Boulder’s mixology scene the place for holiday spirit(s)

mixologyBy now, we’re well into the Third Wave of the mixology craze. Cosmopolitans begat new types of martinis begat the revival of pre-Prohibition-era cocktails (which begat bartenders donning suspenders or dapper suit vests).

The revival of classic cocktails and trending toward intelligent, seasonally-driven mixology made with craft-distilled spirits has been driven by America’s mania for all things artisanal and/or local.

Ignore the pretentious b.s. that muddies the waters of the food and wine et al. industries. You’ll find that most consumers, chefs, farmers, and food artisans are merely interested in the provenance of certain ingredients, and the traditional methods used to produce or prepare products like cheese, charcuterie, boutique wine, craft beer, and distilled spirits. This is a good thing. And, I might add, who doesn’t appreciate a great meal or well-made beverage?

That, in a nutshell, is why Boulder, Colorado has been making headlines as one of America’s most progressive dining destinations. As a former resident, (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I move. A lot.), I can attest that Boulder is on the cutting edge of conscious eating. But where it really shines, in my opinion, is its mixology scene.

Bonus: Boulder’s best drinking spots are located on or just one block off of Pearl Street, which runs through the heart of downtown and the pedestrian mall. This time of year, Pearl is aglow with fairy lights adorning the trees, and (if you’re lucky) snowfall: it’s a wonderful place to spend the holidays. If you like to imbibe, try a glass (or three) of good cheer at any of the restaurant/bars following the jump.

mixologyWhen I first moved to Boulder in 2006, I lamented the shortage of decent watering holes (meaning, places not overrun by frat boys; it is, after all, a college town). Fortunately, the two best restaurants in town, nationally-acclaimed Frasca, and The Kitchen, (in this instance, I refer to its adjacent, second-floor sister spot, [Upstairs]), put the same thought and care into their beer and wine lists and the crafting of cocktails as their food. Thus, I happily spent many nights cozied up to the bar of one or the other.

Frasca has since undergone a remodel and expansion, and last spring opened Pizzeria Locale next door, which has its own impressive beer and wine list. The cocktail progam at Frasca–overseen by bar manager Allison Anderson–is still fantastic, as are the selection of apertifs and digestifs, including premium grappas. For a light, festive holiday drink, try the Promessa d’Italia (Luxardo Maraschino Cherry Liqueur, Blue Gin, and Prosecco).

Former Frasca beverage program director Bryan Dayton opened OAK at Fourteenth with chef/co-owner Steven Redzikowski in November, 2010. The restaurant immediately attracted attention for both its localized New American cuisine focused around the oak-fired oven and grill, as well as Dayton’s stellar mixology program. Sadly, a kitchen fire destroyed the restaurant several months after opening.

But, as they say, every cloud has a (Don Julio) Silver lining. In September, Dayton won Bombay Sapphire’s “Most Inspired Bartender of 2011,” and is currently gracing the cover of 5,000 copies of the December issue of GQ as part of his handsome reward (his winning drink: a “Colorado-inspired blend of juiced pears: simple syrup infused with sage, fennel and juniper; blackberry; Bombay Sapphire East; yellow chartreuse, and lime”).

OAK just celebrated its reopening on December 14th, with a revamped design and slew of inspired takes on classic cocktails, featuring Dayton’s passion for craft spirits. On the menu for the holidays: Oaxacan Winter (Sombra mezcal, Antica Carpano, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, Navan, molé bitters, and agave), and the Oak Martini (Death’s Door Vodka or Gin, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, and grapefruit bitters). New to OAK’s beverage program are house-created and -bottled sodas, in flavors such as kumquat and tarragon or cucumber and basil.

