Friday, December 30, 2016

Sip This: Glen Scotia Whisky

 Glen Scotia Double Cask Whisky: One of only three distilleries in seaside Campbeltown, Glen Scotia is now part of the Loch Lomond distilling umbrella and therefore has more oomph in the market.

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

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Pasta Perfect

Italian food doesn't have it easy. I mean, the tricky part is it's everywhere like air, and I say that as someone who grew up in northern Jersey, where the air is heavier. Sure, we all like air, but it's easy to take for granted, and have you tried any of that pure oxygen? And I refuse to go to more exotic places, like denying yourself air for fun.

Turns out the air is rarer at Factory Kitchen. At the outer edge of the Arts District, when you approach it for the first time you're thinking much more factory than kitchen in a desolate area where stopping at stoplights makes you a tad nervous (and to get from it to DTLA, you'll pass through Skid Row, home of its own strain of TB). Inside it's still pretty factoried-out, but the owners wanted it that way, so that's a kind of charming. And the food is so much more than charming it ends up seeming some sort of oasis, a sense that even amidst massive concrete pillars this grace can happen.

Fro grace is the only word to describe mandilli di seta, that green pasta at the top of the photo above. This handkerchief pasta is where delicious and delicate deliquesce into one thing, a miracle of pasta flavor in something so fine. It's sauced in a Ligurian almond basil pesto with none of the sharp edges you might get in some hearty pesto, even the garlic refined, and the almond flavor much more interesting than pine nuts. Then that's the whole dish. It sort of threatens you to call it too simple, but it recalls the stories of a master artist, when asked to send sample work to get a commission, simply drawing one perfect circle of paint on paper in one quick brushstroke, and saying, "Take that to your patron." Of course perfection is simple--that's exactly why it's so easy to mess up.

The rest of the meal was delightful, too, from the raviolini di pesce you also see in that photo--much heartier dough, but sitting in a "crustacean sauce" that is as wondrous as that name might suggest, plus four exactly prepared mussels, none of that overcooked shellfish issue you so often get with pasta.

We started with another essay in the brilliance of simplicity, the cremosella salad, a mound of kale (really really good baby kale) and pea shoots (all of freshness) and green beans cooked miraculously to a tender-snap (what method?) in just enough dressing. And then creamy mozzarella, which is not burrata, and I didn't know existed (and can't confirm does anywhere else, if the internet can be trusted). Instead of cream in the center, like burrata, the inside is more like a brie-consistency, but still very much mozz. Seems healthier, and the chalkiness paired well with the acid and lemon in the dressing.

We all owe Italian places an apology. Of course, given the chef here--Angelo Auriana--worked at Valentino for nearly two decades, it's not odd he can make such ethereal food.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Circumference = Hip to Be Pie2

(photo borrowed from Serious Eats)

Trying to write about a spot that's been hyped to heaven and then backlashed back to hell until everyone sort of just got some common sense and said, "Damn good!" isn't easy. So I'm going to go for the naive approach and pretend I didn't know that Roberta's in Brooklyn, or should I say Bushwick (you see, this isn't some Williamsburg or Park Slope spot), has been praised to a degree hotter than its pizza ovens run.

So I just have to say, I want one. (Turns out there's a pop-up version in Culver City in LA for a few months, and I'm very interested. Road trip!) Sure, I got to go there with three of my favorite people, so that makes it all the more special, but I think Roberta's made us all the more special, too. And that's what we want from the best restaurants, no?

Heading in, you won't think it's special, though. As the New York Times put it, it's "bunkered behind a cinder-block facade of breathtaking ugliness," plus you enter through a door into a bitty wooden-glass vestibule covered with graffiti. It would probably scare many an old person away, and by old I mean at least 40% of me. But once inside, there's that loving hearth heat of the pizza oven, loud rock 'n' roll, communal tables, and that sense of fun you almost wrinkle your nose at, it's that palpable. Heck, amidst the easily accessible (if not particularly well-priced) bottles of available wine right behind your table is A Tribute to Grace, one of CA's best Grenaches, if far too little known. I feel very happily at home.

And while the by the bottle list is a bit dear (if very well curated), the cocktails, by the glass, and beer options all are first rate, too. I enjoy a Make It Nice, the deceptively simple name for a deceptively simple drink of gin, yellow chartreuse, and Aperol that is utter delight. We share all the food, because no one would want to miss a bit of anything, and start with charred autumn greens--no not the wreckage of the Jill Stein campaign, but tops of things you often only eat the bottoms of (that sounds sexier than I meant it to be), plus roasted new potato (the freshest of bright earth), laved in, of all things, Bearnaise. Now, as a steak eater, I'm no stranger to Bearnaise, but to have it in this context was revelatory, especially as they zipped it up with some horseradish, too (those potatoes say thanks). Lovely, simple dish.

On to the pizzas. You can have one with Brussel sprouts, so, we had to have one. I mean, Brussel sprouts out of a pizza oven? If they're best roasted, how amazing could that be? Pretty much pizza perfection, especially with caramelized onions, capers, chili, lemon, and then not just mozzarella, but this cheese called Alp Blossom--nutty and green and floral. (It's called the Nun on the Run...after Julie Andrews/Maria hightailing it across the Alps with kids in curtains? I guess.)

And then there was one of the specials, which turns out to be a regular special, as you can Google it and find internet drool--the Baby Sinclair. This is the food that will make any kale hater find love for the leafy green god. Because, again, high high, quick heat. And, of course, cheese--both Parmesan and a better than usual cheddar called Prairie Breeze from Milton, IA (they did not make this when I lived in IA or I still might be there, as I'd be too fat to leave after eating so much cheese). Garlic, maitake mushrooms (notice you never get any ingredient 101 here), Banyuls vinegar. And then Calabrian chilis, enough to ratchet up the heat in that slow but heck, yep that's sort of burning way.

But I've neglected to talk dough, and, of course, to do so with pizza is like to skip talking about "oh, my! how the hell did this happen?" with our president elect who lost the popular vote by 2.5 million. Roberta's dough turned me into Colin Clive mighty fast. Elastic and lovely and salt and chew all in thin you'd think couldn't hold anything. It rivals what Nancy Silverton has come up with at Pizzeria Mozza on this coast--I'd love ot have a just out of the oven taste-off of both (and the winner is?! ME!).

I also want to give a shout out to the beer we shared a pitcher of, because, c'mon, pizza! Kings County Brewers Collective, housed mere blocks away from Roberta's in Bushwick (historically once a huge brewing center for the US, actually), based on its Robot Fish No. 2 IPA, is doing some amazing things. The beer could fall into CA's beloved Alpine's roster easily, managing to be not huge (6.1% ABV) yet full of flavor, resiny and citrusy and happy to be had with some delicious melted cheeses.

