Drago Centro Winter Cocktail Menu Debuts Today – Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rode Duivel | Bols Genever, St. Maria al Monte Amaro, Miracle Mile Sour Cherry Bitters, Dried Cherries

There’s something really exciting going on behind the bar at a certain restaurant in Downtown LA. No, it’s not the craftiness of a Michael Shearin, who has since left for a brand ambassador position – but the hardly rookie beginnings of Jaymee Mandeville as dreamer of the newest winter cocktail menu at Drago Centro.

Grimhilda | Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy, Pama, Chipotle Infused Honey, Lemon

It’s a menu that has really good range, while at the same time having solid representations in each corner. To be honest, there was only one of ten cocktails on the list that I disliked and over a handful that I would easily order for my friends on recommendation of the spirit they preferred or myself based on that day’s mood. There were even more cocktails I was excited about than I shared an indifferent opinion about.

For instance, the Bols Genever-based Rode Duvel lived up to the high expectations I had for it. It’s enhanced with St. Maria Al Monte Amaro, which is a more bitter amaro and goes so well with the Bols and Miracle Mile Sour Cherry bitters. Be sure not to ignore the dried cherry garnish, as your drink only tastes better paired with each bite of the skewer. It was quite the cocktail to reinforce my love of Bols.

Western All'italiana | High West Double Rye, Cointreau, St. Elizabeth All Spice Dram, cranberry and oregano infused molasses, Gala apple

For that friend who may shame you by ordering that Cosmopolitan, order him/her a Grimhilda instead. Made with Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy, Parma, Housemade Chipotle Infused Honey and lemon, its sugar rim is actually an asset and not an obstruction to the cocktail (it has just enough). The chipotle honey does enough to help keep its sugary profile intact but interesting, and you may just wow that craving for cranberry out of your friend.

The every man’s fizzy cocktail would have to be Fated Seeds. This is a cocktail that’s sure to convert former gin avoiders. Persimmons in this cocktail were practically pickled and given a sort of vinegared acidity, without which would’ve made the persimmons evaporate. The basil shrub was a nice aromatic note while a soda topping gave it its effervescence.

Breaking Castagne | Hardy VSOP Cognac, Sombra Mezcal, Bitter Truth Mole Bitters, Housemade Italian Chestnut Syrup, egg white, nutmeg

An unexpected favorite of the night was the Western All’italiana, made with High West Double Rye, Cointreau, St. Elizabeth All Spice Dram, cranberry and oregano infused molasses, and a Gala apple peel garnish. The cocktail really showcases the all spice, cranberry and oregano beautifully. Of course, it goes without saying that I will ever have the double rye in my corner – so while it gets more than its fair shake, I have to stress that all the infused flavors do well to complement.

The Breaking Castagne is Drago’s winter egg nog – only better. The VSOP gives it that warmth and the mezcal just the right amount of smokyness, but the chestnut syrup is, of course, the real, winter-y centerpiece here.

Eve's Demise | Black Grouse Scotch, Belle de Brillet Pear Cognac, Housemade hibiscus apple cider, maple syrup

And then there were the drinks that steadfastly held their corner. The Dead Man’s Tale is the menu’s tiki drink and a play on the Fog Cutter – made with Wray and Nephew Overproof Rum, Bombay Dry Gin, Bertagnolli Grappa, Oloroso Sherry, Bietterman’s Amer Nouvelle, St. Vincent’s Orgeat, lemon, orange and Galliano mist. It was delicious, even though tiki drinks aren’t usually my go-to.

The Remedy X holds its own as the ginger lovers’ cocktail. Made with rosemary infused Bushmill’s Blackbush Irish Whiskey, ginger infused agave and lemon – the rosemary gave this drink a nice, floral twist. And of course, it had the essential candied ginger garnish.

