Thursday, August 31, 2006

Absinthe - A Bohemian Rhapsody

Anthony Dobranski - writer, sipster extraordinaire and half of one of our favorite couples (aka: Tony-and-Jackie) bestowed a rare pleasure upon Jason (the other half of my couple) and me on Bastille Day...

I'm enraptured with "la vie boheme" and literary movement in 1920's Paris. Smoke-filled rooms alive with witty banter, steamy opium-and-absinthe laden brothels, the languid stares of art-deco seductresses who'd seen a little too much of post-war reality... All these romanticized, fanciful illusions danced in my head as Tony, Jackie, Jason and I prepared to sample this most notorious of illicit libations!

I wasn't sure what to expect. Would we hallucinate? How powerful was this stuff, anyway? I was all tingly in anticipation...

Personally, I didn't experience any physical reactions other than the thrill of tasting it (finally!) for myself. It's licorice flavor is simply delightful, the experience as "heady" as any fine (and strong) spirit, and adding Absinthe to my list of 1001 things to try before I die is one more accomplishment to cross off my list! (not that I wouldn't do it again!!)

Tony knows more about it than I do, so I asked him to share a little info. Enjoy...

The Liquid Muse wanted to join the many recent celebrations of New Orleans -- "Laissez le bons temps roulez" is a fine motto. Alas, for mixologists New Orleans is difficult. The hometown cocktail is as sweet as childrens' cereal, sold in paper cups, and worst of all is called ... a hurricane.

Instead we're honoring New Orleans native son Ted Breaux, a chemist who in his spare time figured out how to make Nouvelle-Orleans -- perhaps the world's best absinthe. Absinthe? Isn't that the evil toxic drink that destroyed a generation of artists and poets in 19th century Paris?

Well, yes. Actually, as we learned in a great article in Wired magazine about Mr Breaux, absinthe isn't really toxic, at least not if it's made correctly. But it is strong -- 140 proof and wildly aromatic. Traditionally it's served diluted with ice-cold water and sweetened with a sugar cube. Our photos demonstrate a traditional method, using antique-style crystal absinthe glasses with matching funnels.

Absinthe is naturally wine-bottle green, but when diluted with water it turns the color of key-lime pie. By placing a sugar cube in the funnel, the water dissolves it as it trickles through. A perfect aperitif for Bastille Day or any hot summer night!

Where to get this fine drink? NOT in European duty-free shops, alas. Most of the "absinthe" sold there is closer to mouthwash than something you want to swallow. The good stuff is available, but since it's illegal in the US we're not going to tell you where. That's why they invented search engines, honey.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Rotten little wench...

Hello Sipsters!
I've been a rotten little wench! I've fallen behind on writing - and I have so many fun posts coming up... I can hardly contain my excitement. Truly!

In the coming posts, I will be profiling:
- the creator of Late Night Shots (haven't heard of it? well, it's time you got with the social scene, friends!)
- a clever little minx with a brilliant shopping site which allows you to store all the fantabulous products recently "perused" on the internet...
- the woman behind the amazing events...yes, my pal BabsieD
- an interview with a real life witch (whose new book helps you 'get your guy' - with or without alcohol!!)
- a look at DC's blogging powerhouse, Michael Grass from

and we haven't even gotten to the restaurant and booze reviews!!!

So, bear with me. In the last few weeks I've driven across the country, done a zillion things along the way back to LA - only to hop a plane back to DC this weekend to cover the Emmy's for a TV Station in Virginia for whom I do "on-call" Entertainment Reporting, finally touching ground once again on the West Coast last night!

With all the amazing things going on out here, I promise, the fun will soon resume!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Got Bourbon?

Ok, so I like a lot of different alcohols... bourbon being yet another...

This drink from Agraria is "manly" enough for a non-metrosexual fella yet velvety enough for a woman who likes her drinks like her men: strong, stiff and sweet...

