Archive for June, 2012

Lucky Rice: Las Vegas Night Market

 

This saturday you could hear a dial tone all over the Cosmopolitan, because the LUCKY RICE night festival was off the HOOK.

Saturday the 23rd, lovers of Asian-inspired cuisine were treated to select bites by chefs hailing from Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles, and beyond.  A sold-out crowd is certainly a good omen for the inaugural Las Vegas stop on this New York based food festival.  Innovative, unique, and world-class flavors were the name of the game and our home-town heroes were bringing out an amazing array of bites right alongside some of the biggest names in Asian cuisine.

The Cosmopolitan’s own mixologists, as well as some recognized names from the bar and nightclub industry, were in charge of the night’s libations.  They shook, stirred, strained, measured, and poured their masterful concoctions through the night, each of them highlighting the Asian influences.  One of the sponsors for the LuckyRice Night Market was Bombay Sapphire East, which is their Asian botanical ingredient infused blend.  Tony Abou-Ganim, drawing from his experience pairing with Chef Jet Tila’s cuisine, was mixing up “Bubbling Rose”, a mix of Bombay East, homemade hibiscus syrup, lemon, and champagne.  Jet Tila himself was bringing out pork belly steam buns, and a braised short rib taco with brussels sprouts and a spicy, savory Kochujang salsa.  The buns themselves were very unique in that they were fried, kind of like a doughnut (pictured below).
Another standout dish was from Ari Kolender of Red Medicine in LA; chicken dumplings fried crispy on the outside with caramelized sugar, pork fat, lemongrass, and a little side of savory confitures to dip.  Colin Fukunaga and Robert “Mags” Magsalin of the Fuku Burger food truck were making bite sized versions of their Fuku fried chicken: honey sesame chicken with a cinnamon sugar fried andagi, drizzled with jackfruit maple syrup.

Ari Kolander's chicken dumplings

Chris Hopkins of the Cosmopolitan was making his aptly named cocktail, “Year of the Dragon”.  It was made with caramelized pineapple, Bombay East, yellow chartreuse, jalapeno tobasco, and a cardamom lemongrass syrup, topped off with a black pepper and sugar rim.  This beautifully complex concoction was ready right as you enter, alongside fellow Cosmopolitan residentAnthony Meidenbauer’s Thai pork ‘bahn-mi’ style slider.  With a coconut curry aioli, asian slaw, and thai basil.  It paired well with his nutty and botanical pandan cupcake with coconut cream.  Shirley Chung, already adept at the Asian fusion game at China Poblano by Jose Andres, was making a “Ro Jia Mo” red braised pork belly street sandwich and Escabeshe marinated pork ribs in a mole Amarillo sauce.  Paul Qui, Uchiko owner and Top Chef Texas winner, was making a sunchoke dashi with summer vegetables, a fried zucchini flower, and Bottarga, a cured sea urchin roe.

Cocktail by Hopkins, Burger by Meidenbauer

Naturally, someone was going to take a bao steam bun and crank it up to eleven.  Eddie Huang of Baohaus NYC, naturally, made a sous-vide char sui pork bao with Chinese salty relish, Taiwanese red sugar, and crushed peanuts.  Right next door to his booth was Southern Wine and Spirit’s sake tasting booth where Sake Sommelier Louis de Santos was serving up samples from the best of their sake catalog.  Charles Phan was on the upstairs deck serving his garlic beef rolls with thai basil and dotted with just a bit of their fiery house made sriracha.  A bit smokier and with a fruity note from the chilies, this was head and shoulders above your average rooster sauce.

Pichet Ong's Dessert

There were a few members of the LuckyRice culinary council, those charged with being the drive and spirit behind the event, serving up food from their own booths.  Susur Lee, a veteran of Top Chef Master and owner of Lee in Toronto, made a juicy rack of lamb Thailandaise with mint chutney and curry sauce.  Fellow council member Pichet Ong (Qi, NYC) was the only dessert station, serving up olive oil torrejas with strawberries, maldon salt, and a big dollop of fresh whipped cream (pictured above).  Angelo Sosa of Top Chef All-Stars and Social Eatz in New York was behind one dish that really knocked it out of the park.  This sideways version of surf and turf was served on top of a hollowed bone with a few slices of fluke sashimi, with a scoop of bone marrow mixed with parmesan reggiano.  With just a little slice Japanese cucumber and finished with a blowtorch to get the parmesan just a bit toasty, this was one amazing little bite.  The line was consistently around the corner after word got around about this delectable dish.

