Crazylandia Four

So. Most people that meet me think I’m a pretty relaxed non-competitive kind of guy.

You know, that’s bullshit.

I’m actually an incredibly and annoyingly competitive guy.

Sometimes passive aggressive.

It’s just that a lot of the people I hang with, and sometimes myself, don’t notice until well after the fact.

I have been over to people’s houses. Had kind of crappy food. Noted it consciously or subconsciously.

Months, or years, later, I have caught myself improving their dishes and trying to serve it back to them when they were visiting my house. Pretty shitty. I’m not proud, but sometimes I have to police myself even if others don’t notice.

I was chatting with a friend who participates in cocktail competitions, and he was saying stuff like, “taste is subjective,” and, “you just can’t take that sort of thing personally.”

And I’m like, “Bullshit.”

Sure. You do your day job. Whatever. It rolls off your back.

When you put yourself and your taste out there it matters. And when you fuck up or when people don’t get it, it hurts.

In general, my life philosophy has been to avoid pain.

Sometimes this has meant avoiding risk taking.

Not to be all dramatic about it or anything. But maybe I should think about that.

Crazylandia Three

So things got a bit sticky for a while.

Because I know a bunch of cocktail people, online or in person, they sometimes send me notes asking for advice on where to go for cocktails in San Francisco. A while ago, a foreign bartender asked me for advice. I gave him a list of places, said we should get together, and asked why he was in town. Anyway, it turned out it was a business trip related to the liquor and bartender business. That sort of thing is sort of out of my realm, so I referred him to a San Francisco bartender, and they set up a sort of itinerary for their trip.

Unfortunately, one of the venues didn’t really live up to its reputation, resulting in a certain post by the name of “Boutique Ethos.”

In the meantime, a few weeks after the Tilted Portal dinner, I received a note from E. asking if I would perhaps be interested in meeting for a drink. He suggested a couple places, including the one which had resulted in the above unfavorable experience. A friend of his was working there.

Anyway, we ended up meeting at that venue, which worried me a bit. I was a little afraid I would be taken out back and beaten with sticks. But, no such thing happened. What did happen was certain things came to light regarding service at the venue which were quite eye opening. As we watched E.’s friend field foot long drink order after foot long drink order, it was quite apparent what a brutal slog working at that venue could be.

Somewhere during the course of the evening, E. asked me, “Do you think you could do that?”

Now, every time someone asks me about my experience in Food Service, I tell them I worked as a cook for 10 years.

Apparently, from this statement, they get the idea that I worked in some pussy foot job like a vanity catering gig.

Rather, my resume, prior to the last 10 years of IT work, looks something like this:

In 1984 I started worked for a Brat und Brau as a set up and prep person.

From 1985 to 1986, I worked for a catering company washing dishes, doing prep, delivery, events, whatever.

From 1986 to 1989, I worked for a Southwestern restaurant as a prep cook, line cook, and Kitchen Manager.

There’s a weird period around 1990, where I worked as a coffee delivery person and espresso jerk for a small coffee roaster. Don’t ask. The only real good thing that came out of this period was meeting Mrs. Underhill, who was apparently quite attracted by the accompanying Eau-de-Coffee and free beans.

In 1991, I worked for a local bakery and restaurant, first as a dish washer, soon graduating to prep and line cook for breakfast, lunch and brunch.

Later in 1991, connections at the above restaurant allowed me to become a part of the team which opened the first restaurant to attempt to serve authentic regional Italian dishes in the city I was living in. Great job. One of the highlights of my working career to date. The chef was a great woman who was really into sharing knowledge and treated the staff almost as her extended family. It was great team environment where everyone was treated with respect and encouraged to contribute. Unfortunately, I think she was a bit uncompromising when it came to costs and quality, so eventually fell out with the owners. When she left they hired a new chef who wanted to bring his friends on board. I didn’t really get along with him, but a good worker, so was shuffled off to Breakfast, Brunch, and Dinner work.

