What I Learned in Italy (Part 4)

I feel like there should be some sort of summing up, in the style of Anthony Bourdain. Some pithy summary of the lessons “learned” on our trip.

But, I’m not coming up with much.

It’s great to travel, get outside of your comfort zone. Find out what other people eat and drink and see where they live.

Venice IS a beautiful city and we had more fun than I expected from such a well known tourist destination.

It was very nice to get away from the hordes of Asian, American, and European tourists for a few days and travel to Bologna, much more of an actual working city than Venice.

Our last trip, we over planned and spent too much time travelling. This trip was nice, basically 8 days in Venice and 2 days in Bologna. It was nice not to have to pack up every couple days, rush to see the sights, and pack up again.

Venice, in particular, I think is a city that rewards wandering, even getting lost. There’s always something interesting around the next corner, whether its a museum, a musician, a shop, a restaurant, or the street salesmen stuffing their purses before taking them out to sell in St. Mark’s.

Another Canal View.

Wine retailing in Venice, Italy.

Arty shot.

This is NOT the Anselm Kiefer exhibit.

Another arty shot.

Graffiti in Venice.

Cool bookstore, carrying a lot of beat authors.

Gondola ride, you gotta do it.

A Good Time was had by all!

What I Learned in Italy (Part 3)

Spritz!

1 1/2 oz Campari
Prosecco

Add Campari to medium size glass with 2 lumps ice. Fill with Prosecco and garnish with Orange Slice. (Sometimes, this also gets an additional splash of soda water.)

Anyway, in Venice the most commonly drunk beverage is the Campari or Aperol Spritz.

We stayed one night on a nearby island called Burano. Much of the fish in Venice comes from boats which operate out of Burano, so there are fishermen. And as our friend correctly intuited, if there are fishermen, there is drinking.

But where, in England or America, tough old fishermen would drink whiskey or beer, in Venice they drink Spritz.

We were out before dinner and stopped at a bar, as we are wont, to get our Spritz quotient for the day. As we sat at a table and attempted to be somewhat inconspicuous, groups of 6 or 8 old men would drift into the bar, quickly drink Spritzes, and then drift out again. Eventually, we started to notice that some of the same men would drift back in. Finally when we got up to head to our dinner reservation, we went out to square to find it filled with loudly talking and gesticulating old fishermen, who were drifting from bar to bar, then heading back out to the square to talk with their friends about whatever retired Italian fishermen talk about.

Americano!

1 1/2 oz Gran Classico
1 1/2 oz Italian Vermouth

Add Campari (or Gran Classico) and Italian Vermouth to medium size glass with 2 lumps ice. Fill with Soda Water and garnish with orange slice.

Another drink which you can almost always get, though some of the younger barmen may not know it, is the Americano. You may, on occasion, have to remind some of those less experienced waiters that you want the Aperitivo and not the coffee drink.

Multiply this by about 3 per diem.

Scenic Gondolas!

Beware the weeping angels. The little, creepy, orange headed ones are OK, I think.

Silhouette in Italy.

Yay! We get to take the Eurostar express train!

Bologna, the land of meat. The charcuterie at one of our favorite restaurants of the trip, Vicolo Colombina

Did I mention meat and cheese? At Tamburini, per many recommendations.

Lonely Corridor.

Sorrento Lemon Sorbetto at Sorbetteria Castiglione in Bologna.

Michele’s favorites, Nocciola and Pistachio gelati.

Background music in the video from the Mekons new recording “Ancient & Modern“.

What I Learned in Italy (Part 2)

As I mentioned, in Italy there is an Aperitivo time which stretches from approximately 6PM until Dinner around 8 or 9PM.

In Venice, what this means is going out to a bar, noshing on small plates of food, talking with friends, and drinking Wine, Campari Spritz or Aperol Spritz.

One thing I noticed, Venetians don’t really approve of drinking without eating at the same time, especially sitting down and drinking cocktails without eating.

Canal as the sun gets low on the horizon.

Moonlight on a canal in Venice.

Saint in a cage.

For all your incense needs, a shop in Treviso specializing in Church supplies.

Best porchetta sandwich evar, Porchetta Trevisana, at Snack Bar all’Antico Pallone in Treviso.

The Rialto Bridge, in Venice, at night.

Note the Slushy machines at Bar Americano.

A Bellini at Harry’s Bar, in Venice. Well, you kind of have to. Harry’s Negroni in the background.

Harry’s Aperitivo, best bang for the buck on the menu, which our waiter described as, “A Martini with Campari”.