Bone marrow and fluke sashimi

After such an uproarious first year here in Vegas, the LuckyRice Night Market is sure to visit us again.  With such amazing dishes and cocktails from so many talented chefs and mixologists, this event stands as one to clear your calendar for.


Trade Show Round-Up Reviews: Bloody Mary Mix

In very quick succession about a month ago were two of the biggest shows for liquor and liquor accessories in the biz: the Nightclub and Bar Show and the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America Show.  Aside from some of the trends you would expect, like a mostly-unremarkable selection of new vodkas and a continuation of the my love-hate relationship with white whiskey/moonshine (short story: they’re getting better), one of the biggest trends in some new players is Bloody Mary mixes.  Love them or hate them, no one can deny that people are getting somewhat particular about their Bloody Mary.

Heck, some of the hippest restaurants about are touting a whole section of their specialty cocktail list devoted to the savory mix of tomato and spices.  The lines are getting downright redrawn; this is no longer a breakfast drink for, shall we say, drinkers with an “outside-the-box” schedule.  The inclusion of herb or meat-infused vodkas, switching the active ingredient for a gin or tequila, or even cutting the whole shebang down with a nice hoppy beer are all quickly encroaching the norm.  Though I do not share the opinion that if it becomes something your ‘foodie’ mom orders, then it becomes uncool, but there is something to be said about over-saturation.  I mean, I certainly don’t want to see the rich and hearty Bloody Mary go through what happened to Mojitos a while back, getting all mixed around with syrups and lemon-lime soda and more fruit than grocery store.  Shudder the thought.
Hopefully we won’t see that.  For the time being, the popularity of this drink has been in the hands of those more willing to get it right.  Hopefully these crusading officiants of the watering-hole, “Bar-Tender” we’ll call them, will keep this train at full steam, carrying a full payload of vine-ripe tomato.  Well let’s crack right into it, shall we?
McClure’s Pickles Spicy Bloody Mary Mix
This one is hailing from a couple of brothers, one living in Detroit, the other in Brooklyn.  The company deals mainly in some really high-quality pickled cucumber, but they turn the spicy-style brine, pressed cucumber juice, and tomato into a surprising and very unique mix.  Biggest thing about it is that you can quite clearly tell that some heavy duty pickle flavor is going on here.  It remains pretty complex and as well balanced as pickle brine can be, but good golly this is most definitely pickle brine.  I suppose that’s why they do not have a ‘normal’ variety, only spicy.  I enjoyed it for it’s novelty but I couldn’t see myself drinking too much of this, lest my kidneys dry up from this salty concoction.  I will be pickling some eggs with the rest, however, and I expect them to be amazing.
Jimmy Luv’s Bloody Mary Mix
“Shake the Bottle, Wake the Luv!” is the slogan of this enthused brand.  Do be sure to shake, because this mixture stratifies if you take your eye off of it for a few days.  Oh well, maybe they save on stabilizers and pass the savings on to you.  On the whole, a pretty well rounded bloody mary.  It’s got some tang to it, and just a hint of smoky flavor.  A tad bit too much ‘vegetable’ to it, like maybe they got a bad shipment of tomato with more stems than they bargained for.  It also comes in a style called “Sneaky Hot” that doesn’t fail to deliver on the promise.  In fact, it tastes like the normal variety for a quick second there, but the jalapeno and habaneros quickly set to their dirty work.  The spicy is good for any bloody mary, but I’d reserve the normal if you were trying to show off a homemade infused vodka.  I’d recommend infusing some roasted garlic into a mid-tier bland vodka, something that’s been distilled a bit.
Dimitri’s Bloody Mary Seasoning
OK, so this one isn’t a Bloody Mary mix by the letter of the law, but you put a couple ounces in some tomato juice and you’ve got yourself a world class drink.  I actually kind of prefer these because you can get your tomato juice in bulk; handy for a bloody party or if you’re running a bar.  What’s double great about them is the fact that it also gives you variety.  I can have a glass of ‘Extra Horseradish’, then an ‘Extra Peppers’, or just stick with the ‘Classic Recipe’, or really crank up the heat with their almost challenging ’Chipotle-Habanero’.  They all have about a dozen ingredients each, but boy howdy do they have a complex flavor.  So good that, truth be told, I’ve been putting a few spoon fulls in my vegetable minestrone soup.  Hell, I’d probably take them on flapjacks!  Honestly, a just masterful blend.  They also make a bacon salt glass rimmer that isn’t half bad either.  Just remember to get a good tomato juice; “Garbage In, Garbage Out” as the computer whizzes say.