After our move to California in 1993, I got a job at a Cafe, working Breakfast, Lunch, and Brunch line cook. For 2 years, I worked as an expediter, made soups, and created lunch specials.

As anyone who has ever worked a busy Mother’s Day brunch, Valentine’s Day Dinner, or New Year’s Eve Dinner can tell you, that ain’t pussy foot work. Those shifts are brutal slogs. I don’t know what it says about the culture or work ethic of America or Americans, but to be a bit frank, Anglos no longer even really work in many of the sorts of jobs I did.

Dish washing at the Restaurant and Bakery was the worst. They had an attached busy retail bakery and only one dish washing setup for the bakery and restaurant. Basically a 24 hour operation. You had to be there at 6 AM, you worked for 8 hours, and no matter how hard you worked, there was no way to make a dent in the dishes coming from the bakery and restaurant. It seemed like the same stacks of muffin tins, bread pans, and breakfast dishes were there at the end of your shift, as had been there at the beginning. The only real difference was the change from egg detritus to sandwich detritus on the plates towards the end. It was a truly Sisyphean exercise.

So, somewhat glibly, I replied, “I know I could do the making drinks part of the job.”

Crazylandia Two

While at Flower talking to E., I had asked if there was anyone at Tilted Portal who would be into making a few cocktails from “The Savoy Cocktail Book.” E. mentioned that one of the bartenders, J., was an eGullet reader, and that he thought she might be interested in participating. Also, that when I came in I should bring my wife and we should have dinner at the bar.

Well, that all sounded fun. For a few weeks I tried to get down to Tilted Portal to say, “Hi,” to J. and ask if she would be interested.   Usually like to meet people before sending them random emails. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, so I just cold emailed her using the address E. had given me.

Fortunately, J. was interested and we worked out a day to meet at Tilted Portal.

Another fun evening of geeking out about cocktails and technique. Making cocktails and trying inventions. J.’s fantastic house made orgeat was a highlight and something of a revelation to me.

And Mrs. Underhill did drop by to meet me. After all the cocktail geekery, we also had a wonderful dinner at the bar and got a chance to chat with E., who was also working that evening.

By this time, however, E. had heard of johnder and donberts escapades as bartenders, so upped the ante. “When are you going to be like johnder and donbert? Work a few shifts behind the bar?”

I repeated my usual refrain. Blah, blah, I’ve experienced slaving away as a line cook. I like to sit at home at night. Wife, cats, house, sleeping. Stuff like that. And that was pretty much where we left it.

Crazylandia One

Last year I was sitting in the bar chatting with an out of town friend.

Down from us was another gentleman who looked vaguely familiar.

When I was giving my Savoy spiel to the bartender, he introduced himself. We’ll call him “E”.

E. is the bar manager at a well regarded restaurant in San Francisco. We’ll call it “Tilted Portal.”

E. was familiar with my quixotic quest to make all the cocktails in the “Savoy Cocktail Book,” so I also hit him up to potentially get together and make some cocktails down the line.

A couple months later, I sent a note to E. asking if he might be interested in participating in the “Savoy Stomp.” He was kind of excited, as he was launching a bar program at a new restaurant in Oakland. We’ll call it “Flower.” As a matter of coincidence, Flower is in a great old art deco building and its cocktail menu includes several cocktails from the Savoy Cocktail Book. It seemed like a great dovetailing of timing and circumstances.

As usual, while doing these Savoy bartender features, I had a great time. E. turned out to be an incredibly nice guy. Plus, despite the fact that the bar had only received its liquor license the night before and it was crazy busy, the bar staff acquitted itself with honor.

However, E. seemed to have a particular interest in finding out how a cocktail writer/geek would fare behind the bar.

“How about if we set up something with bartenders and writers, like you and C.E., getting together and making drinks?” I said, well I’m not exactly a writer, but sure, as long as there was money riding on me kicking C.E.’s ass in the drink making department.

Practical Exercise

The lovely Humuhumu and charming Trott were kind enough to drop by this evening to sample some cocktails tolerate my exercise in craziness.