Last June, The Kitchen opened [Next Door], a “community gastropub.” There’s more of the same rustic, localized fare The Kitchen is known for, but you’ll also find an abbreviated selection of beer, wine, and natural sodas served on tap. It’s part of The Kitchen beverage program director Ray Decker’s ongoing commitment to source the best craft beers, boutique wines, and distilled spirits available.
mixology
At The Bitter Bar, located around the corner from The Kitchen, you’ll find a short, appealing American bistroish menu, but mixology is the star of the show just as proprietor/manager Mark Stoddard intended. Thumbs up, too, for the “staff picks” section on the menu listing cocktail and entree pairings.

If late night cocktails are your thing, I suggest making The Bitter Bar your last stop, but be prepared: these drinks pack a wallop. Friendly, informative mixologists serve seasonal cocktails (in warmer weather, some ingredients are sourced from the property’s own herb garden) in vintage crystal stemware–a nice touch. There are always seasonal specials, but don’t dismiss “Bitter Originals” such as The Gunner’s Daughter (Eldorado 5 Year Rum, Smith & Cross Navy Strength Jamaica Rum, Domaine de Canton–a ginger liqueur– Cynar, and Allspice Dram) and the Hokkaido Highball (Yamazaki 12-Year Single Malt Japanese whiskey, elderflower cordial, and apple drinking vinegar). Happy holidays indeed!

Tip: Boulder is located at 5,430 feet, so if you’re not used to the altitude, you should be more concerned with drinking water than alcohol. Remember that one drink is equivalent to two at this elevation. Pace yourself, drink lots of water, and pop a couple of aspirin before you turn in for the night.

From Mark Stoddard at The Bitter Bar comes this sophisticated upgrade on eggnog.
Tom & Jerry
serves 1

1 egg
1 oz. aged rum
1 oz. Cognac
1 oz. hot milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 allspice berry, ground
1/2 clove
4 oz. hot water
nutmeg, for garnish

Separate the egg white and yolk into two bowls. In one bowl, add rum and brandy to the yolk and beat together until frothy. In the other bowl, beat the egg white until it forms a peak, and then add milk, sugar, ground allspice, and clove. Fold the rum, Cognac, and yolk into the egg white bowl, and stir. Strain into a tall mug or tempered glass and top with hot water. Garnish with grated nutmeg on top (a microplane zester works well).

[Photo credit: Tom & Jerry; Bryce Clark]

How to Make a Flamed Orange Zest for Cocktails

A rural ride through Oxfordshire

Oxfordshire, Coxwell
Yesterday was my birthday, and now that I’m halfway to 84 I figured the best way to spend it was with other decaying leftovers from ages past. I mean medieval buildings, not my travel companions.

Oxfordshire offers plenty of hikes, historic buildings, and good restaurants. To celebrate my increasing decrepitude, some friends drove my wife and I from Oxford to the nearby village of Great Coxwell to see a rare survival from the Middle Ages–the Great Coxwell Barn. While there’s no shortage of medieval churches and castles still standing in England, there aren’t many well-preserved medieval barns. This one was owned by the Cistercian Beaulieu Abbey and was built around 1300 AD. It was part of a grange (farm) owned by the abbey and worked by lay brothers and servants. The barn stored the produce of the grange as well as the tithe of the parish farmers.

The exterior looks remarkably churchlike, while the interior is a vast open space with a slate roof supported by an impressive system of wooden posts, beams and rafters, all connected by pegs or slots and tabs. Metal was expensive back then, and not a single nail was used in the construction of this massive roof.

%Gallery-130852%Great Coxwell also has a small church that’s about a hundred years older than the barn. It’s just up the hill in the middle of a churchyard filled with moss-covered gravestones that centuries of weathering have pushed over into crazy angles. Just the thing to see on your birthday! On a happier note the churchyard is a managed wildlife area with a colorful variety of wildflowers. These folks are pushing up more than just daisies.

The church has been much restored but has some interesting early inscriptions and a tiny winding passageway behind the pulpit that I could barely squeeze into. Sadly it led around a single turn and straight into a wall made of rubble and mortar. My mind conjured up all sorts of legends and ghostly walled-up monks, but the more likely explanation for this barrier is that it’s to keep nosy visitors from going up the steps.

