Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bringing Sexy Back: Pour Vous Debuts

Pour Vous is bringing sexy back.  Hollywood has undergone a resurgence but not since the days of Classic Hollywood has there been a venue this sexy in town.  La Descarga has sizzle but Pour Vous has a transporting effect.  Led by Head Bartender Dave Fernie (above), Pour Vous also benefits from a surfeit of talent behind the bar including Lindsay Nader, Adrian Biggs and Devon Espinosa, plus the team of Pablo Moix and Steve Livigni who worked with the Houston brothers to design and open this boîte.

The space was taken down to the studs and then some with a new bar, a new lowered seating area and a dramatic glass domed ceiling all part of the design scheme which evokes a soigné Parisian haunt where you might find Juliette Binoche at the next barstool.  Pour Vous is not only French in name and decor but in its cocktails and spirits selection; it has what may be the largest selection of Cognac and Armagnac in any bar in the United States.

In what has become a signature touch for Houston/Livigni/Moix establishments, there is an indoor/outdoor smoking area, in this case a converted trolley which thankfully isn't hurtling down the 110 Freeway at high speed.  My fellow intrepid enthusiast Caroline on Crack is pictured below on the steps of the soon to be infamous trolley.

One of the most eye catching cocktails at Pour Vous is the Moulin Rouge, below.  A sparkling cocktail made with Grey Goose vodka, aperol, Peychaud's bitters, orgeat, lemon juice, lime juice, fresh strawberry purée and champagne.  Garnished with a strawberry and with champagne bubbles floating up with each sip (no sparkling wine here, this is Pour Vous) the Moulin Rouge was designed for seduction.

In a classical French touch, (though it is not on the menu) a Pousse-café is available to those wanting a layered drink.  The eye catching beverage is rather sweet but is certain to gain the attention of those around you.  The cocktail is made by layering ingredients of different densities from heaviest to lightest in the glass.

The menu of 25 cocktails is just the beginning; Livigni commented that he plans to add several dozen more to the list in the coming months.  This may already be the largest list of craft cocktails in town and it is impressive that they have so many recipes in reserve.  The Samurai, one of my favorites on the list,  is indeed a powerful warrior, ready to attack with drawn sword.  It is quite evident from the first sip that this is a savory wonder as Armagnac, raspberry, rhubarb and umami combine in this cutting stirred cocktail.  This might just be a meal in a glass.

Another highlight is the The Lapin Fou (below), which translates as the Mad Rabbit and is made with Pear Eau de Vie, carrot juice, lemon juice, Velay Jaune, ginger and garnished with a slice of cucumber.  This comes from the "Sante" or healthy section of the menu. The other four categories of cockails are Aperitif, Parfum, Potion, and Par Avion.  Orange juice in a cocktail?  Jamba Juice this was not.  The pear brandy and herbal notes of the Velay Jaune were tempered by the juices.  This was a surprising cocktail that exceeded expectations and one I'd order again.

L'Indochinois has an entirely different style of cucumber garnish as the delicate slice is meant to float like a boat on the sea of Bonal, lime juice and Curacao with Thai Basil as the sail on the voyage.  The cocktail is from the Par Avion category and was one of Espinosa's creations.

Pour Vous is a collaborative effort between the six bartenders who each bring their own style to the common goal of quality cocktails with a nod to France and the use of French liqueurs and ingredients whenever possible.  We were fortunate to have Lindsay Nader (below) make some of our cocktails, along with Fernie.  The team is truly a Murderers' Row of talent, with each bartender more accomplished than the next.  You literally can't go wrong with a cocktail from any of them.

There is nothing wrong with a well made Sazerac, but the Sazerac Fix provides a unique take on the classic that may entice more sippers into sampling the original.  Rather than being served in a coupe, it is served in a rocks glass with a piece of "big ice" and lemon juice is added to the rye, bitters, pastis, evaporated cane sugar.
Sazerac Fix
If drinking a Sur La Mer (Beneath the Sea) is a way to stay healthy, then I may trade in my vitamins.  Rum, lime juice, E3 living algae, Fresca, salt and evaporated cane sugar combine to form this healthy daiquiri.  The frothy cocktail has a strong citrus (lime) flavor and is garnished with the twisted peel of a lime.  Very refreshing and has a lot of visual appeal.

