Category Archives: Drinking

Who killed the Bloody Mary?

Contributed by Scott Coscia

I’m a child of the 70’s.  Anybody else remember the time?  It was one of the first real times in American history where hedonism was considered a cool thing, and my parents adopted the philosophy as best as they could.  They would throw parties and instead of illicit substances (Dad was a member of the law enforcement community,) the booze would flow freely.

I can remember staying up past my bed time and asking Mom who was loosened up by liquid refreshment, for a sip of her cocktail.  Her drink of choice was the spiced tomato juice cocktail known as The Bloody Mary.  It was a simple recipe, Gordon’s Vodka, and Mr. And Mrs. T’s Blood Mary Mix, pour over ice and garnish with a lemon.

The sips I would take hooked me, and hooked me hard.  No my parents weren’t contributing to the delinquency of a minor.  For me it was all about the taste, and nothing about the alcohol.  As time progressed, I would ask for my own Mary, but mine was of the virgin variety.  Heck I couldn’t order tomato juice in a diner without putting salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon in it.

When I became an adult my romance with the drink did not end.  Sundays would be the day I would make my own, but it wasn’t over brunch or anything like that.  This was before football where I would make a big pot of chili to create my own indoor tailgating experience.  It was a manly experience.  I would fool around with different mixtures and spices like a mad scientist till I came up with the perfect mixture.  I found the formula that I found to be ideal, but more on that later.

I would order them when I was out, and couldn’t find many that I found to be anywhere near as good as my own.  I found that most places would try and substitute heat for flavor.  They would make their own mix, but add too much horseradish, or make Tabasco the main component of the mix.  I never forget one particular bistro added so much that I thought I was drinking the hot pepper sauce on the rocks.  I could not even taste the vodka.  For a moment I thought that somebody was playing a joke on me, but this was way before that skinny guy with the trucker hats had his show on MTV, and I wasn’t famous anyhow.

As much as I remember the bad, I remember the good.  The Oak Room at The Plaza was known for their Blood Mary’s; I was especially impressed with the fact that they garnished each one with a jumbo shrimp.  I remember vividly that a particular Applebee’s in Staten Island had the perfect mixture of zesty tomato, tangy citrus, bold spice and after bite of vodka.  Don’t go trying to find the drink again.  I have since been back and the mix is like every other chain restaurant’s version…just lacking.

I still order them to this day.  On a trip to the carnivore’s mecca, Peter Luger’s, I ordered one while everybody had ordered the local Brooklyn Lager.  People looked at me, and I responded “It’s like an appetizer drink.”  I guess that can best describe how I feel about the drink.  It’s great to start things off, but would you really make a meal out of clam’s casino?  Could you imagine the acid reflux after a night of pounding spicy tomato juice?

There are many variations of the drink.  Unlike the Cosmo, and the Perfect Manhattan, you will find different recipes for the drink in different bartending manuals.  Its history is also in dispute; the common story is that it was started in Paris by an American ex-pat named Fernand Petoit at Harry’s New York Bar.  I’ve heard that it was created in a roadside bar in Texas but it was made with beer.

The variations of the drink are as diverse as the people who drink it.  I’ve heard of the Blood Maria made with tequila, the Bloody Bull which is made with the addition of beef stock, the Bloody Miho which substitutes wasabi for horseradish, and the unbeknownst to me why it was ever conceived, the Blood Caesar which was made with Clamato.  I’ve sampled the Salsa Mary, which doesn’t leave much mystery as to how it got its name, and the Red Snapper which is made with Gin. Which seems like the origin of its name came from the color coupled with the snap you get at the end of drinking any gin based beverage.

I am a purist and find vodka to be the only liquor that should be mixed with tomato juice.  As far as what liquor I use, I find that any old vodka will suffice, whether it be Popov, Mr. Boston, or Grey Goose.  I like my martini’s made with Grey Goose, but to save money, the house vodka suffices.  In a Bloody Mary, you don’t know the difference between the vodkas because the other ingredients are so powerful.  The only major difference is how you feel after consuming many of them.  I’ve found the better the vodka, the lesser the hang over, but subsequently the lighter my wallet.