By way of explanation, I’ll start the story.

When bartenders find out I’m the Savoy guy, the first thing they typically ask is, “Have you ever worked as a bartender?”

The answer is, no, I’ve never worked behind the bar.

I worked in food service for about 10 years, when I was younger, but never as a bartender. Strictly a back of house kind of guy. Dish washer, prep cook, line cook, kitchen manager, etc. Never a waiter or bartender.

These days I have a full time job, am nearing middle age, and am not really sure I want to start slogging away at night as a drink maker.

But a couple of my acquaintances in New York, let’s call them johnder and donbert, are full time tech workers like myself and, the over achieving bastards, are also working as bartenders a few nights a week.

So inevitably the question now comes up, when are you going to be like johnder and donbert?


Not organized enough to be “Mise en Place.” Just lots of booze.

Carter Beats the Devil. Damn I love this drink.

Monte Carlo, strangely out of alphabetical order.

A rather girly Clover Club, if I do say so myself. Perhaps leaning towards the dreaded Pink Lady Land.

Ye Olde Corpse Reviver No. 2.

Creole Cocktail.

Dark and Stormy. A mistake to substitute Cruzan Black Strap for Goslings. Yuck.

Fillabuster. Boy I liked this one too.

Floradora Royal.

The Monarch.

Old Cuban. A modern classic.

Old-Fashioned. No matter what happens, I know I rock the old-fashioned whiskey cocktail.

Pegu Club.

Satan’s Soul Patch. Satan’s Whisker’s still just don’t do much for me.

Queen’s Park Swizzle. Oh, yes.

Sloe Gin Fizz.

Damn there are too many ingredients in the Singapore Sling.

Trailer Smash. Enjoyable Whiskey Smash variation.

Widow’s Kiss.

Should it be a warning sign when you can recreate a restaurant’s drink menu with the spirits in your home bar?

Between-The-Sheets Cocktail

Between-The-Sheets Cocktail

1 Dash Lemon Juice.
1/3 Brandy. (3/4 oz Germain-Robin Fine Alambic Brandy)
1/3 Cointreau. (3/4 oz Cointreau)
1/3 Bacardi Rum. (3/4 oz Flor de Cana Rum)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

So here’s the thing about the Between the Sheets. Aside from that dash of Lemon Juice, it is made up entirely of 80 proof spirits. That means it is sweet, eminently drinkable, and packs as much of a wallop as any dry martini or Whiskey Old-Fashioned.

It is my considered opinion that cocktails in the vein of the Between the Sheets are nothing more than attempts by the male half of the race to create a potent cocktail which they conceive will be palatable to the female half.

And, well, the name gives away where they hope that will lead.

For extra credit reading, check out my friend Rick’s BTS recipe comparison over at Kaiser Penguin:

Recipe Comparison: Between the Sheets

Talk about taking one for the team. One of these is enough to put me into a diabetic coma. Rick sampled several. He does not, however, tell us if the evening ended up “Between the Sheets” or if so, who ended up on top.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Berry Wall Cocktail

Berry Wall Cocktail

1/2 Dry Gin.
1/2 Italian Vermouth.
4 Dashes Curacao.

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. Squeeze lemon peel on top.

For a long time this cocktail’s name caught my eye and I wondered about it. A Martini made with sweet vermouth. A Martinez, really. Why call it a “Berry Wall”? No berries seemed to be involved. Or walls.

Eventually, a wise and learned man set me straight, informing me that the cocktail was named after a certain Evander Berry Wall.