For lunch we visited The White Hart in Fyfield. This restaurant/pub (called a “gastropub” over here) is in the old Hospital of St. John the Baptist, built in the mid-to-late 1400s. The “hospital” was actually an almshouse, housing five poor people as well as a priest whose job it was to say masses for the benefactor. We ate in the main hall beneath old wooden beams. Beyond the bar was a huge medieval fireplace.

The food was as good as the atmosphere. Many of the ingredients are locally sourced, some from as close as their own garden. I had the slow-roasted belly of Kelmscott pork, apple, celeriac puree, carrots, crackling, and cider jus. Utterly delicious. For dessert I had a roast peach with raspberry sorbet, topped with a spider’s web of spun sugary something. Sorry, I’m not a foodie writer, just trust me that it was good. My companions’ meals looked equally good and we washed it down with real ale from the Loose Cannon Brewery from nearby Abingdon.

Not a bad way to grow older!

The number 66 bus runs regularly between Oxford and Fyfield. This bus stops at Faringdon, where you can take the number 61 to Great Coxwell.

Muppet bar opens in San Francisco’s Mission District

muppet barWakka, wakka, wakka (sorry, I couldn’t resist). SFist reports that San Francisco’s much-anticipated muppet-themed bar, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, has at last opened its doors. Located in the hipsterfied but culturally diverse Mission District, the bar is owned by the same group responsible for several other popular City watering holes.

“Mayhem” will serve infantilized pub-style food (Sample item: fried chicken with a jelly doughnut, although there’s allegedly a burger garnished with ghost pepper–the world’s hottest–as well, which would be pretty messed up to serve to a kid, in retrospect…).

The bar had a soft opening last week (“It’s a nice place to sit and have a can of Bud on a Wednesday night,” reports neighborhood daily Mission Mission). The interior is apparently a work in progress; there’s a distinct lack of Muppet memorabilia, but word is there’s more decor to be done and Jameson on tap is coming soon.

While I’m not sure how the Muppet’s correlate with drinking your face off, like most people, I have a deep fondness for the show (especially those chickens!). Whether or not that encourages patronage is anyone’s guess, but the Mission embraces quirkiness. Here’s looking at you, Dr. Teeth.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Alexandre Alves Andrade]

A guide to America’s most “offal” restaurants

offal restaurantsEven when I was a finicky kid subsisting on Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, I was intrigued by offal. No way in hell would I have eaten what are politely known in the food industry as “variety meats,” but they sure looked intriguing.

As with most of my weird habits, I blame my dad for my fascination with animal guts. Growing up the daughter of a large animal vet, I spent most of my formative years raising livestock, assisting with surgeries and necropsies, and working cattle brandings, so I’ve never been squeamish when it comes to animal innards.

Not until I began working in restaurants, however, did I learn that offal, properly prepared, is absolutely delicious. Many of us were forced to eat liver cooked to the consistency of jerky as kids because it was “good for us.” When I ate my first tender, caramelized calf’s liver, however, the interior creamy and surprisingly mild, I actually enjoyed it. Ditto fried pig’s brains, calf testicles, smoked cow’s tongue, grilled chicken hearts…

In most of the world–Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America–offal has always been a dietary staple due to poverty, and the need to utilize as much of the animal as possible. Glands, organs, and other bits and pieces fell out of favor in America in the late 19th century due to cheap meat (muscle cut) prices. Today, offal is gaining popularity in the States, thanks in part to the increasing emphasis on sustainable food production and supply. British chef Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating has done just as much to inspire American chefs to get in on the offal revolution this side of the Atlantic.

Following the jump, my picks for some of the best restaurants in the United States to specialize in or honor offal (having the occasional sweetbreads or tongue on a menu doesn’t count). Read on for where to find these temples of, as one chef put it, “offal love.”

