Thursday, September 2, 2010

Further Horrifying Flavors

The Onion's AV Club is my favorite place to look for a nice, snarky take on all things cultural. They review books, movies, music and video games, and in general, their reviews tend to mesh with the gears of my mind. They do other things as well, some of which are stomach-turning just to read about, let alone do. Case in point, the Taste-Test feature, where, this week, they have decided to try three new flavors of vodka.

Read this and try not to barf too much. My favorite quote from the taste-testers (regarding the whipped-cream[WTF!] flavored vodka): "Like a grade-school birthday party gone wrong."

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cocktails For One (Minus Cherries)

My buddy Adam drinks cocktails, and considers himself something of a merry mixologist. I drink things straight (like all manly men), and despise cocktails because, well, if you can't drink it straight, why drink it at all?

Adam is perhaps getting his first convert.

Last Friday, he helped me move a large bedframe to my house from someone else's house, because he has a truck and I don't. I bribed him with a bottle of (rī) 1, a rye whiskey with a nifty-looking bottle, and a cool, post-modern name. He let my wife and I have a sniff of it (and offered sips, but I didn't want him driving around with an open bottle of liquor in his truck that looked like he'd been nipping away at it), and I thought, "do want." So after he'd gone home, i went out and bought another bottle of it for me.

It's strong, 46 percent alcohol (92 proof), which is a little higher than I normally get with my single-malt scotch faves. It has a clean, peppery flavor that I don't find in most Bourbons I've had. It's also a tad fiery.

The issue I've always had with Rye whiskey is that it's always seemed like a cheap alternative to real scotch. America and it's propensity to create hard alcohol from any damn grain (or vegetable) that comes down the line. Not sure why no one makes and markets beet vodka. Or more accurately, beet rum. Also, one of the most prominent makers of rye whiskey is branded Old Overholt. This reminds me of the Old Harper whiskey brand that featured so prominently in American Graffiti, the kind of cheap booze that any high-schooler would buy because, well, it's cheap and it'll get you hammered, and/or laid. Admittedly, this relationship exists entirely in my own mind (which, frankly, should make anyone else very suspicious).

Anyway, after delivering the bed and receiving his bribe, Adam went home, and later sent me a text message saying that this was possibly the best Old Fashioned he'd ever had. He and I have similar tastes in films and books (thought not necessarily in music or food), and the Old Fashioned is such a simple drink that I'm now thinking perhaps I should give it a shot. (pardon the pun)

Add one sugar cube to a lowball glass, soak it with Angostura bitters, add a splash of soda (Adam says this is highly optional and he doesn't do it),  and mash it all up until the sugar is dissolved. Fill the glass with ice cubes and throw in a brimming shot of rye. Add a twist of orange peel and two maraschino cherries. Adam twists the peel, but doesn't leave it in the glass, and he also forgoes the cherries (which I would as well - hate 'em). I'd leave the peel in, myself, to make sure the orange continues to flavor the drink. Deceptively simple, and probably habit-forming.

I'll let ya know...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

You Got Peanut Butter in my Chocolate Martini!


Enough of all this flavoring vodkas with things not meant to be drunk. As a follow-up to the piece in my other blog, I have now heard everything.

(I know, I said I'd heard everything before, but this is the new everything)

Chris Cosentino, famed San Francisco chef (proprietor of Boccalone and head chef at Incanto) has purportedly invented Foie-dka. (fwahdkah) This is foie gras infused vodka. I may barf. Lots.

Now, I love foie gras. I hate the manner in which it can be produced (over-feeding geese until they can't walk because their livers are too heavy for their body mass to manage), but when it's done humanely, when the goose doesn't suffer, then I'm okay with it. And there are quite a few producers that do it properly.

And I love a good vodka. Even flavored ones. (and yes, I prefer it if the potatoes are slaughtered humanely, but sometimes a little pain is unavoidable)

But the idea that someone would combine these two vices of mine... Now that's inhumane.

