Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Buvare: Witching Hour Cocktail

Halloween is easily my favorite time of year. Crisp autumn air, harvest flavors, and a palpable childlike excitement. On the Table Set this week we're discussing our favorite Halloween parties past, spooky new ideas, and of course what kind of booze is the scariest to serve your house ghouls. While overall we decided moonshine was a pretty badass spirit for All Hallows Eve cocktails and punches, we also pondered making a pumpkin-infused bourbon for the purpose of a layered "candy corn" shot (lowbrow/highbrow! Classic ChocoMeat). The layering didn't quite pan out... but I took the ingredients I was working with and instead made a refined cocktail for more sophisticated costume parties to toast the night with. I had to include Strega (which means 'witch' in Italian), a bright yellow Italian herbal liqueur possessing a complex structure with fennel, mint and coniferous notes. I rounded the cocktail out with Royal Combier, a blend of Combier’s original triple sec, cognac and Elixir de Combier (a 19th century French hygienic liqueur which includes aloe, nutmeg, myrrh, cardamom, cinnamon and saffron).

Witching Hour

2 oz Pumpkin Bourbon*
1/4 oz Strega
1/2 oz Royal Combier
dash Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters

Combine all ingredients in a stirring glass over ice. Stir until chilled and [double] strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg and a flamed orange peel.

*Pumpkin Bourbon

1 bottle of decent Bourbon, such as Bulleit
1 sugar pumpkin, hollowed, peeled, and sliced
1 vanilla bean
1/2 of a whole nutmeg

Cut 1 vanilla bean in half lengthwise. In a 1- to 1 1/2-quart jar, combine vanilla, pumpkin slices, and nutmeg. Cover with Bourbon (saving empty Bourbon bottle). Seal jar and rest at least 4 days or up to 3 months in a cool, dark place. Once desired flavor intensity is achieved, strain liquid through cheesecloth and funnel back into Bourbon bottle.

Happy Haunting!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Buvare: One-Eyed Gypsy

Perched on the edge of the LA river just east of Downtown, one of the oldest running bars in the city's history is changing its sign once more. You may have visited the Bordello in the past couple of years, a tawdry den festooned with beaded curtains and red light, an homage to the building's roots (the second floor originally housed a brothel). Or perhaps some time back you watched a band play at Little Pedro's, another prior appellation.
"A man who used to bartend here in the seventies came in, told us they used to pry .45s out of the bar - that's how old this place is," a wide-eyed bartender with a sly smile told me, sliding a gold-rimmed glass of punch my way.
Clearly history is omnipresent in the new incarnation of the bar, a gilded sideshow rightfully called One-Eyed Gypsy.
Opening Friday, the space was redesigned by visionary Dana Hollister (Villains Tavern, Cliff's Edge) and reads like a valentine to a sword swallower. The massive bar plays center stage, braced with gold-framed mirrors, busts and statues. Circus-like curtains are drawn about a cabaret stage - only to be raised for any number of off-beat entertainer, be it magician, singer, or fire eater. Candles flicker. Chandeliers drip with Bedouin jewelry imported from Egypt. Functioning fortune telling machines flash their weathered boardwalk bulbs.
Two working skee-ball lanes and a massive stuffed yak prove Odalisque designer Hollister isn't not messing around on this one. Not to mention the Medusa wallpaper was custom designed and coffee-stained by hand.
But Hollister's goal, tricks aside, is to create a real neighborhood bar with the Gypsy.
So what about the potables? The Surley Sailor is a tastier grog than the sum of its parts (Gosling's Dark Rum, white rum, 151, blackberries, fresh pineapple, lime), but I preferred The Riddler's Punch, a refreshingly dry sangria with Haute Vodka, Cabernet, fresh fruit & citrus juices. A selection of "Cheap Dates" run only $8, including Gypsy Juice, a sexy hippie sipper of Plymouth Gin, citrus, sloe gin & hard apple cider.
I nibbled on selections from the menu's twisted county fair fare, such as sweet potato tots and bbq pork & jalapeño pizza, while the same eccentric barmaid spun tales of "ghostly white woman" who used to walk the halls upstairs (before an earthquake in the eighties leveled that story). 
"Tell yours, Dave!" she called to bar manager Dave Young, who reticently recounted a day when he was stocking the bar and a voice behind him softly said his name, only to find he was in fact all alone. I saw the bartender's eyes shift to the woman behind Dave.
"Oh, hey - Are you the psychic?"

