Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Barfly's Beat: Eating at the Bar

The bar ain't just for drinks!
Most people think of the restaurant bar as a place to grab a pre-dinner drink or lounge post dessert. Casual diners do not realize that in New York, bar seats in many establishments are as coveted as Manhattan real estate. The cognoscenti, who actually enjoy the camaraderie and directness of a bar meal, know that eating at the bar is much more that a pit stop. It is the destination. In premium eateries that have a bar scene, you need a virtual (and sometimes literal) reservation or at least know the bar staff to acquire a seat. Once you get that seat, you stay for a while ...a long while.

Last week I was eating at the bar in The Waverly Inn in New York's Greenwich Village. The snarky Douglas S. was behind the counter and as unspoken decorum demands, I signaled that I would like a Michter’s Straight Rye Manhattan (up) and a bar seat when one became available. The place was Thursday night crowded but the thought of John DeLucie’s perfectly cooked pork chop or Hudson Valley free-range chicken potpie and the general atmosphere of the place beckoned. I waited very patiently - like a “Saint” they would later say - cocktail in right hand, trench coat over left arm, felt fedora in free hand – for the other diners and drinkers to finish up and vacate the occupied seats. But I wasn't hurried or nervous about fighting for a spot, I know the drill. Though the place was filling up fast the next one would be mine. Some new patrons (who seemed a bit tipsy) "asked" already sat customers if they could get their seat but Douglas advised them in his signature direct manner that "this gentleman" (meaning moi)was next one on line. Now, there is no line at WI per se. It is more like a mob of folks sipping drinks waiting for their impossible to get table reservations and hoping to get a seat while they wait. But there are unwritten rules that transcend the specific establishment. In addition to first come, first serve - there are three simple rules I follow in restaurant bars – especially the good ones - that always get me in.

1. If you want a seat, kindly ask the bartender when they think one will be available for dinner and ask to be seated next. (Respect and courtesy can go far, even in this town)
2. Order a drink and keep the tab open. (This lets them know you are serious about sitting for a while)
3. Do not hover behind and upset seated customers. (First it is rude, second it will not get you the seat any faster)

My bar dinner at The Waverly Inn actually lead to another one this past weekend which I have to say was one of the best. While I was enjoying an after dinner Fernet Branca I recognized Igor, one of the superb bartenders and a proprietor of Employees Only. Since EO opened, Igor has made me countless cocktails and always made our crew feel first class when we walked through the door. He knows me as one of those guys who is serious about cocktails and invariably ends up having chicken soup late night. So I decided to buy him a drink and we got to chatting. I told him about my eating at the bar philosophy and he asked if I had ever had dinner at EO’s bar. To his amazement I told I had not and only sampled their killer Serbian chartucerie platter on occasion. Well he insisted I stop by the next time I had a chance and try it out.

Well the opportunity came the Saturday before Christmas. I figured the place would not be so crowded what with half of Manhattan heading back to see their families and I was spot on. Igor was outside having a smoke and welcomed me in with open arms. I got my usual seat (I like to occupy the "dugout" area of a bar for a sweeping view of the room). Starting out with a Negroni aperitif, I followed with a robust Super Tuscan when dinner arrived. The dinner menu was actually quite diverse but as soon as I saw Juniper Braised Rabbit I knew I was sold.

I began with crispy sweet breads over red globe grapes and fried capers.
For my entrée, I had no choice but to take the braised rabbit over creamy polenta and roasted veggies.
I topped the meal off with the dark chocolate cheesecake with banana whipped crème paired with a double espresso caffe corretto with Jacopo Poli grappa.

More grappa followed and then few other custom crafted cocktails such as the Ramos Gin Fizz and an Aviation. The conversation flowed with other bar patrons while Igor and fellow principal bartender Jose made sure my glass was never empty until I called it a night. The experience was exceptional because I felt as if I discovered a gem that had been under my nose the whole time. EO had outstanding food, impeccable and sincere service, and the experience was perfect way to kick off the holiday weekend.

Other Loungerati eating at the bar favorites:
1.Freemans – go for the seasonal cocktails, stay for the Venison Stew.
2.Balthazar – simply stop in for a plateaux des fruits de mer and a carafe of Sancerre on a lazy Saturday afternoon and you will understand.
3.Blue Ribbon – Brooklyn or Sullivan Street locations are winners. The attention to detail, raw bar, bone marrow, plus potent nightcaps make it a crowd pleaser year after year.
4.Bar Tabac – Sunday brunch with soccer on the flat screen and Michael Arenella jazz next to the bar. Throw in their Eggs Bar Tabac (baked eggs, ratatouille, and merguez sausage) and you stay for dinner!

So next time you consider a meal at the bar, remember that it is much more than chicken wings or nachos on a Sunday afternoon. Nor is it simply tapas or small plates before a sit down dinner. Whether you go solo or with a friend or on a date, the bar eating experience is communal and hardly ever solitary. Good bartenders are engaging and as long as you respect the unwritten code of securing a seat, you will be rewarded with a great dining and drinking experience … and heck a shot of Fernet may suddenly appear in front of you on the house.

