Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Punch Party at the Spare Room

The Spare Room has become one of the premier cocktail spots in Los Angeles for punch bowls due to the diligent and creative efforts of General Manager Aidan Demarest and Head Bartender Naomi Schimeck.  Last month the lounge was the scene of a fundraiser for Share Our Strength and Schimeck and team created several punches for the occasion, two of which are featured below.

Talbert's Tub 
Talbert's Tub is named for the tub in Talbert's Barbershop on the lower level of the hotel, in which Errol Flynn used to mix up large quantities of gin during Prohibition.  The Genever-based punch was refreshing and the citrus rinds added to the festivity of the bowl.  This punch goes down easy, so beware.

Talbert's Tub Recipe (by Naomi Schimeck):
2 pineapple rings
3 whole lemon rinds
3 T demerara sugar
4 oz housemade raspberry syrup
6 oz lemon juice
2 oz orange juice
2 oz maraschino liqueur
.5 oz Regans Orange Bitters
16 oz Bols Genever

Muddle lemon rinds and pineapple into sugar until it has completely dissolved
Add the rest of ingredients - stir well
Ice down and add 12 oz club soda

Tobacco Road
The Tobacco Road is a rye based punch with a large dose of tea and grated nutmeg at the end to garnish.  The nutmeg adds a scent to the flavor of the punch as well as a zesty visual touch.

Tobacco Road Punch Recipe (by Naomi Schimeck):
3 oz lemon juice
5 oz demerara syrup 1:1
30 oz chilled lapsang souchong tea
20 oz rye

Dry shake lemon juice and demerara syrup to emulsify
Pour into punch bowl and add tea and rye
Ice down and serve with a touch of grated nutmeg

If you haven't made your way up to the second floor of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, these punches are the excuse you have been waiting for to visit the Spare Room.  The space is elegant and is old school without feeling forced.  There is a two lane bowling alley straight out of There Will be Blood and a lounge area where you can play Connect Four and Jenga with custom sets.  The shoes for the bowling alley are more comfortable than any street shoes you probably own.  So grab five friends and order a punch bowl and reserve a lane of bowling.

The Spare Room: The Mezzanine at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel - 7000 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood.  Phone: (323) 769-7296.  Website: http://www.spareroomhollywood.com/

Monday, June 27, 2011

Black Market - Cocktails & A Top Chef in Studio City

Black Market Liquor Bar is a welcome addition to the San Fernando Valley dining scene.  The new venture, with a cocktail program curated by Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix of La Descarga and Harvard & Stone, is a comfortable local bar that happens to serve destination worthy drinks.

The star of the cocktail menu is the Smokin' Monk.  No two ways about it, this is a gorgeous drink.  It is made with mezcal, yellow chartreuse, lemon and orange juices and served with some large ice cubes with a lemon wedge for garnish.  The mix of the mezcal and citrus is magical and the mezcal provides just the right amount of smokiness to keep it intriguing sip after sip.  This might be my favorite new drink of 2011.

The Amber and Embers is made with Laphroig Scotch, Clement Canne Syrup Rum, Angostura and Orange Bitters.  Note, only a dash of each type of bitters is used.  The version I had used Ardberg in place of Laphroig.  I sampled versions with 2 dashes of bitters and one dash, and the one dash was superior.  Counterintuitively,  the version with two dashes was smokier and tasted more of the Scotch.

Red Hot and Bothered: Jalapeno-infused vodka, strawberry, blood orange, agave syrup and ginger beer.  There is nothing shy and retiring about this damsel.

The Boulevard Sour, a dangerous concoction of rye whiskey, cynar, lemon juice and egg white, is pleasingly frothy.

Punch is all the rage this days, but Black Market takes this trend one step further with its Punch for One, a pisco based cocktail with pineapple juice, agave syrup, angostura bitters and lime juice.  This is a mellow cocktail that is easy to sip on.  This has been a pisco week, after some pisco sours earlier at the new Picca.

Black Market has an all-star bartending staff, including Zach Patterson (below) of STK, Mia Sarazen of Harvard & Stone, and Tricia Alley, formerly of B-Side Lounge.  If any of these assassins offers to make you a drink, accept.  You are in good hands.

Zach Patterson
In addition to bringing in a stellar team of barkeeps, Livigni and Moix brought chef Antonia Lofaso of Top Chef fame to the equation.  The menu includes some Italian influences, not surprisingly.