Fun With Beer: La Merle

La Merle - North Coast Brewing

 

“What’s that,” you shriek,  ”Another saison?”  Yeah, that’s right.  Another Saison, so buckle right the fudge up.  A good thing about Le Merle is that it’s quite a bit more frequently found in fancy beer-sellers than some of the Belgian saisons I’ve had.  North Coast Brewing Co. is at some level of market share, enough at least for some shelf space at Whole Foods.  Now dont get me wrong, I’m not the type to pay seven dollars for a potato that’s had the New York Times read to it.  There was a sale, and I can make a danged Boy Scout commit seppuku in shame with my thriftiness.  If there’s one thing I love more than beer, it’s a value (especially if it’s a beer!).

Last I checked, it was still summer and I still really like saisons.  So I picked up a couple of the more discounted ones and went on my way.  The North Coast was something I was looking forward to, especially having previously reviewed their IPA to my satisfaction.  Their website doesn’t say much on the actual beer as it does, in about three paragraphs, say it is named after the brew-master’s wife.  Named after a blackbird, apparently.  Charming.  There is a food pairing though, an ahi tuna ceviche with mango and avocado.  Well, that sounds good to me!  Of course there wasn’t a sale on raw tuna steaks, so I had to make two trips.
After I untied the top from it’s wire cage and gingerly removed the cork, I poured it into my lovely little chalice.  Pouring to avoid the sediment collected at the bottom, I noticed it’s very hazy straw color and big fluffy head.  The head sticks around, but leaves it’s filmy curtains behind when it finally does leave.  The nose to it was very inviting, all very bright and fresh fruit and tart wine.  I’ve always felt pino noir is a good sign in the nose, makes me think I’m going to get a nice crisp drink.  There is also a bit of a lemon note mingling with the bready yeast.
The taste doesn’t disappoint, really delivering on the white wine and crisp green apple flavors.  There isn’t much of a hop characteristic in this, which I found just a little disappointing.  I’m not a ‘hop-head’ or anything, but I realize there is something lost when the balance between hop and malt just isn’t there.  Oddly enough, it isn’t entirely malty either.  Overall, the main interplay is with the fruit and the yeast.  Not a bad double-header for a saison to have, but it may have not entirely worked to it’s favor.
A couple of tastes in you start to get some white pepper and clove from the strong Belgian yeast.  The tartness doesn’t stay forward for too long, but kind of becomes part of the grassy, dry alfalfa tinge of the brettanomyces.  Low carbonation on this one, good for being able to see through the less obvious flavors.  Overall, it accomplishes what I thought I wanted from a saison: refreshing, light, bright flavors, drinkable.  Not only that, but the 7.9%ABV is a pretty good level for how drinkable this is.  Considering all this, there was just nagging thing I came away with.  I appreciate this saison, but it just doesn’t feel enough like drinking beer.  With what little hops and malt that went into this being overshadowed, I feel it fell a little flat.
However, if you can get past that, it’s still a great beer.  Rather fitting to the food pairing as well!  The strong citrus used to just barely cook the outside of the tuna with acidity pairs well with the bright palate Le Merle has.  I think the best way they match is just the general “summery-ness”.  Both are great matches for warm weather and outdoor eating.  I know I will be looking out for a bottle or two to share for an afternoon chill-out session.