- Fredo

Saturday, December 15, 2007

What We're Drinking: The Fez

Effervescent rocks the Fez
Is this a drink review or a Shriners head gear promotion? This month I’d like to dedicate a cocktail to the lovers of exotica and old-style lounging. You don’t have to belong to the Mystic Order of Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm Shriners or be an Ottoman Turk to enjoy the sweet and sour refreshment of The Fez.

The Lid: A fez is a brimless conical flat-topped hat with a neck length tassel attached. It is made of red or maroon colored felt and was popular in Islamic culture during the Ottoman Empire. The Shriners and Masonic fraternities adopted the Fez as a ceremonial headgear in the late 19th century. It became synonymous with the fraternal organizations, which were more known for their drinking, lounging, and carousing than their charity.

The Drink: The Fez is sweet and sour like a Sidecar but without the heavy cognac feeling. The citrus infused vodka Absolut Citron taste is enhanced by freshly squeezed lemon juice. However, the tartness doesn’t overwhelm the drinker because the Chambord compliments it. Chambord raspberry liquor is the key ingredient that gives The Fez its burgundy color, sweet fruit flavor, and swanky smoothness.

Dig it: I discovered this oasis in the sea of martinis upon a visit to the legendary Fez under the Time Café in NYC night club. It was a Thursday night; I had tickets to see the Mingus Big Band. I was in the mood for the eclectic jazz styles of the late great bassist and looking for an excuse to try a drink that didn’t involve “whisky” or “gin.” Usually, I would have skipped right over a sweet drink like The Fez but I was feeling the music.

The waitress served me a smoky crimson color cocktail with a crescent shaped lemon twist “tassel” hanging off the side. Skeptically, I sipped it and was surprised by the plethora of flavors on my palette. When I finished The Fez, I licked my lips and quickly ordered another one. Then I was off to the Casbah!
The Fez

2 parts Absolut Citron vodka
1 part Chambord raspberry liquor
¼ part of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 lemon twist

Put a Martin Denny or Les Baxter album on the hi-fi. Scoot over to your bar. Combine the ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake thoroughly. Then strain into chilled cocktail glasses and garnish with the lemon twist on the side. Serve immediately.
Sit back in your Barcalounger and enjoy!

- Fredo

(originally published in Atomic Magazine 2003)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Then, to add insult to injury, no buy-back!

by Grumpy

So I decide to have a drink and dinner at the bar at a local pan-asian joint in New Brunswick. I've boozed-it-up there on occasion so some of the staff knows me.

Draft beer. Stella or Kirin. Standard 12oz pours. 8+tax=8.56. Yes. They charge 8.56 for a beer. Honestly I think $9 for a draft beer would be less insulting. Seriously. What the hell is that 44 cents? Give me a break. What? Are they afraid that I'm only going to tip a dollar and this way the staff gets $1.44 tip on a draft beer?

I like single malt Scotch. So I order a Glenlivet 18. I'm asked if I want a single or double shot. Now, I'm not sure what they mean by that, because I didn't order a shot, I ordered a Scotch. Maybe some of you who do shots can explain it to me. Anyway, the Glenlivet 18 is about $68 at a discount retail liquor store. (I've seen it online for as little as $49.) Their price? $25 for a "single shot." At $25 per "Shot" that's a NINEFOLD markup on a "Premium" product. The fractional markup on a premium product is supposed to be less than the standard markup because the dollar amount of the markup will still be greater. No. Not here. I can't figure out if the problem is that they have no clue what booze is worth or that they think that their customers are all a bunch of rubes. Fortunately I ordered during "Happy hour" where the price is 50% off bringing the price to a reasonable, if still expensive level. I think the problem here is that the people running this place aren't Loungerati. They look at the price lists at other places to determine their prices. They see $18 for a Glenlivet 18 and decide to up the price a bit because they're a more "hip" place. Fine. Except that the reason that it's $18 for a Glenlivet at another place is that the bartender knows to make a heavy pour for someone who's a single malt drinker. I've never had a skimpier pour on a Scotch except for the time at Fredo's Bachelor party in Montreal, and I don't have to tell you why the joint we were at was light on the pouring.

Then, to add insult to injury, no buy-back.

On the up side the sashimi was the best I've had in New Jersey. That's not saying much. Most of the raw fish I've had in Central New Jersey is barely fit to feed my cat, but there you have it.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Happy Repeal Day!!

by Fredo

Today is the 75th anniversary of the day the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was repealed in 1932 with the ratification of the 21st Amendment! This monumental legislation effectively ended Prohibition and Americans could once again consume booze!

The 21st Amendment of the United States Constitution
Ratified December 5, 1933
Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2. The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use there in of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

It is also Loungerati's first birthday! So the New York chapter be celebrating at a Dewar's Scotch sponsored event at Conker Hill pub in Hell's Kitchen. Rumor has it Fredo may be guest bartending.

Come on (hiccup)down and is your right!

Bottoms up from Loungerati!