The fine beer had nothing to do with my appreciation of our server Marcus, who had the tough job of hearing us over the big booming soundtrack of the place, while not being able to be on both sides of our long picnicky table at once. He never missed an order, explained wonderfully well, was there just when you needed him. So while this might be a sort of heart of hipsterdom, there's no attitude. Plus we had the amazing luck to get right in when we showed up, but it was a Monday evening, so that probably didn't hurt. Sorry to all of you who have ever waited here, but if you finally got in, I can't imagine you were the least bit cranky upon leaving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Just What the Apothecary Ordered


So yeah, it might seem frivolous to still blog on about food, wine, and drink while, perhaps, America as we love it gets coated in Fascist Cheeto Dust. But there are several good arguments against such a claim. First, you'll take my delicious delights when you pry them from my cold dead fingers. Second, all protest and no rest and relaxation makes George a crazed boy. Third, as the Titanic went down, Ben Guggenheim, after putting his mistress in a lifeboat, returned to his stateroom and re-appeared dressed in full evening wear. Rumor has it he also sent this message along with one of the few survivors: "If anything should happen to me, tell my wife in New York that I've done my best in doing my duty." (You read those two sentences correctly, promise.) He then had a cognac and a cigar.

Welcome to Apothéke. Hidden in the warren that is Manhattan's Chinatown (next to the oldest continually serving dim sum place in town, actually, and also recommended), it's in a spot that looks backlot, with its corners and buildings so perfectly out of Rear Window almost. But it's far from low rent: The Prescription List, as they call the menu, doesn't have prices, so there's that (drinks turn out to be $16-$18); if you can't afford the medicine, welcome to the world of Trump (bye bye ACA!).

The interior is speakeasy delightful with scientific touches (let's not call it steampunk so I can feel better about it)--rich wood floors, padded walls, low banquets, some brick, a dark tin ceiling, and lights made with apothecary-style bottles. The bartenders wear lab coats and you don't talk to them, even if you order from the bar; they're better you, and their drinks will prove it. A good half the menu attests to their devotion to absinthe, which of course adds to the thrillingly cool "is this the last bar one of Jack the Ripper's victims imbibed in" vibe.

Apothéke's drinks do something that's hard to do--surprise yet still remain drinkable. Sure, someone could spin up a never-before-tasted concoction of navy strength gin, peaty scotch, a vermouth you've never heard of, egg white, and shrimp paste, but then you realize, "Hey, there's a reason I never heard of this." And your next thought is, "And where's the bathroom?"

While adventurous, Apothéke nails balance every time in drinks that sum up their parts as opposed to give you a series of waves of tastes. Take the Faerie's Tale, made of absinthe, gin, cucumber syrup, honey, lemon, egg white--nothing too unexpected, but then also--muddled green bell pepper and watercress. That green gives the drink a striking color greener than any absinthe could, but also grounds the drink, giving it a pleasing pepper core (that watercress is peppery too).

They like their farmers market, they do; take the Stolen from Eden, made with gin, snow pea, dill, basil, pink and black peppercorn, lime, and agave. I'm not sure exactly their process in juicing the veggies, or marinating them, or whatever the process, but they consistently manage to get flavor highlights that sparkle and please without ever getting any fibrousness, or even any of the off-characters a green pepper can bring to alcohol (just ask a winemaker with too much pyrazine in their cabernet).

And how could you go wrong with a Catcher in the Rye of rye, Amaro Nonino, hand-made honey and chamomile cordial, and peated scotch mist, or with a Paid Vacation of mezcal, tequila, hickory smoked pineapple, muddled cucumber, agave, habanero bitters, and fresh lime? These are drinks just familiar enough, but then even more complex than their more familiar cousins (chamomile! hickory smoked pineapple!).

They also garnish cleverly and inventively, with a pineapple frond in that Paid Vacation, a green pepper round in the Faerie's Tale, a basil leaf balancing pink peppercorns in the Stolen from Eden like a cocktail decked out early for Christmas.

And then we had to try this one, after realizing we were in the hands, and shakers, of masters--the Siren's Call of Ford's gin (that's the house gin), roasted seaweed, cucumber, squid ink, fresh ginger, with a smoked black sea salt rim, plus a mussel shell with a pearl that turned out to be rock candy. A bit murky in look but not as black as you might guess from the squid ink, it had a bracing oceanic oomph to it while still staying in balance, with the smoky notes helping--delightful firewater, you might say. Fascinating.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Figuring the Falls


Five days after the election that couldn’t have happened, I’m standing at the edge of the Great Falls in Paterson, NJ. It’s a subtly spectacular place, as befits New Jersey, 77-feet of drop. That’s enough to be second to Niagara east of the Mississippi as something, but still almost paltry, too. You have to keep sneaking up on it to see its widest spill, so at first it’s sort of ho-hum. But you also can’t miss the noise, the thud into thunder, the basalt’s back ever broken. It’s little surprise one might decide to turn its tune into a manufacturing hum. (We’ll get to Alexander Hamilton in a sec.)

Still, trying to wrap my mind around the words President-elect Trump, it’s easy to imagine my country tumbling down the cataracts that were the heart of the nation’s original industrial core, just as this city itself fell from manufacturing grace. Paterson might be the first oxidized stop on the Rust Belt if it hadn’t just kept accepting immigrants – the turn of the 20th century Italians gave way to African-Americans to Peruvians to Turks to Muslims from across the Arab world – it’s even nicknamed Little Ramallah. My guess is they didn’t vote Donald.

But of course at the right angle the Falls’ spray wisps into vivid rainbow, so there’s that. Always the soupçon of hope. Of course we’re visiting in the fall, so the Falls themselves are less great than they can be post winter run-off, but as a Californian now, a lack of water simply seems the norm. Everything American that should be abundant has seemed to run dry – care for others, community reaching to larger community, common sense, and out west, even water. Like the clouds can’t even bring themselves to cry for us.

But Paterson is a practical palimpsest of almighty America. It really was the cradle of U.S. industry, largely thanks to Hamilton’s vision and the elegantly named Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures, shorted to the acronym SUM even though it didn’t quite fit (and somehow that’s American too). Lin-Manuel Miranda has done the rest of the work for Hamilton, of course, but as the National Parks pamphlet puts it, “In Paterson, Hamilton created what we have come to call the American Dream.”


The town was Silk City into the early 20th century, it manufactured so much fabric, looms zipping with hydro-power, immigrants finding jobs, owners wanting more and more. So, of course, strikes. These did not go well – police bashed strikers mostly fighting for an eight-hour day. And manufacturing got too good for workers, as even then they got replaced by machines, or their jobs got shipped south. Nobody made them any protected trade deals.

