Friday, December 30, 2011

A Merry Christmas means a Happy New Year.

Santa and his elves were very generous this year. A Merry Christmas was had and I anticipate a very Happy New Year. This was all but guaranteed by two of the gifts I received this year.

The first gift (from my generous wife) was "The PTD Cocktail Book" by Jim Meehan with illustrations from Chris Gall. PDT (Please Don't Tell) is the now legendary speakeasy on St. Mark's Place, created by Jim Meehan, that is reached by going into the hot dog joint Crif Dogs, entering a phone booth and picking up the receiver to reveal a hidden door that leads to the bar. Mr. Meehan and PDT have been on the forefront of the now pervasive cocktail culture and this book is the "Mr. Bartender" of this era.

The book is set up as a guide not just for the home bartender but for those who are interested in (or fantasize about) opening their own bar. He starts with  his own history and how PDT came about (the secret door, it's most famous feature, was actually a clever way of circumventing the need for a liquor license). The book is then broken up into three sections. Section 1 is "Setting Up The Bar." Design, equipment, mixers, techniques etc. Section 2 has "The Recipes". Besides the great cocktails it includes food recipes from Crif Dogs as a bonus (yes, you too can make a Chang Dog and a Wylie dog). Section 3 he calls "The Back Bar."  This contains a spirits primer, pantry, seasonal mixology and specifics for the home bartender.

The PDT Cocktail Book is a detailed, well thought out and fun guide for any lover of cocktails and cocktail culture. There are no airs here, and Mr Meehan goes out of his way to give credit to those who helped and influenced him. Every recipe credits the person who created it. This is clearly a labor of love for Mr. Meehan and it is infectious. There are recipes for the beginner (a classic Manhattan). There are recipes for the insane who are happy to track down rare ingredients and infuse their own liquors (the Vaccari for those who have some chamomile-infused Compass Box Asyla Blended Scotch Whiskey lying around). Regardless, this is a great read that will make you thirsty and will have you exploring that corner of the liquor store with the Italian spirits you never noticed before.

As for my second gift? As coincidence would have it, my lovely sister gave me a kit containing all the ingredients needed for a classic Manhattan, Did I mention that the Manhattan is my favorite cocktail? I know. What a surprise. In the kit was a bottle of Old Overholt Rye, Dolin Sweet Vermouth and Bitter Truth bitters. It is going to be a Happy New Year. Who is thirsty?


Manhattan

2 oz. Rye or Bourbon
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes bitters

Chill glass. Put ingredients in cocktail shaker and add ice. Stir or shake. Strain into glass. Add cherry. Enjoy.


(The Manhattan was originally made with rye but bourbon has replaced rye as the whiskey of choice in this country. Use what you like and don't let anyone bust your chops. Bourbon is made with at least 51 percent corn so it is sweeter than rye. There are a lot of nice ryes coming on the market so it is easier to find them for a Manhattan. Rye is made with at least, you guessed it, 51% rye so it is more herbal and complex than most bourbons. Martini Sweet Vermouth is the classic but there are a lot more vermouths available these days so experiment. The same goes for bitters,

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I wish you all a wonderfull Christmas! I hope your stocking was full this morning and your belly is full tonight.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas spirit

This season has been the most hectic that I can remember. I am sure I am not alone in feeling this way. Here is a quick,last minute recommendation to help you calm things down and get in the spirit of the season. Sean Smith's album "Christmas" on Thompkins Square Records. It is a beautiful album of 14 classic Christmas songs and two originals all performed on acoustic guitar by Sean Smith. No syrup, no schmaltz,just wonderful playing that distills the essence of each song. Put it on, sit down, have a drink and relax. You won't even realize you are smiling and humming. Have a merry, mellow Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Things I am Thankful for - Part 2

The second thing I am grateful for is: WWOZ

I am a devout New Yorker, but anyone who knows me knows a little part of me belongs to New Orleans. It is my favorite place outside of the five boroughs. The music. The food. The drink. The people. There is no place like it on earth. And when I get down, when I "Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans," I have a temporary cure. WWOZ.

WWOZ is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage station. It is a community station, public radio, that plays all the great music New Orleans has to offer at any given moment. Blues, Jazz, Zydeco, Cajun, Swamp Rock, you name it. Kermit Ruffins, Dirty Dozen, Dr. John, Bonerama, Irma Thomas, Galactic. WWOZ plays it all, big artist or small. And thanks to that handy dandy internet, I can listen to it when ever I want, any time of day.

