Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Confessing My Love for a 22-Year-Old

Last night for my 50th birthday, my wife and I shared a 22-year-old. I have to admit to some anxiety before the first taste, as I had been thinking about this 22-year-old for years, hoping after I had bought it that I'd taken proper care of it, that it would live up to its promise, the weight of waiting. What if I'd done something wrong and ruined it along its journey to maturity? I'd never forgive myself. But now that it was at last mine, plush and luscious in my mouth, I have to admit, it was very very good.

Wait, you might be confused...I'm talking about a bottle of 1991 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon. It was the first expensive bottle of wine I ever bought, perhaps almost $40 back in 1995 (ah, those innocent, cheaper me days), and I've been storing it ever since, assuming there'd be a right time, a right steak (come to think of it, I was a pescatarian when I bought it). I would not want to begin to count the bottles of wine I've purchased/consumed since then, as the Montelena bided its time. Perhaps it felt it was waiting for me, too.

It was a relief bringing the bottle to a restaurant for corkage, as I didn't have to do the opening honors and face the fear of the cork crumbling or the cork lifting and emitting a damp cardboard tinge that might mean taint. The cork itself pulled clean, and was well-reddened, so it seems I stored the bottle relatively well. Not a whiff of TCA, either. And now the Cab sat, an open question, drinking air from a century different than the last it had contact with. We had cocktails to start, as this was Sly's, and you don't pass on Mandy's cocktails even for a 22-year-old.

Finally it was time, and we had much to toast to as it wasn't just my birthday, but my wife had just been named Santa Barbara Poet Laureate--a glorious coincidence for the bottle to be part of. Its color carmine even to its edges--not a bit of brown even for its age. The nose was muted, although that keep changing with the night, some red berry, some leather. The taste, of all things, dignified, although again as it opened more and more it let its wild side out, more bramble in that berry. And it left your mouth better than when it began, teaching your tongue how to taste, making my medium rare Kansas City New York bone-on beef in a drizzle of Bearnaise beautiful.The bottle just kept opening, a night of possibility, growing fuller, deeper, more delicious. As if I needed another lesson in how the best things in life are worth a wait.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

S.B. Barrels Aren’t Just for Wine Anymore

It turns out making moonshine — and bourbon and vodka and gin — is a family business. That’s what Steve Gertman, president and master distiller at the new Ascendant Spirits, has discovered. Gertman left a career as a television producer for automotive-oriented programs to open Santa Barbara’s first legal full distillery since Prohibition. “I suckered my dad into the business, so like our neighbors Figueroa Mountain, we’re a son-father business,” Gertman relates. “My dad is a several-times-over entrepreneur and had always been pushing me to do that. And with all the playing around with speeding cars, my mother was very pleased I changed to a nice safe profession like distilling.”

Want to read the rest then do so at the Indy's site.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I Got Younger and Younger

Turns out I blogged too soon, and with another attempt at it, I ended up with a whistle wet with Pliny the Younger after all. The sublime Blind Lady Ale House in San Diego--which exists in the brilliantly named neighborhood Normal Heights (that's a goal for life if anything is)--pre-sells their Pliny allotment. Through Brown Paper Tickets, which doesn't charge too much extra and gives a bit of that back to charity, too. That's where BLAH's profits went also (oh, and they call themselves BLAH even if they're anything but), to a literacy group called Room to Read. So it was all win-win.

Especially when at 6 pm the Friday night the tickets went on sale my purchase sailed (saled?) through flawlessly. That meant we had to be at BLAH Sunday, March 10 between 11 am and 12 noon, get checked off the list, and get our tickets for a .25L glass of Pliny the Younger and a .25L glass of Pliny the Elder. People really seem to be into the mini-flight presentation of Pliny this year. I like people. You can see our tickets at this entry's heading.

We did have a tiny bit of a problem, end-of-the-alphabeters that we are. They really wanted to be sure no one bought multiple drinks for him or herself (it was about 65% guy/35% gal if you were wondering--the cult of hops definitely leans male), so I went back in and changed the name of my wife's ticket to be under her own name. And it seems Y-o, coming after Y-a, also pushed her off the list onto a new page...they forgot to print. So we had a teeny-tiny "don't tell me this is going to go wrong" moment, but they let us both in and BLAH owner Lee Chase himself very kindly helped sort stuff out. As you can tell from the photo, all's well that ends with beer.

Is Younger worth all the fuss? It is a sublime beer (it's on the right, Elder on the left). Stick your nose over your glass and it seems like you have walked into a pine forest, that much lovely resiny hops hit you. I almost would be happy just sniffing the stuff all day. The taste is the same, rounded with floral notes. Russian River manages the balance impeccably, though, especially for a beer at 11% ABV. It seems nowhere that strong, lacking any alcohol spank at the back of the throat like some double and triple IPAs. Instead, its flavor lingers for a good thirty seconds like a fine wine. I drank it first, the Elder second, and it took the Elder about half the glass to assert itself as the brilliant beer it is; it's kind of like, "Yeah, Kelly Hogan, you sing great, but you need to back-up Neko Case, ok?"