But there’s more, for also near the Falls sits Hinchcliffe Stadium, either a ruin or a National Trust for Historic Preservation rescue – only time will tell, although time might need to count on more private than public donations in the years ahead (does a Trump administration, led by a man who thinks things dipped in gold are the height of style, seem like a source for funds for preservation?). This decaying Art Deco stadium housed two different Negro Leagues teams over the decades, and was where Paterson-born Larry Doby, the first African-American to play in the American League, got his start.

And then there’s William Carlos Williams, as we, of course, need to add poetry to race to religion to labor to history to sing our American tune. Not only from the town, he penned a poem after it, nearly 250 pages long (in its final form). They let him have a quote painted on a wall across from the Falls, painted as tall as the Hamilton statue, although no Broadway show has extolled the dear doctor. Even I have to admit his Paterson is a tough literary nut to crack, despite so many wonderful runs in it. And now we’re to be led by this deeply unserious man, one for him reading a book seems Herculean, let alone poetry. Even the most erudite of presidents never got the country to love the word (did you know Jimmy Carter is interviewed in a documentary about James Agee, just as a fan?).

Have I said I was born here, too? Across Route 80, but our interstate system didn’t exist then, at St. Joe’s. And my dad long co-owned a machine shop in town, a perfect sort of US history circle – he, son of a coalminer, got his share knowing a family whose patriarch worked machine parts in the silk mills.

Why does it seem to me all this Paterson matters now? How could it not, a sum of all we’ve democratically dreamed. The question becomes does that dream look forward or back. Here’s how Williams put it:
Doctor, do you believe in
“the people,” the Democracy? Do
you still believe – in this
swill-hole of corrupt cities?
Do you, Doctor? Now?

                                     Give up
the poem. Give up the shilly-
shally of art.
And a bit later in the poem:
                          The fact
of poverty is not a matter of argument. Language
is not a vague province. There is a poetry
of the movements of cost, known or unknown .
That odd floating period of his. Must we wait to end? Or must the end wait for us?

We live in a land where many are pissed. The hopeless fly-over country that elitist me is not supposed to get. Yet I understand these people are tired of promises, especially since politicians haven’t even done that of late. So it’s easy for them to turn to the one who doesn’t really promise, as he has no plans. He just asserts, and all those not wanting to trek miles over a map – why should they go anywhere? – applaud the “you are there” they’ve felt they had and lost.

My fear is there’s something before the period, though.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Sound of Your Voice Yanks My Neck on Its Chain


Can't wait to see Neko Case, tonight, at UCSB Campbel Hall (thanks UCSB Arts & Lectures!). Even better, Eric Bachmann and Jon Rauhouse are opening--their duet album just out is lovely.

So here's a review I posted of a Case show--with Bachmann opening--back in 2007. I still feel the very much same.

It's hard not to half suspect if you see Neko Case live she won't be able to pull it off. If I have to explain "it" you just need to go listen--there's a reason her 2006 album Fox Confessor Brings the Flood floated onto so many album of the year lists, and that reason begins with her voice. It's one thing to list all the different folks it can suggest, from Patsy Cline here to Dusty Springfield there, but its sum is much more than any reference. Somehow she can intimately belt, draw you near and blow you away all at once. Of course there's beauty to it, but there's ever an edge, a bend or a smear of that perfect note, another woman's voice (and not just any woman, usually Kelly Hogan, a fine chanteuse herself) joining in to up the volume, ante up the angst. It's easy to imagine she pulls this off through studio trickery, or at the least through endless takes added up to get that seemingly simple effort (if I remember right, that's how they had to piece together Linda Thompson's vocal for "Walking on a Wire" on the incomparable Shoot Out the Lights, as she was suffering from panic/anxiety attacks).

Well, Case can do it live, folks, and how. This Saturday at the Henry Fonda in Los Angeles she performed a flawless set, to the point of running through back-to-back-to-back songs that would have been enough of a show for me: "Maybe Sparrow," "The Tigers Have Spoken," and "I Wish I Was the Moon." That's: a moving metaphor folk tune with some surprising force about how the world is tough for little things (and I didn't cry, but my throat lumped but good at song's end); a jangly (it's an overused term, but nothing fits that catchy guitar figure better) alt-rock song about how the world is tough for big fearsome but tender things; and a country torch and twang number about how the world is tough on Neko Case, but she can sure still belt about it. Those "be the one"s that repeat near the end of "I Wish"--how could any lover forsake her? Perhaps they are just too much need for one to survive in life, if not too much for performance, and it's a real danger to mix the two.

Opening act Eric Bachmann had the nerve to perform while so many concert-goers were trying to have conversations. It's a real shame, though, for Bachmann has put out many of the best songs of the past 13 years, first as the leader of Archers of Loaf (the Voidoids of the '90s), then as the major digit of Crooked Fingers, and now his first true solo album (and that's ignoring the two Barry Black discs that are terrific instrumental forays). He performed solo, but still projected, speeding up his acoustic-guitar based songs just a teensy bit. He's sort of become an American Richard Thompson 20 years younger--made his name in a band, writes great songs, plays electric and acoustic marvelously, has a voice that's not pretty (in Bachmann's case, think Neil Diamond's pipes bristled with Brillo), but matches perfectly with the songs. Plus he closed with "New Drink for the Old Drunk," one of the grandest wallows in recorded music.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Re:Find Finds New Home

Once you start looking for ways to repurpose things, you can find opportunities everywhere. Take Alex and Monica Villicana, owners of Villicana Winery in Paso Robles. In 2011 Alex came up with the clever idea to take the bleed-off grapes early in the wine process — the saignée, which is often used to make rosé, or worse, just dumped — as the base for distilling spirits. And why not? Eastern Europe uses the potato because it’s cheap and plentiful, not for any intrinsic reasons.

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

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sip This: Buttonwood Cab Franc 2012

Buttonwood 2012 Cabernet Franc Santa Ynez Valley:  The perfect, somewhat different summer wine, this cab franc is both light on its feet and full of flavor. That’s no surprise coming from the 2012 growing season that let winemaker Karen Steinwachs and her team pick on Halloween — talk about hang time!

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

In Which I Point To Me Talking about Me

I got a rock. Actually, that's Serpentinite (thanks for the photo NOAA), and it makes an appearance in Feast Days. And I got to talk about that cameo, plus a bunch of other things, thanks to David Starkey, who interviewed me about the chapbook for the Independent.

Here's the beginning:

George Yatchisin’s newest collection of poetry is Feast Days. Yatchisin is the communications coordinator for the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at UC Santa Barbara, and he writes about food and drink for venues such as The Santa Barbara Independent and Edible Santa Barbara.