A highlight of what I tried was the Ricotta Gnudi, served in a brown butter sauce.  The gnudi were soft and had a light consistency.  The only off note for me was the crunch of pistachio nuts, which were unnecessary.

The Duck Rillettes with bourbon raisins were served in a jar with ample toasts alongside.  The rilletes required some mixing to get the sweet and salty components into proper proportion.

My other favorite of the night was Oxtail Ragu with perciatelli pasta and perorino cheese.  The dish is rich and savory.  The noodles were perfectly cooked and were heavy enough to sustain the meat.  It was attractively plated as well.

I only managed a bite of my dining companion's Crispy Poussin with french fries, which was unremarkable.

For me Antonia's pastas were the highlight of the food menu.  With the cocktails, I enjoyed all that I drank, although the drink that is going to lure me back to Studio City is the Smokin' Monk.  Absolutely delicious.

Black Market Liquor Bar proclaims itself "purveyors of cocktails, bites and candy." I can vouch for the first two; the third you will have to explore for yourself.

Black Market Liquor Bar: 11915 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, CA.  Phone: (818) 446-2533.  Website: http://blackmarketliquorbar.com/

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chicago: The Girl & The Goat

The Girl and the Goat is the newish Chicago restaurant from Top Chef winner Stephanie Izzard.  Like many new restaurants of the moment, it serves a meat heavy small plates menu.  The restaurant is extremely popular so plan on booking several weeks in advance for prime time or hope for a seat at the bar.

We enjoyed all the food we had.  The menu is divided into vegetable, fish and meat dishes and there is a section on the daily specials for goat dishes, in honor of the name of the restaurant.  The goat lamb was tasty though not very gamy.  The best dish was the beef tongue, which was well prepared and extremely tender.  The bartender was also quite hospitable and knowledgeable and exceeded expectations.

The only drawback to the meal was that our food all came to the table very quickly.  We could have been in and out in less than 45 minutes, including paying the check, despite ordering six dishes, most of which are pictured below.  When a manager asked how we were enjoying our dinner, I told her the meal felt quite rushed and she apologized and comped us each a glass of wine, which was a generous touch.  I'd suggest either ordering in waves or making it clear that you want your dishes coursed out.

Halibut with Asparagus & Green Garlic

Shishito Peppers


Grilled Goat Loin

Braised beef tongue
The Girl & The Goat: 809 W. Randolph St, Chicago.  Phone: (312) 492-6262 Website: www.girlandthegoat.com

Friday, June 24, 2011

Spring/Summer Seasonal Cocktails Come to Seven Grand

Seven Grand, the Downtown LA whiskey emporium, has launched its first seasonal cocktail menu since it opened in 2007. The new Spring/Summer menu is made up of four original cocktails and four rediscovered classics as well as two punches. Seven Grand has been known for classic whiskey based cocktails such as Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, Juleps and Sazeracs and now has a broader array of drinks made from whiskeys from around the world.

The Keihi Cocktail ($12) is made with Yamazaki 12 Year Old Japanese Single Malt Whisky, grapefruit juice and finished with grated cinnamon. It is smooth and balanced.

The Duck Hunter ($13) is a stirred cocktail made with Limited Edition ‘Seven Grand Eagle Rare 10 Year Old’ Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Carpano Antica, and Amaro Lucano. It is served with an orange twist. The base spirit for the Duck Hunter is the bourbon that Seven Grand owner Cedd Moses commissioned from a Kentucky distiller especially for the bar.

If you are a single malt drinker, you can’t go wrong with the Dagny Taggart ($14). It is a Glenlivet based cocktail named after the protagonist of Atlas Shrugged. The 12 year old single malt Scotch is stirred with Aperol and Torani, after Ardberg 10 year old Islay single malt Scotch has been sprayed onto the glass with an atomizer.

The other new original cocktail is the Irish Vandal ($11), which is particularly attractive when served. It is made with Jameson Irish Whiskey, shaken with fresh grapefruit juice and raspberries and served in a tall glass over shaved ice.  It is the best selling new cocktail on the menu.