What I learned in Italy (part 1)

One of the first things we noticed in Italy was that people eat on a slightly different schedule than we do in America.

Breakfast, I’m not sure about. We ate the free breakfast in the hotels for the most part and tried to sleep in a tad. I think almost every time, we annoyed the staff by showing up a half an hour before they ended breakfast. Cold Cuts, pastries, cheese, fruit, and espresso for the win. We were especially lucky, by my eyes, to be in Venice during Persimmon season!

Lunch, early to mid afternoon, is usually a couple small open face sandwiches and maybe a small glass of wine at a Snack Bar or Taverna.

Then, dinner. Well, we were kind of lucky with dinner. Most of the restaurants in Venice are very small, and if they are popular, they are booked. However, most do not open until 7PM, no one except tourists eats before 8PM. If you call ahead and don’t mind vacating your table before 9PM, you can eat almost anywhere you want.

Look it’s an actual Berliner!

Arriving at Venice Airport, as the sun sets.

Blurry, happy.

The wake behind our water taxi as we arrive in Venice.

One of the many churches.

This one is for Audrey Saunders. The elusive vermouth mini, right in our honor bar at Ca’Pisani Hotel!

The Grand Canal from the top of the Rialto bridge.

St. Mark’s Square Crush.

Feedin’ ’em.

Italian Utility Repair.

Small Talk

“When I was 15 I started working as a busser in an Olive Garden and worked my way to server. When I watched the bartenders, I thought it was the coolest job in the restaurant, making drinks and schmoozing with people.”

“When I turned 21, I told the manager I wanted to be a bartender. He said, if I was the best salesman in the restaurant, he would make me a bartender.”

“I became the best salesman in the restaurant, and got the job as a bartender. I was really good at the upsell.”

Unclear what to make of this, coming from a Doctor while performing a, errrr, uh, sensitive operation. 6 years in an Olive Garden? Maybe I should ask to see his diploma?

Kidding, I was probably working in a Brat und Brau when I was 21, setting up the salad bar, filling condiments, and making popcorn.

This guy was already a bartender. I don’t really understand it, but I admire people with drive. That’s probably why he is a Doctor now and I just got around to being a bartender a few years ago.

Tuna Casserole

Now that Macaroni and Cheese area has been thoroughly gentrified, maybe it’s time to start colonizing some of the other neighborhoods of my Midwestern childhood.

It’s fine enough, when you hear a chef talk about their youth in the bucolic countryside of Austria, or how they had their Oyster epiphany visiting family in Brittany.

Yeah, it’s fine, whatever, if you’ve earned what you do. But sometimes I wonder, how could you not? You’re not even having to try, basically just waking up with a pedigree which includes the best food in the world.

But can you make a decent Casserole? How is your “dish to pass”?

Tuna Casserole

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 Pound Pasta

1/2 onion, chopped
8 Mushrooms, sliced
Olive oil or butter

2 TBSP Butter
3 TBSP Flour
1 Cup Warm Milk
1 Cup Warm Chicken Stock
Nutmeg
Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper

1 Can Tuna, preferably Italian
Frozen Peas
Spinach, roughly chopped
Fresh Thyme
Bread Crumbs (Or to be more authentic, crushed potato chips)

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Put on water to boil your pasta. Slightly undercook, drain. Saute the mushrooms until they have given up their moisture. Add chopped onions to pan and cook until tender. Deglaze with dry white wine or Dry Vermouth and reserve. In a sauce pan, melt the butter. When it is melted and the water cooked off, add the flour and, stirring constantly, cook until it smells of toasty bread. Stir milk and chicken stock into roux, a little at a time at first so it doesn’t clump. Bring liquid to a near simmer, it should thicken nicely. Grate nutmeg into sauce and check the salt level, it will probably need quite a bit. Combine all ingredients, except bread crumbs in oven proof dish (Or pasta pan, if it is oven proof. One less pan to wash.) Top with bread crumbs and cook until it is bubbling and the bread crumbs are toasted.

Enjoy with the not too fancy beverage of your choice.

Not that I can really complain, I had a great upbringing, it’s just that the foods which were awesome in my youth still aren’t really enshrined as shining examples of world cuisine. For example, pies, cookies, and doughnuts. My grandmother was a great cook, a fantastic cookie baker, but not much for recipes. I’ve never had cookies, fry cakes, or pie crusts as good as hers were. I think those tantalizing treats are probably lost forever. Though, I just about started weeping when they served a Krumkake with our dessert recently at Bar Tartine. Even the fantastic t-bone steaks my Dad would grill in the summer. Oh, though, the best example were the strangely named “Corn Boils”. Sweet Corn fresh from the field, soaked briefly in salt water, and grilled over hardwood. Every time I smell the sweet smell of burning corn leaves, it takes me back to those hot Summer nights in Wisconsin.

