Friday, November 30, 2007

Celebrity Sips - "The RanciPandiTini"

Take one part reality show star, one part celebrity gossip show hostess, add a pinch of bling, a swirl of style, shake it all up, strain into a rocks filled glass-o-love!

When I interviewed Giuliana DePandi, last year, I was struck by her ever so simple “girl next door” vibe. (Pretty cool for someone who has interviewed every major A-lister in Hollywood!) And, the way she gushed when talking about then-boyfriend Bill Rancic (winner of Donald Trump's The Apprentice) ... well, let's just say that it wasn't a surprise when they announced their engagement a few months later. Fast forward a year, and their wedding bells were a-ringing on the island of Capri.

While planning her nuptuals earlier this year, Giuliana asked me about cocktails made with lemoncello, a typically Italian lemon liqueur. After seeing Giuliana mention the recent “gimme gimme word of the day” on E! recently, I couldn't resist creating this cocktail in honor of the blissful couple.


by The Liquid Muse

1 ounce lemoncello
2 ounces Trump vodka



rosemary stalk

Rim chilled cocktail glass with sugar, set aside. Shake lemoncello and vodka, with ice. Strain into martini glass, top with champagne and garnish with rosemary stalk.

Photo came from here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Nine Months, and Counting...

A Special Delivery!

Oh, don't be crazy - I'm not pregnant (yet, anyway).

I just closed a two-book deal! And, the first of those long-awaited twins is my baby, Preggatinis (TM).

Yes, finally, after much chitter-chatter, crossed fingers and hopeful thoughts, Preggatinis (TM) sold two days before Thanksgiving - and is due Fall 2008. (which just happens to be a bit over 9 months away...)

I'll soon be nesting in my kitchen, whipping up "non-alcoholic cocktails for the stylish mom-to-be." I'll also be locked down in front of my computer, typing up the recipes like a mad woman. So, if you don't see me on my usual boozy circuit, its because I'm incubating an intoxicatingly fun new project!


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More Holiday Cheer!

This festive article, written by Jenny Adams for Nightclub & Bar Magazine, features two of my holiday creations: Ho-Ho-Hot Holiday Margarita and the White Creole Christmas Punch. A couple of my cocktail-loving pals, Cheryl Charming and Jonathan Pogash, also present their yummy recipes.

And, one thing is for sure - if you're not in the holiday spirit by the end of Jenny's article, you'll - at least - be thristing for a drink!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Libation-loving Londontown

There’s nothing like enjoying a delicacy in its native land. The sophisticated traveler gets an extra thrill from nibbling salty little pearls of caviar in Moscow; indulging in still-wiggling, practically dripping-with-seawater sushi in Tokyo; and sipping a little bubbly amid vine-laden fields in the north of France. So, would it be a surprise for thirsty globetrotters flock to London to sample the latest trends in cutting-edge bartending?

Although the “cocktail” as we know it originated in the United States, London has become the world’s Mecca for classic and contemporary cocktail culture. The British Capital influences the nuances of modern Mixology from New York to San Francisco to Sydney to Singapore.

Many Victorian-era alcoholic drinks (often made with gin) were created there, and have been incorporated into our modern-day roster of classic staples. Updated classics have also come from London, and several of the best barmen around the world, today, have cut their teeth in the tea-soaked Empire of yore.

While at least a dozen “dens of inebriety” are well worth a mention, I'm sharing four of the top-tier drinking holes I had the pleasure of visiting the last time I was in London. Each establishment draws from a traditional base and shakes things up with innovative twists.



The highly urban, design-forward Lonsdale, in Notting Hill, brings a pre-Prohibition-era cocktail party to an Austin Powers-style shag-a-delic hotspot. Brainchild of nightlife leaders Dick Bradsell and Henry Besant, Lonsdale’s colored mood lighting and fiberglass-fabulous textures and shapes give it a spacey Jetsons ambiance while presenting drinks with Old World pomp-and-circumstance.

Considered London’s best cocktail lounges, Lonsdale features a unique method of serving its libations. Rather than forcing guests to crowd around the bar, maneuvering for a bartender’s attention, mixing carts are waltzed directly to tables, as done in elegant ballrooms of the last century.

Charles Vexenat, recently voted Theme Magazine’s Best Bartender in the UK, created a cocktail list for the supper club-style drinking establishment, and many of those appear on the Daily Trolley List, and can be whipped up, tableside.

Again, pulling from traditional methods, bartender Jim Wrigley (right) explains that Lonsdale is “serious about vermouth” and mixes its martinis in a 7-1 (gin – vermouth) ratio. Additionally, instead of “bruising” the drink in a shaker, he prefers to employ a tall mixing glass, in which he lovingly stirs the alcoholic potions. One unusual – and delicious – ddrink, which incorporates both classic and modern influences, is the Rose Petal Martini made with Bombay Sapphire gin, rose liqueur, lychee juice and a dash of bitters.