As to answer the title of who killed The Bloody Mary?  I will hark back to the 70’s when I respond in a Clue like answer:  It was the The Sex in The City crowd, in the trendy lounge with the Mojito.  I guess spilled tomato juice is just too tough to get out of Prada.

Here is my recipe for the Perfect Bloody Mary:

1 oz. vodka, any kind
1 bottle Mc Ilhenny and Co. Tabasco brand Bloody Mary Mix
1 bottle Hot Sauce
Old Bay Seasoning
1 teaspoon Chopped Horseradish
Stalk of celery
½ lemon cut into two pieces
½ lime cut into two pieces

Fill a tall glass ¾ with ice.
Add vodka.
Fill the glass a little from the top with the Bloody Mary Mix.
Add hot pepper sauce taste.
Add horseradish.
Squeeze one piece of lemon and one piece of lime into drink.
Shake in generous amounts of Old Bay.
Stir with a spoon and garnish with celery stalk, lemon and lime.

Notes: Some say use tomato juice as opposed to a mixer. Tabasco makes a quality mixer, but it does need some doctoring.

Some recommend shaking, but I have found that if shaken too much, the drink can take on a carbonated effect.  Any hot pepper based sauce will work, but you want to avoid anything that cuts down the heat with fruit.  I like a brand called Yucatan Sunshine which uses carrots to lessen the burn of the habaneros.

Mexicali

San Francisco needs no introduction. It has fast become a great food town with all the trimmings. But there are several charms in the surrounding Bay area as well, most notably The French Laundry and Chez Panisse, four star dining California style. Other notables can be sought out by word of mouth. In this instance just 17 miles north of San Francisco, in Novato of Marin County, Las Guitarras stands proudly. Since 1978, owners Roja and Maria Elena have been serving the best of Mexico to anyone willing to take the trip.

The purpose of the visit was to meet the family of my companion, K, who feels partially raised by this tight knit Mexican-American family. Although she is she is Costa Rican, she often acts like a Chicana. Tia Emma, who apparently was working that night, invited us to her table. Her son Alberto was at the table too, watching his daughter Isabella playing with a ballon. This is a family joint, family run, and the sight of a Mexican family at play during work hours is endearing. Isabella was just too cute. The boss sat down, and her first glance sent chills down my spine. I came under immediate scrutiny. I told a few jokes, aided by the margaritas, and wooed them with my voracious appetite.

It’s hard not to stare at the grill from my vantage point. The giant oysters, laying there naked and ready, looked look like clients of Balco as well. But first the margaritas, on the rocks made with El Jimador tequila, pure and delicious, easily one of the best I’ve ever had on either side of the border. Not to be outdone, but feeling good, I ordered number two, but requested it frozen. Lalo, part of the family, took quick but cordial offense. “Frozen. Then you lose the fine taste of the tequila. We don’t do frozen at Las Guitarras.” I swallowed in embarrassment, and said, “Of course.” Then Lalo brought out a fresh concoction, this time with the addition of hibiscus, a potent flavor making for an unusually fabulous libation. Time for those monster oysters. Maria Elena insisted on the oyster al Jerez, and I asked for the BBQ for comparison. The BBQ was savory and sweet. The oyster underneath, fat and meaty. The al Jerez had melted white cheese, and the sherry vinegar was a great counterpart. Not a drop of sauce was left. I used the remaining tortilla chips to sop up the sauce from the shells.

The menu was a cross-section of famous dishes from all over Mexico. At the top of the list is the mole, one of the most fascinating and complex dishes Mexico has to offer.

The meeting went well, and the donias nodded in approval. If not for a dinner appointment at Chez Panisse, I would have eaten the house down. Mercifully, after the second potent margarita, I was given my leave, as long as I promised to return for a real taste of Mexico on the following visit. I think I passed the test, if only barely. Hugs and kisses later, we were off to Berkeley for fine dining, but deep in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but thinking about what tasty notes I was missing at Las Guitarras.

Beyond Rangoon

“Back when Britain still had an Empire and the sun never set on it, the Pegu Club was a British Colonial Officers’club in Rangoon.”

So begins the menu at the Pegu Club, and a tip of the hat by famous mixologist Harry Craddock from his classic 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, the Pegu Club Cocktail “has traveled, and is asked for around the world.” Such is the lore of its legacy, and now it is manifest on Houston Street.

