Archive for July, 2006

July 28th, 2006

The Vesper – Bond’s original martini

This is a vodka drink I can get behind. That’s because there’s gin in it. And because James Bond invented it. (OK, Ian Fleming invented it.) In Casino Royale, the terrific first 007 novel, Bond demonstrates that he is both a man of taste and a man who knows exactly what he wants with this drink order: “in a deep champagne goblet … 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.” He names the drink after his gorgeous, dark-haired, enigmatic colleague, Vesper Lynd, whom he discovers is a double agent after she commits suicide in despair over their doomed love. Not surprisingly, Bond never re-visits the drink in subsequent novels. But that doesn’t mean that non-fictional drinkers the world over can’t enjoy it. It’s so Bondian: cool, subtle, hard-edged. The Independent in Somerville’s Union Square is, as far as I know, the only place in greater Boston that lists the drink on its cocktail menu. Naturally, the bartenders use English dry gin (Beefeater) and Bond-approved Russian vodka (Stoli).

Posted in Boston bars, Cocktails, Vodka | 1 Comment »

July 26th, 2006

beermapping.com

Web sites don’t get any more useful than this. Beer drinkers, add beermapping.com to your bookmarks. This clean-looking blog uses Google Mapping API (that’s “application programming interface” if you’re wondering) to pinpoint every brewery, brewpub, beer bar and beer store in 23 (and counting) U.S. cities. Here’s the Boston Beer Map.

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July 20th, 2006

Vodka R.I.P., part 1

Vodka R.I.P.Imagine if the only type of meat you could get in a restaurant was chicken. You could get it cooked in innumerable ways: roasted with herbs, boneless and sauteed in a Saltimbocca, stewed with Moroccan spices, shredded in a rillette, smoked and smothered in barbecue sauce. Nothing wrong with any of these preparations. Except that none of them taste like beef, pork or lamb. Nope, sorry — in this new chicken-centric cuisine, the rich, distinctive flavors of a rib-eye steak, pork spareribs, and lamb shank are deemed too frighteningly, um, meat-like for the sophisticated modern palate.

Just substitute “chicken” with “vodka,” and you’ll get an idea of what going out for cocktails is like these days. Vodka has seemingly taken hostage the imagination of all who serve or drink liquor. It is a blank canvas onto which any of-the-moment ingredient, be it basil or blueberries, can be painted, so that people who don’t like the taste of spirits can pretend they’re drinking a sophisticated, adult beverage. Bourbon, gin, brandy, rum … they taste too much like, um, booze. They’re nowhere to be found on the modern cocktail menu, except in token old-school offerings like the Manhattan (whiskey) and the Sidecar (brandy), and in the ubiquitous Mojito (rum), a.k.a. “the new Margarita.”

It seems that every hot new restaurant that opens up in Boston touts its “innovative cocktail menu.” Generally, that’s code for a bunch of drinks based on plain or flavored vodka and containing various combinations of fruits, herbs, essences and liqueurs.

A perfect example of the state of the art can be found at the Living Room on Atlantic Ave. in Boston. According to stuff@night‘s recent Summer Cocktail issue, the Living Room is mixing three usual suspects — Skyy Berry Vodka, Apple Pucker and sour mix — with acai berry juice, which apparently has “more antioxidants than blueberries and pomegranates.” Too bad any cancer-fighting properties this drink might have are negated by the green dye in the Apple Pucker. Another Living Room special, the Bubble Tea Martini, comes from the “adapt the latest soft-drink craze into an alcoholic drink” school of mixology. If you have a hangover right now, stop reading, because you might hurl when I list the ingredients in this one: strawberry soy milk, pearl tapioca (i.e. the glutinous “bubbles” in bubble tea) and Absolut Vanilla. God. This makes Jell-o shots seem cool.

Next – Vodka R.I.P., part 2: How did it come to this?

Posted in Booze in the news, Boston bars, Cocktails, Vodka | No Comments »

July 18th, 2006

Sunset Grill & Tap

Established: 1987
Specialty: Beer
Prices: Low to moderate
Atmosphere: The Sunset Grill & Tap is to beer as the DSW Shoe Warehouse is to footwear. Big place, huge beer selection, weekly deals, and a well lit, friendly but somewhat impersonal vibe.
See Best Boston bars (Honorable mention) for address and contact info.