The spicy cocktail of the bunch is the silver Screen Quotations, made with 123 Organic Blanco Tequila, housemade thai chili/cinnamon syrup, red bell pepper, mint, lime and saffron salt. The mint is a nice, aromatic twist that gives the whole cocktail a refreshing take.

But if you’re looking for that quintessential, surprise-me hot toddy, look no further than Eve’s Demise, made with Black Grouse Scotch, Belle de Brillet Pear Cognac, housemade hibiscus apple cider (mmm) and maple syrup. The delicious garnish alone deserves its own double take, but I honestly had a hard time putting this cute little jar-encased hot sipper down.

Fortunately, you can taste all of these tonight at the winter menu cocktail launch for $8 each. Bring the gang, since there’s a drink on the menu for everyone. This delicious menu is sure to delight and satiate your craving for that perfect winter cocktail.

Winter cocktail menu tasting was hosted.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

6 PM – Close: $8 each

$12 each all other times

Drago Centro
525 S. Flower Street
Los Angeles, CA 90071
213.228.8998

Garden-To-Table Dinner at Ray’s a Delight at LACMA

Pork Belly | Golden watermelon, black vinegar, opal basil

I’ve always been a fan of Stark Bar.

What’s not to love? Great cocktails made with fresh ingredients and spectacular, savory bar bites are yours to enjoy within one of the most cosmopolitan confines in Los Angeles. Ray’s and Stark Bar bring purpose and focus to LACMA‘s outdoor scene. It’s the stalwart at the center of a free-flowing patio in which the art is in the food and cocktails – a scene I’m readily available to insert myself into as I’m a new LACMA member!

Granola | Savory, Candy Stripe figs, pears, baby greens, sweet goat cheese

But I wasn’t completely sure how much of my favor for Stark Bar would translate to the dining room at Ray’s (or if any of it would). Well into the second course of our media dinner party, it became clear that all those Stark Bar’s bar bites I’ve become familiar with really are a mere introduction to the depth of Kris Morningstar’s cooking.

There were some amazing flavors to be had from one course to the next. It’s easy to see why Ray’s and Stark Bar are one of the representative Best New Restaurants in Esquire Magazine’s recently published 2012 list. It’s no detail that the cocktails, by Michel Dozois, were a delight. The ones served (the names of which I irresponsibly didn’t record) were refreshing and particularly complementary to the dinner.

As was a theme during the meal, Kris masterfully integrated his garden ingredients into the original design of his dishes. We have all had an heirloom tomato salad, but I was floored by his version, which came topped with charred local squid, shiso and Bottarga vinaigrette. The Granola, a wholly imaginative dish in itself (who serves granola for dinner?), had such complexities that each bite made for an evolutionary tale til the very last spoonful. It was refreshing, yet savory, yet sweet and herbal…you will just have to try it before the end of the season, yourself.

Peach | Roasted peaches, almond financier, Lady Plymouth geranium ice cream

The Pork Belly was a crispy, delicious slice, as coupled with a sweet cube of golden watermelon. The black vinegar and basil brought everything together while delicately balancing out the sweetness of the other two. The Sonoma Lamb was a savory masterpiece and tender as as can be with Butter beans, corno di toro peppers, baby artichokes, oregano and rouille – more evocative of the bar menu I’ve become accustomed with.

The dessert, which was a sweet and savory delight cooked and packaged in an iron skillet, was such a nice nightcap. It was the perfect amount of sweet with just enough savory breading, and I devoured every inch.

With Ray’s, it’s apparent that museum restaurants in Los Angeles have finally moved beyond the obligatory watering hole and feeding quarters for art patrons. Instead, the space has itself become a viable destination for those looking for solid cocktails and bar bites or, what’s more, an inspirational meal. Since this makes for an overall exciting time to be at LA’s representative art institution, it really is something all Angelenos can be proud of.

All food, wine and cocktails were hosted.

