Monday, June 17, 2013

Bandera, Los Angeles

Hip and happening, that’s the buzz you get when walking in this place - might be the worst restaurant website I’ve ever seen.  Bandera is part of the Hillstone Group chain.  After inquiring with the hostess, we are told that the quartet at the end is next on the list for available tables so we plant ourselves there.  We stand around the bar what seems like forever but it is really only about 45 minutes to get a seat.  What appears to be one guy leaving turns out to be two but a young hipster swoops in with this bottle of wine in a brown paper sack.  Date arrives 5 minutes later.  They turn out to be the earliest to get a table so I jump on the tables only to see my companion has already gotten two seats at the other end of the bar.  I don’t want to sit right on top of the jazz trio but don’t get a vote. 

Jason, our bartender, seems a bit put out that I am asking how he makes a perfect manhattan.  “Do you mean how we make it or how a manhattan is made?” I explain but get an unsatisfying answer: Maker's Mark and Punt e Mes, ¾ of vermouth.  This I assume to mean ¾ of a jigger but no idea of how much bourbon.  So I just say I’ll take that stirred with a twist.  I’m informed that they usually put a cherry in as well.  Just the twist is fine.  And a glass of water please.  He didn’t mention bitters and I forgot to ask.  I get a decent enough looking drink with no twist and no water.  But oooh, aaah is my first reaction.  He brings the water and twist on second request. 

If you go to the Maker's Mark website, you'll learn that Robert Samuels, the great-great-great grandfather of Maker's creator, Bill, fled to and first started distilling in Kentucky in the 1870s to avoid George Washington's Whisky Tax.  You'll also learn that the James boys (as in Frank and Jesse) were related to the Samuels. The distillery became America's first distillery to be registered as a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior in 1980.

Companion gets a dark and stormy but I get a pretty unenthusiastic “oh it’s great” when I inquire.  The woman on the other side of me is tormenting Jason with her wine order.  She wants something earthy...something earthy…something earthy.  When next I glance in that direction, he is serving her a cocktail of some sort.  I almost snort some of my manhattan out my nose, I’m trying so hard not to laugh.  I lean over and tell him that at least I wasn’t the most difficult customer he’s had all night.  He admits I was fun at being fussy.  I later ask her if she just gave up on the wine order but notice her male companion is the one with the wine.  He steps over and says it’s not great and he hates their wine glasses (which even to my uneducated eye seem excessively large and unwieldly). 

Jason continue to keep my water glass filled and what?  What is this?  A first other than when I do it for myself at home.  He brings over a newly chilled glass and pours what’s remaining in my glass after we’ve been sitting there a while. 

So a little rocky start turned out just fine but I probably don’t need to go to LA for a $14 cocktail.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Opah, Irvine

I get there before everyone else and have plenty of time to peruse the menu at Opah. Their happy hour is 4-7 pm and the bar is full but not standing room only crowded.  I was thrilled to see a manhattan on the menu.  OK, it's listed under the martinis but what are you going to do?  The cherry rye manhattans is made with George Dickel Rye, sweet vermouth and luxardo cherry syrup.

George Dickel Rye is made by, you guessed it,  Dickel Distillery.  It opened for business in 1870 in Cascade Hollow, Tennessee.  Dickel is the only Tennessee whisky to chill the whisky before it goes into the vats.  This process filters out the oils and fatty acids found in most whisky products.  When George died in 1894, his wife, Augusta and her family managed the business so successfully that they were Tennessee's largest distillery by 1904.  Prohibition began in Tennessee in 1903, nine years earlier than it went into effect on the federal level. It wasn't until 1958 that Master Distiller Ralph Dupps obtained Dickel's original recipes and methods and began making the whisky again.

Here's an interesting recipe from their website.


1.25 oz George Dickel® Tennessee Whisky No. 12

1 tbs. lemon juice

2 tsp. grapefruit juice

1.5 tsp. almond extract

1 peach slice

Combine ingredients except peach slice. Stir well, add ice, and decorate with peach slice.

Back to the matter at hand.  Opah has some interesting menu items (appetizers $7-15), entrees ($18-26) and a very nice drink menu ($7-12) . I decide that the cherry rye on the menu is probably going to be too sweet for me.  Kevin, the bartender, gives me a sip of the rye and it's quite nice.  I ask for equal amounts of sweet and dry vermouth, stirred with a twist and get a beautifully colored, perfectly prepared cocktail for $9 during happy hour and $10 at all other times (a bargain at either price).

My friend gets the anjou pear martini made with Smirnoff pear vodka, St. Germain, ruby red grapefruit juice, simple syrup and lemon.  It looks and sound delicious and my friend reports, "Fabulous."

I am torn between the beet salad (arugula, walnuts, shaved onion and goat cheese ($11) but decide on the prosciutto wrapped shrimp based on Kevin's enthusiastic endorsement ($11 during happy hour).  What this turns out to be is three individual caprese salads with the shrimp on top.  So good.  So so good. 

Friend is equally happy with the scallops over butternut risotto  entree ($26). With hay?

Kevin, who turns out to be from Massachusetts (can we get some grant money to investigate why these Mass men and women make the best drinks?) works Wednesday through Sunday.  He is attentive, checks on us after he brings drinks and food, keeps our water glasses filled, can carry on a conversation.  The other bartenders never acknowledged us.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Harp, Costa Mesa

The Dogs (as in Tijuana Dogs) were hot; the manhattan was not.  The reason to go to The Harp on Friday night was to dance the night away to the Tijuana Dogs.  Accomplished.

The drink ($8) was so uninspired in this very wrong and unfilled glass, that I just wanted to cry.  I don't think it's the Jim Beam they used that made it so weak.  I often use Jim Beam at home and the result is a kick ass cocktail. The bartender only poured a little Martini & Rossi vermouth in the shaker.  He started to shake but heard me repeat my request to stir over the dinner and then swirled (same as stirring? who knows?).  Even the guy next to me at the bar commented on the half empty glass.

Proceed to dancing on a very tiny and very crowded dance floor and all is good again.

So I'm going to turn this into a bonus post for this week - about cocktails made at home.  It was only a matter of time before Trader Joe's came out with a TJ's bourbon ($14.99 for 750 ml).  It's 45% alcohol by volume and bottled by Bourbon Square Distilling Company of Louisville, KY.

There is a slight "burn your throat" on the first sip which I like; and something I wasn't accustomed to, the same on the last.  

Nothing comes on for this company on google but several people are writing about TJ's bourbon.  Some interesting commentary here that for the price or slightly more, you can get some decent brand name bourbons.  I must, as they suggest, do some side-by-side comparisons before passing final judgement.  This may not be TJ's finest result, but I like that they makes these efforts to bring us a wide variety of high quality products for decent prices.