You took some time off from writing poetry. Can you talk about that a bit and discuss why you’ve come back to it?

 It was a good, no pun intended, 15 years off, actually. I came up with two half-jokes to explain it. The first was, either I could write poetry or be happy. The second was, you can only write the “language is a tool that fails us” poem for so long before you at least convince yourself. It was also that I didn’t feel language coming to me in poetic ways; I didn’t stop writing prose, but you get to be easier on yourself in blogging and journalism — there’s not that same need for precision and concision. I say that with all apologies to brilliant journalists like Joe Posnanski, Ellen Willis, Molly Ivins, etc. Then in some ways, poetry came back to me.

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

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Test Pilot Takes Off in the Funk Zone


Don’t let the kitschy glasses with their totem pole faces fool you. While Test Pilot is indeed tiki-inspired, this new Funk Zone hotspot is not mired in the Polynesian motif of yesteryear. “We didn’t want it to be a classics bar,” said Brandon Ristaino, who owns this establishment as well as The Good Lion on State Street with his wife, Misty. “We wanted to modernize the drinks, clean them up, dry them out. In some, we switched out the rum.”

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

Monday, October 10, 2016

Sip This: Riverbench 2013 Reserve Chardonnay

Riverbench 2013 Reserve Chardonnay: Of the delicious handful of chardonnays that Clarissa Nagy makes for Riverbench, nothing pleases quite like this reserve. Their goal was to add some oak (50 percent new French) for flavor and structure yet not create a butter bomb, and Riverbench nailed it, creating a luscious, creamy white with enough acidity to make this a perfect food wine, too (think anything from fettuccine alfredo to lemon-caper sole).

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

Friday, September 30, 2016

Can You Dig It?

Sure, the pure products of America go crazy. We can buy a separate something for any time and casually toss it away in no time. But the damn things can be fun, too.

Take the photo above. On the left, Hochstadter's Slow & Low Rock & Rye, about which I've already written, but not quite like this. For now you can buy it in single serving 100ml cans, the first ever high proof cocktail wrapped in tin for your pop-topping enjoyment. They're tiny, too, easy to hide--in a Christmas stocking, Cooper Spirits Company already suggests (welcome, holiday shoppers!)--but we all know better. These are going to be huge hits with people on the road, at work, and those who aren't supposed to be drinking (I can put this pre-made cocktail anywhere and it won't spill!).

That said, it is a tasty devil. As I put it last time: "This reinvention of an 1884 recipe adds honey, oranges, Angostura bitters, and rock candy — the nicest way to say sugar, ever — to straight rye whiskey. Nowhere near as gimmicky as it sounds since it starts with a fine rye base and is amped up to 100 proof, this is basically an old fashioned in a bottle; just add ice and an orange peel." OK, make that a can, and who needs the ice or peel? Let it rip. (Maybe, if you're being sophisticated and all, put it in the fridge a bit.)

On the right, in the photo above, you see the Peugeot Les Impitoyables Whisky Tasting Set. Sure, at this point in glass-making someone is out there trying to sell you a different glass to hold the water that you use to rinse out your mouth out after brushing your teeth, so it's easy to be skeptical. But this Peugeot has got some quite clever design. First, that's a metal disc under the glass that cradles the glass well. You store that in the freezer, and then the glass stays cold without any ice. (Of course I go off instructions and store the glass in the freezer too, which might be extreme, but it's been summer.) (Santa Barbara does too have a summer.) So, you get a nice chill without any dilution. And the leather coaster keeps the cold metal from messing up any of your tables, or your work desk, if you like to write with a finger or two of something delightful as a muse.

The glass shape is clever, too, what with the wide reservoir for good swirling to get the scents a-roving toward your nose, and then the chimney that helps whisk it right there. Sure worked for a can of Slow & Low Rock & Rye. Which defeats the purpose of the can, I know. But using two products at once made me feel truly patriotic.



Viva Brings New Life to La Arcada

Brendan Searls is already well-known in Santa Barbara for his role in such establishments as Video Shmideo, Bogart’s, and Dargan’s, but these days, he is most excited about his latest challenge: Viva Modern Mexican Cuisine, located in the La Arcada spot previously occupied by Cielito. “This is truly a hidden gem — we could be in Barcelona, we could be in Prague, we could be in Mexico City,” said Searls, whose official opening weekend was in August during Fiesta. “Where else in this town can you sit and people watch, watch turtles, and not have to deal with traffic?”

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

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Taking It Lion Down

Pleased as the punch they often serve you for free as they're just that nice and good at The Good Lion that I got to be the call-out quote in Gabe Saglie's fine (of course, it's Gabe!) article about a Santa Barbara jaunt in West Hollywood Magazine this Autumn issue.

The link is here, and then scroll along to page 89 for the quote and 84 for the beginning of the story.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Talkin' and Readin' Feast Days

Recently I sat down and chatted with KCSB News, in particular the very talented Lisa Osborn, who asked me about Feast Days and had me read a couple of poems. You can listen in to the segment here.

Red Blends Trend Terrifically Tasty

Since Santa Barbara County is so good at growing so many varietals of grapes so well (more than 50, if you cared to know), it makes sense its winemakers start to wonder, “What will happen if we put a bit of varietal A with some of varietal B?” Often that algebra of blending might mix varietals G, S, and M, but we’ll get to that. 

Recently the Vintners Association hosted a tasting at Santa Barbara’s delightful and delicious Barbareño that featured 13 wineries pouring 33 red blends that attested to the palates and creativity in the region. While the red blends tend to play in century-old patterns begun by the French – people generally either mix Bordeaux grapes or Rhone grapes together – of course there’s always a wildcard or two.

Want to read the rest then do so at the Santa Barbara Vintners blog.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Liquor Companies Love to Love You, Baby

So there’s a wonder-material fabric bracelet attached to my wrist that I’m not supposed to take off for six days, despite my wrist being attached to my body in the humidor that’s New Orleans in July — no doubt a clever inventor’s inspiration for the steam room. I’ll have to use the chip in the bracelet to sign electronically into and out of rooms, so it’s either a harbinger of a creepy future or a sign someone’s really worried about losing me.

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

(Yep, this is my Indy overview of Tales of the Cocktail--the gift that keeps giving.)

The 2016 Foodie Awards





Somehow it's the seventh year of these, an idea I dreamed up way back when I was the Indy's Food Editor--that they needed a food equivalent for their Indy Awards they give to local theater. We've got a lot to be very thankful for around these tasty parts. (And a word about qualifying--we try to make a place be open for a year before they get one, just to be sure they've got a bit of staying power. We'd rather be late a year or two than too early....)

