from, but I ended up picking the Bruichladdich PC5 for this experiment. The PC5 has a cleaner smoke with less ash, char and medicine than some more traditional peated Scotches. For this reason, I thought it would work better in the cocktail than, say, a Lagavulin or Laphroaig.

To make this new-fangled Sazerac I went back to Lucid Absinthe. PC5 is another high alcohol spirit, so I again cut the proportion to 1 1/2 ounces and added 1/2 ounce of water.

Oh...my...God!! This is an amazing drink. My hunch on flavors, though it seemed pretty crazy, was spot on. You might think all of these flavors would clash, but in fact, they meld perfectly. The smoke of the Scotch becomes more understated, marrying well with both the anise and the sweetness of the sugar. The slight acid of the lemon twist pulls the entire combination together. Upon considering it further, it makes perfect sense. Shanghainese cuisine, of which I'm a big fan, often marries these same flavors (smoke, sweetness and anise) with phenomenal results.

With one sip of this concoction, I knew I was drinking something special. Take heed mixologists, you should make this drink! Now, PC5 is a bit hard to find, but the drink should work with Lagavulin 12 year old, Black Bottle or maybe even a Caol Ila.

What fun we've had experimenting with Sazeracs. Something old, something new, something smoky, nothing blue.

Next Wednesday: The Manhattan