Montgomery Place

Since its opening in 2006, the jewel box sized, sophisticated-yet-friendly cocktail bar known as Montgomery Place presents old-time favorites like the Martinez, which is the predecessor to today’s “martini.” The décor is one part 1920’s underground elegance, one part neighborhood drinking hole, shaken with masculine accents (such as dark wood and hues of brown throughout) and garnished with a sprinkling of Old School Vegas memorabilia.

The staff i
s well versed in not only cocktail formulas but the history behind each drink. Here, for example, one can learn that the Montgomery Martini draws its name from WWII British Field Marshall Montgomery who liked his martinis very dry (15-1: gin-vermouth ratio).

However, the three young bucks who own and run this bar follow some of the most advanced bartending trends, such as “aging” the ice so it is rock-hard and cools the drink without watering it down.

Montgomery Place has been referred to by its peers as “a bartender’s bar” because of the quality and care that goes into every glass; the use of fresh herbs and juices and house-made bitters, grenadines and syrups. As explained by one owner, Italian-born Ago Perrone (right), “For us being a bartender is like being a chef. We want to create the best drinks possible.” Considering the several honors already awarded the 50-seat hotspot, including “Best New Bar” in Theme Magazine and nomination for “Best Bar” in Time Out, it’s safe to say they’re accomplishing that goal.


The American Bar

The American Bar at the Savoy Hotel is a trip down Mixology’s memory lane. Although it first opened in the late 1890’s, the bar got its current name after the arrival of Harry Craddock, in the 1920’s. Craddock, an American bartender, traded the Prohibition-era United States for roaring London, and brought the love of the cocktail to a largely port and ale-drinking crowd.

Other notorious Yankee liquor-lovers such as Ernest Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ira Gershwin raised a glass at Craddock’s bar during the same time period. The now classic “White Lady” (gin, Cointreau, lemon juice) was created here by Harry himself, according to the 1930 “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” and although the “Dry Martini” was regularly enjoyed in places like New York, Craddock is said to have popularized it with Londoners. (As shown in the photo at left, Bombay Sapphire's London-based Mixologist Jamie Walker and American Bar Chef Jonathan Pogash, it's still a blast!)

Today, Salim Khoury (crowned Bartender of the Year multiple times) reigns over this boozey landmark, and is hailed one of the world’s leaders in drink making. Peter Dorelli is almost as classic as some of the drinks served, being one of four remaining head barmen who’ve worked at the American Bar over the last century.

Patrons range from hotel guests (largely an older American demographic) to local hipsters swinging through “The Strand” on a Saturday night. Early arrivals can snag a sofa, upon which to relax and take in Terry O'Neill’s photos of Hollywood Legends such as a provocative portrait of Elizabeth Taylor.

Art Deco accents and scattered orchids enhance a decidedly glamorous atmosphere. And, a younger version of a Rat Pack crooner belts out lounge favorites through a devilish smile, while tickling the ivories Monday – Saturday. Drink prices begin at $20 but imbibing here is simply something that must be experienced at least once in a cocktail-lover’s lifetime.


Salvatore, at Fifty

Fifty is a private, members-only club, boasts what some call the best cocktail bar in the United Kingdom. Its lounge, Salvatore, is under the watchful eye of its namesake: Italian cocktail legend, Salvatore Calabrese, who spent a decade as head bartender of the Library Bar at the Lanesborough Hotel, and is sometimes referred to as the Best Bartender in the World.

Traditionally stylish, and modernly sleek, Salvatore features floor-to-ceiling windows, wood paneling and ornate chandeliers making for a grand atmosphere, and reflecting the talented instincts of world-renowned interior designer, Jeffrey Beers.

First opened in 1827 as an upper-class gentlemen’s gambling hall and drinking club, F
ifty was one of the most talked about luxe establishments by globetrotters of its day. England’s Duke of Wellington socialized alongside the French Count D'Orsay, and feasted on culinary delights from the chef who had once manned the kitchens of Louis XVI. Today, women and men enjoy fine dining and a little bit of liquid Heaven in the privacy of an exclusive environment.

Calabrese’s cocktail menu boasts many aromatic creative fantasies, which blend sweet, spicy and herbaceous tones, in a myriad of combinations. Possibly his most famous
cocktail is the Breakfast Martini (photo left) which is made with gin, Cointreau, fresh lemon juice and bittersweet English marmalade.

Salvatore’s collection of vintage Cognacs serves to establish him as an expert in the area, and he has been featured on TV, radio and in print.

The next time you're headed to the London, take a little stroll through its cocktail wonderland. Just mind your "p"s and "q"s. Though the natives are known to get a little wild, it is a civilized country, after all...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Sweet AND Hot

What better way to indulge this holiday season than with a spicy chocolate cocktail created by Southern Wine and SpiritsDirector of Mixolog, Francesco Lafranconi, who has won
numerous drink-related awards and teaches a 12-week Academy of Spirits and Fine Service Course.

