Showing posts with label Drinks and Cocktails. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Drinks and Cocktails. Show all posts

Monday, August 13, 2018

Amsterdam, Jenever and Me, Together Again

I'm back in Amsterdam. Which makes me very happy. I celebrated being here by walking across the city.

For a coffee at a local hangout, I met Machteld Ligtvoet, a friend from several trips to the city. The brasserie and bar de Ysbreeker (Weesperzijde 23, 1091 EC) was named for the ice breakers that used to dock on the Amstel River in front of the 18th century building. We talked about Amsterdam and she shared some of her favorite destinations.

After we said goodbye, I could have taken a tram back to the INK Hotel Amsterdam where I am staying or, as Machteld suggested, I could walk.

That was great advice. Walking across the city was so much fun. 

I walked on the east side of the Amstel River, checking out the river traffic and the house boats moored along the river and the canals. Then I walked across the city center so I could stop at the Sofitel Legend The Grand Amsterdam. I had heard that the Grand's 1-star Michelin restaurant Bridges had recently been remodeled. 




Anne-Claire Koopman, Marketing Manager at the Grand, gave me a tour of Bridges. The restaurant is a delight. Elegant, modern and intimate. I didn't have time in my schedule to have a meal, but next trip, that will be at the top of my must-do list. 

There were other changes at Bridges as well. A new bar, the addition of a chef's table in the heart of the kitchen and an expanded bistro, where we found a seat with a close-up view of the beautifully lush courtyard garden. 



For a snack, we had a plate of  bitterballen, that quintessential Dutch appetizer made with flour and bits of meat, deep fried and served with a proper spicy mustard. Delicious! But it was the beverages that gave me a Proustian moment.



In 2015 I was in Amsterdam and stumbled on a liquor store on the edge of the Jordaan, 2008 Wine & Spirits (Haarlemmerdijk 59). Ron Verhoeven offered me a tasting of Jenever or Genever, a distinctive Dutch spirit. Clear or amber, depending on the age, it was love at first sip.

Verhoeven set me on a path that I've pursued since then. I wrote an article about Jenever, which I am reprinting here.

Which brings me back to Bridges. Jenever was on the drink menu. Of course, this is Amsterdam. The bistro poured Jonge Bols Dubbelgestookte Graanjenever with a beer back. I loved the combination of a strong clean spirit and the effervescence of a light Dutch beer. Delicious. 

All that was missing was to close the circle.

After I said goodbye to Anne-Claire, I continued walking north through drizzle and sunny skies. I crossed DAM Square, joining the throngs of tourists north on Nieuwendijk, which finally became Haarlemmerdijk. I was returning to square one, the place where it all began.

I walked into 2008 Wine & Spirits expecting to see Ron Verhoeven again. He wasn't there. Arjan his brother-in-law greeted me. 



I quickly saw what I wanted. Zuidam: Jonge Graan Genever. I bought two bottles to bring home. Arjan told me the history of genever and how the quintessential Dutch spirit fell out of favor in the 60s and 70s. Happily in the last twenty years, jenever has had a resurgence. Large and small producers have embraced the spirit, improving the quality, striking out into new flavor directions.

For the rest of the evening, at dinner at de Belhamel (Brouwersgracht 60) and for a nightcap at the Pressroom Bar at INK, I sampled more jeneers. Oh, happiness.

I enjoyed a Wees Jonge and a Zuidam Gelagerde Korenwijin 5 Jaar Vat Gelagerd. So different. So delicious. 

Which leads me to the article I wrote about Jenever. I'm reposting it now, to share with you my enjoyment of jenever and hope you join me in lifting a glass, with a beer back, to salute the wonders of Amsterdam and the Dutch! (Did I mention that my grandfather was born in Rotterdam?)

Jenever’s clean, bright taste is perfect neat or in cocktails.

If you visit Amsterdam, you will be advised to do as the Dutch do. No matter the weather, rain or shine, jump on a bicycle and explore the city. A necessary part of the Dutch experience is to stop in a neighborhood bar for a sandwich and a glass of jenever (or, genever, as it is variously spelled, and pronounced “yin-e-ver”).

You will happily greet the waiter who delivers jenever to your table in its traditional tulip shaped glass. As you sip, the jenever will give you “Dutch courage” to go back outside to continue your adventures.


