I had a chance to attend a shortened version of basic cocktail training Sam Ross might employ to new bartenders. It was an awesome chance to learn from and get back to the basics of great cocktails with the guy who, through Comme Ca, pretty much helped to revolutionize the cocktail landscape of Los Angeles. Next time you’re in New York, you can visit his and Michael McIlroy’s latest project, Attaboy, in the intimate, former Milk & Honey space in Chinatown. It’s for old world drinking aficionados.
As you’re on the other side of any bar figuring out what to order, you might not need to know that 3/4 oz lemon (or 1 oz lime) balances out 3/4 oz simple syrup in most citrus drinks on the menu. Or that the Old Fashioned on the rock just served to you was actually served “hot,” or short of optimum dilution, so that you’d enjoy it as it mellowed out as the ice melts. It would, however, add to your appreciation of the techniques that go on behind the bar.
I couldÂ spend a whole week inÂ New York and not get to all the restaurants and cocktail bars on my shortlist. But Booker and Dax was one of those do-or-die bars and well, I’m just glad that I made it back to the East Village on my last night on the island.
They’re flashy cocktails, but not purely for showman’s sake. (And what a show they put on.) These cocktails are, most importantly,Â delicious – and thought-provokingly so.
With Momofuku Milk Bar shuffled across the street for this few months-old cocktail bar, a torch, centrifuge and carbonating-shaker-contraptions (as they are scientifically called) are found on the same counters once occupied by crack pie and cereal milk soft serve machines. Booker and Dax isÂ a collaborative effort by David Chang and Dave Arnold with the latter bringing his brand new methods to the table.
The resulting cocktail menu is one that can be divided into fifths. That is: Bubbles, stirred, shaken, on the rock and Red Hot Poker. And if you’re interested in what you’re drinking in the least, you best be sitting at the bar if only to witness the wizardry of the process. For instance, if you ever thought water and ice was enough to chill your glass whilst the bartender makes your cocktail, think again, because onlyÂ liquid nitrogen does the trick at Booker and Dax.
The Lady of the Night was effectively a liquid Bloody Mary – one to be enjoyed all times of the day. Horseradish tincture is in the cocktail, which was created by first muddling fresh horseradish with vodka and then re-distilling it. Sriracha essence? Basically the liquid resulting from centrifigual force enacted upon the infamous rooster sauce. The result was a Bloody Mary full of clarity. No pulp to be found – just all-out flavor.
Of course, I had to see the Red Hot Poker in action, so I ordered a Friend of the Devil, or what I’d call aÂ “Torched Boulevardier,”Â made withÂ rye, campari, sweet vermouth and pernod bitters. As I was curious if the alcohol might be burnt off as a result of the torching action, Sother Teague reassured me that each cocktail is indeed made with more spirits to compensate. Served in a ceramic cup, the resulting cocktail was warm andÂ comforting with a touch of carmelization to taste. And itÂ was strong.
A super simple but delicious cocktail my friend Greg ordered was the Bangkok Daiquiri, made with white rum, lime and Thai basil. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try any of the cocktails made with carbonation but was lucky toÂ witness a fellow guest’s cocktail getÂ shaken. She assured me thatÂ it was carbonated and delicious.
Bone Luging. Have you heard of it? Maybe you have, and maybe you haven’t, but I’m confident in saying it’s the latest, hottest thing in food-cocktail trends.
I take food seriously. I take cocktails seriously. Food trends? Not so much. Let’s not confuse them. But I don’t take myself so seriously as to say that I’m so above any phenomenon without closer examination.
The process is simple: Order bone marrow. Eat bone marrow and leave the bone. Take one shot of desired spirit (aÂ fellow bone luger helps here) and pour down the channel of the hollow bone while your mouth hangs eagerly on the opposite side of the “luge.” (The shot picks up the flavors of the bone during its travels.) Enjoy.
A trend that has arisen a few months ago (yes, it’s that “stale” already) out of Jacob Grier’sÂ Portland, bone luging was something that intrigued me because: 1) I love bone marrow. And while I still have a few food-curious friends who are getting acclimated to the idea of it, I always have enjoyed those umami scoops of that gelatinous center. Yes – even without the crostini. 2) I love shots of (key:)Â good spirits. Okay, or fortified wine, if you want to get technical with me, here.
As they say: Don’t knock it without trying it. And I did, on my recent stint to that other city over there on that other coast – at Prime Meats, one of my favorite restaurants, no less. And it was delicious. I believe the key factor in bone luging being classified as an all-out fad vs. arguable trend is which spirit/wine is used in the shot. Thankfully I was in good hands, asÂ Sother Teague (@creativedrunk)Â poured shots of Oloroso Sherry for my friend Robbie andÂ I to luge with. As Sother explained, since sherry is closer to a wine, it’s sweeter andÂ better than usingÂ a really brash spirit because it works well withÂ the unctious bone marrow taste.Â AndÂ I have to say, theÂ bone marrow really added some fattyÂ finesse to that shot.