Lunch

12 – 3 PM (11:30 AM on weekends)

Dinner

5 – 10 PM

Closed Wednesdays

Ray’s at LACMA
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
323.857.6180

Tonight: Audrey Saunders Welcomes Naomi Schimek, The Spare Room Beverage Director

Hello Naomi, Bye Aidan! | Credit to CarolineOnCrack.com

Mixologist Audrey Saunders, of the Bemelmans Bar reopening in The Carlyle and Soho’s The Pegu Club, is pretty much a spirits goddess in the New York area and beyond. She’s in town today for a “ladies night” of sorts to welcome fellow bartendress extraordinaire Naomi Schimek to her new position as Beverage Director at The Spare Room.

Naomi, who was mentored by Audrey in her early days, is paving the way for her and other women mixologists to make a splash in a scene that’s known for being a boys club. In honor of Naomi’s new title, Audrey is presenting a six drink guest menu at The Spare Room tonight and will help debut the gaming parlor’s new fall menu, which includes Schimek’s own salute to her mentor – the “Ode to Aud” cocktail. Now this sounds absolutely tasty:

ODE TO AUD
Japanese cherry green tea infused Plymouth Gin, Green Chartreuse, lemon, egg white, jasmine essence

Let’s help the Spare Room co-creators Marc Rose and Med Abrous in helping to welcome these two extraordinary women. Tonight’s festivities are sponsored by Plymouth Gin.

See you tonight!

Monday, October 10th

8 PM

The Spare Room
The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (Mezzanine Level)
7000 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028

Harvard & Stone Makes Bunker Drinking Beautiful

Main Bar at Harvard & Stone

If you were to hear that the guys behind La Descarga are opening up a new bar, it’s high time to put the opening of said bar on your calendar. So, that’s what I did. I was happy to find out in the process that Harvard & Stone is the next-best thing to walking distance from my digs; it’s two Metro stops and a skip away. And when I visited the WWII-esque bar last night for the opening, I found out it’s actually across the street from Sanamluang – that Thai establishment holding remnants of college nostalgia and my go-to place for Pad Kee Mow. It’s also open until 3 AM.

Mia Sarazen says, "You Can Do It!"

I see cocktails and late-night Thai food in my near future.

Back to Harvard & Stone, so-named after the intersection of Harvard and its stone exterior on Hollywood Boulevard: It’s a beautiful space. Though Steve Livigni corrected me about the decor: “Oh, it’s contrived,” I offered that it did a great job pretending that it wasn’t (it’s all in the incandescent lighting). He finally agreed. The distressed walls with exposed brick frame a centralized, rectangular front bar lined with old, hanging metal shelves suspended by chain links. Liquor bottles artfully sit atop them while glasswares hang below. Antique pieces like obsolete, rusty machinery and light bulbs are scattered along the bar and in display cases on the inside wall. High-top, metal tables with rusty rivets line those cases, should cocktailers want to be near the action but not right in it. By the door is a stage on which Livigni welcomes bands to perform should the “impromptu show” mood strike. Keep an eye on this place for any post-show after-parties. Before Harvard & Stone, industrial never seemed so hip.

Back Bar

In the back corner is an old, rustic fireplace where guests can crowd around and across the way, a private room partitioned off by antiqued, double sliding doors. And I can’t wait to peep the balcony, which wasn’t ready for the opening, but which also extends into the back “Test Kitchen” bar area which is half-open and coded for smoking. (Fortunately, there’s also a dedicated, narrow outdoor smoking patio, Eastside bar-style, for the committed smokers.)

But, oh…that Test Kitchen bar in the back! Every month, a certain spirit (February: Whiskey, March: Gin) will be featured in the cocktails on its unique menu, which is to change daily. Whatever the spirit, American distillates are the focus. According to Caroline on Crack in her LA Weekly Squid Ink article, this bar will also “stock a small menu of tequila, cognac and rum as well as recognizable brands.” For now, you can count on Elijah Craig, Fighting Cock and Evan Williams Bourbon to be stocked here.