Listening to WWOZ transports me to The Big Easy. I can imagine myself sitting at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, sipping a bourbon on the rocks, watching the the parade of people stumbling by.  And when the DJ starts to run down the concert calendar , listing who is playing Tipitinas, Chickie Wah Wah, Le Bon Temps Roule, The Maple Leaf or, of course, Rock & Bowl I start smiling and get an itch to jump on a plane and make it down in time for the Soul Rebels late set.

If you are a New Orleans fanatic like me, just getting a feel by watching Treme, or don't know the town or it's music at all, WWOZ is a must for you. For the junkie, it will give you the fix you need. For the uninitiated, jump in and get hooked. And when you start to feel that pull, that need to head on down to NOLA, let me know. I'll meet you at Snake and Jake's for an Abita Purple Haze.

Check out WWOZ at wwoz.org

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Things I am Thankful for - Part 1

This time of year I always reflect on things I am thankful for. Let's get the obvious ones out of the way. Family, friends, healthy, living in New York. Of course I am thankful and grateful for all of those blessings. But I want to focus on the smaller, less obvious things. Hopefully some of these will be things you can be thankful for as well.

#1 - City Bakery Pretzel Croissant

A few years ago I walked in to a Birdbath Bakery, one of City Bakery's small outposts. I was contemplating an iced tea (best in the city) or a cookie when something caught my eye. It was a stack of delicious croissants, but something was just a little bit different. They has sesame seeds on them. Then I saw the words "pretzel croissant" and my head exploded. I bought one. I tasted it. I was Homer Simpson, drooling and muttering things like "butter", "salty", "so good", "aaaggghhhhhhllllllll", etc.

Imagine this: the best, flakiest croissant you have ever eaten meets a delicious, perfect German soft pretzel while at Octoberfest in Munich. One thing leads to another and the result is this heavenly, hearty, savory and salty crescent shaped gem.

Eating a pretzel croissant will restore your faith in humanity and sooth your weary soul. Seriously. Just go get one. Now. You will thank me. And pick one up for me while you are at it.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Second Coming

After a brutal 24 hours I made my way out to Brooklyn Thursday night to restore my body and soul. The house of worship for the evening was Brooklyn Bowl.

For those who haven't been, Brooklyn Bowl is a bowling alley as well as music venue. It is clearly inspired by the legendary Rock & Bowl in New Orleans. Rock & Bowl is one of my all time favorite venues/houses of worship. It is should be on your list of places to go before you die. So you know I hold Brooklyn Bowl to a very high standard. It delivers.

BB is a massive, cavernous space in Williamsburg. It's industrial character is complimented by a carnival like atmosphere that is part country fair, part Coney Island. The sounds of the sixteen bowling lanes mixes with the music from either the house DJs or bands to keep the energy high.

The bar features local beer on tap from Brooklyn Brewery (just around the corner), Greenpoint Brewing and Six Point. Fans of brown liquor will be happy as well.

A nice Brooklyn Weisse in hand, it was time for a little sustenance. Once again BB delivers. This is because the good folks behind BB had the the good sense to have the folks from Blue Ribbon take care of the food. The menu is chock full of bowling alley, southern and comfort food classics, but none of them have come from a box in an industrial freezer.

Fried Chicken with mashed potatoes and sauteed greens is better than you could ever expect in a place with shoes for rent. An Oyster Po Boy usually isn't this good so far north of the Big Easy. Pork Ribs, Mac & Cheese, pizzas and burgers will easily put a smile on the face of everyone on your league team. Fresh pork rinds, Calamari, blackened salmon. The Blue Ribbon menu will satisfy both the pro bowler and devout foodie in your clan.

Body revived, it was time to revive the soul. The real reason I was here, the main event, was Alabama Shakes.

I saw the Alabama Shakes at CMJ (you can read my post about them). Halfway through their set I knew had to see them again. As soon as this show was announced I bought tickets. I have been singing this band's praises insessantly. Tonight I brought a few potential converts with me. Would the band live up to my hype? Of course.

The profile of Alabama Shakes has grown rapidly since the CMJ show. NPR profiles, MTV interviews. From a half sold Bowery Ballroom appearance (with a heavy music industry presence) to a packed Brooklyn Bowl, the question would be how does the band handle it. The answer would be, like pros.

The band took the stage and proceeded to blow the place up. As good as they were in October, they were better tonight. Stronger, more confident. It is rare to see a band grow as artists and performers as quickly as their hype. Alabama Shakes are one of the few who have. Brittany Howard is rapidly becoming one of the most captivating, dominating band leaders around.