[Photo credit: Flickr user The Hamster Factor]

offal restaurantsIncanto, and SPQR: San Francisco
It’s hard to turn on the Food Network these days without seeing Incanto chef Chris Cosentino’s mug. The “Iron Chef” contestant also appears on a handful of other shows, but he’s best known for his obsession with offal. At Incanto, you’ll find Italian-rooted local cuisine heavy on variety meats. Lamb fries (testicles) with bacon and capers; kip (veal) heart tartare Puttanesca style; creative endeavors with cockscombs. If you want to discover how good esoteric offal can be, this Noe Valley spot is it.

SPQR–sister restaurant to the wildly popular A16–is a bustling little sweet spot on boutique-and-restaurant heavy Fillmore Street. The name, an acronym for the Latin version of “The People and Senate of Rome,” is a tip-off that rising star chef Matthew Accarrino’s menu is littered with animal parts. Look for delicacies like a delicate fritto misto of offal (liver, tripe, and sweetbreads), and braised pig ears deep-fried, and served with pickled vegetables and chili oil.

Animal: Los Angeles
As you will see, this round-up is unwittingly a tribute to Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs, past and present. But a great chef is a great chef, and it just so happens that 2009 F & W winners Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo love them some animal parts. At their first restaurant, Animal, the down-to-earth duo–former culinary school classmates and longtime co-workers–serve up fancified down-home, finger-slurpingly good treats like pig tails, “Buffalo-style,” with celery and Ranch; pig ear, chili, lime, and fried egg, and veal brains, vadouvan (a spice mixtures), apple sauce, and carrot.

Clyde Common, Porland (Oregon)
The menu isn’t always bursting with offal, but this lovely communal dining spot in downtown’s Ace Hotel knows its way with variety meats–it’s where I first fell in love with tongue. Savor Euro tavern-style treats like chef Chris DiMinno’s chicken-fried chicken livers with cress, cucumber, and lemon aioli; pig trotters, or hearty charcuterie boards with excellent (heavy on the bourbon, gin, and rye) house cocktails.offal restaurants

Amis, and Osteria: Philadelphia
Arguably one of the nation’s most talented chefs, Marc Vetri trained in Italy, and now runs a three-restaurant (and growing) empire with his partners in Philadelphia. The award-winning chef’s restaurants Amis, and Osteria, are heavy on the offal, in two very divergent ways. At Amis, chef/co-owner Brad Spence turns out earthy, Roman trattoria specialties, including a menu section called “il quinto quarto.” In ancient Rome, this “fifth quarter” refers to the four quarters of an animal that were butchered and split up amongst the noblemen, clergy, and soldiers. Peasants got the fifth quarter (also known as “what falls out of the animal). Expect hearty fare like trippa alla Romana, Roman tripe stew.

Jeff Michaud, chef/co-owner of the industrial-farmhouse-styled Osteria, turns out intensely rich dishes like Genovese ravioli stuffed with veal brain, capon, and liver, served with a braised capon leg sauce; crispy sweetbreads with Parmigiano fonduta and charred treviso, and grilled pork tongue spiedini with fava beans and pancetta.

The Greenhouse Tavern, and Lolita: Cleveland
Chef/owner Jonathon Sawyer of downtown’s The Greenhouse Tavern is more than just a 2010 F & W Best New Chef. He’s a man who isn’t afraid to make “Roasted Ohio pig face” one of his signature dishes. Granted, this is a hog gussied up with Sawyer’s signature Frenchified gastropub style: cola gastrique, petit crudite, and lime. But Sawyer, who lived briefly in Rome, also pays tribute to the eternal city of love by serving a daily-changing il quinto quarto “with tasty bits.”

the Publican: Chicagooffal restaurants
Spicy pork rinds; blood sausage; headcheese; neck bone gravy with spaghetti and Parmesan; sweetbreads with pear-celery root remoulade. the Publican executive chef/co-owner/award-winning chef Paul Kahan is innovative with more than just offal. He uses scraps, blood, and bones to create charcuterie, as well as elegant, “beer-focused farmhouse fare (his father owned a deli and smokehouse; no wonder).” Chef de cuisine Brian Huston leads the show, carrying on the tradition.