Francesco was kind enough to allow me to share his creative drink recipe featuring quality ingredients and layered flavors with The Liquid Muse Sipsters. (Talk about giving holiday entertaining an extra kick!) I know what I’m leaving next to the chimney for Santa, this year…

The Chocopotle
1 oz Grand Marnier
1 oz Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur
1 oz Cruzan Single Barrel
2 drops Tabasco Chipotle Sauce

Stir all ingredients together with ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass previously rinsed with few drops of Herbsaint. Garnish with orange zest.

Friday, November 23, 2007

NoVa Goes Worldwide!

I've been writing a monthly cocktail column for my buddies at Northern Virginia Magazine since August 2006. And, I am excited to share their new website with you all!

They've even added a link to my column... so next time you're in the DC / NoVa area, you'll know where to find the latest in liquid delights...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ryan Green: Smooth as Blue Velvet

This native Angeleno began his bartending career while waiting for his big break in show biz. Ok, that’s not so unusual in this town. But, what makes Ryan unique, among those whose “day job” is the nightshift, is the creativity that goes into his high-quality cocktails. This guy brings a head-full of knowledge, a armful of recipes and a shaker full of luscious nectar to the cocktail glass!

While studying theater at UCLA in 1999, Ryan worked at Wally’s Wine & Spirits as a cashier, then floor manager, while learning about wine and spirits before he was even 21. When Ryan became “of legal age,” he took his talents to a downtown bartending gig at Kendall’s Brasserie. Soon after that, he moved to the rooftop bar at The Standard.

Seeking a change of pace, in 2004, Ryan headed to New York where he was a manager at The QT. He and buddy Ben Lerer (who later founded built the hotel lounge “from the ground up.” He recalls, “We had a lot of success with that bar.”

The following year, Ryan returned to LA and was soon
recruited by the Blue Velvet team. “T Elliot was one of original owners here, along with (former high-end chef turned restaurateur) Robert Hartstein. They both worked with me at The Standard and knew I had a lot of cocktails in mind (to bring to) a specific place.” Green also works closely with madcap Sommelier and Bar Manager Matthew Latham, a transplant from Atlanta, who also has a hand in Mixology.

Nestled into the bottom of The Flat, an all-studio apartment building, Blue Velvet caters to power lunchers, "legal eagles" and hipster urbanites. The restaurant / bar is modern and slick with surprising little nooks and crannies. Texture and color play with shapes and light as one moves deeper through the space.

The sexy red room – which also features a fireplace and its own bar – is available for private parties… (Where better to sit on Santa’s lap?)

In line with modern movement in bartending, Ryan uses fresh ingredients, and likes to push the limits of his imagination (yes, he even employs fire, occasionally). He explains, “I like trying things that haven’t been done before.” Ryan sets the mood for customers at the bar with liquid inspiration explaining, “You want that first cocktail to really kick the night off and leave people thinking, ‘This is gonna be a great night!’” He likens the opening cocktail to an amuse bouche before a fine meal.

Like many cocktail connoisseurs in the City of Angels, Green observes that LA lags behind San Francisco and New York when it comes to cocktail culture. He notes, “The LA scene became very bottle service oriented," referring to the trend where buying a bottle of liquor, which comes with mixers like red bull and cranberry juice, gets guests past the velvet rope. Ryan wonders, “Where does that leave the cocktail?” Still, he feels that the quality of drinks (and ability to walk, instead of drive) in downtown is helping LA to catch up.

Ryan’s long-term goal is still acting and writing, although his talent and passion for the
drink shines through, and he is dedicated to all of his pursuits. As he puts it, “I spend most of my time at the computer, in the gym or making drinks.”

When writing The Bartender Diaries, I usually ask my interview subjects what they like to drink when not at work. Inevitably some people who make the most incredible cocktails find satisfaction in the most unlikely places. Ryan told me that there are days when all he feels like drinking is a Miller Light… but then he turns around and whips up a cocktail like the Burnt Fennel, whose wonderful flavor combination blew my mind! (The recipe is below but I strongly suggest you get down to Blue Velvet to check it out for yourselves.)

There is also an array of holiday cocktails on the list, these days. Persimmonable made with Grey Goose Citron and fresh persimmon; Squash of Nog blended from Meyer’s rum, brown sugar syrup and Kabocha squash; and Barbed Rhu-ade containing holiday-friendly rh

The Burnt Fennel

Ryan says: Muddle some shaved fennel, tbs sugar and a lime wedge in a glass, then add 1/2 oz Sambuca Romano. Next, light these ingredients on fire and let them burn for a few seconds. Put ice over the burning ingredients and add:

1 1/2 oz 10 Cane Rum
1/4 oz Cointreau
and fill with pineapple juice and a splash of 7up

Shake all ingredients and serve in a rocks glass with a fennel top for garnish.

*Photos: Claire Barrett Photography

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Oregon’s Atticus Wine, Where the Grapes Are the Guide

I’m a sucker for the 'people behind the product,' especially when it comes to food, wine and spirits. The back-story tells so much about what the exp
erience will hold. And, I have to say that this romantic tale of love, family, friendship and the pursuit of a dream did not disappoint.