The stairway leading to the Pegu Club is mysterious and East Asian in feel. Soft beige hues outlined by racy black lines – a Rangoon cocktail lounge, perhaps at a resort or posh hotel, as you would imagine it, but upscale. The second floor is expansive and yields illusions of extra rooms, but this chicanery is the result of impeccable design. The ceiling is an undulating stark black wave of wooden bars acting as a makeshift roof shelter from oncoming monsoons in the dark. The bar is crafted from slabs of tree trunk, polished down to a shiny sheen and adorned with black stools, set sideways as a sign of drinks to come. Behind the bar rest unusual bottles, simple syrups and bitters.

The remainder of the room is laced with spotted areas of comfortable seating, an indication of verve and sexiness for the romantically inclined. The transportation is effective and almost immediate, later completed after a sip of the perfect cocktail.

The menu changes depending on the night, but some stalwart classics such as the house drink still remain to satisfy the yearning for the familiar and the fantastic. It is difficult to improve upon the menu’s self description of its libations, as the snippets are dead-on teasers for the luxurious liquid to come.

The Pegu Club Cocktail, for instance, is crisp, snappy and fairly potent. Fitty – Fitty is “just delish.” The Bensonhurst is a “drink that any tough guy would be happy with” and so on.

The bartenders at the Pegu Club appear distinctly trained, as is evidenced by their economy of motion, their deliberate pace and measurement, and the rapturous shaking prior to the pour. If there is any pretension in this bar, it comes from the bartender’s prudent efficacy, and thank the maker for it.

On my most recent visit, I sampled a Pineappel Pisco Sour, made with an egg white, ensuring a child-like delight over the creamy white foam created in the glass. The Whiskey Smash is the mint julep redux, with its homemade simple syrup one of the reasons this drink is a star. If more Italian restaurants would serve aperitivos like the Aperol, I would be ordering doubles before my first glass of vino.

The recipes containing bitters are most enticing because they are homemade. It is difficult to grasp what bitters do for a drink until you actually taste bitters here. It is enough o inspire experimentation on your own. Luckily, the house sells them to the public.

There are nibbles of you must, and proper champagne that would spur Mr. Churchill to chuckle, and wine and beer for the weary. But that’s simply not the point.

After two cocktails, the transformation is complete, a man becomes more civilized, and a woman more lady-like, completely rejuvenated for the night’s beckoning, happy and sad, if but for a moment.

Memorial Day

Under the guise of Memorial Day, recently at my friend Dr. L. & Y.’s, we gathered to have dinner with his folks, an unofficial pre-birthday celebration for his dad, even though the actual date is June 24th. I am a big fan of this practice, as birthday celebrations should be drawn out and rejoiced, especially milestones such as number 65.

Dr. L. prepared a steady flow of perennial favorites including N.Y. strip steaks, lamb chops, and a chicken from Quebec. As usual, the wine pairing was very important, and what a glorious chore this became when we found out his dad was eager to share a recent birthday gift in the form of a 1989 Haut-Brion. This is the time one might flaunt Parker scores, in this case a solid 100.

We started dinner with cheese and salumi, whetting our palates with a 2000 chardonnay from Movia, the cutting edge master winemaker of Slovenia. The Quebecois roasted chicken was luxurious, curiously accented by fennel seed, crushed clove and juniper berry, garlic and olive oil. Sugar snap peas were thrown in for good measure. I brought an old standby, a wine I feel can stand up to many others more than twice the price, the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé.

There is a reason why rosés and rosé champagnes are making a strong comeback. The quality has improved 150%. The other night at Fatty Crab I enjoyed a Lagrein Rosé from the Alto Adige by a good producer, Suditroler, which was so balanced and delicious it rivaled the food on my plate. The sweet champagne rosés and rosés still exist, but there are so many dry, crisp, fabulous wines being made to counter this former trend.

Having tasted several vintage champagnes over the years, my money rides on this bottle.

It is a real wine, full-bodied, not bready or sweet, dry and balanced revealing complexity and restrained fruit. My choice for a straight up proper rosé is the 1995 Lopez Heredia de Tondonia Rioja Rosado. This wine will have you swooning about rosés in your dreams.