So, is it worth the fuss? Depends upon how much fuss you want in your life, I guess. It's certainly cheaper and easier to get (if you don't mind a drive and some planning) than landing some Screaming Eagle Cab, say.

Even better, in addition to getting the original beer for your $15, you got a raffle ticket. You could buy more tickets for $5, so of course we did (for literacy!). Then they started pulling numbers, and each time the digits got close my Pliny-loving-heart skipped a beat. Keep pulling glasses, I thought. And they did, and did, and perhaps the fifth to last one was one of my tickets. So I got to have it all again.

The food's mighty good at BLAH, too, thick cut Belgian style frites with three excellent dipping sauces (all ketchup needs curry, evidently) are particularly useful for soaking up beer. And the pizzas are delightful, very thin crust yet crust with taste, and toppings like Bordeaux spinach. Plus the regular beer list always rocks, too--a Craftsman Cave Art managed to seamlessly blend a smoked beer and a sour, and that was mighty new and delicious.

Friday, March 1, 2013

This Post Took Weeks to Write, So I'm Not Going to Sweat for a Witty Title and Just Hit "Publish"

If you name your establishment The Barrymore, you're nodding to Hollywood Art Deco chic, an era before even what passed for swank in Las Vegas existed. You have to be talking about John; sorry Lionel, Ethel, and of course Drew, who might fit in again in that everything that goes around is hip once around again way. That's John romancing Lombard On the Twentieth Century, oddly avuncular to Claudette Colbert in Midnight, but an ever-elegant, witty, well-cleaned-up lush. As something to aspire to in Vegas, you could do much worse--if Barrymore sang (even a bit--right Deano?), and lived past 1942--he'd have made for an apt Rat Pack granddad, teaching Sinatra et al. some class.

This kind of "just being a little bit off it's on" is at the heart of The Barrymore, which isn't even Downtown, let alone on The Strip. If you walk there from what seems like civilization (down Caesar's way) you get into that creepy convenience store no man's land of Las Vegas Blvd. and Convention Center Drive where you half expect some meth heads to burst out a store's doors, trailing bills they've pilfered and peeling out in some ill-kept hot-rod. And The Royal Resort, the hotel that houses The Barrymore, is one of those motor lodge fixer-uppers that from the outside appears only to be a Days Inn with hipper lighting on its balconies.

Luckily, the Barrymore's got better things in store for you to the left off the hotel's lobby. You walk into the bar that's somehow both dim and glittery (they've got their lighting down). It's marble-topped, backed by a mirror (and booze of course), and the stools are leather and plush and you might even consider just stopping there. Particularly in December (sorry, I'm way behind in writing this entry), as there's an aluminum Xmas tree in one corner, ablaze in a rainbow thanks to that essential spotlight with its rotating color gels of magenta and carrot and lime and blue Yule cheer. It's worth heading into the dining room, though, with more mirrors with lamps bursting through to provide the perfect reflected light for you and your equally glammed out date. And the ceiling, best of all, is covered with 35mm film take up reels, just enough odd and even more so Hollywood.

That bar, by the way, isn't just for show--they've got an incredible cocktail program, one with respect for the classics and a yen for innovation (you can get a Bloody Mary with beef brisket infused vodka, a Margarita with St. Germain). I had a Barrymore--Gentleman Jack, Solerno Blood Orange liqueur, orange marmalade, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, orange bitters, orange zest--which sounds like too much but melded wonderfully (especially on a chill desert eve) and Chryss enjoyed the cleverly billed Basil 2--Basil Hayden, Dolin Dry vermouth, fresh sour, basil, and lemon syrup. 

Your server--perhaps you'll be lucky enough to get someone like Kendra, who waited on us--will be quick to figure out what you want and how that matches with what they have. That menu, if you look at the website, is relatively focused, but based on our admittedly just one visit, they like to augment that with specials perfect for the season.

And then we ate a ton. This is now a meal over 2 months ago, and while it was memorable, aren't even good meals more about moments than precise recall? And, of course, I remember my food more than my wife's, even getting a taste of everything she ordered. For instance, freed from California's stupidity about outlawing a food, I started with foie gras. A lovely lobe, pan seared,  atop some sweet potato pudding, and drizzled with maple glazed pecans and whiskey gastrique. Think of it as liver perched between dessert and Thanksgiving and enjoy it with a Sauterne by the glass. Chryss had a salad with a twist, featuring puntarella, which reads more suggestively than it tastes. She followed that with Mediterranean Sea Bass all done up for fall/winter, with crushed potato, roasted brussel sprouts, leeks, and a horseradish vichyssoise that was less soup than a fancy saucing. I ordered off menu, enjoying a homemade pasta with oxtail ragu and truffle, a dish so deep Carlos Castaneda might have been buried in there, tripping. It could have heavied-out, if you know what I mean--carbs with so much richness--but managed to hold the line at full of flavor without making me just full. The Altos Malbec might have helped--consider it, in this case, and as a compliment, Cab-light traipsing in with its Argentinian dust. We ended with a creme brulee for free as it was my lovely wife's birthday. So thanks, Barrymore, a class act that manages to ape an era without any irony.