Atticus Wine is an endeavor shared between two clans: the Insley-Orrego family and the Porter family. While on vacation in the Willamette Valley, Oregon, in 2004, Miami residents Guy Insley and Ximena Orrego fell in love with Oregon Pinto Noir. Guy, who is part French and had lived in Bordeaux, had always dreamed of owning a vineyard. So, he and his wife took the plunge and bought 25 acres of land in the Pacific Northwest. Their friends, Niall and Lefteria Porter, came on board to share in their oenological pursuit shortly thereafter. The next two years were spent putting up deer fences, building a house, having another baby and planting the first four acres of Pinot Noir grapes. The Insley-Orrego finally settled in their new home, in Yamhill, in February of this year.

Winemaker Scott Shull of Raptor Ridge joined the Atticus team, who were drawn to his naturalistic approach. They explain Shulls philosophy as: “having a close had in vineyard management, yielding to the will of the grapes and using some intuitive chemistry, a true expression of Oregon Pinot Noir can be created.”

The goal of Attiucs Wine was to achieve an elegant, approachable vintage, which would “reflect the beauty and complexity of the Oregon Pinot Noir grape.” By selecting grapes from surrounding vineyards, Yamhill Springs and Hawks View, Scott matched their style, and then let nature take its course.

In 2005, Atticus produced 295 cases of wine. And, in 2006, that number grew to just under 330. They expect 500 cases from the 2007 harvest. Ultimately, the goal is to produce approximately 6000 cases of wine per year.

Ximena Orrego says that they’d like to eventually plant all 25 acres of their own land with Pinot Noir, add a few white varietals, and eventually build a winery and tasting room on the property. However, she explains that remaining small and family owned is important to them, so as to maintain quality control.

I had the honor and pleasure of sampling one of the bottles from Atticus wine’s 2005 harvest. Soft, elegant, with light cherry and ever-so-soft waves vanilla, the Pinot Noir developed slightly deeper earthy tones as it sat in the glass. And, knowing how few bottles of this delicate nectar exist, and the loving dedication that went into creating it, I savored every drop.

Atticus Wine sells for a reasonable $24 per bottle. I suggest that you wine-devotees scour your sources to get your hands on some, or order directly from their website. Ximena expects that the 2006 will be slightly different, reflecting a warmer summer and lack of rain. Orrego explains, “Vintage after vintage, we want to reflect the truth as much as possible – we want the grapes to be our guide.”

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

LA Chef, Amy Jurist, Takes Over the Ghetto!

Catch Her Tonight in Mar Vista

Here's a follow up to yesterday's announcement about tonight's Ghetto Gourmet dinner...

LA's own wonderful and talented Chef Amy Jurist will cook at tonight's event. I can personally vouch for Amy as I've previously had the pleasure of experiencing her culinary treats first-hand. And - she is pulling together a fabulous dinner for 50 at the very last minute, as San Fran Chef Cynthia Washburn had to bow out at the last minute. Here's the line-up:

carmelized pear and brie crostini
beet and goat cheese salad with shallot balsamic dressing
butternut squash soup with garlic nutmeg cream
Salmon with cajun honey sauce
assorted pastries from Portos bakery

Rock on with your bad-self, Amy!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A little "Vignette" ...

Fade In:

A young man spreads out a white picnic blanket on a grassy field. He sets down a straw picnic basket and begins to lay out its contents as the camera pulls back to reveal his very pregnant wife sitting beside him.

Husband: Darling, I brought all your favorite foods - a little (pasturized) cheese, some hearty whole grain bread and some (fully cooked, mercury-free) salmon on a bed of (organic) greens.

Wife: (looks forlorn and breathes a little sigh) Thank you, honey. That is very thoughtful.

Husband: Why do you look unhappy?

Wife: (whistfully) I am just so dang tired of drinking mineral water! What I wouldn't give for a sip of something more exciting to complement this lovely meal...

Husband: (with a little smirk) Ta-da!

He unwraps a white linen napkin to reveal a bottle filled with a honey-colored carbonated liquid.

Wife: (with a hopeful gasp) What... is that?

Husband: This is Vignette. Its an alcohol-free Wine Country soda, made from all-natural ingredients, sweetened with sun-ripened Chardonnay grapes and finished with an effervescent tingle on the tongue.

Wife: You mean... it's a sparkling, liquorless juice made from the same grapes as my favorite wine?

Husband: Yes, darling. That's exactly what I mean. There is even a Pinot Noir version for when you have a craving for red.

Wife: My Hero! (she gives a sly smile, and crooks her finger) Now, get over here, you clever, clever man...

The End.

Fade Out.
Customized Gifts are the Trend, This Christmas!

The Liquid Muse Signature Cocktails Makes Gift-Giving Intoxicatingly Easy

In a world where everything is mass produced, luxury brands are available worldwide and a “double tall, no-foam, skim latte” tastes the same in Paris, Tokyo or Chicago, isn’t it nice to find ways to personalize gift-giving with a truly unique spin?