The Agraria Cocktail
2 oz. Bulleit Bourbon
1/2 oz. cranberry bog honey syrup
1 dash of house Sunflower bitters
1 hours sugar design (garnish)

Prepare 2 rocks glasses. Fill one with ice and set aside to chill. Pour bourbon, honey syrup and bitters into the other glass, stir well. Discard ice from first glass, and fill chilled glass with the delectable drink. Garnish with the sugar design.

Cranberry Bog Honey Syrup
1 oz. water
3 oz. Cranberry Bog Honey

Add hot water to honey, and stir until dissolved.

Photo by Moshe Zusman

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

44 North Vodka

Have you ever tried huckleberry vodka? I hadn't until I tried 44 North.

It is tasty, and it is strong - whoa! I am not sure exactly what the "proof" is but according Rocky Mountain Distillery, it is made from neutral spirits (derived from Idaho potatoes) Rocky Mountain water and infused with Huckleberry flavor...

So far, I like mixing it with freshly squeezed orange juice, a squeeze of lime (yes, I love lime in nearly every drink!!) and garnished with a few raspberries...

Friday, August 18, 2006


I am a Campari nut. Lately, I've been drinking it mixed with Perrier, a splash of Cointreau, and a nice, big sqeeze of lime. It's my own personal summer drink, this year. (Feel free to try it at home!)

Given that, I am excited to share this classic cocktail, the Negroni, with The Liquid Muse community! I'm especially happy that this recipe comes from San Francisco- based Mixologist, Jacques Bezuidenhout (who also designed Urbana's cocktail menu).

(Aside: I plan to interview Jacques in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for his profile here, soon!)

From Jacques:

1 1/4 oz. Gin
1 1/4 oz. Campari
1 1/4 oz. Sweet Vermouth

Pour all ingredients over ice into a mixing glass. STIR the drink and strain into a cocktail glass. This drink is also widely served on the rocks. If so, then stir and strain over fresh ice into an Old-fashioned glass.

Garnish: Orange Twist. Orange works really well with Campari and really finishes off the drink. Lemon does not do the drink justice.

Tasting Notes: A classic full-bodied Aperitif. The addition of Gin adds a nice kick to this classic. The story goes that in the 1930’s Count Camillo Negroni haunted the Café’s of Florence asking for his Americano with an extra kick. He asked the bartenders to leave out the soda and add some gin. The cocktail became known as the Negroni.

Jacques says, "In my opinion this is one the best Aperitif cocktails. It is wonderful before a big dinner. It relaxes you from the day’s stresses and readies you for the wonderful meal ahead. This is not a drink to recommend for first time Campari drinkers or the faint of heart."

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Richard Brandenburg
Cooks Up A Delicious Homecoming at Urbana

By now, Washingtonians should be aware that the swanky Kimpton hotel chain has graced the District with yet another fabulous place for visitors and locals, alike. Sister hotels, Rouge, Topaz, Madera, Helix, George and Monaco boast eco-friendly rooms and hipster lounges and / or restaurants. The newest arrival meets their current standards – and even sets it a notch higher.

Just off Dupont Circle, Hotel Palomar has everything to make guests swoon: central location, urban-chic décor and a rustically-sleek restaurant and wine bar, Urbana. Designed by San Francisco-based Puccini Group, the new eatery boasts a simple-yet-sophisticated menu and a playful list of largely Mediterranean and California vintages.

Executive Chef, Richard Brandenburg, grew up in Reston, Virginia, and worked at both Restaurant Nora and Red Sage in the late '90s before setting out to explore the culinary scene in bigger markets. He worked at top-ranking restaurants in New York, New Orleans, London and the Fifth Floor in San Francisco.

Back on ‘home turf,’ Richard declares, “I love being in DC. My sister lives 5 blocks from the restaurant. And my brother and friends, from when I was young, are close by.” He also remarks on how dining in the District has evolved, “Its amazing! It’s enormous compared to what it was. I left when I was younger because there weren’t many places to go. Now, everywhere else you hear so much ‘noise’ about DC.”