*************

This year, when we polled our staff, contributors, and trusted cadre of restaurant-loving friends, more than 30 nominations poured in for our seventh annual Foodie Awards, from the priciest places in town all the way to tasty, much-easier-on-the-wallet taquerías.

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

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Toting the Gin Bottles Out after Midnight

Edward Albee's dead and the moment takes a certain tone of 20th century theater with him--a realism acid-bathed in just enough cynicism to make it shine all the more frightfully brightly. His passing has hit me more than I would have guessed it would, so I'm going to do something he never would and get all sentimental.

Way back when I was in college at Johns Hopkins I had numerous opportunities to meet famous writers--one of the advantages of being part of the Writing Seminars in a small school best known for its med school, you just didn't have too many other writerly people around hoping to hang with the stars. That meant getting to meet the likes of Borges and Barthelme and Edward Albee in small groups.

Luckily for me I was young enough not to quite grasp what meeting such people meant. In the case of Albee, this was the early '80s so he was in his "lost years," so to speak, and his glories of Virginia Woolf and Zoo Story happened back when I was still in diapers practically. He got to seem a bit of a living museum piece, even if he was only probably my age now. (Harumph.) Still, at the dinner before his talk on campus, he was urbane and droll and I can still see the twinkle of his eyes, as if the world was ever-enjoyable and devourable and something he could turn into drama.

At one point I recall us discussing much-beloved Dr. Richard Macksey, professor of Humanities. In addition to being a wonderful teacher, Macksey is independently wealthy. Albee commented on Macksey’s son arriving at his book signing with first editions of all of Albee’s plays. The talk moved on to Macksey’s wealth, for which we all offered opinions: inheritance, a scientific invention, and Albee’s refinement of the latter, that the good professor had invented the Macksey (sic) pad.

And to shift gears without benefit of a writerly clutch, here's what I wrote in 2005, after getting to see a powerful production of The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? at the Taper in Los Angeles. It seems as fitting an obit as I can offer.


They fought with their words, their bodies and their deeds
doin' the things that they want to
When they finished fighting, they exited the stage
doin' the things that they want to
I was firmly struck by the way they had behaved
doin' the things that they want to

--Lou Reed

We saw Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? this weekend, and it put me in mind of Lou Reed's take on Sam Sheppard, and the old joke, "Sure it's searing, but so's a microwave," and how nothing beats the shear lump-throating voyeurism of watching a couple go at it with everything at stake, whether in Macbeth or Albee's own Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage.

If you get a chance to see the play, do. So many questions it wrestles with, or it leaves you to wrestle with--what's so uncomfortable about it isn't a man in love with a goat but the blurt-like laughter the audience has to let out at the bitterest of invective (for just one instance, the line "Goat Fuckers Anonymous" seems hilarious in context), our only release as we wonder what love is and what its limits are, how much we are animals, how fragile a bulwark art is for anything, how much we want to tell stories we believe in, how much we can do if we think we can get away with it, how much we think we can get away with, period.

Without too much of a spoiler, the ending is about as devastating as theater can be, a tableau of Biblical, sacrificial, Greek tragic and Freudianly Oedipal power. And when there's power, there's always loss.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Harvest 2016 Report: Great Grapes, Good Numbers





2015 put the fear of god into many winemakers, if god is someone who doesn’t like grapes. Yields were down across California, often 50% down. The dreaded drought that began in 2012 continued, and while the quality of the grapes was strong, their amount was scant. “As much as we hate the drought,” Doug Margerum of Margerum Wine points out, “The struggling vines are giving us some pretty magnificent fruit to work with.”

Wat to read the rest then do so at the Santa Barbara Vintners Association blog.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Sip This: 2015 Margerum M5 White

Margerum Wine Company 2015 M5 White: It just had to be a matter of time before Doug Margerum would release a white partner to his Rhône blend M5 that seems to be sold by the glass in every other restaurant in Santa Barbara County. Just like its red relative, the white M5 is luscious on its own but is really meant to pair with food (hence the red’s omnipresence on those wine lists).

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

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Nomad Italian Reaches the Beach





Though Convivo occupies the ground floor and patio of the recently renovated Santa Barbara Inn, Chef Peter McNee doesn’t want that to define the new restaurant, which he co-owns with Larry Mindel, founder of the upscale Il Fornaio chain. “We are not a hotel restaurant,” said McNee. “We’re a restaurant that’s located just across from the beach. I couldn’t be luckier to look out every day at the ocean. So come over and have lunch and dinner, from salad to pizza to pastas to crudo. There are a lot of different directions you can go.”

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

N'Awlins in a Nut Shell (TOTC 2016)

I figured it might be helpful to have all the 8 posts linked from one post, if people want to do some serious wrap-up reading. And, someday there's going to be an overview article in/on the Independent. I hope. I'll come add that in then.

Day 1: Sucking the Heads at Tales

Day 2: Set 'Em Up and Knock 'Em Down

Day 3: Again and a Gin

Day 4: Making Mighty as a Mule

Day 5: Of Blindfolds and Bacchanals

Day 6: Summoning Southern Spirits

Day 7: I'd Write You a Poem if I Could Put This Bottle Down

Day 8: Parting Is Such Virtual Reality

Think of this as a blurry, over-the-shoulder glimpse of Tales of the Cocktail 2016.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Parting Is Such Virtual Reality (TOTC, Day 8)

It's the last day, and like any last day of any vacation, that's all sorts of sad. But this seems particularly so, as a week in New Orleans is a week of finding a town's soul. No place seems so lived in and yet big enough to give you a space to live there too. It's too ripe, too raw, too lovely, too lost. Delicious and delirious in its dishabille.


There's even a spot like this:


And our friend Voodoo Bone Lady told us a great story about it that we can only hope is true. Supposedly that painting on the wall a husband bought for his wife and hid in the attic to give her as a surprise. That was 2005. Their house was completely flooded by Katrina, except for the attic, where the painting was secretly stored away. The couple moved to the French Quarter, which remained unflooded, post-Katrina. Then, one day their house collapsed; luckily no one was hurt. The only thing left standing--the painting and the vanity underneath it. So--is the painting lucky, a survivor of two calamities? Or is the painting a curse, a cause? The owner's going to leave it hang. But curse or cause is the ever confusing question, isn't it, especially in a city like New Orleans. You tell me what a cocktail is, for instance.

While I wait for your answer, let's go to breakfast. We head back into the CBD, this time to a place even more a neighborhood joint, Majoria's Commerce Restaurant. Despite not being local, we're greatly greeted and even better fed. I have their breakfast biscuit poured deep in a cheese sauce that gives cardiologists nightmares, rich with jalapeno and sausage and "seasonings," a spicy that ratchets up the temperature of your whole body, not your mouth. Of course, two eggs over easy over the top. It's sloppily scrumptious, the biscuits still firm enough to hold all that sop. And it's all of $5.50. Now that's a delicious deal.