Pablo Moix

The cocktail menu earns its Eastside cred with an Appletini Apple Martini made with Original Moonshine (apple syrup, lemon juice, whiskey barrel bitters). If using Moonshine to formulate a normally fru-fru, girly cocktail isn’t hipster, I don’t know what is (try: being a block away from Jumbo’s Clown Room). You also have a lot of other cocktails to look forward to if you go in the near future – not discounting their inevitably delicious successors, of course. Steve also said that the menu will likely double in size once they get the opening kinks out.

Baby’s First Bourbon: Bulleit Bourbon, St. Vincents Orgeat Syrup, lemon juice, dash of Angostura bitters

Scaffa No. 1: Aviation Gin, Benedictine, Angostura bitters (neat)

Trinidad Sour: Angostura bitters, St. Vincents Orgeat Syrup, lemon juice, root liqueur

Fernet Cocktail: Fernet Branca, Canton Ginger, Carpano Antica, lime juice, Begatta ginger beer

The cocktails are all $8-11 each, which, for the ingredients and labor involved, is a steal once you taste your drink (all delicious on opening night). I’m hard-pressed to name another mixology bar that charges less than $12 per cocktail off their regular menu.

So Eastsiders: Rejoice! Harvard & Stone is open for business. You never know what cocktails are in store for you on the back bar menu nor if a band will drop by and play a surprise show. It’s just the place to enjoy a great cocktail in an industrial-chic setting, without the attitude. I cannot wait to make this my neighborhood spot.

Harvard & Stone
5221 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
323.466.6063

Food Trend Watch: For the Love For Finger Limes

Photo credit to dtpearson1975 on Flickr

Los Angeles loves the Australian finger lime. I’m no expert on the little doodads but I do know a curious fruit with spritely packages when I see one – especially when the cylinders pop up in multiple places across different applications. And I do know how to Google. Citrus australasica, yes, came to the States from Australia over 100 years ago, yet “only in the last six years have disease-tested, legal budwood became available to nurseries for propagating the trees” (LA Times’ Market Watch). They’ve reached my palate only recently – but in a small span of time.

Almost-invisible finger limes on crudo at Cube

The source of inspiration in our local kitchens goes undisputed. In an age where a commonplace gastronomic trend is to make little spheres of everything, these round, dense bursts of flavor are naturally occurring and sold by James Shanley at the Santa Monica farmer’s market. Laura Avery recently talked to him on KCRW’s Market Report and David Karp gives the skinny on the fruit with the “gherkin” exterior in LA Times’ Market Watch.

Personally, it started out with a dinner at Cube on La Brea. The picture doesn’t capture one of my proudest photography moments but what was memorable were the little citrus caviar scattered across the delicate crudo. It was the perfect way to highlight and accent the fresh flavors of the fish.

Valerie Confections' Pomelo Finger Lime Marmalade

Next, came the amuse bouche by Matt Biancaniello at The Roosevelt Hotel’s Library Bar. For the record: If it were anyone’s cocktails that would warrant an amuse, it would certainly be Matt’s. He cut the 2-inch cylindrical fruit in half, injected a bit of cachaça into the vessel and instructed me to squirt it and the little roundlings into my mouth. The sweet-tart combo beautifully awakened my senses and it was extraordinary to experience what an onomatopoeia like “pew pew pew” (in the non-lolcat sense) might literally taste like: Lazrs.

Finally, during my most recent trip to the Sunday Hollywood Farmer’s Market, I stopped by one of my favorite booths – Valerie Confections. The label on one of their preserves caught my eye – a Pomelo & Finger Lime Marmalade. At this point, it was none other than a sign, so I had to pick it up (and it’s already almost gone.)  The sour twists of the pomelo and finger limes brought out more of the peel in the delicious marmalade. Tiny lime finger slices were imbued in the light orange preserves – and with the help of crackers and goat cheese, the marmalade was a delicious way to snack at work.