Management warned that the door was going to be tough at Pour Vous but they are not attempting to be like certain spots off Hollywood Blvd where you are either on the list or not going to get in; they just want patrons to dress nicely.  When a venue has gone through so much effort to get dolled up, the least you can do is return the favor.  The service is very hospitable, the drinks are delicious and the vibe is wonderful.  à votre santé!

 Pour Vous: 5574 Melrose Avenue, Hollywood | 323.960.0301 |

The Best Port in A Storm: Cliff's Edge Tonight

Port brings to mind the ruby colored wine you might have with your cheese course after a tasting menu or perhaps the contents of a crystal decanter in your grandfather’s study. Leave your preconceptions behind as tonight at Cliff’s Edge you have the opportunity to see the range of ports and to try them in a series of cocktail and punch recipes from Dave Wondrich, the author of Punch. Lorenzo Bakewell-Stone, the Global Brand Ambassador for Croft Port is in town and will be hosting an evening of port cocktails at Cliff’s Edge, the Silver Lake restaurant helmed by chef Ben Bailly. Along with the more established Ruby, Tawny and White ports, Croft Pink, the first Rose port will be incorporated into a cocktail. Two small plates, dessert, two port cocktails and a flight of port can all be yours for only $50. If that sounds like too much food and drink or too many ducats for your budget, you can try any of the 5 port cocktails or punches on offer for only $7 at the bar. Ben Bailly earned acclaim for his food at Petrossian and Fraiche and so tonight should be a fun opportunity to see what he has been up to in the kitchen at Cliff’s Edge. Bakewell-Stone represents some of the most well regarded ports including Taylor-Fladgate, Croft and Fonseca. He is in town from Porto, Portugal, from whence the wine gets its name. Whether you stop by for a cocktail or a full on meal, it will be an opportunity to see one of the latest cocktail trends firsthand as port may follow sherry as a fortified wine that becomes an essential and intriguing cocktail ingredient.

Cliff's Edge: 3636 West Sunset Blvd, Silver Lake | 323.666.6116 |

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Umamicatessen: A Tale of Two Sandwiches

Umamicatessen is the latest and largest property in Adam Fleischman's rapidly expanding restaurant empire. The DTLA spot is on Broadway just off of 9th Street and is several restaurants in one: the Umami Burger concept, The Cure, a Kosher-style Jewish deli offering which Mezze Chef Micah Wexler collaborated on the bagels, smoked fish and matzoh ball soup, Pigg, a love letter to all things pork done in collaboration with noted San Francisco nose-to-tail chef Chris Cosentino of Incanto, and donuts from & a [donut], along with a cocktail program designed by Aidrian Biggs of La Descarga and Pour Vous.

You can order from all the concepts wherever you sit in the restaurant.  On this visit I explored the Cure section of the menu.  The Matzoh Ball Soup ($7)  is rich, the broth is darker than typical and contains chicken cracklings, pieces of chicken as well as celery.  The matzoh ball itself was light and fluffy.  This may be the meatiest matzoh ball soup in town and is recommended for Passover and beyond.

The pastrami sandwich ($12) is referred to as Pastrami, Rye, Mustard on the menu and it is a simple sandwich that just contains those three ingredients.  The meat is thickly sliced and while not piled high Carnegie Deli style, is more than ample for a meal if you have some soup.  The thick slices of the meat, the spicy kick of the mustard overwhelm the thinly sliced rye bread.  Wexler and team have cured an excellent pastrami, and when Langer's isn't open (which is dinner any night, plus all day on Sunday) this may be the best spot in town to get a pastrami sandwich.