As seen on the Today Show, there are more and more options to partake in this growing trend – and with the Holiday Season approaching, that is a relief! Couples can pony up $4000 to take part in a wine-making workshop at Crushpad, in San Francisco. They get to name the wine, create their own label and crush the grapes. (which sounds like a gift in and of itself, if you ask me!)

However, for those of you who don’t have 4-grand laying around, yet are looking to buy a special gift– which requires very little effort and lots of fun on your part – why not consider The Liquid Muse Signature Cocktails for your loved ones? Packages include a recipe for their very own personalized holiday drinks, along with The Liquid Muse Recipe Coasters featuring that drink!

I have created The Liquid Muse Signature Cocktails for wine and spirits companies; fancy shin-digs and even some famous people. Don't your friends and family deserve the same?
You may even be tempted to give yourself a gift this year…

E-me at for a list of packages and prices!
Mixology Monday, November

Here I come careening in at the last possible moment to share a drink at the online cocktail party, otherwise known as Paul Clarke’s baby, the infamous MxMo! This month, Jay - Britain’s premiere imbiber at Oh Gosh! - is host. He has chosen none other than “gin” as the topic. “Pip, pip, cheerio!” I say to that.

While I enjoy a vodka cocktail from time to time, it has staged a sneaky little take-over, pushing gin out of the limelight for the last several years. (I blame it all on Sex in the City and their over-exposed favorite cocktail, and the inane multitude of variations of the Cosmo… but that's ranting from other posts.)

So, here we are with gin back at the forefront. I mean – geesh – have you noticed all the gins (and “gin light”) on the market lately? What do I mean by “gin light?” Well, let’s put it this way…

As with whiskey, some people (women in particular) get it in their heads that gin is “too strong,” “will give me a terrible hangover,” “is an old man’s drink.”

While the mainstays of solid, good old aromatic gin (like Bombay Sapphire, for example) are regularly enjoyed by the masculine and well-to-do, new products appeal to the gin-wary. G’Vine has more floral notes that juniper ones. Sonnema Herb refers to itself as a ‘vodka’ but it does have juniper notes. (Isn’t juniper what makes a ‘vodka’ a ‘gin,’ after all?) Damrak is angling to get Holland back in the gin game (gin began as genever, then became the drink we know when British soldiers brought it back to the home country, and later to India where the ‘gin and tonic’ was widely drunk … for “medicinal purposes” staving off Malaria.) Today, rebellious Blue Coat gin steals the British spirit Stateside.

A whole bevy of our favorite vodka drinks began with gin – from the martini (originally made with a 7:1 ratio of gin and vermouth) to the Snapper (predecessor to the Bloody Mary).

And, of course, throwing in a bit of feminine lore, lovers of the literati and the wild girls of the roaring 20’s must read Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin (recipe for bathtub gin in this post) These rebellious beauties (Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Edna Ferber) would drive any sane man to the bottle --- only it would already be empty because the gals would have finished it off hours before!

So, I suppose this is the time when I present a cocktail to share with the MxMo party crowd. Well, since I’m running late, and you’ve probably already drunk your fill, I will leave you with my version a morning-after waster-chaser:

The Liquid Muse Snapper (with a kick)

2 ounces tomato water*
1 1/2 ounces gin
dash salt, pepper, Angostura bitters
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
1/4 ounce lemon juice
1/4 ounce lime juice
lemon wheel
sprig of fresh dill

Rim a Collins glass with ground chili powder. Fill with ice. Set aside. Shake tomato water, gin, salt, pepper, bitters and lemon & lime juices, with ice. Strain into tall glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel and sprig of dill. Enjoy with an aspirin and a big glass of water after a night out...

*Personally, I can’t stand thick tomato juice, so I prefer tomato water. Make it by freezing several tomatoes overnight, in a glass bowl. Thaw them the next morning in the same bowl and save the liquid that collects in it. Next, peel off the skin of each tomato, and squeeze it over the bowl, so its juice adds to the contents of the bowl. (Set the meat of the tomatoes aside to make pasta sauce.) Strain the liquid from the bowl, and voila – tomato water!
Going Green in the Ghetto (in Mar Vista)

If you’re a fan of The Liquid Muse “Sustainable Sips” organic cocktails, you may enjoy a foodie-meets-greenie ‘underground dining’ experience, on Wednesday, Nov. 14.

Ghetto Gourmet will show "Who Killed the Electric Car?" a documentary about electric cars, hybrids, hydrogen and the future of transportation during a locally-sourced organic meal prepared by San Francisco-based Chef Cynthia Washburn. The film’s director, Chris Paine, will also be on hand for live commentary.

The event will take place in an eco-friendly Red Barn Prefab Home designed by Andrew Ariza, and Kris Moller, Founder and CEO of ConservFuel in Brentwood (apparently, the first station in Los Angeles and second in California - to offer E85 ethanol) will also be on hand.