Photo by Anne Fishbein, courtesy of Seven Grand.
The four rediscovered classics are:

The Scofflaw ($11): Old Overholt Rye, Dolin Dry Vermouth, Lemon Juice and Grenadine

Whiskey Crusta ($12): Famous Grouse Blended Scotch, Lemon Juice and Maraschino Liqueur, served in a glass with a sugar crusted rim

The Boulevardier ($13): Old Weller Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Campari and Carpano Antica, served an Amarena Cherry and a lemon twist

New York Cocktail ($11): Wild Turkey Rye, Lime Juice, Grenadine, Brown Sugar, with an Absinthe Rinse and Orange Twist

The two punches are each made for sharing and can serve up to ten.  They are a good value and fun to drink with friends:

Canadian Punch ($90): Rittenhouse 100 Proof Rye, Smith & Cross Rum, Pineapple and Lemon Juices, Fever Tree Soda Water

Kentucky River Fish Kill Punch ($85) Wild Turkey Rye, Aperol, Grapefruit Juice, Grated Nutmeg, Prosecco

New General Manager Angus McShane, who previously worked at the Edison and Copa d'Oro is excited to expose Seven Grand customers to drinks beyond the classics for which it is known.  The bar serves over 500 Old Fashioneds every week, which McShane said is remarkable.  In addition to the new menu, he promised other fun events to come, including visits from master distillers and continued support of the Seven Grand Whiskey Society.

Seven Grand: 515 W. Seventh Street (@ Grand). Downtown LA.  Phone: (213) 614-0736.  Website: www.sevengrand.la

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Outdoor BBQ Coming to Drago Centro this Sunday

Drago Centro.  Photo courtesy of Food GPS

This Sunday afternoon you should head to Culver City for the Taste of the Nation fundraiser for Share our Strength.  But for a lucky (and hardy) few, that will just be the appetizer.  At Drago Centro from 5 - 9 pm on Sunday evening, the patio will be the scene of an outdoor bbq the likes few have seen before.  There will be a veritable festival of meats including a whole suckling pig, New York strip steak, lamb, baby goat, chickens and sausages.

A Noah's Ark of animals will be cooked on the grill.  Two by two the swordfish, soft shelled crabs, scallops and salmon will join the bounty of meat and seafood.  If all that protein is not enough to entice you than the variety of pastas on offer may be just the thing to scratch your summer bbq itch.

What else for dessert but homemade gelato from pastry chef Jashmine Corpuz?  The bbq is the perfect opportunity to check out the new seasonal cocktail menu from Michael Shearin and Jaymee Mandeville.

The price for this feast is $50 per person, including all food but not including beverages.  For goat, lamb and the rest of the cornucopia on offer, that is a bargain.  The only way to partake of this summer kickoff is to make a reservation by calling Drago Centro at (213) 228-8998.

Drago Centro: 525 South Flower St. (Downtown LA). Phone: (213) 228-8998. Website: dragocentro.com

A Secret Password to a Fresh Deal @ Michael's in Santa Monica

I've been a fan of the cocktails at Michael's in Santa Monica ever since Chef McCarty brought on Jason Robey in April to launch a farm to glass cocktail program. Robey who worked at Bar & Kitchen in Downtown LA and with Giovanni Martinez and Joel Black at Les Deux Estate before coming to Michael's, has developed a cohesive menu that celebrates fresh and local ingredients.

Now on Friday and Saturday evenings during the month of June there is no reason not to stop by for one of Robey's drinks as with a secret password you can get a complimentary Bar Bite of your choice.  The bar bite choices include two I particularly enjoyed: Hiramasa Yellowtail Crudo, and Duck Confit and Wagyu Beef Sliders.  What is the magic word?  Burrata.

The current cocktail list includes:
• Six Shooter - Magellan Gin, Pernod, Lemon Bitters, Meyer Lemon Juice, Grapefruit Juice, Demerara, Sage, Dill ($12)
• Mary Rose - Cranberry/Ginger-Infused Tito’s Vodka, Vanilla Simple Syrup, Lime, Charred Rosemary ($12)
• The Big Red Hat - Don Julio Reposado Tequila, Yellow Chartreuse, Lime, Lemon-Clove Simple Syrup, Lavender, Grapefruit Foam ($16)
• Karai Karai - Yamazaki 12-yr Single Malt Scotch, Poblano/Jalapeño/Bell Pepper Simple Syrup, Lemon, Grapefruit, Chipotle Tabasco ($14)
• Wilbur’s Nemesis - Maker’s Mark Bacon Reduction, Leopold Bros. New York Apple Whiskey, Bulleit Rye, Dolin Rouge, Angostura Bitters, Torched Applewood-Smoked Bacon ($16)
• The Passion – House-made Spiced Rum, Passionfruit Juice, Lime Juice, Vanilla Simple Syrup, Grand Marnier, Prosecco ($15)
• Star of Africa – Star of Africa Tea-infused Tito’s Vodka, Kumquat-Thyme Simple Syrup, Lemon Verbena, Club Soda ($12)
• The Fortune Teller - Right Gin, Strawberry, Sugar Cube, Dolin Blanc, 10-Year Tawny Port/Balsamic/Pomegranate Molasses Reduction, Blue Cheese-Stuffed Olive ($12)

