Saturday, October 15, 2011

What's in a name?

Flying across country, 30,000 feet or so, head above clouds, Bloody Mary in hand, iPad on lap. Wi-fi as well, bouncing around the ionosphere @ $12.95 for the duration of the flight. And so, in this contemplative mood, I ponder a few questions.

Names, for example. Jamie Boudreau, barman extraordinaire, has a new place on Capitol Hill which John Sundstrom once called Licorous. In French, that would be liquoureux, sweet. In English, it becomes a pun on licorice. Boudreau continues the game. He named his place, but the logo, as you can see, is a cannon. Does this mean he can't spell? Or does the name signal an intention to follow a strict canon of cocktails? Or maybe Nikons aren't welcome? The subtitle of the (very pleasant) bar is Whiskey & Bitters Emporium, which has a a bit of an Old-Fashioned (get it?) ring to it. Still, I wish the graphics designer or whoever spec'd the Classic Typerwirter font, had actually spelled it Cannon.

That confusion isn't nearly as dumb as the new pizza joint on Queen Anne, the one that took over from Sezoni. Yes, Domino's sells lots of pizza, but calling your shop Domani isn't going to get you a lot of accidental walk-ins since there's a real Domino's about half a mile north. I've got to think it was that the owner liked the Italian sound of Domani without realizing that domani is the Italian word for tomorrow. Do you really want your pizza delivery business to be called Tomorrow? As Annie sings it, your pizza's only a day way. The Italian version of the lyrics: tomorrow never comes.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Decant Take The Bubbles With You

Decanting the Rich Reserve at Veuve Clicquot1.JPG
Decanting Veuve Clicquot's Rich Reserve, France 2007

The bubbles, that is. In some Champagnes, they're what you want. Why else bother? But sometimes, you want fewer bubbles.

Here's Sam Sifton, outgoing (and out-going) restaurant critic for the New York Times, on decanting a brut rosé at Per Se. He's skeptical, but the sommelier knows what she's doing.

Dessert w Rich Reserve.JPG"The sommelier brought Champagne, a brut rosé from H. Billiot, which she then poured into a giant decanter and swirled theatrically, over and over again, to dissipate the bubbles. She said this would highlight the flavor of the pinot noir grapes in the wine, and make it a better pairing for the food.

"I called shenanigans then. I was laughing as I said it, but I used language inappropriate to any restaurant. My mother would have slapped me, no lie. .

"But the sommelier only laughed. It was as if she had heard a pigeon swear in the accent of a Bowery Bum. "We'll see," she said, and poured the wine. "I think you will like it."

"We swooned. Swirling brut rosé Champagne in a decanter to dissipate the carbonation before eating burrata is standard operating procedure for all of us now."

I first encountered the practice of decanting Champagne at Veuve Clicquot's private townhouse in Reims over a decade ago. You figure they ought to know what they're doing. And they decant the Rich Reserve, to reduce the distraction (and the acidity) of the bubbles and to highlight the wine's luscious flavors. With dessert, as shown.

By the way, if you're curious about Veuve Clicquot's practice about releasing its best Champagnes in vintage-dated bottles, read this.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Leftover wine?

Snooth has an exhaustive article about that leftover wine, ending with the obvious.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Clubby in Spain, Democratic in Seattle

Txoko dinner at Txori in Belltown, 2008
The Wall Street Journal's admirable online food & drink section had an interesting story this morning about txokos, which it described as all-male bastions of culinary invention and clubby dining.

In Spain's Basque Country, perhaps, but not in Seattle.

Carolin Messier and her ex-husband Joseba Jimenez di Jimenez used to run monthly txoko dinners at their Belltown pintxos bar Txori (pintxos being Basque tapas). Coed, lively, and open to all. Txoko, Messier points out, literally translates as "corner" in Basque and refers to places where men gathered to cook and enjoy their own food and drink, gastronomic societies, in other words.

"This spirit of preparing and enjoying good food can be appreciated at Txori," Messier wrote in an email newsletter three years ago, "but don't worry, women are very welcome!"

Alas, Txori is now closed, but Messier remains at the helm of Harvest Vine in Madison Park, where the Txoko tradition continues!

Harvest Vine, 2701 E. Madison, Seattle, 206-320-9771

And now a couple of boozy photos, since this is a blog about booze.

Negroni at Txori

Digestivos at Cafe Iruna in Pamplona, 2008

Friday, October 7, 2011

Behind the Bar:

Dry Soda, Perlini, Scrappy

We Americans spend more money on soda than on real food. And it gets worse when you include flavored waters, energy drinks, and fruit juices, not to mention coffee and tea, and leaving aside beer, wine and spirits. We are a nation built on liquids enhanced with artificial flavors and sweeteners, and we're getting bulkier every day.

Sharelle Klaus
Into this fray, six years ago, stepped a local woman, Sharell Klaus. A foodie, yes, but primarily a high-tech consultant with four little kids. She set out, very deliberately, to create a new category of "natural" carbonated beverages (water, cane sugar, natural flavoring, and phosphoric acid) that would pair with food. She called it Dry Soda.

At the time, there were basically three flavors of canned soda: cola, lemon-lime, and root beer. So she thought about it for a while and came up with four candidates: Kumquat, Lavender, Rhubarb and Lemongrass. (She would soon add Vanilla and Juniper Berry, drop the Kumquat when it turned out that not many people knew what a kumquat was; she substituted Blood Orange.) Each flavor required a lot of experimental formulation in her Tacoma kitchen, a thousand batches each, Klaus says. 