Fun With Beer: Thrash Metal

 

Thrash Metal -Jester King Brewery

 

This week’s selection of fine fermented fun comes from Austin, Texas; specifically, it comes from a quirky beer-mill called Jester King Craft Brewery.  Thrash Metal is farmhouse ‘strong’ ale (state and local laws forbid ABV bragging in names), hop forward, and quite the subject of interesting hub-bub.  Now those of you familiar with this one I’m sure can attest to their fine line of year-round brews, but this one is a limited time offer that was brewed earlier this year.  Look hard and you may find a bottle, but if not there is always the sibling beer, Black Metal, to quench your guitar-shredding sensibilities.

The Jester King website’s post on this particular beer says this one is made with lightly kilned pilsner, wheat, and caramunich malts.  It’s hopped with american varieties, brewed with Jester King’s own yeast blend, bottle conditioned, and finally weighed in at 9%ABV.  Not all that strong, especially considering that odd “can’t say strong” law.  Doubly so when you realize that the people enforcing this law about not advertising the strength of your beer is the same that enforces putting the ABV on every label.  Lawmakers, everybody.
Despite the vitriol and archaic laws, I do love farmhouse ales/saison.  Because of the season, I’ve been on a real kick for them.  Exited to try my first Texas saison, I poured this sucker into my brand-spankin new engraved goblet.  I was able to order an engraved one for free, so naturally my three lines went, “I Am Awesome, You Suck, Deal with it”.  It tells the whole world exactly what they need to know, and that’s that.  It poured a clear copper color from the top, but subsequent pours were a tad bit cloudy.  The head was a fairly dense and retaining tan that eventually turned into just a slight ring.  Quite lovely, picturesque even.
The first whiff I got was a noticeable, refreshing bit of funk.  A really fresh grassy kind, not the barnyard wet hay we’re so accustomed to.  There was also a bit of the resinous hops and just a touch of that toasted light malt.  The first taste is, surprisingly, all citrus.  Not just orange, but a very fresh lemon oil kind of citrus too.  Subsequent tastes give more away from the scent, peeling back layers of piney hops, yeasty esters and spice, and finally some of that smooth malt background.  As far as the yeast flavors go, I was getting a kind of starchy apple flavor, and a bit of white pepper.  A surprising combination, but it works out great.  It’s got a steady carbonation to it that tends to elevate some of the dryer, astringent flavors, but eases up towards the end of the glass or bottle.  Then it’s all yeast and malt, letting the hoppy notes take a back seat.
I tasked myself with coming up with a good food pairing for this, which proved not the easy task.  It was high ABV, but didn’t seem like it from the taste.  It was nice and hop forward, but not the whole way through.  I think I came on a good happy medium for a beer that seems to be made up of happy mediums: a Russian apple biscuit cake.  I baked up thinly sliced and peeled granny smith apple layered with thin ‘peel apart’ biscuit dough and a blend of pulverized walnuts and honey, topped with nutmeg whipped cream.  It didn’t overpower the beer, the spice blended well with each other, and the ABV actually did a very good job at cutting through the cream.  Most importantly, the dessert did a great job at it’s main task, showcasing this interesting and well-rounded beer.  I’m a big fan of this beer, and I’ll be looking at more summery beers from Jester King.  I suggest you stay peeled as well.

Fun With Beer: Nuova Mattina

Nuova Mattina - Birrifico Del Ducato

 

Benvenuto! Spring is in full force, and a lovely spring it has been indeed. It has put me consistently in the mood to find the perfect beer for my spring/summer sensibilities, most specifically a saison. Of course there are a few more stipulations, but the beer I bring you today qualifies most of them to a degree greater than I would have hoped for. The one drawback: it’s an import. It comes from Birrificio del Ducato, an Italian brewery. Now I know, I like to support my local beer scene and independent craft brewers, but they have a list of brews that really seems interesting. Downside is that importation may be a bit… spotty. It’s not exactly the most common selection imported to the states, but it’s truly phenomenal if you can find it.