Yankee Dude

For almost half of his 79 years, E. (for Evander) Berry Wall set a smart sartorial pace as an international clotheshorse. He was called the best-dressed American in Europe, the King of the Dudes. He was reported to possess 285 pairs of pants, 5,000 custom-tailored neckties. It was rumored that he changed his ties six times a day. His conduct was motivated by a great principle: find out what suits you and always wear it. Berry Wall usually wore capes and coats of horse-blanket plaid, high horse-collars cinched with lush Ascot cravats. Sometimes he changed into one of his crimson satin lounging suits to lead one of his chows, always named either Chi Chi or Toi Toi, through the streets of Paris. Though Berry Wall was born in Manhattan (1861), where he was a society swell in the ’80s and ’90s, he spent most of his later life in France. There, under the impression that he was leading a tumultuous and crowded existence, he drifted from race track to race track, from hotel to hotel, from gambling casino to gambling casino, with a miscellaneous society that included the Duchess of Windsor, the Grand Duke Dmitri, the Aga Khan, King Alfonso and ex-King Nicholas of Montenegro, “a magnificent old darling.”

Some people have all the luck!

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Bentley Cocktail

Bentley Cocktail

1/2 Calvados, or Apple Brandy. (1 1/2 oz Germain-Robin Apple Brandy)
1/2 Dubonnet. (1 1/2 oz Dubonnet Rouge)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

A fine, if unremarkable, cocktail. Found it a bit more interesting with the addition of orange peel and a dash of orange bitters.

Some drinky types have mentioned that the Dubonnet sold in the US is manufactured in Kentucky by Heaven Hill and may have a less interesting character than the Dubonnet manufactured in France. Not having had the opportunity to try the imported stuff I cannot confirm or deny this opinion.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.

Roast Chicken Breasts with Porcini Risotto

Had a friend over Friday night and made Roast Chicken Breasts with Porcini Mushroom Risotto. Unfortunately, too busy cooking to take pictures.

I first made a gremolata-substance as a sort of “rub” for the chicken.

Mince 3 cloves garlic, zest of one lemon, 1/4 cup parsley, and 2 tablespoons fresh oregano. To this add a good amount of salt, freshly ground pepper, and a quarter cup of olive oil. Rub this all over 2 bone-in, skin on, chicken breasts, taking special care to get the mixture under the skin over the breast.

Pre-heat oven to 425 F.

Do the risotto prep:

Rehydrate a quarter to half cup of dried porcini mushrooms in enough boiling water to cover. After they have rehydrated and cooled enough to handle, remove the mushrooms using a slotted spoon. Mince the mushrooms. Strain the liquid through a couple layers of fine cheese cloth or a paper towel. Put it in a sauce pan over very low heat on the stove.
Finely dice 1/2 onion and 1/2 carrot.
Slice 1/2 onion, lengthwise.
Slice 6 Crimini Mushrooms.
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, and 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme.
Grate 1/2 cup Parmesano Reggiano.
You’ll also need 3 or 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock added to the mushroom liquid above, and a quarter cup of cream (optional).

Put the chicken breasts on a roasting pan and place in the oven.

Saute the sliced mushrooms until they have given up their water and start to brown. Add the sliced onion, season with a little salt, and cook until translucent. Deglaze the pan with white wine or vermouth. Cook until the wine or vermouth is syrupy, and remove the pan from heat.

Heat another large saute pan. Add a good amount of olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add 1 cup Arborio rice and cook, stirring frequently, until it starts to smell toasted. Add the diced onions and carrots and cook until onions are translucent. Begin by adding a good ladle full of warm stock to the rice and reduce heat to a simmer. Continue adding stock gradually as it evaporates and cooks into the rice.

Hopefully, somewhere around here, your chicken breasts will have reached around 155 F on an instant read thermometer. Remove from oven and allow to rest until you finish the risotto.

When the risotto is nearly done, but still a little toothsome, check the seasonings, stir in the cream and sauteed mushrooms and onions, and chopped dried mushrooms. Add minced herbs. While stirring, add in the Parmesan, reserving a bit to add on top when serving. If it seems too Sticky add a bit more stock or cream to loosen.

Place the Risotto on the plate, sprinkle with a little parm and freshly ground pepper. Slice the chicken breasts and lay next to the risotto. Serve with a crusty bread, a nice red wine, and maybe simple salad of greens in a light vinaigrette.