So where can you bone luge in Los Angeles, fearless readers? Bar | Kitchen in Downtown LA. (You can spy Daniel of Thirsty in LA, Chris Bostick of The Varnish and Zara of Providence doing “Fertreuse” luges here – that is, with Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project 131 & 132, Fernet & Angostoura shots.) If you don’t mind guiding your bartender and accompanying kitchen, maybe even try Lexington Social House – or if you’re brave,Â Wolfgang Puck’s CUT, which is known for some of the best bone marrow in the city. Bone luging is for the brave, not for the shy, because there will be lots of attention and questions! If you’re lucky, you’ll get the disgusted looks.
I’m sold on the novelty. Not so much the tequila bone luge shot, though I haven’t tried it yet. And yes, it’s a novelty, because I’m not about to get mad at a cocktail bar becauseÂ itsÂ kitchen doesn’t serve bone marrow. Just make sure you’ve got the right shot, and if you enjoyed eating the bone marrow in the first place and step, the luge action may make your selection a shot of heaven.
My familiarity with The Franks, funny enough, began in Los Angeles at a little restaurant called Animal. So upon visiting Prime Meats with NYU grad student Nancy, I had experienced the imported version of Italian food originating at Frankies 457 – immediately next door.
But that lunch, after my vintage hat box purchase at the Brooklyn Flea Market, would instead be German.Â Prime Meats’ menu is intact with The Franks’ restaurantÂ philosophy,Â with housemadeÂ items and farm-to-table ingredients. The servers wear suspenders, cuffed jeans and pin-striped shirts; I had never been inside a German restaurant that had so successfullyÂ turned “dingy” on its side to yield “hip.” And here we were. Brooklyn. It was a beautiful, sunnyÂ day when we visited,Â and natural light flooded the doubly-expanded, distressed, wooden interior.
Though our fellow diners seemed to prefer breakfast, Nancy and I both settled on lunch. I was eager to try another interpretation of the German influencesÂ that had been so prevalent inÂ my Midwest upbringing – or at least experience the Brooklyn,Â artisanal approach to it.Â Nancy’s Sauerbraten was dressed with braised red cabbage and came with a side of Bavarian mustard. The housemade pretzel braid that encased the sandwich, however, was key. I may have stolen a bite when she went to the bathroom, and had tried to refrain from asking for that third orÂ fourth bite once she returned. That is my confession.
That’s not to say that I was in the least bit dissatisfied with my serving of Weisswurst – made with minced veal and pork bacon. The server helpfully divulged that typically, the wurst is opened and the interior spooned out onto a roll – but that this housemade version was completely edible, inclusive of casing.
And he was right. It steamed as I cut it open and its texture inside was perfectly tender yet bouncy to the bite. I was really blown away by the mustard (also made in-house, of course) withÂ its potency and subtle sweetness.
This is definitely a place that I would slate for aÂ re-visit with purposes of trying more selections on the menu. It’s also a restaurant that would inspire me to call Brooklyn my home should I ever move to the East Coast, what with Prime Meats’ kitchen open until 1 or 2 AM. (It could be that early kitchen closing time is just an L.A. thing – grrr.) The prices are more than reasonable, staying true to making artisanal andÂ simply prepared food accessible. Who knew that probably my favorite, casualÂ German restaurantÂ would beÂ in Brooklyn?
Breakfast Everyday: 7 AM – 1 PM Sat & Sun: 7 AM – 3 PM
Lunch & Dinner Mon – Wed 1 PM – 1 AM Thurs 1 PM – 2 AM Fri – Sat 3 PM – 2 AM Sun 3 PM – 1 AM
Prime Meats 465 Court Street Brooklyn, NY 11231 718.254.0327
One of my strategies toÂ eating around New York on an indispensible budgetÂ is to do lunch well – especially if the dinner entrees of a desired restaurantÂ tend to hit a higher price point. Lincoln, however, was not to fall under that game plan. Sam Kim said, “It’s THE opening of Fall .” So I secured a reservation three weeks prior to opening and four before I boarded for JFK. It is a special place that, upon approach and even closer look, was designed to seamlessly blend into Lincoln Center. It is successful, indeed – etymologically and aesthetically, inside and out. It’s a masterpieceÂ complete with a sloped,Â grass-coveredÂ roof that doubles as a lawn.
I had two dinner companions, and we all agreed that the feel of the space was uniquely pleasant. Beautiful.Â “It’s like how an airport is supposed to feel,” my friend Robbie said. The pristine, glass-encased kitchen highlighted the excellent service we received all night in an impeccably casual, yet elegant,Â ambiance. Through theÂ glass walls,Â I admired Jonathan Benno – previously Chef de CuisineÂ at Per Se forÂ 6 years – as he sent out each dish. The servers’ pace was expedient but never hurried.