I have my eye on these marvelous citrons. I can’t wait for more kitchens and bars to creatively incorporate them into more recipes. Oh – and as far as “food trend” – it may have to wait until next year since we’re already past season, which ended in December. Regardless, restauranteurs, artisans and mixologists have a new fruit with which to experiment.

Mentioned in this post:

Cube
615 N. La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036
323.939.1148

The Library Bar at The Roosevel Hotel
7000 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
323.466.7000

Valerie Confections
3360 W. 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA 90004
213.739.8149

Hemingway’s Lounge: Where Elementary to Elegant Imbibers Mix

Whistle Pig Rye Manhattan

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of joining Dan of Thirsty in LA, Caroline on Crack and John of Social Domain LA in taste-testing Hemingway’s Lounge Director of Cocktails Alex Straus’ new winter cocktail menu. Alex’s renditions of winter cheer did not disappoint.

Hemingway's Nog

For one, my favorite drink on that menu has to be the Hemingway’s Nog, made with Atlantico Rum, Licor 43, creme fraiche, Tiki bitters, grated nutmeg and love. It’s the perfect adult nog that is extra comforting to your palate yet won’t give you that stomach ache like you got at your grandmother’s after too many glasses. Atlantico, a blend of Dominican Republic small batch rum, is the perfect spirit and the creme fraiche is the perfect substitute for the milk and cream. The cocktail is so light yet savory to the froth.

If you’re looking for something more aromatic and English, go with the Chamomile-infused Gin Martini, made complete with chamomile-infused Junipero, Dolin Blanc vermouth, Regan’s Orange Bitters and flamed orange. The florals are accentuated nicely by the citrus, making this particular gin martini another one of my favorites on the new menu.

Whiskey Warmer

Feeling like a hot toddy? The Whiskey Warmer is most excellent. Made with Elijah Craig 12, St. Elizabeth allspice dram, maple syrup, fresh lemon juice, hot water and ground cinnamon, the warm drink takes me from Hollywood to Mammoth in one sip. In fact, I believe I’ll be bringing more than my snowboard on my next trip up and will try to re-create this deliciously comforting, soothing cocktail.

Speaking of favorites in general, there were so many other cocktails that were superbly made for us – like the Moveable Feast (rye whiskey, sage, berry, honey, lemon and The Bon Vivants Tomahawk Bitters) and an impromptu cocktail with Coruba Dark Rum, Appleton Estate Reserve, Smith & Cross, lemon, lime, pineapple and and St. Vincent’s Orgeat – but I really have to cut to the chase. We all had to have a Manhattan, and it was my first time having it made with Whistle Pig Rye. It was incredible, and I’ll leave it at the fact that I have had it 3 times since this tasting.

Interior of Hemingway's Lounge (Photo credit: Hemingway's)

I’d be remiss to omit that Hemingway’s Lounge is a rather unique space to enjoy great cocktails for all the wrong reasons. Okay, here’s one right reason: The interior is beautiful, with books and typewriters lining the walls straight up to the ceilings. Here’s another: Muriel Hemingway expressly gave the bar her blessing to use the family name, giving credence that the bar is an appropriate tribute and not a knock-off. And now for the rest: It’s on Hollywood Boulevard, where no drinking establishment is exempt from patrons who willingly line up 5 deep to order “vodka-sodas with a splash of Red Bull” (I personally witnessed this on a Saturday night I was seeking some entertainment in the English language on the day I had flown back in from Taiwan). But Alex Straus is a mixologist-bartender who thrives in this industry and environment – even when it’s 10 deep. After all, one’s shaker arms can only take so much. As one who avoids reservations and bars in general on Friday and Saturday nights (amateur hour), I have to say that it is completely worth it to see Alex or one of his guys on the weekday (Tuesdays, Wednesdays) and/or as early in the night as possible. For beer drinkers, Hemingway’s has only taps, no bottles – with a non-Hollywood price point ($5-6), to boot (list). The bar’s soundtrack is solid, with classic rock, funk and even jazz dominating the playlist. Impressive.