The specific brew I tried was Nuova Mattina, sometimes seen here in the states as New Morning. Named after the Bob Dylan song, it was created to be reminiscent of nature and spring and all that good stuff. It is their saison, a classic spring/summer brew. Really, the only reason I’ve been looking forward to the hotter months, (outside of BBQs and wearing a seersucker suit), is having a chance to consume a bottle of really good saisons for some good ol’ fashioned daytime beer drinking.

The bottle claims that this one is brewed with wild flowers, chamomile, coriander, green peppercorn and ginger. Dang it all if that doesn’t sound great. At 5.9 percent alcohol by volume, I kind of wished this came in a bomber rather than this mini-champagne bottle, and doubly so because of the sediment. Some reviews online will say that this beer is overly cloudy or has an overbearing yeasty characteristic, but I think that may have been the mistake of pouring it with too much gusto. I even made sure to split it into two glasses and sure enough, the first was clear as a jewel, while the other was pretty darned cloudy.

I poured mine, (the first, of course), into a wine glass. It gives quite a large amount of a light, fluffy head if you aren’t careful with it. It is light enough to subside quickly, leaving something of a dry lace on the sides. (Perhaps the residue is an unavoidable bit of yeast clinging to the glass?) Regardless, we are left with this absolutely radiant picture of a yellowy amber beer. The nose is very distinct, with a light floral element and plenty of spice. You get the peppercorn and coriander, not so much the chamomile and ginger. Also a good hit of that Belgian yeast; banana esters, funky bread, and the like.

The taste was out of this world. With something touting all these big flavors, it remains surprisingly complex and subtle. You get a strong backbone, just slight notes of grassy pine flavored hops and golden malts. In turn, you start getting the flavors it was brewed with: a bit of pepper here, a bit of ginger there, some chamomile mingling with the hops. Even a bit of a honey note showed up, possibly from the yeast and malt co-mingling. All of it was very light and unobtrusive, almost magically relaxing. There is even a food pairing, suggesting herb risotto, fish, and raw shellfish. I am supposing the raw shellfish is referring to things like clams and oysters.

It’s strange, but regardless of the weather, I feel this beer would remind me of spring. I guess you can call the head brew master’s foray into saisons a success. I will be on the lookout for places that carry a good selection of imports so I can try out some more of these surprising and inspired Italian beers.

Fun With Beer: Old Stock Ale – 2012

Old Stock Ale - North Coast Brewing Co.

Oh how I wish there was a beer fridge-sized time machine.  It seems like half of the good beers I want to try out are good, but everyone claims that it will “drastically improve with age”.  Well, I certainly hope my patience improves with age, because dang it all if I can not just let a good beer sit around in my closet.  I know it’s there, and I know I am thirsty.  Besides, they say that hunger is the best spice.  Maybe my craving for it will improve the flavor even more than a couple years of solitude will?

Oh who am I kidding.  Until this miniature and quite irresponsible use of time travel is invented, I’ll have to be old fashioned and set up a little rotation of beers.  Investing in a good age-able beer can pay off in spades in a couple of years.  The great thing about aging is that it can turn that pretty meh-tier beer into a real high quality bottle.
However, what if you start with a beer that not only is meant to be aged, but is also a really great beer to begin with?  That’s what we’ve got with North Coast Brewing Co.’s Old Stock Ale.  They come out with a vintage every year, but the one I tried was the newest, 2012.  They’re all at about 11% ABV, so I would consider sharing.  Of course whoever had to keep it in their pad for a year without being able to drink should get a touch more.
Luckily I didn’t have to worry about that.  I was looking forward to this un-aged one anyway, so I eagerly gave myself a pour into a tulip glass.  Old Stock pours a dark amber, almost ruby color.  There is a bit of visible carbonation, and it makes a thick and creamy white head.  Quite lingering too, almost leaving a semi-solid cap.  The scent is very thick and sweet.  Caramel malt, brown sugar, and stone fruit all make an appearance.  There is also a significant bit of a booze hit to the nose.  A bit odd because it was rather cold, and booze is something that usually comes out in the nose when something is served warm.  It didn’t phase me much, but I assume this is one of those components that will be suppressed after aging.
The taste was similar to the nose, but far more intense and distinct.  I got a heavy hit of fig and date sweetness, and just a touch of bitterness from the Fuggles and East Kent Goldings hops.  The bitterness doesn’t linger much at all.  It gets swept away pretty significantly by the syrupy malt and fizzy carbonation.  The tastes that linger kind of come from left field.  A kind of nutty taste, almost like almonds or marzipan with all this residual sweetness, and good full-bodied oak.  Subsequent tastes let you go back and kind of see where these two flavors pop up, but it is a small effect next to the sweetness and hops.  The mouth feel is a very clean, but heavy stickiness.  The carbonation can really foam it up in a delightful way.  Besides all this, you still get a consistent alcohol air to it.  Alcohol a bit like a bourbon when considered with the oak and sweetness.  Not at all unpleasant, but it was a bit distracting from the actual flavors going on.
Overall, a great beer.  Everything hit it’s mark and was enjoyable at every point.  Fairly complex and very well made.  However, it really does a great job at showing you that it has the potential to blow it’s past self out of the water after a year or so.  If that oak comes out and the alcohol and hop bitterness settles down, maybe the malts and sugary flavors mingle a bit, this will be one world class hell of a beer.

