Last Night’s Dinner

I dunno whether anyone’s paying attention on this long holiday weekend, but my wife’s blog, Last Night’s Dinner, is down at the moment. I’m working on getting it back online, but there are mitigating factors too boring to mention that are complicating things.

Jen hasn’t gone away; in fact, the site outage is an unintended consequence of an LND redesign. So if you’re one of her loyal readers, fret not.


More local flavor

I never really finished my local-flavor MxMo post last week. Gunning up to the deadline, writing when I was already exhausted, and laughing at a night’s inebriation are all fine, but I slammed into a wall that told me it was time to hit the sack.

Had I continued, I’d have written about this wonderful thing:

It’s an heirloom martini, inspired by a drink of the same name that Jen ordered at Gracie’s restaurant, here in Providence. We’ve been to a number of restaurants and bars in Providence, and we’ve learned it’s hard to get a really great cocktail here. There’s some damn fine cuisine in Providence, but the bar programs are lagging behind the kitchens. You just see a lot of the same vodka-based craptails from place to place. I don’t know whether it’s the bar managers or the patrons who are so uninspired, but it’s disappointing.

I do want to talk about the exceptions, though, and Gracie’s is one. I arrived early to our dinner at Gracie’s on Thursday, the Seventh of August, so I took a seat at the bar to wait for Jen. Anter, the newly installed bar manager, was working the stick, and we got to talking. I started off by asking about rye. He had Sazerac, which he stirred for me into a Manhattan. He usually keeps Old Overholt and, when he can get it, Rittenhouse, but he doesn’t sell enough rye cocktails to go deeper than those three.

That branched out into a good discussion of spirits and cocktails in general. There’s little in cocktail-geekery that’s more fun than getting to know a good bartender who’s both smart and creative behind the bar. (As an aside, long-time readers might remember me talking about Jim, one of the bar guys at Dressler, in Brooklyn. I ran into Jim down at Tales of the Cocktail and was able to chat for a few minutes. The guy remembered Jen and me even though we hadn’t been in there since a couple of months before the move. He’s still got a damn good memory. We’ll have to get back there soon.)

Back to the business of that drink, though. While I was waiting for Jen, another man came in, approached the bar, and starting talking to Anter. He asked whether Anter still had “that heirloom martini” on the menu, and Anter said, “Yes, we do.” I looked for it immediately when Jen came in and we were seated and handed menus. Gin (or vodka), heirloom tomato water, and pickled tomatoes for garnish. That’s it. He may have used a touch of vermouth, too, but I didn’t taste any.

So that was pretty easy to re-create last weekend. Jen took an heirloom tomato, chunked it, wrapped it in cheesecloth, and suspended it in a mesh strainer over a bowl. She squeezed it from time to time, but mostly let the liquid drain out. I took a small amount, about half an ounce, and stirred it with cracked ice and 5-1/2 ounces of gin in a chilled mixing glass. Jen had previously pickled some small tomatoes, and we used them for garnish.

MxMo: Local Flavor

The challenge this month, thanks to Kevin at Save the Drinkers, is local challenge. Let’s see how Kevin defines that:

Option 1: Gather ingredients that are representative of the culture/geography/tackiness of your respective cities and make a drink with a truly place-based style. For example, huckleberries are native to the geographical area where I live, as are elderflowers, potatoes, and extremely conservative, closet-case politicians. (I’m just saying!)

Option 2: Dig up an old drink that came from your city and revive it! If you can find the original bar, that would be even more interesting.

I don’t know about you, but when I think “local flavor” and “New England,” the first thing I think of is seafood. The official vegetable of Rhode Island, after all, is the squid.*

But alas, there are few cocktail recipes that require seafood, unless you count the oyster shooter, which I don’t, frankly. And I haven’t settled in to Providence long enough just yet to know what’s representative of my city. Forbes tells me that Providence is fourth among the nation’s hardest drinking cities, but that doesn’t really tell me what Providence drinks. The 18th Amendment, which prohibited the sale, manufacture, and distribution of beverage alcohol, was ratified by all but two states–Rhode Island and Connecticut. But that still doesn’t tell me what Rhode Island drinks.

I don’t know what edible flora are native to Rhode Island. I don’t know what Roger Williams ate for dinner the day he founded Providence. So, aside from seafood, I don’t know much about the food culture of Rhode Island or Providence.

What I do know is what’s available to us from local farmers at the city’s farmers markets. I know what spirits are distilled in Rhode Island and its neighboring states. And I know how much Jen and I enjoy shopping our local farmers markets, especially in August, at the height of the season.

