Friday, January 30, 2009

Miller's Gin, Vesper, Eva - Who I Like To Spend My Friday Night With

"Nobody does it better" than a Vesper

It's Friday and I am counting the hours. I'm giddy today as I am recovering from a cough and I finally got sleep last night. I have high expectations for tonight because, you see, I have a love affair with Gin. Gin is basically a grain and cane sugar distilled spirit that is flavored with botanicals and almost always with juniper berries. It is easily one of the most distinguishable and definitive spirits due to it's distinct ability to inhabit the essence of its ingredients. Gin always has an omnipresent refreshing bitterness coupled with different profiles and tastes that can present a symphonic harmony of botanicals, herbs and exotic spices. Gin comes in a few different forms including the classic London Dry, Plymouth, Sloe and it's comeback cousin Genievre. Here are some basic details:

juniper berries

London Dry: the most common form of gin and the gin you get when you ask for "gin." In other words, your daddy's gin.

Plymouth: a slightly sweeter variant of London Dry, but still a relatively dry gin. The difference some say is the cleaner, softer finish at the end, which, to me, makes it a wonderful martini gin.

Sloe: take out the juniper and add sloe berries (cousin of plums apparently) and you get this somewhat syrup colorful gin. Once considered the bastard of the gin family, sloe gin hit a revival a year or so ago and quickly got ignored again.

currently the trendy "in" gin, you can find Bols Genievre at many well stocked nicer bars. It is a slightly sweeter softer Dutch style gin that is very easily sipped straight or with a splash of citrus. It is what I call the "pretty" or "sexy" gin. It even sounds sexy... pucker your lips in a French mocking accent and say Jen-nee-verr. Grrr.

Side story, I met a Bols Geneviere (from Cattani Imports) rep at Zinnia who was quite nice. Offered to have myself and my chef friend over at Absinthe for an industry introductory lunch, but then days later, told me there wasn't any space and never returned my call about a wait list. I may not stock Bols Genievre at my future restaurant for that reason, there's a Montreal based one that I like just as much. That's how I roll, Bols Genievre.

Today, gins are becoming more complex and bars are beginning to finally pay attention to the needs of gin drinkers. Thank goodness, because I cannot drink Tanqueray and Sapphire anymore - two of the worst gins in the market. Here is a lover's breakdown and some basic preferences I have:

The Trophy Wife: Miller's Gin

A gin after my own heart. THE gin. Balance, flavor, complexity, finish all come together to make for a simple beautiful gin. It is a masterpiece and the makers call it to be “born of love, obsession and some degree of madness." I believe them wholeheartedly. I tested, mother approved.

Puppy Love: Hendrick's Gin

One of the most floral of gins, Hendrick's is my reminder of the turning point between what is a crush or flirtation into a full belief of true love. It always brings about warm feelings of discovery and bittersweet loss - a sentiment beautifully explained in its sweet rose and cucumber scent.

The Jilted Lover: Old Raj Gin

A gin that punishes you if you try to dismiss it. For all its refined flavor and tinted appeal, it is a punishing blow to your senses. It is both strong and soft and it speaks straight at you without warning. There is nothing you can do but be drawn to it. The tint in the gin comes from the infused saffron and the gin possesses a earthy zest to it at a 110 proof. The best word to describe this gin is probably: haunting.

The Librarian: Plymouth Gin

Do not look past this pleasantly affordable and subtle gin. It's secret and subtle hidden good looks can explode into a freaky and seductress night of debauchery when given the chance to shine. Remember, served with glasses up, dressed with something sweet (vermouth that is), lace with something zesty and you have a hidden gem. Plymouth encompasses all the things you would want in your gin and in a woman - a nice smooth and easygoing personality that plays well with others.

The Passionate, Exotic, (sometimes Bitchy) Hot French Model Girlfriend: G'Vine Gin

A Gin that drives you CRAZY. Cool, smooth, sexy, fragrant, exotic and assertive - this gin takes no prisoners. Once it perches at the tip of your lips, it's fragrance and taste is hypnotic. It tastes like a sunset summer afternoon in a cardamom field and it will dominate not only your weak mind, but the complete attention of anything that decided to even sit in the same glass. The sweetness is very exotic as the gin is distilled with the assistance of grape, which seems to pronounce the floral elements of the botanicals. You'll wake up in the morning and find the need to scream her name on a mountain top.