Fun With Beer: Brekle’s Brown Ale

Brekle's Brown Ale - Anchor Brewing Co.

There’s a good chance that if you frequent any well-stocked beer-having place, then you’ve seen the familiar banner of the Anchor Brewing Co.  With 150 years of brewing history dating back to the California gold rush, it would be hard not to.  I’ve had the pleasure of sampling a few of their beers, but one really caught my tongue when I tried it.  I’m referring to the beer named after the founder, Gottlieb Brekle: Brekle’s Brown Ale.  It is, according to the Anchor Brewing’s website, a classically styled little number using roasted 2-row pale, caramel, and munich malts.  To balance and compliment this, they use citra hops.  Personally, this is one of my favorite hop varieties.  It’s good to see the pleasing characteristics of citra used in this way, rather than muddled with a gang of heavy, in-your-face hops.  Either way, there is a bit of an old school ‘no frills’ style to this beer that I’m exited to try.

That very no frills style is something I really enjoy aesthetically about this brewery.  As much as we would like to be able to objectively enjoy our beers without being colored by various marketing campaigns, anyone can admit that craft beer in general has some very cool aesthetics.  Labels and logos are usually done by local or even in-house artists, are usually very clever or unique, and they serve the purpose of letting you know that brewery’s culture.  Some, like Clown Shoes for example, are very quirky and can have fun with naming and designing their beers.  On the other side of the spectrum, Anchor has kept their historic, anachronistic vibe without it becoming a very gimmicky, ”Tally-ho, good chaps!”, handlebar mustache kind of thing.  By the way, I’ll thank our readers to not remind me that I -on occasion- will sport my mustache waxed and curled in a completely non-ironic fashion.
Brekle’s Brown Ale pours an almost reddish brown, nice and clear.  Pour slowly, because it can whip up quite a head.  The head subsides quickly, leaving only a very light ring of slow carbonation.  The aroma it gives off it like fresh, floury biscuits.  This is one of my favorite scents for a beer, it’s just so danged appetizing.  You can also get some very nutty notes from the malts, but not really much of the hops.  Maybe more in the taste?  Let’s find out together, friends.
So, immediately I am hit with this amazingly rich malty goodness.  The nutty notes from the sent come out in full force in the flavor.  You get a definite herbal quality from the hops, and sure as sugar they balance out the malt blend perfectly.  Something that I noticed was really enjoyable was how by roasting these lighter side malts creates a better balanced flavor than when people roast something like a chocolate malt.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good porter or stout with plenty of dark malt, but for a brown ale, this is the way to go.  After a few tastes, I begin to get little after-tastes of a light citrus, like a grapefruit.  Also just a bit of a dark fruit, but overall the malt/hop balance remained.  A very consistent beer.
Anchor Brewing Co. comes through in a predictable fashion.  What you see is what you get, and you always get a well-crafted beer.  One of these days, I’m going to build my own 12-pack of their 10 varieties, and get two of the Brekle’s Brown.