Archive for May, 2007

May 12th, 2007

Seattle’s ZigZag Cafe

Zig Zag Cafe

Scott Holliday, former bartender at Chez Henri and an honorary member of our Best Boston bartender list, wrote me recently about a trip to the Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle (Scott moved to Sacramento last year but will soon relocate to Montreal). His account made me want to hop on a flight to the West Coast immediately:

“Had the very good fortune of hitting the Zig Zag Cafe while in Seattle and sitting at Murray Stenson’s bar for a spell. (Actually, Kacy Fitch and Ben Dougherty are the co-owners. As bar owners willing to have Murray take the spotlight, they are as rare and gracious as their star employee — and both damn fine bartenders themselves.) He’s a great bartender, amazingly gracious and inspiring. That bar, for me, was more exciting than Pegu, Flatiron or Milk & Honey. They put out some amazing drinks (with amazingly rare ingredients) without making it an exclusive or precious experience. All drinks $8.25 and most menu items $12 or so.

“Murray gave us tastes of liqueurs from a French company, Giffard — both the ginger and an Indian-spice blend called Mangalore. Both were beautifully pure and balanced. Murray and Kacy said anything they’ve tried from Giffard was excellent, though sadly it’s not available in the U.S. Also, just to satisfy my incredulity at what ingredients sat before me (see photo), they poured us tastes of Suntory Hermes Violets (you know, the nearly unobtainable descendent of dead-and-gone Creme Yvette) and, from the Firenze distiller L’Officina Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, Elisir di Edimburgo (a bitters) and Alkermes (an ancient medicinal bitter and supposedly the predecessor to Campari). And then for comparison an Alkermic made for Murray in San Francisco. All the while I watched Murray and Kacy carefully mix drink after drink, and with few exceptions consistently reaching for one of the Zig Zag’s impressive collection of bitters and herbals including Zwack Unicum, Torani Amer, both Amer Picons, Cynar, Fernet Branca, Branca Menta, VEP and yellow Chartreuse, and multiple Absinthe substitutes …

“Then we started on cocktails. I know, I’m a name dropping bore, but I’ve been so starved for the talk and craft of good drink I can’t help myself.

“It was on my second visit that I had the chance to chat with Ben Dougherty, and he introduced me to the Creole (variation). If I had the ingredients at home, or if they existed anywhere in Sacramento (gingerale isn’t even stocked in the bars here — if you order whiskey and ginger you get whiskey and 7up with a splash of Coke), I’d probably be half fluent in Creole by now or at the very least constantly slurring, ‘Laissez les bon temps roulez.’ It was also he who handed me Ted Saucier’s ‘Bottom’s Up’ to show me the recipe, essentially making me about $50 poorer by pointing out yet another void in my library. Hello eBay!”

Keep in touch, Scott.

Posted in Bitters, Cocktails, Liqueur, Seattle | 9 Comments »

May 4th, 2007

In the news – gin and tequila

A couple of drinks articles this week made me really thirsty. The first was Eric Asimov’s gin roundup. He and his NY Times tasting panel rated 80 (!) gins, and the way they did it was super smart: they made martinis.

“…because gin is often consumed in a martini, we decided to taste the gin as expressed through the world’s most famous (and perhaps least understood) cocktail. We discovered that while great martinis require great gins, great gins don’t necessarily make great martinis,” writes Asimov.

You got that right, brother. The panel’s number-one gin for martinis? Supple and balanced Plymouth English Gin, no surprise.

The second article was Boston drinks/arts writer Liza Weisstuch’s size-up of artisanal tequila. I don’t know why I can say “artisanal beer” or “artisanal cheese” without batting an eye, but the concept of “artisanal tequila” still makes me smirk. I know, I should get over this prejudice. If a tequila producer uses good ingredients (aka 100 percent blue agave) and proper barrel aging, his spirit is just as worthy of respect as good brandy or whiskey, right? Right. It’s just the trendiness of the stuff that makes me roll my eyes. As with every other spirit, there’s great tequila, and there’s overrated tequila that comes in a neat bottle and is priced to make poseur boys look cool in the eyes of poseur girls.

So, I was surprised to find myself thirsting for tequila while reading this article. Actually, I was thirsting for cocktails made with tequila. Apparently, Eastern Standard’s Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli has created something called the Jaguar: “a blanco mixed with herbaceous Green Chartreuse, Amer Picon, and Fee Brothers Orange Bitters and garnished with a flaming orange rind,” writes Weisstuch. Now that’s a cocktail that would make me stop laughing about tequila. See you soon, Tom!

Posted in Booze in the news, Gin, Tequila | 3 Comments »

May 2nd, 2007

Pisco Sour – the new Mojito?

Pisco SourA reader named Dan recently emailed, “Do you know of any stores with decent pisco selections? I ran out of the bottle I brought back from Peru and the warm weather is giving me an itch.” (As we know from drinkboston’s Pisco and Peruvian Soul party, pisco is a clear, grape-based spirit originating from Peru and Chile.) To answer Dan, I consulted an expert.

“I understand that itch,” answered Mr. Pisco, aka Brother Cleve. “Martignetti’s on Soldiers Field Road in Brighton has about the largest selection I’ve seen, including the highly recommended La Diablada and Macchu Pisco brands from Peru, as well as some Chilean brands. Beacon Hill Wine & Spirits on Charles St. and Federal Wine & Spirits (downtown by the old State House) often carry more esoteric spirits as well. Unfortunately, there are no local Peruvian/Chilean neighborhoods/stores here, so it’s not as easy as finding good Cachaça or Aguardiente. Also … for excellent Pisco Sours, etc, please visit the Alchemist in JP, Green Street in Central Sq., and No.9 Park downtown (and probably Eastern Standard shortly as well).”

Eastern Standard definitely — bartender Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli mixed me a Pisco Sour back in March. More recently, I had a Pisco Sour at Cuchi Cuchi in Cambridge. Seeing this classic Latin American cocktail on so many bar menus makes me wonder, ‘Is this a sign of the end of the Mojito’s dominance?’ Probably not. Mojitos are hard to screw up. Almost any bartender armed with a muddler can take rum, mint leaves, lime, simple syrup and a splash of soda and make a tasty drink. The bits of mint leaf look festive — even healthful — and they can mask an imbalance of flavors.

Mixing a good Pisco Sour, on the other hand, takes some skill. The ingredients are simple — pisco, lemon (and/or lime) juice, sugar, egg white, Angostura bitters — and balance is key. So is shaking the bejeezus out of the egg white. That’s how you get the ethereal, foamy crown on which the drops of bitters bleed, lending a piquant contrast to the drink’s softness. I had a nice straight-up version of this drink at the Alchemist and a perfect on-the-rocks version at Eastern Standard. Cuchi Cuchi also serves its Pisco Sours on the rocks. Here, the drink was good but not perfect. I don’t know if it’s because they use pasteurized egg white, or what, but the texture lacked softness and the bitters were dispensed with too heavy a hand. Meanwhile, Mojitos were being cranked out about every five minutes.

Posted in Cocktails, Pisco | 1 Comment »

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