For hundreds of years, jenever was the favorite drink of the Netherlands. When the English and Dutch fought a war in the 17th century, the English soldiers remarked about the fierceness of their opponents. That fierceness seemed to have something to do with the drink they shared before battle. Soon the English were drinking jenever as ardently as the Dutch and when they returned home, they wanted more of the same.

They called their creations “gin,” a reference to jenever but gin was made in a very different way. Because gin is better known, jenever is sometimes incorrectly called “Dutch gin.”

The Basics

Both use juniper berries as an aromatic, but jenever is distilled from malt wine made with rye, corn and wheat, while gin is distilled from grains. That malty base gives jenever a quality similar to whiskey or scotch. 


To be called a jenever, the spirit can only be produced in the regions specified as AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée), which include the Netherlands, Belgium and a few areas in France and Germany. In 2008, two sub-categories were created that differentiated a “young” (jonge) and an “old” (oude) jenever. The names refer not to age but to the percentage of malt wine and sugar in each. Following the historic practice, old jenever must have at least 15% malt wine and no more than 20 grams of sugar per liter. Creating a more modern and lighter distillate, young jenever may have no more than 15% malt wine and no more than 10 grams of sugar per liter.

A few jenevers are exported to the U.S. and they are prized by mixologists.  The best way to enjoy the great variety produced by Dutch distilleries is to go on a jenever-bar-crawl in Amsterdam.

A Walking Tour of Amsterdam’s Jenever Tasting Rooms
Walking along the canals, visiting museums and hanging out in coffee shops, you will want to visit several of Amsterdam’s jenever tasting rooms called proeflokaal. Many of those family-run bars are in historic rooms with ancient wood paneled walls, cooper pots used in distillation and shelves lined with dozens of types of jenever. 

For my tour of Amsterdam, after I crossed tourist-popular Dam Square in front of the Royal Palace, I walked down a narrow pedestrian walk-way lined with centuries old stone buildings that all but blocked out the bright blue sky overhead. Finally I reached Wynand Fockink (Pijlsteeg 31, 1012 HH Amsterdam,+31 20 639 2695), a 17th century tavern with a retail store in one small room and a bar in the other. 

Wynand Fockink feels like a setting you’ve seen in a Rembrandt painting with low ceilings and long wooden shelves, sagging with age and the weight of a great many liquor bottles. No mixed cocktails are served here. The bartenders offer customers tastings of their old, young, spelt, rye and superior jenevers in traditional tulip shaped glasses.

Another destination for that old school experience is the charming, historic, 19th century building housing Proeflokaal A. van Wees (Herengracht 319, 1016 AV Amsterdam, Netherlands, +31 20 625 4334). The tasting room serves sixteen types of van Wees jenever. The young jenevers have a light, bright flavor. The old jenevers, of which there are many, have flavors varied by the choice of botanicals and the length of time spent in oak casks. Some of those jenevers are aged as long as fifteen and twenty years to create flavors similar to brandy or fine Scotch. 


The Van Wees Distillery (Van Wees distilleerderij de Ooievaar) originally opened in 1782, may be the oldest, continuously run jenever distillery in Amsterdam. Fenny van Wees, the current owner and distiller, took over from her father who followed his father into the business. Now her daughter, Nikki Swart, has joined her. Their small batch jenevers are sold in bars around Amsterdam and exported throughout Europe, although not as yet to the U.S. About her release, the Miracle of Amsterdam (Mirakel van Amsterdam), she uses phrases commonly employed to describe fine wines and exquisite whiskeys. 



“It smells like honey, straw, vanilla, lemon, cardamom and other sultry scents, as if you’re wandering around through a warm eastern countryside. Tasteful and yet absolutely charming and elegant. In my opinion a female jenever, made by a female.”

For a completely different experience, a must-stop on a jenever tour of Amsterdam is the House of Bols (Paulus Potterstraat 14, 1071 CZ Amsterdam, +31 20 570 8575). The design style is modern, bright and colorful. In the Mirror Bar, the décor is fun and exciting as guests gather around the long bar to watch mixologists ply their trade. Guests can also join a workshop in cocktail mixology and have tastings of Bols’ liquors and jenevers as well as take a tour of the distillery and experience the varied aromas and flavors used in creating spirits in the Hall of Taste. 

Jenever in the U.S.

Making an appearance in Michelin-starred restaurants and bars around the country, jenever appeals to mixologists who like its distinctive flavors and its ability to play nice with other ingredients.  