Time away afforded Brandenburg to evolve as a chef and bring his talents back to his old stomping grounds. The exclusive all-male, members-only Bohemian Club in Northern California (members range from Papa Bush and Donald Rumsfeld to Jimmy Buffet, Robert Mondavi and Bill Kimpton) served as an intensive training ground. Originally founded by journalists and artists, the waitlist to become a member of the now business-oriented organization is 15 years, and service expectations are high. He says, “One day I’d do an 8-course dinner for 30, and another day, a 4-course for 2600.” Brandenburg describes the diverse scene at the society club this way, ”It was like a huge university with 125 fraternities, 1 boy scout troop, and an Ewok village. There were lots of famous people cutting loose, playing music. One time, at 5 am, I came across one member holding a gin fizz and playing the bagpipes!”

His time in California also exposed him to a new way to look at wine. Chef Brandenburg explains, “Food and wine go hand in hand. In San Francisco, I really learned to appreciate a properly paired wine with dishes. Its part of the meal.” According to him, a good or bad sommelier can define the dining experience. In his words, “If the food is a 6, the proper wine pairing can bring it to a 9 or 10. A bad pairing can drop it to a 4.” Urbana’s wine program boasts 200 bottles in all, and features flights, 30 wines by the glass and a half dozen quartinos. Chef Brandenburg says, “Our wine list is heavy on Italian and French, and we also have some great Californian wines.”

Good food and wine are appreciated both at work and at home. Richard says his wife, a native Californian whom he met at the Fifth Floor where she tended bar, is a sommelier. Bringing his family back to the District (they have two young children) is the realization of Brandenburg’s long-time desire. He says, "Ultimately, my goal was to come back and open a restaurant.”

Chef Brandenburg explains that his cooking tends to lean toward southern France and the Mediterranean coast of Italy where dishes “balance acidity with fat.” Because he uses seasonal produce, the menu is constantly in “slow-transition." Brandenburg explains, “I have no choice but to change at least some dishes every 2-3 weeks. Figs and melon will be off in a month, for example. Sardines With Melon will become Candied Butternut Squash With Sardines.” He refers to Vitello Tonnato (braised veal atop tuna) as his signature dish.
More mouth-watering items include house-made pasta, pizzas, fish and specialties like Osso Bucco with a side of Duck Fat Fries or Rosemary Poundcake.

The comfortably fashionable bar has its own scene, and Mixologist Jacques Bezuindenhout of San Francisco's famed Harry Denton's Starlight Room was brought in to design Urbana’s signature cocktails.

Still newly arrived at the time of this interview, Richard hadn’t visited many bars in the DC area. He described his favorite bar in New York: My best friend in NY (who was GM of CBGB’s) and I each lived a block away from Bar 81. On 7th between 1st and 2nd. I think it closed last year…”

His favorite drink: James on the rocks.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Have a bite at Morton’s bar…

I just love meeting up for a small bite and a cocktail at the end of the day. Sipsters in the DC area have a fun new option where you can do just that!

Morton’s has a new “Bar Bites” menu (only available at the bar) in the District on Connecticut Ave, over the bridge at Tyson’s Corner and Reston, VA and up the road in Bethesda, MD.

A couple of their drinks are highlighted, below:

Vodka Mortini
3 oz. vodka
1 large pitted green olive
1 tsp Saga blue cheese

Shake vodka, with ice, 15 times. Strain into chilled martini glass. Stuff the olive with blue cheese and use as garnish.

Morton’s Palm Beach Infusion
3 oz. Infused Vodka (recipe follows)
1 tblsp pineapple juice
1 tblsp Monin cherry syrup
1 fresh mint leaf, for garnish

Shake vodka, pineapple juice, and cherry syrup with ice cubes, 15 times. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with the mint leaf.