You can read about the Gourmet Ghetto dinner I attended in Koreatown. Since then, GG’s prices have gone up to $65 per person – and don’t include booze or chairs (so peruse The Liquid Muse for BYOB ideas and bring cushions to sit upon). An evening in the “Ghetto” feeds both mind and body. And, by the sounds of it, this one will also feed your eco-conscience!

Hungry yet? Reserve here.

*photo from here

Monday, November 12, 2007

The (Deceptive) Liquid Muse Breakfast

-or- How A Muse Spends Her Mornings…

One perk of my Musey career is trying cool beverages, and sharing them with you. And, I get a generous pile of new products to try. So, in an attempt to catch up on my liquor reviews, I’m squeezing in several per day. Starting early in the morning.

Now before y’all start planning an intervention, let me assure you that I’m not hitting the hard stuff at 8:00 am. I am, however, reveling in products that make help me be more efficient by allowing me to drink with breakfast, without getting carted off to rehab!

Fre alcohol-removed wine is already available in most places you shop. You may not have noticed it, as it is usually shoved off to the side of the wine aisle – somewhere between the bottled sweet-n-sour and the sparkling cider. And, that is a shame because this product rocks. Unlike many other alcohol-less products I’ve tried, Fre actually tastes good! The bottles are packaged to look like the ‘real thing.’ And the label has style.

Moving on to what really counts, what is inside the bottle is particularly
compelling. The White Table Wine is light and crisp. The Chardonnay is so dang delicious, I could sip down a whole bottle in an evening (and wake up without a hangover!). The White Zinfandel is slightly sweeter, of course, but just think what a pretty gift if would make for a very pregnant lady who is sick to death of mineral water and bubbly apple juice. The Red Table Wine goes down very easily, which is fine ‘cuz like I said… no hangover! And, the Merlot has a deeper flavor, which stands up to things like chocolate cake. Not that I would know about that, or anything…

I am particularly impressed with the sparkling Brut. Such a far cry from what I expected. And, the Spumante is slightly sweeter … and goes quite well with peach puree or pomegranate juice, for fancy alcohol-removed “sparkling cocktails.”

In case you aren't already aware of it, I design non-alcoholic cocktails for modern-moms-to-be. Check out a little info on that at The Liquid Muse Preggatinis ™ Blog. Fre alcohol-removed wines don’t position themselves to be served to pregnant women, as there is a tiny bit of alcohol left (something like 1%). So, it is purely my opinion that in the third trimester (when mnay doctors give the "green light" for a tiny bit of regular wine, champagne or beer to pregnant ladies) a glass of Fre could be a welcome relief to a deprived wine-lover.

I have just created a line of alcohol-removed cocktails using Fre, and I’ll be touring the US for two weeks, in December, giving cocktail demonstrations on how to make some fab hangover-free refreshments for the Holiday Season. (more to come on that later…)

In the meantime, keep in mind that while a picture is worth a thousand words, it may in fact be masking a delicious secret…
Sipster Submission - 21 Vegas Baby

Once again, the pages of The Liquid Muse Blog are graced by a Sipster Correspondent! LA-based writer Sara Shereen Bakhshian shares a little "finally over 21" fun from her Vegas celebration... (Photo: Birthday girl, Shayda with writer, Sara)

Twenty-one drinks, dares and so on have become staples for the eponymous birthday celebration. That wasn’t necessarily the case for my sister’s 21st, but we did spend a weekend in Las Vegas. A fairly relaxed trip for Vegas, which included our parents and nine friends, began with dinner at the flagship Grand Lux Café inside the Venetian Hotel.

The birthday girl, Shayda, ordered a classic Piña Colada (with Bacardi Silver, Cruzan Pineapple Rum, Island Juices and Coconut). Then the table sipped on Napa’s Mumm Cuvee with such dessert items as the Deep Dark Fudge Cake and the Fresh Strawberry Shortcake.

That night progressed upstairs with our friends at the Tao Nightclub, the younger sibling of a New York location. Shortly after our group of 11 got in, we split in half where Shayda and her friends ventured around the club’s three floors and the rest of us stayed downstairs.

We began ordering from a list of recommended drinks provided by a Tao insider, where the Asian Fusion take on the French Martini, the Tiger Lilly took first prize. This drink is made with 1 1/2 oz. Belvedere Vodka, 1/2 oz. Chambord, a splash of pineapple juice, a splash of sour mix and served up with a pineapple slice garnish. The drink’s victory is inclusion of fruit and juice that makes it sweet but doesn’t allow it to overpower one’s taste buds.

The TAO-tini also deserves an honorable mention. This cocktail includes 1 1/2oz. Absolut Mandarin, 1 oz. Stoli Raspberry, 1 1/2 oz. Malibu, 1/2 oz. Cranberry Juice, 1/2oz. Rose’s Lime Juice, a splash of sour mix and served up with three skewered raspberries. In line with the classical Cosmopolitan, the TAO-tini is a strong signature piece with a smooth finish.