You can't go wrong with the Karai Karai.  So sidle up to the bar, get one of Robey's cocktails, say Burratta (and please) and enjoy a Bar Bite on the house.  Not a bad way to enjoy a Friday or Saturday evening.  Note, this deal is only available in the bar and lounge area.

The Mary Rose.  Photo courtesy of Michael's
Michael's: 1147 3rd Street, Santa Monica.  Phone: (310) 451-0843.  Website: http://www.michaelssantamonica.com/

Taste of the Nation: This Sunday in Culver City

This Sunday from 1 - 4 pm the annual Taste of the Nation fundraiser returns to Media Park in Culver City to raise money for Share our Strength, the charity devoted to ending childhood hunger.  100% of all money raised will go to local Los Angeles food banks, which have seen increased demand during the long recession.  46 restaurants will be participating, including newcomers such as A-Frame and Lexington Social House and classics such as Michael's and Patina.

This year Taste of the Nation will also be featuring local bars, mixologists and craft brewers.  Julian Cox, who gained renown for his cocktail program at Rivera, will be showcasing some of the drinks from his most recent project Sotto.  The Spare Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel will be featuring Plymouth Gin cocktails and this is the first year that there will be a Craft Beer Tent which will feature brews from the Bruery and Eagle Rock Brewery among others.

Among the high profile chefs participating are Michael Voltaggio, Top Chef winner and chef/owner of the forthcoming restaurant ink, and this year's Food & Wine Best New Chef Ricardo Zarate, who will be showcasing dishes from his soon to open restaurant Picca.

For the sweet tooths in the crowd, Waylynn Lucas will be representing Fōnuts, her new doughnut concept. Lucas was the pastry chef at Patina and the Bazaar as well as for the whole SLS hotel, so if her past treats are anything to go by, these will be a hot ticket.

Tickets for the event are $25 for children 12-18 years old and $100 for adults ($125 at the door).  You can purchase tickets here - just click on the large "purchase tickets" link on the Taste of the Nation blog.  VIP tickets have already sold out, so I recommend you purchase your admission tickets quickly, before the entire event is sold out.

Taste of the Nation at Culver City Media Park: 9070 Venice Blvd, Culver City
Sunday June 12th, from 1-4 pm

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Mariscos Chente's: Pescado Zarandeado

Mariscos Chente's is the current home of Chef Sergio who Bill Esparza of Street Gourmet LA made famous through his chronicles of Pescado Zarandeado, the chef's signature dish.  The grilled Snook, a fish which I was not previously familiar, was served with cucumbers, oranges and onions.  The Imperial Highway location in Inglewood is the original location and after much moving around is where the Snook can be found.  The interior is currently being renovated, but there is a comfortable patio in back.

The fish ceviche is only $12 and was plentifully served on a large square platter.  Onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, citrus juices and a little jalapeno peppers for kick flavor the raw fish.  The flavors are bright and the ceviche is attractive and tasty.  More than enough for 2-3 people to share as an appetizer or for someone to eat as a main course.

The main attraction of the meal was the Pescado Zarandeado which we were warned takes half an hour.  It was more than worth the wait and was also portioned for sharing ($20 per kilo).  The fish is served whole and is accompanied by freshly made tortillas, the better to make tacos with.  After hearing about this dish for years, it lived up to my expectations.  I'd certainly recommend a visit to Mariscos Chente's.

The Imperial Highway location that I visited does not have a liquor license, but has a nice selection of jarritos. Another table had brought a case of beer with them, so if you want a cerveza to wash down your meal, plan on BYOing.  Fortunately for me, I have reason to be in the neighborhood on a regular basis.  Even if you do not, the Zarandeado is worth a detour.

Mariscos Chente's: 3544 W Imperial Hwy, Inglewood. Phone: (310) 672-2339