Sunset Grill & Tap

If you’re the type of person who likes a mammoth beer menu — a multi-page tome with fine print that categorizes beers according to style and has separate sections for draught beers and specialties like mead and “beertails” — the Sunset Grill & Tap is calling your name.

This casual dining establishment in the heavily student-populated Boston neighborhood of Allston features 380 kinds of beer, including a whopping 112 taps, plus plenty of bar surface area at which to sample them. The Sunset doesn’t just stock a bunch of random beers from every two-bit microbrewery and global-conglomerate-owned brand in order to throw big numbers around. No, the 380 beers here are, in large part, quality offerings (don’t worry, your ignorant roommate can still get a Corona) that include the full spectrum of Belgian beers (Trappist ales, gueuze, etc.) and beers from geek-approved U.S. craft breweries like Allagash (ME), Avery (CO), Dogfish Head (DE), Founder’s (MI), Moylan’s (CA), and Victory (PA).

The food menu’s also huge, with all manner of Appeteasers, Dippers & Poppers, Nacho Mamas, Salada Salads, Meltdowns and, on Sundays, the Super Sunrise Sunday Brewers Brunch. The grub is decent, the service is competent, and there’s lots of colorful breweriana (real word) on the walls. Luckily, the staff is not required to wear pieces of flair, or the Sunset might come across as a little too Bennigan’s-esque. The beer is what it’s all about for us, and we’ll stop in whenever we’re in Allston.

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July 18th, 2006

Redbones BBQ – Best Boston bars

Redbones BBQ

Established: 1987
Specialty: Beer
Prices: Low to moderate
Atmosphere: A friendly combination of beer enthusiasts, neighborhood barflies, and hungry carnivores eat barbecue and drink beer in a setting that’s part down-home, part gritty-urban, and part artsy. Probably the Boston area’s best combination of really good food, great beer selection, and reasonable prices.
See Best Boston bars for address and contact info.

Redbones gets it right, and that’s why it has been around for almost 20 years. Consistently good barbecue, a selection of craft beers that focuses as much on quality as quantity, efficient service, and fair prices draw us back there again and again. That and the fact that there are two bars: one upstairs, one down (known as Underbones).

In addition to being a barbecue restaurant, Redbones was also one of greater Boston’s first beer bars (a bar that specializes in a wide selection of craft beer), along with the Sunset Grill & Tap in Allston, which also opened in ’87. Owner Robert Gregory has supported craft brewers from day one. He was one of the founders of the New England Real Ale Exhibition held every year in Redbones’ neighborhood of Davis Square. He was the first bar owner in Boston to regularly bring in draught beer from the brewing mecca of the Northwest. And he regularly invites some of the country’s best craft brewers (Bill Covaleski of Victory in PA, Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery in NY, Will Meyers of our own Cambridge Brewing Co., Tod Mott of the Portsmouth Brewery in NH) in to pour and talk about their beer. Bar manager Chris Bol does the crucial job of making sure that kegs are rotated and draught lines are clean — you don’t want to be in a beer bar where this doesn’t happen, because craft beer’s shelf life is way shorter than Bud’s.

On the flipside of the beer equation, Gregory deserves credit for putting Schlitz and PBR on the menu way before they became the favored brands of bike messengers and twenty-something hipsters. Redbones’ Dial-a-Beer wheel also started a trend picked up by another Boston beer bar, Bukowski Tavern, and its sibling in Cambridge. Finally, Redbones’ deserves special praise for keeping its beer prices lower than those of any other beer bar in greater Boston. Example: on a recent visit, a pint of Southern Tier IPA (NY) was $4.25 (compared to $4.50-$5.50 elsewhere for a small-batch U.S. craft beer), and a 10-oz draught of De Ranke XX Bitter from Belgium was a bargain-basement $5 (this would easily have been $7 elsewhere). Liquor and wine are available if beer’s not your thing. May Redbones be around for another 20 years.

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