Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Corner, Huntington Beach

The Corner might the place to beat and I am only 3 weeks into this experiment. After living in Orange County, CA for just under a year, I have conversations with two knowledgeable  bartenders. And Josh and Matt both work at The Corner.  This place will be open for two years on June 15, 2013.  

As you pull into the ample parking lot, the first thing you’ll notice is the unusual yellow paint on the storefront. Inside you’ll find a nice, very sparcely decorated bar that runs the length of the room with a second perpendicular bar perpendicular running to the right.  There's one modest sized television at each end of the bar (dining room is off the second leg of the bar).  The couple who arrived seconds before I did were trying to arrange other patrons at the first side so they could sit together (even though the entire second side was almost empty). I just grabbed the seat at the front end near the door.  

Matt comes down and asks me what I'd like. A perfect manhattan. I go into my usual spiel about my preferences. When I inquire what the house bourbon is, he tells me The Corner doesn't use house bourbon in their manhattans. They make them with Buffalo Trace because they like to kick it up a notch.

According to their website, Buffalo Trace, which operated out of Franklin County, Kentucky, is still family owned and operated.  Like McCormack Distillery, they claim to be the oldest continuously operating distillery in America (also making whiskey for "medicinal purposes" during Prohibition). They have won an unmatched seven "Distillery of the Year" titles.

Their website is pretty pedestrian and repetitive until you get to the Buffalo Trace Saloon.   There you'll find tons of recipes and not just for drinks.  I'm anxious to try Chocolate Bourbon Creme Bundt Cake.

Josh is the bartender who ends up making my manhattan. Right off the bat, I’m impressed. He fills my cocktail glass with what I later learn is soda water (because, he tells me, it chills the glass faster) and ice. He stirs a few drops of bitters into my drink and I think I fall a little in love with him (How many places in OC do this without being told? My estimate after a year is a big fat zero).  And over it comes. It's a much richer gold than my photo indicates.  My only, minor, issue is the twist which is a thick, untwisted peel of lemon. 

He volunteers that they use Carpano Antica and Noilly Prat. Carpano Antica red or sweet vermouth comes from the same Italian producer of Punt e Mes (can't find an English version so this link will only work for Italian speakers). It is made from an original recipe by Antonio Benedetto Carpano, the man credited with creating modern vermouth in Turin in 1786. Carpano originally developed vermouth by mixing herbs with a base wine and then sweetening it by adding spirit. His new drink proved so popular that soon his shop had to stay open 24 hours a day to satisfy demand.

Noilly Prat's recipe was created by Joseph Noilly in 1813 in the south of France. His daughter and the widow of his partner, Claudius Prat, Anne-Rosine, took over the family business in 1865. It's unusual to find a woman running a business around this time and even more unusual for the business to be spirits.  She is credited with Noilly Prat Original Dry being the first dry vermouth to be exported to influential markets around the world.

My manhattan ($7 during happy hour – daily 4-7 pm) has a slightly sweet smell and is slightly sweet taste on the first roll on the tongue but it’s got a nice bite to it.  Matt so quickly recommends the charcuterie ($10) when I ask if I should get that or the fish taco ($1.50 each), that I order it.  It’s a decent sized plate filled with marinated mushrooms, baby pickles, two types of cheese (one a cheddar and another, softer, mellower cheese), salami and prosciutto, about 6 pieces grilled bread lightly brushed with olive oil and some mustard.   Very decent and plenty of it.  When Matt brings the plate, he asks how the manhattan is compared to Boston.  Did I tell him that or is he psychic? 

Both bartenders check on me throughout the evening and I am well pleased with everything about this place. Would it be wrong to just have 49 more manhattans here? I am sorely tempted but I will soldier on.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Saddle Ranch, Costa Mesa

So sad; so lonely.  No coaster, no twist.  
That is how my drink was presented to me one recent evening at the newly opened Saddle Ranch in Costa Mesa. 
I was not overly impressed with anything about this place except the company I was with.  The waitresses were dressed like hootchie mamas which, in general I could care less about, but when it’s combined with, I won’t even say bad service, because the service was non-existent; it’s just a little too much to ignore. 
I ordered my drink from the bar.  The house bourbon is McCormack.  McCormack Distilling Company of Weston, MO has the distinction of operating continuously at the same location longer than any other distillery in the United States (since 1856).  During prohibition, they produced whisky for medicinal purposes.
Bartenders in bandanas man the bar.  Oh, oh.  What is he pouring into the cocktail shaker from the soda dispenser?  Whiskey sour mix…from the soda dispenser?  Really?  So he tosses that and asks me how I want my manhattan.  I don’t know; how about how any bar guide instructs?  Just bourbon and vermouth, straight up with a twist. And a glass of water, please.  So there you go, you see what I get.  It’s a little sweet and a little watered down by this point but it’s $6.75.  I have to ask for water two more times.  The young man is young enough to be my son but he calls me sweetheart nonetheless.  Make my way to my table where my friends are trying to flag down wait staff left and right. 
In its favor, Saddle Ranch has a nice outdoor patio with the bar right there but doesn’t have much else to recommend it.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Center Field Sports Bar, Huntington Beach

Jim Beam is the house bourbon at Centerfield Sports Bar in Huntington Beach.  Did you know that Jim Beam has been making their standard bourbon for 217 years.  No, that's not a typo. 217 years.  It was originally bottled and sold as Old Tub and only changed to Jim Beam in 1943.

The female bartender on a recent Tuesday was pleasant.  When I order a manhattan, she inquires if I want sweet vermouth.  Any fruit? She offers orange. That could be interesting but something I think I'll experiment with at home.  I opt for sweet and dry vermouth since they have both and a lemon twist.  She pours the bourbon up to the 3/4 mark on a large tumbler filled with ice.  And this is when I am really impressed; she listens (not a skill that is very common amongst Orange County bartenders that I have met so far).  She pulls out both bottles of the standard Martini & Rossi and gives each a small pour just as I requested.  After a vigorous shake, she pours the drink into the appropriate cocktail glass (something that I don't always get).  She puts one of those red stirrers in the glass and puts her finger over the top and tastes the contents of the stirrer.  Her reaction, "Whoa!" Yup, I reply, that's exactly the reaction I want to have.  I take my own taste and yes, this is a good manhattan.  $6.75?  This is a very good manhattan.

The bar itself is not much to write home about.  It's a typical sports bar - several TVs over the bar.  There's an older clientele at the bar; in the dining room, the are some younger guys playing darts and a family at a table. Food is typical sport bar fare; burgers, sandwiches, comfort food (no opinion on that other than a companion complained the sliders were burnt).