We were artfully presented with thin crisps – seasoned with things delightful and elusive to my memory – before a perfect selection of three varieties of bread. The butter, made with 83% Vermont buttercream, was some of the best I have ever had. Our appetizer, a perfectly seared sea scallop with almonds and sunchoke smear, was a delicious departure and made me excited for more.
I admit, I had never visited Frankies Spuntino in Brooklyn – nor Manhattan – but I was intrigued when I received a copy of their cookbook in the mail. How fascinating the story is, of how The Franks (Falcinelli and Castronovo, if I must be specific) had actually grown up in the same neighborhood, just to reconnect later on by sheer coincidence of running into each other on the street. As always, food brings people together.
Before that reconnection, both had worked in Michelin-starred French restaurants before coming back to Manhattan to work under big names like David Bouley and Charlie Palmer – and then ran their own kitchens to the tune of Moomba and Bistro Jean-Claude. But the drive to create their own Italian-American endeavor and get back to the home-styled cooking of their youth – without the gimmicks like red-checkered tablecloths yet with the affordability of a neighborhood hangout – rang loud and clear. It would have to be Brooklyn; later, their success would allow them to expand to the island and import their own olive oil.
And now, the cookbook. What a beautiful styling it beholds, as if a volume in a series of classic novels. And the world tour that would bring them to a one-off at Animal on Fairfax, Los Angeles – with a certain New York Times article on medicinal appetite aids that would bring he, Vinny, Don and Roy Choi together (all were present during the Franks’ dinner).
The cheese and salumi plate, complete with fresh olives, roasted mushrooms and browned cauliflower was solid, as was the bread – especially when dipped in the Franks’ olive oil. Whether that olive oil passed the “extra virgin” test that’s been in the news lately remains to be seen, but it was some of the most flavorful I’ve tasted in awhile.
The Caesar salad was fresh, delicious and … made with Hellmann’s. Yes, Hellmann’s. Apparently, this very recipe was rejected by Koo Koo Roo (Falcinelli used to be a consultant for them) but I can guess that all Frankies Spuntino customers are ever so thankful.
My favorite, however, had to be the Cavatelli with Faiccos Hot Sausage and Browned Sage Butter (recipe). Not too heavy but having plenty of flavor – including the kick at the end thanks to the sausage – the Cavatelli were ever so fun to bite, with a perfect, almost-gummy consistency.
It is hard, though, to decide which meatballs I liked better – but the beef meatballs made with garlic, bread crumbs, pinenuts, raisins – and topped with Pecorino – probably won out on the pork braciola variety since I’m a mere traditionalist. But both are awesome, moist and baked, in keeping with the Franks’ desire to create hearty but not overwhelming dishes. The classic Gnocchi alla Marinara fit the same bill – with the vibrant tomato sauce really bringing out fresh flavors on the perfect canvas that was the gnocchi. I don’t remember appreciating gnocchi as much as the Franks’, much less one that was simply dressed with marinara, yet enhanced with a rich ricotta. Then again, margherita pizza is my favorite because it’s simple.
And the dessert. The cheesecake was heavenly – not too rich and having a perfect, creamy consistency. But the real favorite was the prunes steeped in red wine and paired with marscarpone. I love wine and cheese but I could not have imagined this perfect marriage. It was a savory dessert thanks to the creamy-wet cheese but also subtly sweetened by the prunes. The richness of the dessert was perfectly accentuated by the red wine those prunes were soaked in. I would go to New York just to order this dessert after the pinenut-raisin meatballs and Cavatelli!
I can tell the Franks’ Frankies Spuntinos are both special, neighborhood spots just from having tried their food. The prices are remarkably low for the quality – especially given their New York locations. I wonder if I might blend in if I tried…(doubt it).
Whenever New Year’s rolls around, the standard around Los Angeles (and most other cities, I’m sure) is a bleed-through-the-nose per person cover – to one of tons of generic parties going on around the city. And that’s not even including drinks. This is just setting myself up for disappointment. So when Tara said she could get me a VIP Pass to an indoor venue *at* Times Square, it was an easy decision. The ball drop live – without waiting for hours in the cold to stake out a spot? I was ready to book a flight to New York City, stat.
It was the New Year’s celebration taking place at 44th and 6th on the bottom floor of ABC Studios – where they broadcast Good Morning America – and Pepsi, with their RefreshEverything campaign, was the sponsor. Stoked. Tara and I met up first and we had the pleasure of meeting and partying the night up with NY Gothamist cats, Neil Epstein and Jen Chung, and their significant others.