The Stand-In, The Rebound, The "She's A Great Girl, But": No. 209 Gin

No. 209 is a fantastic gin. It's definitely not hard to appreciate and love. It's the type of gin that you never mind spending time with and it leaves you satisfied and fulfilled. You appreciate 209 because it is wonderful, balanced and fragrant, but, sadly, there is no passion or distinctive attribute there. We'll always be close and we'll be very good friends.

Favorite Gin Drinks

Gin is not the hardest to spirit to pair, but it is often hard to pair properly, unlike say vodka which seems to pair with almost anything (because its essentially flavorless). Creating a suitable gin drink often requires a person to be very in tune with their own palette because everything about gin is about subtlety. E.g. Too much liqueur or juice may overcast the gin, too little and your acidity isn't balanced. Shaking causes bruising (think basil and mint) and off flavor. Too little stirring causes an an uneven release of botanicals. It's finicky I admit. Here are some of my own favorite gin drinks.

The Vesper (without the Betrayal, i.e. vodka)
-3 parts G'Vine Gin
-1 part lillet
-dash of bitters
-lemon peel to garnish
Serve very cold, serve up

The Liason (my very own favorite drink, have to trademark it)
-2 parts Miller's Gin
-2 parts Grapefruit
-splash of Lillet
Serve on ice on tall glass

-3 parts Hendrick's
-1 part apple juice
-splash elderflower liqueur
-1 squeeze of lime
-lime peel for garnish
Muddle mint, add juice, liqueur and Hendrick's, stir and serve in tall glass with ice

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Beautiful Breakfast and Dim Sum Explained

Eggs in a Basket

I have a love affair with savory breakfast. As you can see above, that includes the fabulous "eggs in a basket" that I made this fabulous Sunday morning. Eggs, english muffins, sausage, bacon, fried taters, grits are all big in my book. So today's blog is all about random breakfast items. The most recent being a beautiful log of food porn called The Bacon Explosion, as shown below. This was courtesy of a recent NY Times article detailing exactly what this perfect storm of meat is. As seen here.

Now there has only been a few things I've cooked in my life equaled the sheer baconiness of this and one of them happens to be a heart-stopper called Bacon Cubed - essentially, bacon on bacon on bacon. I guess now I feel somewhat challenged to bust out the Bacon Cubed in an effort to topple this Bacon Explosion. I will not be out-baconed. Look for Bacon Cubed on this blog shortly.

Another one of my favorite breakfast genres or styles, if you want to call it, is Dim Sum. In an effort to do a rather lame dim sum story for Chinese New Years, the SF Chronicle recently went to 46 dim sum restaurants apparently and decided to note 31 of them. See here. I know and love dim sum - more than most people. In fact, I have sought out dim sum in almost every notable Chinese populated city in the US and Canada, and I have tasted my fair share of great dim sum in China and Hong Kong. While I may not be any type of certified expert, I'd fail to believe there are many others who can claim to have ventured through as much dim sum as I have.
With that said, the Chronicle's article is a good introduction piece to dim sum, but I'd forgo most of the guide and I have no idea what the point of having Cecilia Chang offer insight on something almost completely out of her expertise. Dim sum, as stated in the article, is a southern Chinese specialty.
Sadly, many of the places listed would not fall anywhere close to my list, though I myself have not tried all 31, but I fail to believe any 1 of the contributors has either. They included take out dim sum and bakeries as well, which never have the quality or selection of a restaurant - so that 46 is probably a inflated number. It is a daunting task to go to that much dim sum, but I am sure that I have been to close to 15 of the most reputable and recommended places and a good dozen other dim sum take-out places in the Bay Area. While it may be fun to go place to place, it is more important to have THE place to go to - namely the best regular place that you look forward to going to every weekend. There is an evaluating criteria for where you go and it is this:

No dim sum place has the best of everything. There are over 40 items in a big restaurant dim sum menu and most places have all the basics and many specialities or Chinese regional specialties (depending on the specific style of dim sum restaurant, e.g. Chiu Chau, Hakka, HK, Guangzhou). A simple way to explain this would be to evaluate HK Flower Lounge versus The Kitchen. Less than a mile apart, both restaurants are specifically dim sum places, but due to varying regional styles they vary a lot in terms of flavor, presentation and even cooking approaches to common dishes. Cart versus ticket ordering is not a style difference, it is a restaurant management and diner's subjective preference.
The true mark of finding a great place is to locate one with a lot of depth. The basics have to obviously be great, but all the others have to also be very good and consistent. Going to a place with only a few great items from your favorites list will get very boring and wildly inconsistent in terms of quality. It is very hard to find a place where you enjoy almost everything they have to offer.
There are also a set of specific rules (unspoken things to look for) that are designated for proper dim sum evaluation. Different items have different criteria attached, e.g. the wrapper of a shrimp dumpling (har gau) itself is a 4 part breakdown: mouthfeel, texture, elasticity and thickness. The more places that you try yourself, the pickier you may start to feel about different dim sum items.
Price matters. It is not always about the cash, but it is about the value. Dim sum places vary in prices widely, so there for a $2 dish made here may end up costing close to $3 somewhere else. And, the worst part is that the $3 dish will inevitably taste worse. It's not about being cheap, it's about feeling like you can get great value. Yank Sing, Ton Kiang and Koi Palace are not really for me.

Without further ado, some of my favorites in the Bay Area - 1 of which is my regular place:
Favorite Overall Dim Sum In The Bay Area:
S&T Seafood Restaurant (Sunset)
Favorite Regional Style Dim Sum In The Bay Area:
The Kitchen (Millbrae)
Favorite Classic Old School Dim Sum Offered In The Bay Area/Favorite East Bay Alternate:
Gourmet Delight (Oakland)
Favorite Economic Value Place:
Golden River (Richmond)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mission Street Food, Foo

I know this is the third post of the day and I'm at work, but actually I found and uploaded this stuff last night, just been trying to keep track of it all. Here is a Mission Street Food update from the Inauguration Night last Thursday. As I mentioned before, the event was loads of fun and the line was backed up 50 people deep most of the night. Here are some shots of random things during the night and some visiting friends as well.

It also happens my camera does not like taking decent photos of anything but food, so sorry if anyone's picture looks like ass. I probably normally would not post these, but, eh, a photo journal is a photo journal. I'll try to add self deprecating commentary on how bad those pictures are. Sorry if I have shots of the back of people's heads and asses, I didn't really bother with poses. Posing is boring, shaky blurry pictures rock... um, yeah.

Early FOH meeting. It's blurry because it's stylish. Everyone was actually going into Riverdance in circle formation to start the night. It's tradition. See what you miss behind the scenes?

Some friends visited at the end of the night. These two guys were just having an intense conversation with all our female porn star friends.
Sorry, I lost those photos.

End of night, restored order in Lung Shan restaurant.
Classy joint that it is. White linens bitches.

A health end of night midnight family meal full of wieners, bacon-y rice, suggestively looking pie and bourbon laced corn bread.
Jameson is NOT on the menu.

"Hi, I'm Emma, who cooked and most importantly toggled the switch on the electric panel."
Sorry Emma, the picture sucks, but at least I remembered your name.

Rockets Red Glare, oh sweet sweet lardo.

Jason Bigg's Favorite Food Porn.

"Dude, you need to stop the flash on the camera,
I might drop and break these plastic glasses."

"Hmm, look at that tasty water."
It will still be there when Leif (blue shirt) cooks this week.
You can also spot and see Anthony smiling in the back...
that's because he just saved a bunch of money from Geico.

Little Gordon Ramsey Is A Riot.

I just found these clips and found them to be fantastic. Enjoy. And no, not all chefs are blatant dicks.

Market Report from Saturday 1/24

This week, the market was looking fantastic. There was an overabundance of citrus, early baby Romaines, a bunch of spicy cress greens, colorful chard, small napa and savoy cabbages, lots of early onions and even some big artichokes. It was a very nice morning stroll and I managed to pick up some very nice stuff for a hotpot dinner that night. My bounty included: baby carrots, big rye seeded loaf of bread, chickweed, ancho cress, tat soi, itty bitty mini potatoes and blood oranges. Picture seen below.