Leo Robitschek at New York’s Nomad Bar (1170 Broadway, New York 10001, 212 796 1500) uses jenever to build complex flavors in his cocktails. To make the Dr. Walnut cocktail, he mixes Bols Genever 1820 with Amaro Ciociaro, Royal Combier, hazelnut liqueur, lemon juice, egg white and shaved walnuts. For a completely different experience, Bols Genever 1820, pisco and cachaça are combined to create a high-octane base in the Sakura Maru cocktail, flavored with sheep’s milk yogurt, lemon juice and agave. 

At San Francisco’s Mint 54 (16 Mint Plaza, San Francisco 94103, 415 543 5100) in Union Square, Jacobo Rosito uses a light touch when he creates jenever cocktails.  His New Era cocktail, a riff on a Moscow Mule puts Bols 1820 Genever front and center in a light mixer of St. Germain, lime juice, Fever Tree ginger beer and a few dashes of Angostura Bitters. For his Smokey Old Fashioned, he accents Bols Barrel Aged Genever with Lapsang Souchong syrup and bitters 12.  


Rosito says that those two cocktails are now the most popular at 54 Mint. For an after dinner digestive, he recommends Bols Barrel Aged Genever, which he happily admits he loves neat as his own end-of-the-evening treat. Rosito declares enthusiastically that jenever will become the new trend in the U.S.

Cesar Cerrudo at Mercado Modern (301 N. Spurgeon Street, Santa Ana, CA 92701, 714 338 2446)
also benefited from a visit to Amsterdam. Cerrudo riffs on classic cocktails using Bols genevers. With a nod to Amsterdam’s Red Light District, for his Red Light Negorni he uses Bols Genever, Pisco Viejo Tonel Acholado, Galliano L’Aperitivo infused with strawberries, lavender infused Carpano Antica Vermouth, Fee Brothers Rhubarb bitters, Fernet Vallet and clove smoke. His customers enjoy the way the genever interacts with the pisco, giving his Negorni a distinctive flavor profile.


By inviting mixologists to Amsterdam, Bols familiarized Rosito, Cerrudo and many others with jenever. As bartenders become better acquainted with jenever and demand increases, expect small batch distilleries like Wynand Fockink, Van Wees Distillery, Zuidam and others to make their distinctive jenevers available in the U.S. When that happens, jenever’s clean, bright flavors will compete for the attention of loyal mescal, gin and whiskey drinkers. And that will be a good day for everyone who loves quality spirits.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Mixologists Declare Dutch Jenever as the Next Big Trend in the U.S.

I'm back in Amsterdam. Which makes me very happy. I celebrated being here by walking across the city.

I met Machteld Ligtvoet, a friend from several trips to the city, for a coffee at a local hangout. The brasserie and bar de Ysbreeker (Weesperzijde 23, 1091 EC) was named for the ice breakers that used to dock on the Amstel River in front of the 18th century building. We talked about Amsterdam and she shared some of her favorite destinations.

After we said goodbye, I could have taken a tram back to the INK Hotel Amsterdam where I am staying or, as Machteld suggested, I could walk.

That was great advice. Walking across the city was so much fun. 

I walked on the east side of the Amstel River, checking out the river traffic and the house boats moored along the river and the canals. Then I walked across the city center so I could stop at the Hotel Sofitel Legend the Grand. I had heard that the Grand's 1-star Michelin restaurant Bridges had recently been remodeled. 

Anne-Claire Koopman, Marketing Manager at the Grand, gave me a tour of Bridges. The restaurant is a delight. Elegant, modern and intimate. I didn't have time in my schedule to have a meal, but next trip, that was at the top of my must-do list. 

There were other changes too. A new bar, the addition of a chef's table in the heart of the kitchen and an expanded bistro, where we found a seat with a close-up view of the beautifully lush courtyard garden. 

For a snack, we had a plate of  bitterballen, that quintessential Dutch appetizer made with flour and bits of meat, deep fried and served with a proper spicy mustard. Delicious! But it was the beverages that gave me a Proustian moment.

In 2015 I was in Amsterdam and stumbled on a liquor store on the edge of the Jordaan, 2008 Wine & Spirits (Haarlemmerdijk 59). Ron Verhoeven offered me a tasting of Jenever or Genever, a distinctive Dutch spirit. Clear or amber, depending on the age,  it was love at first sip.

Verhoeven set me on a path that I've pursued since then. I wrote an article about Jenever, which I am reprinting here.