We spend the rest of the morning just walking, taking it in, wishing to leave a bit of our spirits somewhere somehow too. We think about doing some quick museum-ing, but the Cabildo and Presbytere are both closed Mondays. So we do a quick peek into the St. Louis Cathedral, that is the center of the center of the Vieux Carre, and catches clouds.


Don't tell my dead mother, but I'm long gone from the Catholic church (ok, she knew even before passing, sorry, Mom), but that doesn't stop me from being a bit gobsmacked in the midst of mans' tribute to the holy. I mean, clearly people had to believe to build places like this, or I hope so. I mean, we need faith in something, although I sort of wish it was each other and not a super power that can be as indifferent to whip a Katrina on us.


Of course, we also paint pretty to sell our wares, so maybe faith is sold at fifty cents a line. This low-relief skyline enchants me either way.


And we opt to close very much tourists, at JAX Brewhouse, in a building that was clearly much more a brewery once, and now is a sort of sad mall-ish thing, if right on the Mississippi. You see, usually it's hard to see the river from the Quarter as the levee blocks your views (don't complain, it keeps you on dry land, too). But the Brewhouse is on the second floor, so you get a sweeping view. Plus they had a TV on with closed caption, and who knew that General Hospital was still such a dramatic thing? I mean, gun-point hostage situations on a Monday? The world is too accelerated. We need beer samplers at 1 pm on sticky days. And the Natchez, so close, yet so Twain.


Luckily, there's one last very Tales moment. Hendricks Gin has opted to provide an exit bar, even taking people to the airport afterward. It's at Sucre, which we'd passed some in our travels but unfortunately never visited because gorgeous macarons.You get four different cocktails and could have chair massages, but without handcuffs and blindfolds so what's the point, but even better there are virtual reality booths, which are pretty amazing if really just the most hyped-up ad you've ever experienced: you even get scent wafted at you and handed a drink at a planned time. If the future is all sell, but this good, I surrender.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

I'd Write You a Poem if I Could Put this Bottle Down (TOTC, Day 7)

Tales, alas, is more or less over by Sunday. But we don't leave until Monday, and that means we get to have one more amazing New Orleans day. In fact, it's been kind of sad we haven't taken advantage of the breakfasts this too-generous town has to offer, for the most part. So today we do, wandering into the CBD.

What's a CBD, you ask? The Central Business District, which from the Monteleone out the Quarter is really only a few blocks across Canal, but it's a very different world. For of the three words that make up CBD, one I'm neutral about, but the first two aren't usually things that give me warm feelies. Still, there's some cool stuff that-a-way. Like the Ruby Slipper Cafe, a little southern mini-chain, but also mostly delectable. Or make that liquid-able, as you can see here.


We simply did not have enough Bloodys this trip, but if that's the worst thing you can say about a trip.... Bacon in them is a good idea. (Bacon in your socks might be a good idea. Go, bacon!) And is there anything more pleasing than a pickled green bean, it's flat flavor lifted by vinegar and salt? You do want the BBQ shrimp and grits. The special I had with a biscuit proved that horrible biscuit conundrum--too often the reality of biscuit never matches the biscuit dream. Still, a fine spot.

And while the CBD tends to have more new buildings, more late 20th century hotel, more of less interest, there's still spots like this, as you never escape New Orleans no matter where you are in it. That's part of its magic.


Before we headed out to be poetic, we had to hit a place across the street from the Bienville House that had intrigued us (we are easy)--Evangeline.  We don't need anything, don't want much, but it's New Orleans, temptress, and vacation, idealization, and a gorgeous spot, easily romanced. The bartender, sort of a blond Julianne Moore, chats a lot, sells us beers. I get a Southern Prohibition Brewing Mississippi Fire Ant Imperial Red Ale, lots of caramel-rich malt with plenty of hops to balance. Chryss gets the Tin Roof Watermelon Wheat, a special that ends up in a can (a bit of a surprise), but still super refreshing and not too sweet given, well, watermelon.

So. This coming afternoon, thanks to our friends Melinda and Steve from Liuzza's day, we're going to be featured readers at the Maple Leaf Bar. That means Chryss needs a pedicure. (You do know how poetry works, don't you?) While she does that, I wander about and end up at the last Monteleone event, Ya-Ka-Mein by Miss Linda. I won't be able to do Ya-Ka-Mein justice in a couple of sentences, as it's a culture clash of deliciously epic proportions, and has many varieties and proponents. Miss Linda is particularly famous as she's been on national TV (thanks, Chopped!), and her mix was brilliantly spicy without any overpowering hot, and deep deep deep. It certainly packed a flavor punch that helped wash away the rest of the week, so seemed perfect as the food for the Sunday blessing.

OK, then the poetry, you don't need to know a lot about. I read, Chryss read better, there was open mic. It was a crazy honor to be part of this, since this event is the longest continuously running poetry reading series in North America. All props to Nancy Harris who runs it now, weekly. (Do you know what it means to run a weekly poetry series?) I also didn't realize, as I go into that weird fugue state of "oh shit I'm reading poems soon," that one of the audience members was Rodney Jones, one of my favorite poets--tell me this isn't one of the best poems ever. I am forever grateful I didn't realize who I was introduced to before the reading. I hope I didn't offend you, Rodney, with my poems.


After the event Chryss, Nancy, Melinda, Steve, and I all went to one of New Orleans' long-standing best neighborhood spots--Upperline--for dinner. Even better, since Melinda calls ahead, seems to be a bit of a semi-regular, and stresses our Santa Barbara ties, we get sat next to a haunting bayou photograph by Louisiana native/Santa Barbara resident Nell Campbell. That she took the photographs at our wedding certainly makes us feel a bit more welcome than most restaurants could. Restaurateur JoAnn Clevenger goes on and on about Nell, and we completely understand.

And if that perfect bonding welcome wasn't enough, there was the food. Not that everything can't be lovely here, a place that invented the now standard Creole dish fried green tomato with shrimp remoulade (be sure you read that deliciousness really slowly--go back if you have to), but it was also Garlic Fest. Rule 1 of Garlic Fest: everyone must partake of Garlic Fest. Luckily, we met that rule.