Alas the corned beef, listed on the menu as Corned Beef, Rye, Mustard ($12) was not nearly as good.  In fact it was not delicious at all: the corned beef was chewy and had an unpleasant texture.  It also lacked the flavor of a great corned beef sandwich from Langer's, Brent's or even Nate and Al's.  The pickle was nicely sharp though.  What may be the best deal on the menu is the pickle plate (unpictured), which though on the Umami Burger section of the menu dovetails nicely with the Cure section and at $5 is a generous portion.

After the highs and lows of the sandwiches, the & a [donut] menu beckoned.  The Tres Leches donut ($4) was irresistible, especially as Nguyen Tran of Starry Kitchen had recommended it.  The donuts are fried to order and the menu states that customers need to wait five minutes for the sauces to soak into the donut.  The Tres Leches, Cajeta, Ceylon Cinnamon (cake) was delicious and is sized for two people to share, although one hungry person could certainly inhale it, as I did.  It was unclear to me if the menu was stating that the diner needed to wait five minutes once the donut was presented at the table to eat it, but the waitress clarified that the sauce had soaked in for five minutes in the kitchen and that once it arrived at the table it was ready to eat.

A mild annoyance was that though I arrived during weekend brunch hours and the restaurant was mostly empty, the hostess was very reluctant to seat me at a table as I was alone.  She listed every possible counter seating locale but finally relented and seated me at a table as I had asked.  Not a fun way to begin any meal.

I will not be trying the Pigg menu but look forward to trying more of the other items, especially the Foie donuts and Adrian Bigg's cocktails, on future visits.  In short, get the matzoh ball soup, the pastrami sandwich and the tres leches donut, skip the corned beef.

Umamicatessen: 852 S. Broadway, DTLA. | 213.413.8626 |

Night and the City and other Spring Cocktails at Drago Centro

Jaymee Mandeville has presided over the cocktail program at Drago Centro for two years, but recently her partner in libations, Drago Centro Beverage Director Michael Shearin, left the restaurant.  The newly launched Spring cocktail menu is her first where she had truly complete control over her seasonal cocktail offerings and this list may be her best yet.  It includes several collaborations with her fellow bartender Jen Len.  Mandeville hosted a preview tasting of the list and while there are a number of delicious choices on the list, the highlight of the menu is the Night and the City.

The Night and the City is made with Hayman's Old Tom Gin, Bittermens Hellfire Habanero Shrub, Miracle Mile Candy Cap Mushroom Bitters, house-made heirloom tomato shrub, plack pepper and squid ink syrup and fresh horseradish.  This take on a Bloody Mary transcends the genre with the amazing Candy Cap bitters from Louis Anderman's local Miracle Mile Bitters. The savory element in the bitters melds with the spice from the Hellfire shrub, which Mandeville described as more of a tincture, and the acidity in Mandeville's tomato shrub all carried on the base of the distinct sweet and juniper flavor of the Old Tom Gin.  The pepper on the rim and the horseradish in the glass complete the unique combination.  A pickled watermelon radish garnish might be gilding the lily but in this case it is simply the cherry on top of an irresistible cocktail.

My other favorite on the menu is the Nebbia Rossa (above), an original variation on the Negroni using Mezcal instead of Gin, made with Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Campari, Bittermens Citron Sauvage, Dolin Blanc Vermouth.  The mezcal adds a smoky note to the cocktail and the grapefruit liqueur pairs nicely with both the mezcal and the bitter campari.  A stirred refreshing drink that is an excellent way to welcome the warm Spring weather to Los Angeles.

Other highlights on the new list also include the Cool Revival, made with Rittenhouse Rye, Cynar, yuzu, cucumber, lemon and dill meringue (below) and the Ver la Luz del Dia which is a pisco and Lillet cocktail that has a strong basil element and an attractive triple peal garnish.

Cool Revival

Ver La Luz Del Dia

The garnishes this season are more ambitious than on previous Drago cocktail menus and include coffee beans and honeycomb among others.  I recommend you sit at the bar and place yourself in Jaymee's hands. You can't go wrong.  Plus you can munch on bar bites such as the smoked salmon, which is a steal at only $5.  All cocktails on the seasonal list are $12.

Drago Centro: 525 S. Flower St. | 213.228.8998 |