901 E. 1st St., Downtown LA 90012
One-Eyed Gypsy

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Homefries U!

If these ladies look like they're up to something... That's because they are.

Joy the Baker and Tracy Shutterbean Benjamin are the stars of the Joy the Baker Podcast on a little network I sometimes talk about called Homefries. They like to have fun, talk about doughnuts, relationships, cookies, travel, sticky buns, and wombats. But what if for one weekend they could [literally] share the fun with their listeners?

One house in Palm Springs, some help from some friends, and a freezer full of ice cream later and Homefries U was totally in session!
Guests were greeted Friday night with - what else? Punch! I made up this batch of deliciousness with Krupnik Honey Liqueur, Dolin Blanc vermouth, fresh lemon juice, soda, Fee's Plum Bitters and a healthy dose of Cava Brut. Yowza!
Joy and Tracy made everyone addictively edible soup for dinner - vegan coconut carrot ginger heaven or chunky delish tomato situation. Winners.
After dinner there was, well, more punch to finish! And nails to paint. That's right. Not your average food blogger gathering. SEO? What's that, a sparkly blue?
Morning meant coffee cake, choco-studded banana bread, fresh fruit and lots of coffee.
An informative photo workshop led into the really good stuff - A brunch cooking demo. Joy and Tracy worked out a killer how-to brunch menu from A to Z. Then we ate it, of course.
Frittata time. Tracy doesn't mess around with bell peppers. Lady's got skills.
Breakfast pizza: the way into any sane person's heart.
After brunch everyone took a break for fizzy cucumber spritzers and pool time. Even Joy!
Craft hour included making herbal and fruit sugar infusions. And friendship bracelets. What else?
Happy hour is when things started getting REAL. Spiced nuts, cured salumi, and fresh-popped corn whet everyone's palate for a LOT of booze tasting.
Whitney from The Crush came out to teach everyone how to be a sexy sparkling wine dilettante in four tasty steps. And a frugal one at that, each wine is available for under $20 at DomaineLA.
Trust me, Whitney knows her stuff. And this Grotta del Sole Gragnano rules.
Cocktail time! Still a little loopy from the bubbles, I wasted little time getting everyone in a tizzy about one of my favorite and oft misunderstood spirits - Gin.
And you really can't talk about the history of gin without addressing its grandaddy, Dutch Genever, a malty juniper spirit back on the market thanks to Lucas Bols, the oldest Dutch distillery still in production. A distilled malt wine, Genever resembles a malt Scotch or white whiskey more than gin, and is great on its own, sipped out of a tulip glass alongside a beer (the traditional way) or mixed in an old-fashioned.
We also talked about London Dry, Plymouth, and New American styles of gin. And you can't leave out Hendrick's. If anything will convert a room of skeptics, a chilled sip of Scottish Hendrick's Gin with a cucumber slice does the trick. To lead into dinner we mixed up a bevy of Aviation cocktails with Plymouth Gin, the most winning of the pack.
What would a Sunday morning be without doughnuts? Joy and Tracy couldn't disappoint, and absolutely did not with their chocolate glazed and powdered perfect confections. (Not kidding, this chocolate doughnut was the best I've EVER had. EVER, people!)
After breaky, Tracy raided the spice rack for a expose on the real what's what and when to use it.
And what would a "conference" be without gift bags and a raffle? We wrapped up some goodies for our new friends so they could relive the best weekend ever once they got home. But the Real Housewives DVDs? Those were Joy's, sorry y'all.
Keep an eye out in early 2012 for Homefries U Spring Break! We're just getting started...