There were special martinis, made with things like Dorothy Parker gin (see this day's entry).  Then delights like heirloom tomato gazpacho with crab guacamole and garlic crisps--as flavorful as something that light and refreshing could be--and spicy shrimp with jalapeno cornbread and aioli--and those are just course one. For mains Chryss had eggplant and creole squash shrimp boats a la Muddy Waters, which involved the lightest flash fry, very summer eggplants and squash, and perfect shrimp. And I, well, I might have had my favorite duck dish ever. Skin crispy/crunchy, fat rendered, meat tender and not the slightest bit over-cooked. And then the sauce, a port-garlic brilliance I might wear as a cologne. You also get a little cast iron pan of luscious yam-meets-pecan side with that. I so want more right now.


There is still an ice cream sundae with garlic roasted in honey, and that oddly works. Nancy gets a Brandy Alexander as her dessert, and that's so New Orleans. This couldn't be a better last night dinner to celebrate both the brilliance, taste, and extravagance of the week of Tales.

We get back to the Quarter, realize it's our last night, and go out again as it's not too late and, hey, it's the last night! One stop is at the Bombay Club, home of a gazillion martinis, and we fall in love with their coupes and like their drinks too; if you get this The Bombay Club Martini, it's made with Old Raj Gin, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Luxardo, Maraschino Liqueur, and Regans’ Orange Bitters, with an orange twist and tastes a tad sweet for something martini-esque but looks lovely like this:


And, of course, as our last night in town we have to go to the Carousel Bar one last time. This time we get to ride the carousel itself, slowly circling our friends the barkeeps. It's still surprisingly lively, as just enough of the tails of Tales are kicking about. But this ride is about history, about so much aboutness--the words, the proof, the taste, the forgotten, the made up and re-remembered and the joy that our lives are the fictions we get to tell, even if they happened, almost just like that. I promise you the truth, if you just buy the next round.

Bakery by the Beach


The latest venture for The Lark complex is Helena Avenue Bakery, for who doesn’t need some more scrumptious reasons to devour butter? “The need for a bakery became quickly apparent as the Funk Zone neighborhood unfolded,” explains Sherry Villanueva, managing partner for Acme Hospitality, which operates the entire property. “We were excited to create a daytime, wholesome food venue that would serve the needs of our own businesses while giving people another reason to visit the area. We loved the idea of bringing more families down to the neighborhood and to tie our businesses more closely to the beach area.”

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Far from Frou Frou: Finch & Fork Cocktails

If you're tired of too much frou frou at the bar--did the barkeep just use an atomizer to spray something in the general vicinity of my glass?--head on down to Finch & Fork at the Canary. There's a new head drink sheriff in town, Joe Dohany, born in Philly, most recently from Seattle, and he's a classicist a heart. Part of that is he went to culinary school, so thinks in chefly ways. What will make something taste good? What are the fewest ingredients to get there? What's the history of this delectable concoction?

Take his local twist--and there's the chef part again, plus a tip of the cap to his compatriot at Finch & Fork, the talented chef James Siao, striving to do the fresh and local bit anyone who's any good does now--on the Vesper. He makes it with both local gin and local vodka, Calyx from Ascendant and Cutler's Vodka. That Calyx is something--Ascendant's distiller Steve Gertman works with Raj Paar, of all people, to craft a winemaker's approach to gin, so much so they even give each batch a year designation (more to admit they might play with the botanical mix or land different sourcing year-to-year). And, to top it off, Dohany uses Cochi Americano instead of Lillet, for he says Lillet changed its formula since the classic Ian Flemming Bond days, so it's sweeter now. That Cochi Americano makes the drink quite dry and unique, especially if you're used to ordering Lillet-made Vespers.

"My goal is to help make the spot one cohesive place," Dohany says, "to make the restaurant and bar one brand. I want the bar to be a place the locals can come in to have a few drinks, maybe some food and drinks, or just have some fun." He also has some sharp observations between the Seattle and Santa Barbara bar scenes, claiming, "Seattle is much more spirit-forward, with that sense 'we dink Frenet all the time.' Here drinks are lighter, more refreshing, easier. It's about cheerful cocktails versus brooding cocktails."

Perhaps the best of his new lot (and the menu still features favorites like the Figueroa, Guava Margarita, and Delayed Flight) is the Witch's Back, a more crafted Perfect Greyhound, perhaps, with Bulldog gin, Strega, pamplemousse rose, lime, and orange bitters. So certainly you get the citrus with the grapefruit and orange, but the Strega--which is witch in Italian--adds its unusual herbal oomph of pine and mint to confound things in a fascinating way. Dohany garnishes the drink with a rosemary sprig across the up glass's rim, so you get that scent right in your nostrils each sip, too. Lovely.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Flutter Press: NEW RELEASE: Feast Days

Flutter Press: NEW RELEASE: Feast Days by George Yatchisin:want to hear me wax poetic about food, wine, drink? Check out this poetry chapbook you can order now. Please.

Eat This: Squash Blossoms @ Toma


As foods that seem too precious to do at home go, squash blossoms are high on the list—they seem mighty sensitive and tender for a stuffing. So I like ordering them out, and there are none better than the ones that Toma is serving right now, for a host of reasons.

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

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Summoning Southern Spirits (TOTC 2016, Day 6)

We Sweat Socially for the last time, and parting is such damp sorrow. We Kick Start Coffee for the last time, and don't say thanks a latte, because we're not that lame. There's a room full of Anchor Distilling drinks, but we don't linger as it's not even 11 am and we have not eaten. See, Tales teaches you many things.

We do shower up and get dressed for Beignets on the Balcony by William Grant & Sons. It's in the Sonesta, the other hotel housing many of TOTC's events, and you wind up wandering through a warren of rooms and indeed balconies overlooking Bourbon Street. This would be prized real estate for Mardi Gras, but on a rainy July morning even most of the vomit has packed up and gone home, making what will be party central in 10 hours look more like a neon-lit ghost town.


The beignets are good, the eggs better, the cocktails best, particularity an Opera made of The Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean cask (I told you to Sip That back in April), lemon juice, pear brandy, elderflower liqueur, simple syrup, and topped with sparkling wine. Think French 75 squared or something, a lovely brunchish pour. That event ends up being the end of our official Tales day, except for a quick trip to the top floor of the Monteleone, hoping for good things in the Interview Room. Instead we got this view--they need to buy some letters, Vanna, or perhaps someone has a hankering for the original Let's Make a Deal host. (The last sentence brought to you by the International Association of Game Shows.)


It's time for a crosstown adventure! First, if you opt to take the streetcars, and you really sort of have to, you can buy a pass before trying to board. Do that. (We didn't.) Second, get ready for too many people with the same idea, and a crush, and heat, and grumble grumble. But then it gets moving, and you might get to hear the operator crack wise, and you might get views like this as you head out into the Garden District.


So it's all sorts of good. We decide it might be fun to wander about Audubon Park, so get off there and keep our fingers crossed that a typical afternoon rainstorm doesn't let loose on us. The first part of the park is still very much in its original Olmsted design, and so so much green to confront folks like us living in rain-starved southern California.