The band tore through an hour long set, making the crowd dance, sing, move and yell. The Alabama Shakes are a Rock & Roll, R&B and Soul band wrapped up in one, playing at a tent revival. There is no artifice. No angle. This is just great music made by real musicians. I am here to testify. Mine eyes have seen the glory. The glory of the Alabama Shakes. Do your soul a favor and get to the revival near you.

Friday, December 9, 2011

No Conflict here.

I made a return visit to Joe Dough today with one thing on my mind. The Conflicted Jew. I was not disappointed.

The Conflicted Jew is a decadent heart stopper of a sandwich. Grilled challah is slathered with the smoothest, creamiest chopped liver you have ever tasted. The chopped liver is topped with sweet sauteed onions and, here comes the conflict, bacon. Traif? Oh yes! (Look it up gentiles). Any conflict for me? No. Luckily, I am a former Altar Boy, so I can always go to confession. And in a welcome touch, with a classic Joe twist, the sandwich comes with a little side of homemade apple sauce that is really a delicious apple pie filling. The bright, sweet flavor works contrasts perfectly with the sandwich.

Round two and Joe Dough delivered. The only problem next time will be what sandwich to get. T.C.J or one of the many other tempting sandwiches? Call that the Conflicted Catholic. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Manila in Manhattan

New York has seen a tremendous growth in both the amount and diversity of restaurants serving food from, or inspired by, Asia and the Pacific Rim. Be it authentic Chinese food from a specific province, the Ramen craze or Koren style fried chicken (more on that later), it is a great time to be a fan of food from that part of the world.

Couple this with the porcine take over of NYC food culture and you have to ask yourself one question:

"Where are all the Filipino restaurants?"

I was lucky enough to to grow up with a big posse of Filipino friends, including my best friend from High School. Beyond an affinity for covering any couch, chair or settee with plastic slip covering, what struck me about my friends of Filipino heritage was was how easily I was welcomed into their homes and families. The Filipino love of family, friends and life in general stayed with me and inspired me. Generous to a fault, willing to help out in any way. That is the Filipino way.

Oh, and one more thing. They know what to do with a pig.

While Filipino cuisine may not be as diverse or storied as other food from the Pacific, it is good and has its own unique flavors. And now we have Maharlika.

Maharlika is a new Filipino restaurant in the East Village. It is as good a calling card for, and intro to, Filipino cuisine as you will get. The moment you walk in the door you are warmly welcomed by the owners and staff. The place is decorated with family photos and traditional Filipino totems. It is fun, quirky and comfortable. For those not familiar with Filipino food they will give you a quick crash course.

Once you see Tang on the cocktail menu and Spam on the dinner menu you understand that you are in the hands of people that love their culture but don't take it to seriously. A creative cocktail menu should be your first order of business. Start with a Pacquiao's Punch, named after the great Filipino fighter, to loosen you up and get you in the right frame of mind. Then it is time to tackle the food menu. Here are a few highlights:

A hot dog is not something one usually thinks of as an appetizer, but The Longga Dog makes the case that this has been a huge oversight. Meaty and spicy with atchara (pickled unripe mango) and bagoong (fermented fish, shrimp and salt) mayo, it is must for any hot dog lover. It is substantial enough for two people to share.

Two fried spring rolls, impossibly long and thin, make a play for dominance in the spring roll wars.

Kare Kare is a hearty, meaty dish that features oxtail braised in peanut butter served with long beans, batchoy and eggplant. It tastes just like it sounds, and it is good.

Grilled batchoy (bokchoy) is smoky and delicious, a perfect side for the hearty food.

Then there is the Sizzling Sisig. Pig ears, snout and belly (broiled, grilled, sauteed), served on a hot skillet with rice mixed in. I am not a die hard, tip to tail eater. I thought twice about ordering this. Thank God I did. It is delicious. The meat is all finely chopped, mixed with a magical assortment of condiments that turn it into a dish that defies expectations. Get it. Devour it. Smile.

A note about eating at Maharlika. They will present you with various condiments throughout the meal that are intended for specific dishes. Use them. They transform dishes from good to great, even sublime.

By the end of my first meal there I had met and talked with two of the owners, one of the chefs, the bartender and other staff. When Nicole, one of the owners, started playing 80s club music and Latin Freestyle I knew I was home. Maharlika will make you feel full, happy and at home as well. Anyone know where  can get a wooden shield with weapons of the Philippines for my living room?

Maharlika - 111 First Avenue (Seventh Street)