I know envy is embarrassing, and I shouldn’t be grumpy or jealous of others’ experiences.

I have mine, and they’ve made me who I am. Given me the taste for the food and drinks that I have and allowed me the chance and ability to sometimes share it with others. And, no, I don’t really want to pay $24 for a fancy version of Tuna Casserole. Thanks, but no.

Tipping Hints

“A bartender gave me some free stuff. Was I a douche for not tipping?”

Well, first off, you’re not a douche. Being a “Douche” is a binary thing, you either are, or you aren’t. The fact that you are feeling guilty and even wondering about not tipping, indicates to me that you are probably not a douche. If you were a douche, you would feel perfectly comfortable and deserving of every free thing that came your way.

However, you should have tipped. One thing someone said to me once, which has always stuck in my mind, “If you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to drink.” I know you had some excuse about only having a credit card and not getting a bill. The thing to do, in that case, is to ask the bartender, “Could you charge me for something, so I can leave a tip?” Most likely the person will waive you away and tell you to, “get me next time,” but at least they know you weren’t stiffing them. In any case, even if you did forget, you’re not a douche, and there was drinking involved, so likely they’ll figure it will all come out in the wash eventually.

Some handy reading…

10 Rules of Drinking Like a Man #6 Use Cash, the Etiquette of Dollars

Ask Your Bartener: Buybacks

At all the places I’ve worked, a certain amount of free drinks or discounts are allowed (and accounted for) per shift, at the bartender’s, or manager’s, discretion. Further confounding the individual joys and benefits of “buybacks”, everywhere I’ve worked is a pooled house. That is, everyone working receives a certain amount of shares of the night’s tips, including waiters, bus boys, and naturally, bar backs.

As a customer, the rule you should go by, is: You must tip on the full value of services or products received, end of story.

How much?

The phenomenon of celebrity and star bartenders aside, in California, bartending is a minimum wage service job, Period. Very few benefits, no paid vacation days, and no sick days. You were wondering why so many of your favorite bartenders quit the job for “Brand Rep”, management, or consulting gigs as soon as they accumulated enough credibility? The only way for bartenders (and waiters) to make any sort of decent money is through tips.

In my opinion, you should apply the exact same criteria to tipping bartenders, as you do towards waiters. 15-30% of the total goods and services received, based on your feeling about the quality of service and the drinks received. Anything less, unless you are really trying to make a statement, is kind of cheap. Anything more, and we kind of feel like you’re trying to buy our attentions. Though, sometimes, when a huge credit card bill is looming, I don’t mind feeling bought…

And as regards credit or debit cards, yes, small businesses pay fairly hefty fees on each credit or debit transaction, so if you truly want to support the bar or small business, and give them 100% of the dollars you spend, pay in cash. Do you really want to give Wells Fargo, Bank of America, or Chase any more of your money than you already are? Are you concerned about your favorite bar going out of business or your favorite bank? I think the Fed has your bank’s back, it’s up to you to support the restaurant or bar. However, if the only way you’re going to go out, is if you use a card, then, please, by all means, pay and tip with the card.

I hope this helps!

Suffering Mixologist

You know what, the Suffering Bastard just isn’t really a very good drink. Bourbon, Gin, Lime, Angostura, and Ginger Beer?

Sounds about as bad as the hangover it was supposed to be curing.

But, as mixologists, I think we can do something about this, but we’ll need to plan ahead a bit.

I think we’re looking at about a year process, from start to finish.

First begin by aging your own Whiskey. Purchase a case of unaged whisky (White Dog) and a charred barrel. Both of these items are now for sale, conveniently, at many of your better liquor stores.

About 6 months in to your whisky aging process, you’ll want to start your gin. You can either go the infusion route, like Jeffrey Morgenthaler, or you can purchase a still and distill it yourself. Instructions for distillation are beyond the scope of this article, but there are many online forums which should be of help. You’ll be able to find all sorts of interesting spices and herbs at witchery stores and upscale groceries.

In either case, infusion or distillation, I suggest you discard the common knowledge about what a gin should be and feel free to improvise with whatever catches your fancy. Elderflower, go! Rangpur Lime, go! Lemon Verbena, why not?

Once your gin is ready, you’re going to want to pull your whiskey from the barrel, blend it with the gin, and return it to the barrel. The additional months, or years, you allow these spirits to marry will produce a truly superior end product.