Also, here's the obligatory photo of moss.


That beats both Randy and Kate. We end up walking all the way from St. Charles to the Mississippi, around the zoo which we decide not to see. As for the park, it's an impressive taming of nature with equally impressive houses of the rich alongside. You know, America. It is a long walk, and everything past Magazine St. is far less scenic (the Olmsteds mustn't have been paid for that part) and very treeless. It is not sunless. We are not sweatless, even with mighty clouds like this.


Note, too, the river is intimidatingly wide and hinting at its real use as a highway and not something one should particularly romance. It's easy to agree, however, it's nicknamed well--that's about as unclear as water can be, Mighty Muddy M. That could be something jumping out of it, too.


We start the long hike back to Charles St., and get to see these critters along the way.

Being us, and given half of us is Chryss, we're nowhere near done walking, despite needing food and drink, and by drink we mostly even just mean water, so you know this was a long walk. We cross St. Charles and head for Freret, which, of course, we call Ferret, because the furry devils need their own street. Our goal is what often gets called the best craft cocktail bar in New Orleans--Cure--and we get there right as they open at 3, so luckily we do not enter crying, even though our tears would probably have been hidden amidst our perspiration. They let us in anyway.

There is the tiniest bit of 'tude here, but they seem to deserve it as they make outstanding cocktails and are just friendly enough. They describe their own creations by comparing them to a drink theirs is sort of like, to give you a handle of where to head. So I get a Sweet Leaf that's a cousin to a Corpse Reviver #2 that is divine and Chryss has an Irish Goodbye, which is described as follows: "Perfect for a hot day, this restorative Irish whiskey sour has notes of peach, mint, and green tea."


We also hunger, and get a bar snack platter of olives and crudite and a pimento cheese spread that makes me wonder where pimentos have been of late. I will be having more. To do further cocktail research--I am a journalist, after all--I have a second drink, this time an Alaska (what more could one want on a hot day), made of City of London Gin, Yellow Chartreuse, Regans' Orange Bitters. Perfect simplicity. (Another big Cure plus--despite being one of the town's hot spots, most drinks are just $10. Put them in LA or Santa Barbara and their creations would cost at least $15.)


Chryss does some internet sleuthing and discovers that Bar Frances, just down the street (this stretch of Freret is particularly hip right now) is supposed to be something, so we decide to go there too. Hey, we missed lunch, don't judge. It's quite pleasing, too, and our waitress here turns out to be from Santa Barbara, of course. Happy hour Marcona almonds for three bucks are saltily nice, and I order a Boulevardier cocktail as I like the way it throws whiskey into a Negroni, or perhaps it throws Campari into a Manhattan. That is, it's almost so many other drinks but really only itself. Chryss goes for a local microbrew for the name as much as anything, Southern Prohibition Brewing's Jack the Sipper ESB. It reminded me what a pleasing style ESB is, but of course, the English just don't hop enough for us Americans.

I do not know, by the way, why I have no photos of this chunk of the day.

We work our way back to the streetcar and take it back to the Quarter, passing all the ornate houses that make much of the Garden District seem like a set for a Southern Gothic soap opera--These Are the Days of Our Columns. (I hope that's suggestive enough.) Somehow I can't remember at this point if we go straight to the dinner we've been slowly building to with drink after snack-accompanies drink, but it seems as good a way to experience New Orleans as any.

Dinner is far from glamorous--it's the walkup window of Killer Poboys, think of it as a food truck parked permanently in the back room of the Erin Rose Bar. You can't have too many poboys, and they also mean you get to eat cheap. Chryss goes for the Seared Gulf Shrimp with marinated radish, carrot, cucumber, herbs, and special sauce while I go for their famous “Dark & Stormy” Pork Belly long-marinated and re-brushed with NOLA rum ginger glaze and topped with lime slaw and garlic aioli. These are incredible flavor bombs and go well with some southern beers from the bar up front.

There might be time for a nap. Because at 8 we meet our wonderful neighbors from SB, who just happen to be in New Orleans for one night only, and they're booked for the Ultimate 5-in-1 Haunted Tour Experience with the Voodoo Bone Lady. Given these are our neighbors that also take Halloween seriously in ways that might scare others as they decorate their house so well people come out of their way to see it, of course nothing could be better than to do a ghost tour with them. It's practically research.


Guess who? She's an incredible story teller, which is just what you want for something like this, because while the Quarter can seem spooktacular--most of the buildings are hundreds of years old, the gas lamps flicker, even for rent signs advise whether a condo is haunted or not--the scariest thing you'll probably see is some 21-year-old chucking up his fifth Hurricane.

You do get touchdown Jesus, who supposedly helped the Saints win a Super Bowl. Or, perhaps, it just helps make Christianity creepier than it is in towns that aren't in no small part built on the slave trade.


We do get a drink/bathroom break at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar, to get our pirates into the story, of course. It's supposed to be the oldest building used as a bar in the U.S., a couple of decades before we were the U.S. It is wonderfully ramshackle and creepy and candlelit except for the video poker machine or two. I mean, you can't ignore all uses of electricity. Oh, did Lafitte really having anything to do with this spot? We don't know. But if we claim it, and keep the corners properly in the shadows, anything can seem possible.


And, of course, the tour ends at the infamous LaLaurie House that American Horror Story made a national, overly graphic excuse to see if Kathy Bates could over-act more than Jessica Lange (was tv-watching America winners or losers, you decide). You know, the usual torture the slaves thing for your own sadistic thrills. And then, the house supposedly wasn't too welcoming--even one-time owner Nicolas Cage found the power of the haunting, even if it used the IRS to get him. We don' see anything spooky here, even in our photos. But the stories are terrifying enough.


So much so after saying goodbye to the neighbors, who are visiting with their teenagers, we decide we need a nightcap and return to Kingfish from our first night in town. I have to have that First Word again, it was so good. Less good are the other, of course younger, people at the bar who are so witty they must yell their bon-mots at each other, then laugh as if they learned how to do so by watching the cartoon ass on Hee-Haw. Even the people behind the bar are rolling their eyes, to the point they give us a drink for free, saying, "It took me too long to get you your drink." Now that's service. They do finally leave, and the volume change is almost like exiting the rock nightclub and suddenyl just hearing nothing.

Even better, our friend (thanks to our daughter) Laura Bellucci from SoBou is doing what bartenders do post shift, knocking back shots of Fernet-Branca, especially since one of the Kingfish bartenders is her beau. So we get to, on pretty much the last evening of Tales, join the honorary ranks of barkeeps ourselves. There's nothing bitter about this amaro in the slightest.