The Spotted Pig, New York
Having just received its fifth Michelin star means this Greenwich Village hot spot will continue to be nearly impossible to get into. But it’s worth the wait for chef/co-owner April Bloomfield’s (yet another F & W Best New Chef alum) soulful gastropub cuisine. In the never-too-much-of-a-good-thing category: Calf’s liver with crispy pancetta and house-made bacon.

I’ve only tapped the surface of what talented, creative chefs are doing with offal in the United States. Have a favorite restaurant doing something noteworthy with bits and pieces? I’d love to hear about it!


Chicago’s best bar menus for holiday dining and drinking

Chicago bar menusIt’s no secret that Chicago isn’t lacking for great food or bars. But often, the two are mutually exclusive, no matter what city you’re in. Fortunately, as I discovered on a recent visit, Chicago has a wonderfully eclectic mix of new and established hotspots that manage to combine the best of both worlds. Indulge in boutique bourbon, esoteric microbrews, South Australian Shiraz, or meticulously hand-crafted seasonal cocktails, while savoring bar snacks ranging from pub fare and tacos, to elegant small plates and cheese flights.

Below, my picks for holiday snacking and sipping:

Longman & Eagle
Located in the rapidly gentrifying (but still somewhat seedy) Logan Square, this gastropub has become a hit with food-savvy hipsters for a reason. Besides an awe-inspiring selection of bourbon and other boutique spirits, the food simply rocks. An abbreviated bar menu is available between 3-5pm; expect treats like duck rillettes with cornichons and mustard for five bucks a pop. Dinner hour bar menu standouts on my visit included Slagel Family Farms meatballs with creamy polenta, parsley pesto, and fonduta for just six dollars, and tete du cochon with a sunny side-up duck’s egg, pickled shallot, parsley salad, and 5-spice mustard sauce.

Lovely cocktails like the Blood & Sand (Sheep Dip Scotch, Cherry Heering, Punt e Mes, fresh lemon, and flamed orange oil) or housemade spiced heirloom apple cider with applejack and Gosling’s Rum are a steal at eight dollars compared to downtown prices. For those late nights, avail yourself of Longman’s brand-new, six-room inn upstairs. P.S. The restaurant does brunch, too.

[Photo credit: Laurel Miller]Chicago bar menusSepia
This gorgeous, moody restaurant, housed in an 1890’s former print shop, is located in the Fulton River District, downtown. It’s a sedate, intimate atmosphere in which to enjoy chef Andrew Zimmerman’s whimsical, locally-sourced cuisine and well-crafted seasonal cocktails. There is a full menu with entrees averaging $28, so my friend and I instead parked ourselves at a cozy little table in the Lounge to make a meal of drinks and starters.

Spendy but unforgettable small plates like chicken-fried sweetbreads with green tomato jam and piccalilli ($14), and pan-roasted sea scallops with popcorn grits and crispy ham hock terrine ($16) are deeply satisfying. Cocktails are a bit on the feminine side, but a great French 75 (Hendrick’s Gin, fresh lemon sour, orange bitters, and demi-sec sparkling rosé; $12) or sour cherry Old Fashioned (house-infused sour cherry Old Overholt Rye, mole bitters, muddled orange, and brandied cherries; $12) is hard to pass up,

Big Star
If whiskey and rowdy honky-tonks are your thang, and you don’t want to devastate your bank account, head to this insanely popular Wicker Park taqueria. You’ll have to duke it out with yet more hipsters (like Seattle, where I live, Chicago has a plague, but they usually congregate with good reason) and local cooks and chefs for a seat, but the reward is luscious, three-dollar pork belly tacos (you really can’t go wrong with any of the offerings), queso fundido, great guacamole and chips, and free squeeze bottles of salsa verde on every table. The whiskey menu is truly staggering, featuring 23 selections from Buffalo Trace Distillery, alone, and $3 select shots every night of the week. The beer, tequila, and mezcal menus aren’t too shabby, either.Chicago bar menus

ENO, The Intercontinental
You don’t need to be an oenophile or cheese geek to have fun at this wine bar located off the hotel lobby. The focus is on a changing list of pre-selected wine and cheese flights, arranged by category. Whether you like bubbles, rosé, Rhone Valley, Pinot Noir, or want to concentrate on a featured producer, ENO has something for you, for around $13 to $18.