I’ve talked before about the benefits of making your own tomato juice for a Bloody Mary, but today, we’re going a little farther. Today, I can tell you that everything we could source locally, we sourced locally. Jen was tentatively calling our weekend’s concoction the Bloody Rhody, but that’s not quite accurate, as you’ll see. I’m dubbing it the Bloody Nor’easter.

For the Bloody Nor’easter, I started with local heirloom tomatoes, grown in RI and prepared as discussed in the previous link. I took two ounces of Triple Eight Vodka, distilled on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, and muddled two small hot peppers and a small handful of basil (both from the farmers market) into the vodka. I strained the solids out and returned the vodka to the mixing glass.This worked well because I got the flavors of the peppers and basil in the vodka without the solids mucking up the works. I could have achieved the same effect by steeping the peppers and basil in the vodka for some time, but I didn’t plan ahead.

I added four ounces of tomato juice (for two drinks), lime juice (not local, since citrus doesn’t grow in the Northeastern United States), Worcestershire (also not local), salt (also not local), some local Rhode Island Red hot sauce, and a secret ingredient.

What? Okay, I’ll tell you the secret. Remember how I said that few cocktails require seafood? Well, as any reputable Canadian might tell you, a tomato-based drink does well with a bit of seafood. The night before I assembled the Bloody Nor’easter, Jen had simmered up some Rhody clams with a bit of Trinity IPA (from a Providence brewpub) and some shallot. She reserved a bit of the clam-beer liquid for me before doctoring it up with spices and butter for our dinner, so I added a bit of that to the mix.

We served ’em up with a beer chaser. Jen chose the Trinity IPA from Providence, and because I don’t really dig on the IPA style, I selected the Hurricane Amber Ale from Coastal Extreme in Newport, RI.

I actually have another drink with local flavor, but I’m whizzing close enough to deadline and bedtime as it is. The second one will have to wait until later in the week.

*I kid, of course. I’m a squid kidder. RI has no state veg, and its state fruit is the Greening Apple, which won’t ripen for at least another month.

Shrubbin’ and shrubbin’

My fellow cocktail bloggers have been working on shrubs and gastriques for a while now. I don’t know why I’ve held off until now. Lack of ambition, perhaps. But I came back from Tales with a drive to try it out, and I’ll credit that impetus entirely to the Cabana Shrub.

Cabana Cachaça (link, NSFW) was a sponsor at Tales, and more specifically, Cabana sponsored both the Tales blog and the blogger meetup party at Tales. At the meetup party, Cabana served up two drinks: a traditional caipirinha and the Cabana Shrub.

No bullshit here: I could not get enough of the Cabana Shrub. My memory’s a little hazy, but I think I remember that Chicago bartender Bridget Albert came up with this drink. (Edited to add: Danielle Sarna, who represents Cabana at Nike Communications, confirms my memory on this. Bridget Albert did create the Cabana Shrub.)

It’s fabulous–balanced and refreshing, with each ingredient present but not overweening. I could taste the cachaça, the fruit, and the tarty vinegar, but no single element predominated. I kept going back for more, to the point where I honestly lost count of how many I drank. In a long weekend with many fine drinks, this one was among my favorites.

Here’s the recipe that Tales provided:

Cabana Shrub

  • 1-1/2 oz. Cabana Cachaça
  • 1 oz. Raspberry Shrub Syrup*
  • 1/8 oz. lime juice
  • 1 oz. Fever Tree Premium Ginger Ale
  • Sugar-cane stick, for garnish

Technique: Build in a short ice-filled glass. Top with ginger ale. Add garnish.

*Raspberry Shrub Syrup

  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 pints fresh raspberries
  • Splash of water

Technique: Bring ingredients to a boil. Stir. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain into a glass bottle.

When I tasted this drink, I had two reactions–Wow, this is good; and, Jen is going to love this.

By the time I got home, raspberry season had ended in our part of New England, but blueberries and gooseberries were going strong. So over the weekend I cooked up some shrub syrup, using champagne vinegar and a mix of gooseberries and raspberries. I tinkered a bit with the recipe, in part because I had no ginger ale/beer ready.

Modified Cabana Shrub

  • 1-1/2 oz. Cabana
  • 1 oz. Blueberry-Gooseberry Shrub Syrup (prepared in same proportions as Rasp. syrup above)
  • 1/4 oz. lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
  • 1 oz. soda water (mine, from my new seltzer bottle)

Technique: Build in a short ice filled glass. Garnish with nothing. (The printed recipe calls for sugar cane, but it wasn’t served that way at Tales, and how easy is it to find sugar cane sticks anyway?)