After about an hour my sister’s group decided to leave the club after feeling over-crowded and pushed around in the upper floors. However, my mix of friends ended up staying longer and avoiding the crowds. After finishing the current round of drinks on the first floor, we moved swiftly to the second floor balcony. This was where the short and sweet PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur shots were being distributed, as we overlooked the Las Vegas Strip. The evening ended later after a final stop at the cabanas on Tao’s third floor, where we sipped Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut NV Champagne.

Day 2 started late with appointments at the Hard Rock Hotel’s Rock Spa. After the various toxins were released in our bodies we walked on over to Pink Taco and munched on chips and salsa, tacos and tamales. Some of the brave ordered the Fine Casa Margarita (Sauza Gold tequila, fresh lime juice and other secrets) and the Pink Taco Margarita (a blend of Trago Reposado, fresh lime juice and their homemade Agua de Jamaica, a sweet extract from the hibiscus flower). Sipping a bit of each of these drinks was a positive flavorful experience for me.

Probably one of the greatest, and fullest, experiences on the trip was the Omakase Menu at Nobu that evening, after an early show at the Wynn. The late dinner at the Hard Rock restaurant Nobu included a mouth watering seven courses for $100 per person. Our particular menu included: Toro with spicy Miso and Caviar; a palate cleanser sorbet; Yellowtail Tartar; Black Cod with Miso; Beef Tenderloin; Mixed sushi; and the Bento Box — a flourless chocolate cake with white chocolate sauce, shiso oil and green tea ice cream.

The Champagne ’95 cocktail was a hit at the table as it was Moet & Chandon Nectar Champagne poured over Grand Marnier, Peach Schnapps and a pineapple puree with a raspberry garnish. A meal such as this could not be served without sake as the group shared the chilled Onigoroshi ‘Devil Killer’ and followed it with the warm Jyunmai, Nobu’s House Sake. Perfection, with some pangs of overeating, was how the evening came to be described by the diners.

All in all the weekend was a great celebration of Shayda and life.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Classically Drinking at Bar Hemmingway - Ritz Hotel, Paris

Cliché? Perhaps. After all, it makes every list when talking about anything to do with “classic cocktails.” But, I can tell you now, finally, from experience, that the Bar Hemmingway at the Ritz Paris is a cocktail-lover’s absolute “must-do.”

First of all, walking into the Ritz itself (ie: a golden tribute to utter, privileged opulence)
is a heady experience. I managed to get one picture of my sister, Amy, in a grand hallway before I was politely asked to refrain from taking photos in the hotel.

(Personal Aside: This is a rule I find pompous and annoying. Some places in LA also get their panties in a ruffle when people photograph their venues. I understand that “fine” places want to ensure the privacy of their guests… but seriously, I, with my pocket-sized digital camera, am obviously no paparazzi star-stalker. Quite frankly, I’d rather get their wandering guests out of the way so I have a clear shot of that cocktail, bartender or pretty plate of food – in order to rave about them on The Liquid Muse Blog. But, I digress…)

After snaking down the Persian carpet-lined entrails of the hotel, we eventually found our way to the tiny, world-renown drinking hole tucked into a corner of the bling-filled logement, and pulled up a couple of stools at the bar.

First thing to note: Unlike many places in Paris, the bartenders at Bar Hemmingway were smiling, charming and talkative. This was surprising, not only because the French are not recognized for their friendly business interactions, but given the fact that is was an establishment “de luxe” it was a doubly pleasant experience.

We chatted with Guillome. Or, was it Herve? Maybe his name was Aurelie, that day. Our barman confided that he does not like the American custom of wearing one’s name on one’s uniform, so in his own personal protest, he changes nametags daily. Frankly, in my restaurant service years, I felt the same way. The few times I was forced to say, “Hi, I’m Natalie. I’ll be your server today,” my skin crawled. And, the occasional customer actually had the gall to call my name from across the restaurant when they want something. Horrid. Uncivilized, I’d say. So, Mr. X, I applaud your rebellion. Vive la revolution!

Now, let’s move on to the actual reason Amy and I rallied to apply makeup, dress ourselves in suitable attire (did I mention that Amy works at Givenchy?) and leave her cozy condo to careen through the streets of Paris on her Vespa, to the Ritz. What other reason could there be, dear Sipster, than the cocktails?

When nestled into a luxurious little nest, in an impressive palace such as this, I’m always tempted to order a simple glass of champagne. No fanfare, no risk. Just simple, French and classic. However, I have the Ritz cocktail book at home, and have pored over it so many times, dreamed of sampling these creations for myself, envisioned the ghost of Hemmingway himself sipping alongside me at the bar, that I just had to go for a cocktail.

And, my, what a lovely cocktail it was.

Henri-Michel (or whatever the bartender’s name was) suggested one of their signature drinks - I believe called Serendipity. (I should have asked how it got that name, but was too enthralled with taking everything in that I didn’t…but I’ll look it up in my book when I get home…) The drink blends calvados (apple eau de vie), apple cider, gently muddled mint and is topped with dry champagne. Garnished with a white rose. Refreshing and slightly sweet – but not too sweet – it was one of the loveliest drinks I’ve had in a long while.

