Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tales of the Cocktail Recap, Part Two

Rather than writing about the details of the seminars, I feel more like writing about more of our adventures in New Orleans. Drink along with me, won't you?

Another highlight from our Spirited Dinner at Antoine's was the Café Brulôt at the end of our meal. Served from a recently flaming punchbowl in a fantastic, traditional cup, this was a new experience for me. It was a strong (from both the spirits and the coffee), hot beverage, and a great finish for our evening. After all the other cocktails, I didn't finish mine, but it wasn't any reflection on the experience. Here are a couple of photos:

At right is our host
St. John Frizell's lovely wife, Linden, mixing the flaming pot of Café Brulôt. Several folks had the opportunity to play with fire on this one.

Just for fun, here are a couple of other pictures that I took at Antoine's - there's a lot of history (and a lot of stuff in general) on the walls.

People of a certain age will recognize the one on the left, and the one on the right just struck me as odd until I did some quick research.

It was a wall of photos of the past Queens of the Krewe of Proteus in the annual Mardi Gras celebration (we were in the Proteus Room at Antoine's). Most of the women were flamboyantly dressed, and then there was Ms. Willey Denis with her cats. Turns out Dr. Denis was a very accomplished academic. Guess she just happened to like this picture of herself best (or it's the only one anyone could find) since it's the one Tulane has for her also.

The Court of Two Sisters
We found ourselves at this place a couple of times during our stay. The Court of Two Sisters has a beautiful courtyard (although the fountain looks kinda funny from the back), and an interesting old bar that's fun to see.

Unfortunately, the drinks weren't as good as I had hoped, despite the representations made by our New Orleans Cocktail Tour Guide on our second visit. The drinks were OK, but everything was pre-made rather than made to order, even when it wasn't busy, and they had signs up for Island Oasis mixes on the tables.

And Don't Forget the Fabulous French 75 Bar
One of best places we visited for cocktails was the French 75 Bar at Arnaud's. Of course we had the namesake cocktail (picture at left), which is made with cognac rather than gin - a nice change I hadn't tried before. And we had a great Sazerac there too, probably one of the best we've ever had. Definitely go there the next time you're in the Crescent City!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tales of the Cocktail Recap, Part One

We got home last night from a six-day adventure in the Crescent City for the Tales of the Cocktail. It was a week full of cocktails, great food, learning and new friends. Here is part one in a series of highlights.

Day One: Heat, Absinthe and Parties
When we arrived in New Orleans on Wednesday morning, it was actually cooler there than it was in Chicago. Unfortunately, that didn't last, and by afternoon it was sweltering out. We didn't let that stop us, and we promptly set out for a series of events and parties.

First stop - the kick-off toast for Tales, and an honorary toast to celebrate the recent designation of the Sazerac as the official cocktail of New Orleans. We got to try the official drink of Tales, the Punch 'n Judy, and have a Sazerac or two for the toast.

Then we were off to a tour of the new absinthe museum, and an absinthe tasting out in the courtyard. We got to try the new Pernod absinthe, as well as Marteau (sorry, can't find a website). It was very hot and humid, and very crowded, which somewhat limited one's ability to enjoy the tasting. Nonetheless, it was interesting to try these two, as they are two of the few we hadn't tried before.

After that, we headed off for the cocktail blogger reception (so great to meet my fellow bloggers!), and the Warhol Factory Party (see pic at right). We then grabbed a late dinner and a cocktail at a restaurant not worth mentioning, and headed to bed. We hadn't actually slept the night before, so it was nice to get some zzzs.

Day Two: Great Sessions, Spirited Dinner at Antoine's and the All-Chicago Toast
I went to some great sessions on Thursday, including The Hemingway Bartender's Companion, Artisan Spirits and The Scented Trail (about developing aromas in your cocktails). More details on those in the next post.

We also went to a pairing dinner at the legendary Antoine's - read more about Antoine's in my post here. It was a nice meal, and the drinks were good, but they didn't really go together very well.

We ended the evening hanging out with the Chicago-based Tales contingent (along with a few USBG folks). By then, most of us had already had too many cocktails for the day, so we shifted to beer. Just to give you an idea, my first session, which started at 10:30 am, involved five (yes FIVE!) cocktails.

Stay tuned for details on the best sessions, the best cocktails we had, and the best food.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Chicago's Newest Iron Chef Bartender

Imagine this - you have 5 minutes to create an original cocktail that tastes, smells and looks good. You have to choose your ingredients from a table of fruits and vegetables that you've only just seen, and you have to produce five servings of the drink, including garnish, in that 5-minute period.

For the eleven competitors at the latest Chicago Iron Bartender challenge, that was the scene they encountered on Tuesday night. Early on in the planning for this event, I decided I wasn't quite ready to compete myself, so I volunteered to help out. Plus I wanted to write about it and cheer on the competitors (which include Charles Joly, pictured, as well as Tim Lacey and Peter Vestinos, along with 8 other fantastic mixologists I haven't yet profiled).

The only two required ingredients were the evening's sponsoring products, Cabana Cachaça and Funkin fruit purees. A word of warning, while Cabana is a nice, robust cachaça, and they generously sponsored Tuesday's events, you should be aware that their new website & advertisements are borderline soft-core porn. I can't help but think they will get a complaint to DISCUS for violating the liquor industry's guidelines about using sexuality to sell products if they haven't already. They certainly stirred up some controversy in t
he ad world with it.

There were five folks on the judge's panel (pictured at left, with our charming host for the evening, Serafin Alvarado), including Matti Anttila, the creator of Cabana, David Tamarkin from Time Out Chicago, two senior people from CHIC and Chef Randy Zweiban. They faced a tough decision - the drinks were all very creative, and ranged widely in terms of flavor, texture and aroma. And none of them
resembled a caipirinha.

Many of the drinks were very good (luckily the audience gets to taste them too), the scores must have been close. In the end, three women competitors took the top three spots!

Congratulations to Jennifer Contraveos from La Madia, who won first place and a trip to Rio to compete in an international cocktail competition in November (compliments of Cabana), and also to Debbie Peek from Team Enterprises and Bernette Baker from Applebee's (yes, Applebee's! I might have to find out which one and actually go there, for a cocktail!).

And please excuse the quality of the photos in this post, due to an unfortunate oversight (namely, a memory card), I was left to take photos with my phone instead of my digital camera.