This information came to me via a NY Times article about a different San Francisco (don't ever all it Frisco) eatery, which purveys the food most likely to be popular during summer - ice cream. Only, well - not if the flavor you're looking for resembles something sorta pedestrian. Granted, they do have a few flavors specifically for the kiddies, but Humphry Slocombe doesn't give a damn about your needs. For which I admire them greatly. From their current flavor list we find the following:

  • Black Walnut
  • Malted Vanilla
  • Chocolate
(nothing too threatening here - wait for it)
  • Cinnamon Brittle
  • Salted Licorice
  • Green Tea-Black Sesame
(ok, that's a little odd - but wait, there's more)
  • "Red hot" Banana
  • Balsamic Caramel
  • Peanut Butter Curry
  • Strawberry Black Olive
  • Government Cheese
  • McEvoy Olive Oil
  • Elvis (the Fat Years)
(actually, that one sounds good - banana ice cream, bacon and peanut brittle)
  • Jesus Juice (wine mixed with Coke - a sorbet)
The one I really want to try is the Secret Breakfast, a mixture of cornflakes and so much Jim Beam bourbon that the stuff won't stay solid for long.

And of course, a Foie Gras flavored ice cream.

I get it - lots of foodies out there really love their foie gras. But enough of this already. I like the idea of having food that defies and subverts the original intent of God or whoever of how that food was meant to be conveyed to one's stomach. There are plenty of folks out there practicing "molecular gastronomy", which is a code for "making food you thought you knew so damn weird, you'll pay $20 an ounce for it". On the other hand, there is also a sense of amusing ourselves to death. Bear with me.

We make food for ourselves, and we make the simplest thing we can with the best ingredients we can afford, always recognizing that sometimes, spending the extra money for better ingredients makes for a more satisfying meal, one you eat rather than just inhaling. I certainly get the idea that it's fun to play with people's expectations, especially when it comes to dining out. How many different ways can you sell someone battered fried fish and french fries before the idea of fish'n'chips becomes the the most boring food item known to man? On the other hand, if, by taking out one shoestring potato from the architectural tower on my plate, I send the fried mixed fish with the head attached and the bones still in it to the floor, have I enjoyed myself more or less? The more restaurants out there that experiment with this stuff, the further we get from the original, simple pleasure of things like spaghetti with clams, or a really good gazpacho.

Take vodka, for example. A pure, clear liquid with (done well) no discernable flavor at all, and when served cold, no sense of even alcohol being present. Certainly Russians and Scandinavians have been doing infused vodkas forever, and I respect that tradition, but some things (in my very humble opinion) don't and shouldn't mix. Meat and vodka in the same bottle? Sacreligious.

Take a very fresh side of salmon and cut it in half. Go over the surface of the flesh opposite the grain, feeling for the tiny bones. Find any - pull them out with a pair of pliers or easy-to-grip tweezers, it takes a good tug. For every pound of salmon, mix together 2 tbsp kosher salt, 2 tbsp sugar, 2 tsp black pepper, and 2 tbsp of chopped dill weed. On the larger of the two halves of the side (there will always be one a little bigger than the other), skin-side down, spread this mixture. Add several whole sprigs of fresh dill, and clean the edges of the dill should it spill over the edge of the filet. Lay the other filet on top, skin side up. Wrap the whole kit'n'kaboodle in two layers of plastic wrap, drop it in a baking dish with sides high enough to extend over the top of the fish slab. Refrigerate for three days, turning every eight hours or so. Clean off all the residues, slice very thinly, and serve with a good black bread and either the traditional mustard-dill sauce or some really cold unsalted butter. Have a bite, have a drink. Have a bite, have a drink. Repeat until sick.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Pint of Bitter

Green Flash has done yet another simple miracle - made an English-style bitter something I might drink more frequently (if they tasted like this). Hop Head Red, available in six-packs, is a delightful addition to their already formidable list of yummy brews. Good malts, to give it a depth of flavor otherwise lacking in English beers. Pretty big hop load gives a nice bitterness without going for the full dark IPA thing that Arrogant Bastard does. Beautiful color, dark red with tinges of brown.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sorry to have kept you waiting... (Foul Language Ahead)

But this one's worth it: Fucking Hell Beer.

Roughly translated, there is a new beer that someone is attempting to trademark with the above name. They refer to "Hell" as a style of beer, and "Fucking" is a town in Austria. There was some concern that other countries might find the name offensive, but that isn't enough to stop the trademark.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lying Belgian Bastards

Not entirely fair.