Amy wasn’t sure what to get so our cocktailian guide did what any skilled bartender should be able to do: he asked which liquors she liked (she went for rum) and after thinking for a moment, he created something fantastic, on the spot. It went like this: a muddle of fresh ginger and simple syrup, a squeeze of fresh mandarin juice, a dash of Angostura bitters and a generous splash of rum. Garnished with a small lilly, if memory serves me correctly.

We weren’t allowed to take photos here either, but when our barman turned a "blind eye" - as long as we didn’t use a flash - Amy snapped each drink.

And, I have to mention the beautiful shakers. Oh.My.God! They have the most beautiful cocktail shakers I’ve ever seen. They were sleekly designed, and wide enough for big, rock-like ice cubes. Flat on top. Absolutely stunning.

Now comes the only downside. Never in my life have I paid $35 per cocktail. (And, if I’ve ever drunk one, I’ve surely never paid for it myself.) The two drinks - one cocktail each - came to nearly $78! Quite a shock, and completely unnecessary, in my opinion, to charge such a ridiculous amount. But, you know, Parisians pride themselves in getting away with murder. And, those of us who are dazzled by the City of Lights, and all it has to offer, fork it over with a big, white American smile.

This is where I had my Parisian brain-fart, and it was entirely unintentional. It is so annoying that even in high-end places (frequented by tipping Americans – and some Europeans) most places don’t have a “tip line” on the credit card bill. So, you sign and have to leave the tip in cash. After signing the check, talking with people and allowing myself to get completely distracted – I did another odd thing for the first time in my life - I completely forgot to tip the bartender! What a total ass I felt like when we got back to Amy’s apartment. I just wanted to die!

Luckily, French bartenders and waiters don’t rely on tips the way American ones do. “Le service” is included in the price. And, although French people may leave a few coins, it is not customary to tip 18 – 20%, like we do in the States. So, although “Jean-Francois” may have been a bit surprised that I didn’t leave a few euros, he would at least not be completely reliant on that money to make or break his night. And, yes, next time, I will double up the tip. I’m in Europe a few times a year and will surely be passing through Paris again, soon. And, definitely swooning over drinks at Bar Hemmingway again.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Let the Thanksgiving Cocktail Coverage Begin!

Wondering how to wash down the big bird on T-day? Give your guests one more reason to be grateful with a holiday-themed libation!

Stephen Beaumont of Nation's Restaurant News just wrote a fun round up of suggestions from Dale DeGroff, Tony Abou-Ganim, Jeffrey Morgenthaler and myself. Read the article here.*

Two Mixology legends - The King of Cocktails and The Modern Mixologist - give cocktail tips, the talented Mr. Morgenthaler has a great Wassail recipe featured, and I give suggestions on making low-cal cocktails.

*(You may need to register to read NRN's articles - which is free. And, if you're a food / drink lover, it behooves you to do so, anyway.)

Monday, November 05, 2007

My Parisian Brain-Fart!

I finally made it to the Bar Hemmingway at the Ritz, in Paris. It was all that I expected, and more. We had a wonderful time. Fantastic cocktails. Charming barman. Just fabulous. (more to come on that later...)

But, I did a completely stupid faux pas... In the midst of paying for the cocktails, bidding adieu to everyone we chatted with, making notes about all the wonderful points of the evening, my sister and I floated out on Cloud 9. And, it wasn't until we got home that I made a terrible realization... I forgot to tip the bartender!!! I don't know how I had such a brain fart! I'm utterly ashamed! It was a complete oversight.

And, I leave to Greece tomorrow morning, so I can't go in and make it right. Ramon /Guillame if you check in on the blog, please forgive me - it was completely unintentional. :-(

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Dia de Los Muertos

The only thing better than Halloween is the next day. In Mexican culture, Dia de Los Muertos honors loved ones who’ve passed to the other side. It is not a sad holiday but rather one which celebrates the colorful art of living.

I was in downtown LA, this weekend, and maneuvered the crowds on Olvera Street, one of our historic neighborhoods. The Mexican settlers who founded a pueblo in this spot, in 1781, helped shape the identity of Los Angeles.

Today, twenty-seven buildings (including the oldest house in Los Angeles) house shops selling traditional crafts, and restaurants serving enchiladas, margaritas and other typical specialties.

Strolling Mariachis set a festive mood along the street, while folkloric dance performances take place in a Mexican-style plaza on the weekends. These Indian dancers livened up the crowd.

Across the street from the plaza, people lit candles and paid homage to the deceased in an old church dedicated to Our Lady. And, I was excited to catch a glimpse of one of the famous murals painted by local artists on the side of old buildings.

One of the most popular attractions was the juice guy selling watermelon, pineapple and other fruity delights.

In honor of Dia de Los Muertos, I’ve created a cocktail called La Muerte:

1 ounce rum 2 1/2 ounces Horchata (milky rice drink) 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon splash of Kahlua Fill a tall glass with ice. Add rum and horchata, then top with a splash of Kahlua and a sprinkling of cinnamon.