If someone told me that my new favorite neighborhood cocktail bar would be on Hollywood Blvd., I would have scoffed at one point. But for the first time since moving to Hollywood (and luckily walking distance to Hemingway’s), I felt that the people in the 20 foot line outside this bar were sitting on a goldmine – and not just another joint pumping out spicy tuna at 180 BPM. It’s not my fault if they don’t recognize it; save those shaker arms for me, please!

Tuesday – Friday

8 PM – 2 AM

Saturday

10 PM -2 AM

Closed Sundays and Mondays

Hemingway’s Lounge
6356 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90028
323.469.0040

Hatchi Mix At Breadbar Goes Liquid As New Monthly Mixology Series

Pre-Prohibition Cocktail: The Sazerac

You may be familiar with my previous Hatchi mentions, with each rendition featuring a high profile chef from around Los Angeles. The series at Breadbar has upped the ante for May, however, and will now be featuring the best mixologists on a monthly basis for, again, one night only as “Hatchi Mix” debuts on Thursday, May 6th.

The menu will feature cocktails priced at $8 each, made by the featured mixologist of the night. Kicking off the series is Devon Espinoza from Abbot Kinney’s Tasting Kitchen, who offers his “Vive le Cocktail” concept featuring pre-Prohibition libations – like the Sazerac, which is arguably America’s first cocktail, dating back to pre-Civil War New Orleans. Also on the menu: The Martinez (gin, vermouth, maraschino liqueur), by the legendary bartender Jerry Thomas in San Francisco’s Occidental Hotel during the late 1800s; the Manhattan, called the father of the Martinez and the grandmother of the Martini; and The Last Word, a Prohibition-era drink with gin, lime juice, Chartreuse and often with maraschino liqueur.

With a menu like that, it’ll be hard to pass this Hatchi Mix up. But keep on the lookout for future guest mixologists, like Joel Black of the Caña Rum Bar at The Doheny, highlighting Rum cocktails on June 3, and Julian Cox of Rivera, with a focus on Tequilas on July 1. (Mmm…I hope that includes the Barbacoa.)

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

6 PM – 2 AM

$8 per cocktail

BreadBar Century City
10250 Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90067
310.277.3770

Tequila Mixology Contest at Ortega 120

Tequila Cocktails at Ortega 120

Ortega 120 in Redondo Beach, where you can order LA Weekly’s Best Classic Margarita of 2009, will also be the site for an inaugural “Toma Tequila” Mixology Contest. Amateurs will compete for the grand prize of a $250 gift certificate to the restaurant, an editorial feature in Mutineer Magazine and, of course, have their winning recipe on Ortega 120’s cocktail menu alongside Chef Thomas Ortega’s imaginative dishes.

No professionals allowed – only amateurs are eligible to compete. To enter, submit your best tequila-infused recipe. Judges will narrow it down to a final three, which will have been chosen on a set criteria: taste, creativity, visual presentation and mixology practicality. And you should be excited (or intimidated) to find out who the judges are, including Ortega 120’s Demi Stevens, Mutineer Magazine Editor-in-Chief Alan Kropf, Carole Dixon of FEAST LA, Hadley Tomicky of Grub Street LA and Josh Lurie of Food GPS. Selected finalists will compete live at the restaurant on the evening of May 3rd.

Other events going on at Ortega 120 for that week include:

Sunday, May 2 – Sister Cities International Charity Fundraiser
Monday, May 3 – Ortega 120 “Toma Tequila” Mixology Competition Finals
Tuesday, May 4 – Tequila University
Wednesday, May 5 – Cinco de Mayo Grand Fiesta with folklorico dancers

May the best tequila cocktail win!

Finals: Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Entry form

Submit to ortega120contest [dot] com.

Ortega 120
1814 Pacific Coast Highway
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
310.792.4120

@Ortega120