The staff will also cheerfully help you decide what cheese flights (an amazing bargain at $12, for three cheeses, mostarda, olives, Marcona almonds, baguette, and fruit nut bread) to have with your wine, if you’re so inclined. With selections ranging from semi-soft goat’s milk to aged Spanish sheep cheese or Cheddars, it’s a great way to learn, minus any pretense. There are also daily specials inspired by the local Greenmarket; think milk-braised lamb with mint, or roasted beet salad with Capra Honey goat cheese and pistachios.

Tip: ENO is offering a holiday wine and cheese pairing special through February: a bottle of 2003 Ayer Kupp Reisling and a 13 oz. wheel of award-winning dairy Upland Cheese Company’s (WI) newest release, Rush Creek Reserve, for $45. I tasted this hard-to-find cheese yesterday at the cheese shop where I work, and holy @$%!. It’s a satiny, hammy, unctuously rich washed-rind that is the crack of dairy products.

The Girl & The Goat
It’s irrelevant that this bustling, six-month-old industrial-styled bistro in the West Loop is the baby of Top Chef Season 4 winner Stephanie Izard. She’d be packing them in, regardless, with her rustic, soulful, Mediterranean and Asian-influenced cuisine and down-to-earth philosophy. Izard and her forager work closely with a number of local farms that inspire the ever-changing menu of 30 small plates (10 veg, 10 meat, 10 fish), which practically beg for pairings of wine or beer. Speaking of beer, this is the place for trying out new microbrews by the bottle, or indulging in Three Floyds on tap (an artisan craft brewery from Indiana). If the Chicago bar menuslong bar is full, try the communal table or a seat near the wood-burning oven.

Phoenix Lounge, TheWit Hotel
Open since June, this teeny little mezzanine bar is a great people-watching spot, given the floor-to-ceiling glass windows that surround the lobby of one of Chicago’s quirkiest, hippest hotels, minus the attitude. The location on the Loop and next to the river don’t hurt, either. Phoenix, like the rest of the hotel, sports a retro/Art Nouveau/modernist decor, all black and white and magenta, with etched mirrors and chandeliers. Grab a bar table and watch visitors and locals alike swarm the lobby (popular restaurants cibomatto and State and Lake are also in the hotel, as well as the Roof bar, an epicenter of Chicago nightlife). Despite the high ranking on the coolness meter, TheWit’s staff couldn’t be any nicer or more helpful.

Phoenix is all about short and sweet, with an abbreviated, but thoughtful, wine and cocktail list and bar menu. You can go for an in-house drink (all a steep $13), like Good & Evil (house-infused pancetta vodka, Godiva Liqueur, and cream, if you plan on a very short night), or the more refreshing Elevation (house-infused grapefruit vodka, St. Germain Liqueur, grapefruit juice, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, and ginger ale). Bar snacks such as veal meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce ($10) and tempura rock shrimp with lemon jam and chili aioli ($12) are pricey for what you get, but very tasty, and a great way to celebrate happy hour.

Mercadito
One of the best Bloody Mary’s–here, known as a Bloody Maria–in town can be found at this upscale taqueria chain known for killer cocktails (there are also locations in Miami and New York). Mercadito thoughtfully provides an $18 brunch special labeled as a “hangover cure.” Choose three items from their menu, plus a cocktail. A tall glass of spicy, savory hair of the dog is even better paired with a steaming bowl of posole rojo loaded with barbacoa chicken; huevos rancheros, and juicy tacos al pastor anointed with grilled pineapple and chile de arbol salsa. Your head and stomach will thank you.