Now 42, she's grateful for the guidance she received from a food scientist and a beverage industry consultant. Turnstyle Studio of Ballard, back then a startup as well, designed the appealing logo. Dry's flavors are developed in association with a company in California; the bottling is handled by an outfit in Portland. "Building a beverage brand is very expensive," Klaus acknowledges, so, in addition to its own sales team, Dry Soda has hired a savvy, $2 billion national food broker, Acosta, to make sure Dry gets onto the right grocery shelves and into the right restaurants (like the French Laundry).

There's an air of Energizer Bunny around Klaus. On the day she was named one of Seattle's 15 Women of Influence by Puget Sound Business Journal, she was launching a new flavor of soda, Wild Lime (think 7-Up on steroids) at Dry's headquarters in Pioneer Square, then hopped the red-eye to South Carolina to launch a new venture with Urban Outfitters. She'd been hoping to run in the New York Marathon next month, and hired her daughter's soccer instructor to be her running coach, but she concedes she's run out of time. "I'll have to put off the Marathon until 2012."

And then we have Evan Wallace, former physicist and ex-software engineer, who lives in a condo at the Market and spends a lot time in his "living room" downstairs, the Zig Zag Café.

Evan Wallace at Zig-Zag
Wallace is a tinker and inventor with a fondness for bubbles and abhorence of flat Champagne. How to keep the sparkle in a sparkling wine? Icy cold temperature helps; an airtight stopper helps, but really, once the bottle has been opened, the only way to keep the contents perfectly fresh is to exactly recreate the conditions in the bottle before the cork was popped. Wallace's solution, patented as the Perlage system, is to encase the entire bottle in a clear safety enclosure, and then repressurize the headspace of the bottle to its original state. At $200, it's an item for serious consumers of fine Champage.

But wait, there's another product from Wallace's company that will add sparkle to your bar: it's called Perlini, a kit (in a Mafia-style metal attaché case) that includes a shaker, a pressurizer, and a dozen CO2cartridges. (Also $200.)  Here's a video that shows how the system works; here's another one of Seattle bar guru Jamie Boudreau using Perlini to make a sparkling Negroni.
Miles Thomas makes Negroni at Branzino

Boudreau's new place on Capitol Hill, Cannon, is also at the forefront of another trend for craft-cocktail bars: homemade bitters, which he keeps in glass pitchers atop the bar.

Finally, for bars that don't have the time to brew their own, there's Scappy's Bitters, a local company founded by Miles Thomas, who went from tending bar at Branzino to the forefront of the bitters trend. (Technically, if it doesn't contain bitters, it's not a cocktail.) But bitters have gone way past the dark-and-dodgy days of Angostura's, first concocted two centuries ago in South America and still brewed in Trinidad. Scrappy's comes in a handful of flavors (orange, lime, grapefruit, lavender, celery--ideal for Bloody Mary--and chocolate). Demand has been intense; Thomas keeps moving to bigger quarters (he's currently in Fremont) but the product remains handmade.

The Perlini allows bartenders to produced a greater range of flavors without resorting to traditional mixers. Dry Soda allows non-drinkers to enjoy the flavors as well. And Scrappy makes it all (bitterly) worthwhile.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Duke Picks His Bourbon

 Woodford Reserve certainly seems to be doing alright for itself, with a few dozen high-profile "preferred partner" relationships around the country, including two in Seattle. The brand didn't even exist 15 years ago; now it has sales of 200,000 cases. It's not your grandfather's bourbon (that might be Early Times, or Jim Beam--six milliion cases a year!) or your rich uncle's, either (Jack Daniel's, perhaps, though that's Tennessee, not Kentucky, but ten million cases nonetheless). These days, it's all about small batch bourbon, and Woodford's, along with brands like Knob Creek and Bulliet, are reviving the sagging fortunes of the spirits industry. Woodford's parent, Brown Forman, is the nation's oldest wine and spirits distributor, and their marketing plan for Woodford involves creating "personal" barrels of bourbon for this elite group of buyers.

Chris Morris, Master Distiller
Usually, the top brass at the participating restaurants or hotels travel to the picturesque town of Versailles, as The Metropolitan Grill's staff has done the past couple of years. That's Ver-SAILS, not Ver-SIGH, by the way. (We wrote about Met Grill's Manhattan contest last month.) But Duke's Chowderhouse, a chain of six local restaurants, has been a preferred partner even longer, so this week Woodford's master distiller, Chuck Morris, left Kentucky's bucolic bluegrass country and brought his barrel samples to the Duke's at Southcenter. A Seattle institution, Duke's is just shy of 40 years old, and still run by its founder, Duke Moscrip.

Duke Moscrip
"Bourbon, by law, is 51 percent corn," the genial yet professorial Morris reminded the tasting panel, whom he called "steely-eyed veterans." Woodford also includes 18 percent rye and 10 percent malted barley in its recipe, and uses old-fashioned, copper pot stills to create its bourbons, which are aged for at least four years in white oak barrels. By the time the tasters arrive, there are some surprising variations between barrels. The afternoon's assignment: taste eight samples at full strength, drop four, then taste all six combinations of two-barrel blends, pick a favorite.

It's an exercise that would be familiar to blenders of wine and concocters of Champagne. The final choice will combine two specific barrels of Woodford Reserve to be labeled as Duke's personal selection, 360 bottles altogether. Barely enough to last a year. Duke's isn't known as a bourbon bar, though; it's where you go for chowder, fish and chips, or planked Copper River salmon, sitting on the deck in good weather. (It can get crazy; the relatively small Alki store takes in $20,000 on a nice day.)

As for the boyish-looking Morris, who is 54, he'll return to bluegrass country, where Woodford Reserve is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby. Does he own horses himself? "No, thank goodness."