Friday, May 27, 2011

Chicago, IL: Three nights, six bars.

Chicago! The windy city! The city of the big shoulders! And also, I hear, a damn good place to get a drink. I'm planning a four-day trip - here are the bars that made my shortlist.

Violet Hour
The Violet Hour (so named for a line in a T.S. Eliot poem) is THE Chicago cocktail bar. It is the Anvil of Chicago. When people review other cocktail bars in Chicago, they compare them to the Violet Hour. If you're going to drink cocktails in the windy city you pretty much have to go here.

I'm a teeny bit disappointed that this bar is blue, and not, in fact, violet.

The word on the street: cocktails just as good as the Violet Hour, but cheaper! Awesome live music! Also supposedly chock full of hipsters at all times. Seriously, one reviewer said something like: "I've never seen so many beards in my whole life."

Hipster heaven. Booze heaven.

Super tiny and serves super strong classic cocktails. Yes.

The Green Mill
Not really a cocktail bar so much as a jazz club. Super old school - classic Chicago.

Sable Kitchen and Bar

If the Chowhound forums are any indication, this is the most buzzed-about new restaurant in Chicago. Several former employees of the Violet Hour have created cocktails for their menu, and word is they're quite good.

The Drawing Room
Decor looks a bit stuffy. Website is bleh. But they're supposed to have the best cocktails in town. (Head mixologist Charles Jolly won a James Beard award, which is kind of a big deal.) Looking at the menu is like wandering through a delicious boozy wonderland. And they have a drink called "Cake or Death?" - I mean, how could I pass that up?

My mission: to go, to drink, and to report back. I'll let you know what I find.

Images: Metromix, Starchefs, Esquire.

Monday, May 16, 2011

MxMo LVII: Barefoot in the Garden

It's Mixology Monday time again, and this month's theme (courtesy of Dave at The Barman Cometh) is "Flores de Mayo" - cocktails with floral ingredients. Serendipitously, when I got word of this installment I already had a cocktail up my sleeve (figuratively, otherwise it could've gotten a bit messy) that would fit the bill. A little back story, if you will:

I love the smell of celery. When I was a little girl, one of my favorite foods was this tuna casserole my mom made with celery in it. I loved being there when she was chopping the celery and the aroma filled the kitchen. But I never would've dreamed of putting celery in a cocktail until that article in Martha Stewart living showed me how to make celery and bay leaf-infused vodka. It wasn't long until celery martinis became one of my favorite things. On my post about the the celery martinis, commenter Frederic, of Cocktail Virgin Slut, helpfully pointed out that celery pairs well with St. Germain, absinthe, and other similarly herb-rich spirits. Veery interesting. He also said that celery works well with...tequila??

I had to try this.

Celery-Infused Tequila
1 1/2 cups tequila
2 celery leaves
1 celery stalk, cut in half

I always get the celery for my infusions from the farmer's market - I swear it has more flavor. If you can't locate any locally, try using organic celery. Infuse the tequila in an air-tight jar for two days. Shake the jar occasionally. When the allotted time has passed, strain out the tequila, bottle it, and store it in the fridge.

Verdict: Surprisingly delicious. The agave and celery harmonize beautifully. It even tastes, bizarrely, a tiny bit sweet. Take the celery tequila, pair it with lime, St. Germain and a little Lillet Blanc and you have...

Barefoot in the Garden
1.5 oz celery-infused tequila
.75 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
.75 oz simple syrup
.5 oz St. Germain elderflower liqueur
.5 oz Lillet Blanc

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker full of ice; shake and strain into a chilled glass.

I think I'm in love. This cocktail is a series of delicious contradictions - it's herbal but bright, sweet yet complicated. It's not quite like anything I've ever made before - and yet I can't stop drinking it. I think I'll make one to enjoy, while barefoot, in my little garden. Which might put me pretty close to perfect happiness.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Blanc. Lillet Blanc.

"A dry martini," he said. "One. In a deep champagne goblet."

"Oui, monsieur."

"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large, thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"

"Certainly, monsieur." The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

"Gosh, that's certainly a drink," said Leiter.

Bond laughed. "When I'm . . . er . . . concentrating," he explained, "I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I can think of a good name."

Thus spoke James Bond in Casino Royale, the very first novel he appeared in. Never mind that the Bond of the novels was really more of a whiskey man - the Bond films have since elevated "shaken, not stirred" to the stuff of legend. Sadly, though, this particular drink - later named by Bond for the lovely, ultimately doomed double agent Vesper Lynd - has sort of fallen by the wayside.

It's quite easy to make - Gordon's is gin, and vodka is well, vodka. Both of those are common enough. But what in the world is Kina Lillet?

Kina Lillet is (was) an aperitif wine produced in Podensac, France. It's fortified with citrus liqueurs made from sweet and bitter oranges and grapefruit peels, and is flavored with quinine, the stuff that makes tonic water taste so bitter. In the mid-80s, the Lillet company dropped the "Kina" from the name and also significantly decreased the quinine component. Now Lillet (pronounced "lee-lay") is available in blanc and rouge variations; the blanc is called for here.

Taste test time! I'm drinking my Lillet Blanc "well chilled", just like the bottle says.

Smell: Like white wine, but a bit grassy and herbal. Reminds me of dry vermouth.
Taste: A bit wine-y and very citrusy, with a slightly bitter finish.

So now that you know all there is to know about Lillet (or all the important things, anyway), it's time to re-visit the James Bond Martini.

The Vesper
3 oz London Dry gin
1 oz vodka
1/2 oz Lillet Blanc
2 dashes angostura bitters

David Wondrich, who wrote a very thorough and entertaining article about the ideal formulation of this drink, recommends adding the bitters to get a bit closer to the original, bitter-er Kina Lillet version. (The ideal, he says, would be to hunt down some quinine powder, but I'm a little too lazy for that.) He also gives the directions for mixing it thusly:

Shake (if you must) with plenty of cracked ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and twist a large swatch of thin-cut lemon peel over the top. Shoot somebody evil.

I'm Daniel Craig, and I approve this cocktail.

And since you've already comitted to a whole bottle of Lillet to make your James Bond drinks (and since I have basil running wild in the backyard), here's another Lillet cocktail for your drinking pleasure:

Sweet Basil
(from Todd Thrasher of Restaurant Eve, via Food & Wine Cocktails 2009)
10 basil leaves
3 ounces Lillet Blanc
1/2 oz gin
1 oz simple syrup

In a shaker, lightly muddle the basil leaves. Add the Lillet, gin and simple syrup and fill the shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Sip lovingly. Don't forget to store your Lillet in the fridge after you're done - it'll keep longer than way. (It is wine, after all.) Cheers.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blog Love: Fudging It

Do you suck at cooking? I suck at cooking. I could make absurdly complicated cocktails all day, but when it comes to anything involving a stove (except for simple syrup, which is stupid easy), I am completely inept. That's why I'm excited about Fudging It, a new cooking blog for and by "young southern cooks making it up as we go" that's curated by my cousin Mitch's delightful wife Sara. It's full of super delicious and super accessible recipes, perfect for a cooking novice like me, or for anyone who loves food but has not yet become Julia Child.

Mosey on over there and check it out, and while you're at it, take a gander at the El Diablo cocktail, a classic cocktail made with tequila, lime juice, creme de cassis, and ginger ale that is both easy to make and easy to drink. Mmm.