Infused Vodka (for Palm Beach Infusion)
Makes about 1/2 liter

1 pineapple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 liter vodka
4 to 5 fresh mint sprigs (small bunch)

Put pineapple slices in large jar (or other container) with a lid. Pour in vodka and add mint sprigs. Cover tightly and set aside, at room temperature, for 24 hours. Strain the vodka and discard the fruit. Refrigerate up to 10 days.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Mixology Class on Mondays in September

The Liquid Muse is here to inspire and inform when it comes to intriguing libations and fun things / places / people to know…

This “mixology class” sounds like a fun night out. It takes place at Tandoori Nights (Clarendon, VA location) over three Monday nights in September (the 11th, 18th and 25th) from 6 - 7 p.m. At $20 per person, classes include instructions on how to make a few of Tandoori Nights’ signature cocktails, including the popular Basil Ginger Grand Martini, and Indian appetizers are included. Yum!

I am not paid by the liquor companies, event promoters or restaurants I write up. I am the vessel through which the fun info flows! I also love to get feedback from readers – whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, and like or dislike products or services written up here. Sipsters’ opinions help guide The Liquid Muse content! What do you want to know in the world of cocktails??

If you decide to go, please let us know how it was! Write a Sipster Review for The Liquid Muse community.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sipster Submission
Sipster: a member of The Liquid Muse community... Become a sipster by emailing:

Sipster, Danielle Tergis, of Washington DC, sent in this refreshing Sangria recipe:

"I had this sangria at North Mountain Vineyard in the Shenandoah Valley over Mother's Day. My parents have a cabin not too far from the winery, and my mom loves going there for any special occasion. They usually do a special menu, and sometimes a special cocktail like the sangria. One glass and we were both hooked! It's perfect for summertime entertaining and it looks great in a clear pitcher with the slices of fruit floating in the glass.

About the recipe...My mom was actually the one who wrote it down and when I asked her for it she told me she wasn't sure what happened to it. One too many glasses of the punch I think... Anyway, I'm doing this from memory so you might have to adapt to your own tastes.

North Mountain Sangria
1 Bottle North Mountain Chambourcin
2 Bottles Sweet Caroline's Blush
1 Lemon
1 Lime
1 Orange
1 cup sugar (to taste)

Ginger Ale (to taste)

Drink and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


The night before embarking upon our cross-country drive in the Penske (two wild-eyed cats in tow…) we had our ‘last supper’ at none other than one of my all-time DC faves, Poste Brasserie.

I’m always surprised that Chef Robert Weland is not splashed across the Food Sections of major publications more often. His cooking is delightfully sophisticated while remaining unpretentious. And, I truly appreciate his commitment to using local farmers when possible, sustainable farming and ranching methods and, of course, he practices what he preaches by tending his own herb garden in the Hotel Monaco courtyard (and uses those herbs in his daily cuisine!)

(Aside: Pick up a copy of the August issue of Northern Virginia Magazine and read my new monthly “Cocktail Corner” to see a couple of Poste’s cocktails inspired by Chef Weland’s herb garden: Basil Lemontini and Lavender Margarita…)

So, for our last night in town, we indulged in the 5-course Tasting Menu - with wine pairings, of course. Given that The Liquid Muse focuses on libations rather than food (though I’m passionate about both!) I’ll not go into the mouth-watering and succulent details of the sashimi-style first course, the tender-as-butter meat course, and so-decadent-we-stuffed-our-full-bellies desserts, bestowed upon us… (though I heartily encourage you to try them for yourself!).

Staying “on-topic,” however, I can titillate you with the playful “cleanse palatte” offered after the second course and before the flakes-with-the-touch-of-a-fork fish…

Small balls of watermelon ice (or watermelon sorbet) suspended in a small flute (or tall shot glass) filled with sparkling wine. How fun is that? (I am definitely serving that as a fun and refreshing mini cocktail at my ‘coming home’ party in LA in a couple of weeks…)

We are getting back on the road, so long story short… visit Poste, have a cocktail and indulge in the Tasting Menu. Whether your first supper or your last, you’ll be “writing home about it!”