I was lied to by an employee of a large food-porn (i.e. fancy grocery store) operation (you know who you are). Green Flash Brewery of San Diego, California, makes a fantabulous Belgian/Cal IPA hybrid called Le Freak. A certain wild yeast smell going on along with a massive hop load on top gives this brew a flavor similar to Elliot Bay Brewery's Hop Von Boorien (which is only available at their pub, and not in bottles). This concept is based on an existing Belgian ale, La Chouffe brewery's Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel (try saying that three times fast). The fellow at the food-porn operation said that Houblon Chouffe is the real deal, the original, and therefor, better than all of those copycats.

I hate to say this, oh Belgian ale lovers, but Houblon Chouffe is sour s**t. In my opinion, the green bottle allows light to come in and sour the beer. Perhaps this stuff is wonderful in Belgium, but by the time it gets here, it stinks both literally and figuratively. Their description of a balance between hop bitterness with a fruity overlay is generous. It's more sour than bitter, and the scent is the usual kind of rotten fruit smell that I've encountered with Belgian ales in the past. Like the smell of blue cheeses and single-malt whiskey (which I like), I believe this to be an acquired taste.

I can't say Belgian ales suck, except to me. But I think they suck. And I don't understand why there is so much love for them. I have tried them over and over again, and it's like the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Definitely, Chimay tastes different from Duvel, and Duvel tastes different from Ommegang. Doesn't mean I like them.

And yet, here are at least two beers (and add to this list the Trip IV from Mulleady's) with distinctly Belgian ale flavors without the Belgian sourness. I know that Guinness tastes different in the US than it does in Ireland. I know that kegged Arrogant Bastard has a vastly better flavor than bottled Arrogant Bastard. But how is it that Belgian ales deteriorate this much?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Finland in Ireland

Had dinner at Mulleady's Pub in Magnolia (a nice neighborhood in Seattle). The wife had a BLT (on toasted potato bread) - absolutely yummy. Very decent Caesar side salad as well, plenty of depth, not too many croutons, a slab of fried Parmesan on top. I had the fish'n'chips, which were good, but not amazing or anything. Good flavored fish, battered well (with a batter that stayed relatively crispy even after I'd doused it in vinegar), the chips well-cooked, not particularly greasy or floppy (though not a single oil-bomb in the bunch - I kind of missed that).

I started with the Wildcat IPA from Snoqualmie Falls brewery - a very good, local IPA, and in a very generous pint glass (one of those 20 oz pints). Then came the revelation...

I saw it on the menu, a collaboration between Seattle's Elysian Brewery and the New Belgium Brewery of Denver, CO, called Trip IV (this was their fourth collaboration). This is a brew combining the malts of rye, wheat and oats, flavored with juniper berries and citrus peel. Essentially a lot of different things together that I would normally abhor by themselves. I don't like fruit flavored beers - the interaction of hops and malts often creates such flavors without help (don't most highly-hopped IPAs smell a little like grapefruit?). Juniper berries - the flavor of gin, which is one of the few hard liquors that (to me) tastes worse with each passing sip. I'm not a big fan of wheat beers - personally, I think they're for sissies. Rye ales and oatmeal stouts are a different matter, love 'em both if done right.

Round Belgian ale glass. This does not bode well.

First sniff, the scent of...... vanilla? Oak aging? First sip. Completely confounded. What the hell am I drinking? It's beer alright, but it tastes like nothing I've ever had before. Sweeter than I normally like, but I like this a lot. I give it over to my wife to try, and she takes a sip or two, then keep swiping it from me the rest of the meal (to be fair, we were both almost done, when I got this). Normally, her idea of good beer is Apricot ale (see above comments). If she smells alcohol, she won't like it. She really liked this, and I think would order one for herself (an unheard of event).

Modeled after a Finnish Sahti beer, this was one of the most amazing beer experiences of my life. It has bitter, sweet, flowery, and fruity all over the place, and it's balanced so well that nothing overpowers, but at the same time the flavor and nose invade your mind as if they were designed to brainwash you. Must go back for more. Must go back for more. Must go back for more.


Had it again, and the flavors got me again. Someone else had to tell me what I was tasting: peaches. I hate peaches. Still love this beer.