About a month out from when you want to serve your cocktail, you’ll need to start the infusion for your bitters. Check any number of articles on doing this, from Jamie Boudreau to Robert Heugel. Once you’ve made your bitters, of course using a Buechner Funnel to vacuum filter them, you’ll want to again pull your gin and whisky from the barrel, add the bitters, and return the mixture to the barrel. I suggest erring on the side of generosity. Really, if it isn’t bitter, it isn’t a cocktail.

About this time, you’re going to want to start promoting your genius new version of the Suffering Bastard. I would suggest hiring a full time publicist and hitting the local bars. Maybe even take out a few ads in national papers or magazines. Of course you’ll want to attend the major trade shows, Tales of the Cocktail, Manhattan Cocktail Classic, etc. just to press the flesh and give that personal touch to your presence. You’re not just a brand, after all. Don’t forget to sponsor a few panels at these conferences. That kind of exposure, a bunch of drunk people in a hotel conference room, is worth its weight in gold.

After doing some publicity, you’ll probably have come onto the radar of the original creator of the drink, Trad’r Vick, and his organization. Be sure to ignore any and all communications from them. You are a drinks artist, not a business man, there’s no reason to talk to those suits.

Next you’ll need to make your Ginger Beer. After distilling your own gin, making ginger beer is a snap. Check this recipe from Good Eats: Making Ginger Beer 48 hours? Pah, most of that is just sitting around in your cabinet.

Why do Trad’r Vick and his lawyers keep calling you? Just ignore them.

You’ll want to start the last minute publicity for your drink unveiling. Be sure to rent a space of suitable gravitas and capacity for your needs. Invite everyone you know, sending simultaneous and identical tweets, facebook invitations, and email blasts.

Who is that knocking?

What? Trad’r Vick and a subpoena? Agh, they are trampling on your creativity! Saying they own the Tradermark to the Suffering Bastard! Not only that, but telling you your drink isn’t even a Suffering Bastard, the Suffering Bastard, they claim, properly contains: Trad’r Vick Mai Tai Mix, two kinds of Rum, and a cucumber peel garnish. Pah, don’t they know you are referencing the original Suffering Bastard, created by Joe Scialom during World War II at the Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo, Egypt? Philistines!

Well, you’ll show them, change the name of your drink, it bears no resemblance to their crappy “original” Suffering Bastard anyway. In honor of your self, you call it the Poor Long Suffering Mixologist, or P.L.S.M., for short.

Aged Spirits ready, Ginger Beer on tap, you’re ready to go. The last thing you need to do is source the fresh ingredients.

Be sure and spare no expense finding the exact correct variety of mint for this. Thyme Mint, Bergamot Mint, whatever you think will work best.

Not to mention finding the most obscure variety of lime or citrus. I’d suggest thinking about Seville Oranges or perhaps Rangpur Limes.

Nearly ready, all your friends have replied and are showing up. The bar or concert hall is primed for your 100% hand made, self aged, craft cocktail PLSM!

Oh, but we’ve forgotten the ice! Only the best! Be sure and only use the purest virgin spring water, and freeze it in such a way it is perfectly clear! Then hand carve it to order!

Last minute details, last minute details!

Maybe you should try the drink?

Oh, bleah, this really isn’t a very good drink. You know, the Suffering Bastard wasn’t very good to start out with, and it tastes like you’ve actually made it worse. What were you thinking?

Notify your publicist, stop the presses, call off your event. Well, when life hands you lemons, it’s time to, to… Write about it. You’re going to write a book (or blog) about your cocktail adventure, instead of actually serving drinks. That’s where the REAL money is!

I think that qualifies as a post about Niche Spirits, don’t you?

Thanks to Adventures in Cocktails for hosting!

MxMo LVIII: Favorite Niche Spirit

Check out their site for more posts on similar themes.

Why A Toddy

A question from AK: “General toddy question: Is there ever, in your opinion, a reason to make a cold toddy such as these rather than immediately reaching for the Ango and a twist?”

Well, if we put ourselves back in the pre-cocktail era, someone from that time might ask you the exact opposite question: “Why on earth are you putting bitters in perfectly good booze?”

Bitters were originally created as medicinal elixirs, things to put your stomach, or other organs, on the path to recovery.

You added sugar, (and maybe a little booze,) to your bitters to make them more palatable, not the other way around.

In those days, if you were going to modify your booze, you’d probably make a punch, a cobbler, a toddy, or if you were particularly forward thinking, a julep.

I sometimes wonder, if we are indeed in a golden age of quality spirits, why are we doing so much to disguise the character of these wonderful products of the distillers craft?