What to do about the Haut-Brion? Decant it? For how long? What about the sediment?

In my memory I compared the experience to the time we had the 1986 Lafite. But the Lafite was in an Imperiale format, built to last, and 1989 was a different year altogether.

Upon concensus, for some reason I felt that we should decant it just before serving, so as to take the journey of evolution with the wine. Sometimes old wines disappear and change too quickly when decanted, and I certainly didn’t want that disaster. I even suggested that we chill it for five minutes, because the room temperature was humid.

As it transpired, the moment of truth was ecstatic. We poured out one glass and passed it around the table. The aromas were at first vegetal and then wildly, savage, full of smoke, earth, herbs and spices. We sniffed and swooned for several minutes. Then we tasted, sipping slowly, carefully swishing it around to get the full effect. Wild raspberries and licorice created a luxurious feel in the mouth, sexy, unctuous velvet, that distinct perfume reminding us of its terroir. It was a bit closed at first, but over the course of the next hour blossomed beautifully. We decided to decant the rest due to the sediment.

The boneless N.Y. strip steak was expertly prepared in Fredo (Dr. L.’s cast iron skillet) and a darling match for the wine. The lamb chops ensued and proved a bit fatty, a less suitable partner. Despite a solid fruit and cookie course, we went through the motions, having been quite fulfilled by that Haut-Brion.

John is a folk singer, and played two of his recordings on his latest CD release Frontiers for us. One of his songs is titled “Remember Me” and was written to commemorate war-time vets. I have several things to remember about this evening, among them great food, close friends, a clever white, a dandy of a rose, and the inimitable Haut-Brion.

Air Time

There are so many rules about wine drinking, that sometimes I switch to beer so I can give my mind a rest. Decant it. Don’t decant it. Serve it slightly colder than usual. Pump the air out before storing it in the fridge. White for fish, red for steak. Sniff the cork at the table. Don’t sniff. Pop a champagne cork with noise. Remove the cork silently. The rules go on and on. It’s nice to know some basics, but more than often a wine comes along and challenges etiquette. Which means that there really are no hard and fast guidelines to rely on. Wine, like poker, is situational. The way you play pocket rockets must be adapted to each situation. The factors are different each time. Because wines are individuals, each terroir extends nuances to each particular wine. A wine may have a similar flavor profile, but still express itself.

Recently I bought a half case of Artadi Vinas de Gain, a Rioja from Spain, vintage 2003, an atypical year for Rioja. I sensed upon first attempt that the wine was young, and perhaps needed time. I compared the wine to other young, highly concentrated reds and figured that a few hours would help open it up. So I opened the bottle three hours before serving and rested on what I thought was sound judgment. Boy was I wrong. The wine was a hot, tannic monster. What made it worse was that the Remelluri I purchased for back up was drinking exquisitely. I cellared the remaining bottles to try several years later when critics surmised it would be “ready.”

For a Friday night dinner I went to Oppenheimer’s (upper west side butcher shop) and bought the short cut, which is the top of the sirloin. I find it juicier than the sirloin, and reasonably priced compared to the pricier cuts. The Artadi popped into my mind. What if…? This time I would use more cunning strategy. Okay, I admit that I tried the same thing at first, and the Artadi did not relent. So I left it in the decanter and untapped a Chimay. The Artadi remained in the decanter. One day passed, two days. And on the third day, I retasted. The Artadi displayed well integrated tannins, plush fruit, good acidity, long finish and overall balance. By my estimation, it could have matured for two more days. Easy.

Why did this happen? Some wines age better than others, for one. Exposure to air acts as an aging agent. Three days of open air were needed to simulate years of bottle aging. Would this be the same for a young Barolo? Probably not, as the wines are completely different. You can overdo it though. A little too long and you have astringent vinegar. You should check a wine’s aging potential with a critic you trust. Ultimately, I had faith in that Artadi. I believed it would show its true colors under the right circumstances, with the right pushing and prodding.

I guess the moral of the story is to experiment with different wines in terms of how long you should leave it exposed to air or how long a wine can last in the fridge or decanter so as to continue to improve. This is part of the fun of wine enjoyment, and many wines will give you varied results.

Of course, if this appears too heart wrenching for you, pick up a beer instead.