Which brings me back to Bridges. Jenever was on the drink menu. Of course, this is Amsterdam. The bistro poured Jonge Bols Dubbelgestookte Graanjenever with a beer back. Delicious. 

All that was missing was to close the circle.

I continued walking north through drizzle and sunny skies. Across DAM Square, joining the throngs of tourists north on Nieuwendijk, which which finally became Haarlemmerdijk.  I was returning to square one, the place where it all began.

I walked into 2008 Wine & Spirits expecting to see Ron Verhoeven again. He wasn't there. Arjan was instead. His brother-in-law. 

I quickly saw what I wanted. Zuidam: Jonge Graan Genever. I bought two bottles to bring home. Arjan told me the history of genever and how the quintessential Dutch spirit fell out of favor in the 60s and 70s. Happily in the last twenty years, jenever has had a resurgence. Large and small producers have embraced the spirit, improving the quality, striking out into new flavor directions.

For the rest of the evening, at de Belhamel (Brouwersgracht 60) and at the Pressroom Bar at INK, I sampled more veneers. Oh, happiness.

Which leads me to the article I wrote about Jenever. I'm reposting it now, to share with you my enjoyment of jenever and hope you join me in lifting a glass, with a beer back, to salute the wonders of Amsterdam and the Dutch! (Did I mention that my grandfather was born in Rotterdam?)

At first I walked north alongside the Amstel River.

Jenever’s clean, bright taste is perfect neat or in cocktails.

If you visit Amsterdam, you will be advised to do as the Dutch do. No matter the weather, rain or shine, jump on a bicycle and explore the city. A necessary part of the Dutch experience is to stop in a neighborhood bar for a sandwich and a glass of jenever (or, genever, as it is variously spelled, and pronounced “yin-e-ver”).

You will happily greet the waiter who delivers jenever to your table in its traditional tulip shaped glass. As you sip, the jenever will give you “Dutch courage” to go back outside to continue your adventures.


For hundreds of years, jenever was the favorite drink of the Netherlands. When the English and Dutch fought a war in the 17th century, the English soldiers remarked about the fierceness of their opponents. That fierceness seemed to have something to do with the drink they shared before battle. Soon the English were drinking jenever as ardently as the Dutch and when they returned home, they wanted more of the same.

They called their creations “gin,” a reference to jenever but gin was made in a very different way. Because gin is better known, jenever is sometimes incorrectly called “Dutch gin.”

The Basics

Both use juniper berries as an aromatic, but jenever is distilled from malt wine made with rye, corn and wheat, while gin is distilled from grains. That malty base gives jenever a quality similar to whiskey or scotch. 



To be called a jenever, the spirit can only be produced in the regions specified as AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée), which include the Netherlands, Belgium and a few areas in France and Germany. In 2008, two sub-categories were created that differentiated a “young” (jonge) and an “old” (oude) jenever. The names refer not to age but to the percentage of malt wine and sugar in each. Following the historic practice, old jenever must have at least 15% malt wine and no more than 20 grams of sugar per liter. Creating a more modern and lighter distillate, young jenever may have no more than 15% malt wine and no more than 10 grams of sugar per liter.

A few jenevers are exported to the U.S. and they are prized by mixologists.  The best way to enjoy the great variety produced by Dutch distilleries is to go on a jenever-bar-crawl in Amsterdam.

A Walking Tour of Amsterdam’s Jenever Tasting Rooms
Walking along the canals, visiting museums and hanging out in coffee shops, you will want to visit several of Amsterdam’s jenever tasting rooms called proeflokaal. Many of those family-run bars are in historic rooms with ancient wood paneled walls, cooper pots used in distillation and shelves lined with dozens of types of jenever. 

For my tour of Amsterdam, after I crossed tourist-popular Dam Square in front of the Royal Palace, I walked down a narrow pedestrian walk-way lined with centuries old stone buildings that all but blocked out the bright blue sky overhead. Finally I reached Wynand Fockink (Pijlsteeg 31, 1012 HH Amsterdam,+31 20 639 2695), a 17th century tavern with a retail store in one small room and a bar in the other. 

Wynand Fockink feels like a setting you’ve seen in a Rembrandt painting with low ceilings and long wooden shelves, sagging with age and the weight of a great many liquor bottles. No mixed cocktails are served here. The bartenders offer customers tastings of their old, young, spelt, rye and superior jenevers in traditional tulip shaped glasses.

Another destination for that old school experience is the charming, historic, 19th century building housing Proeflokaal A. van Wees (Herengracht 319, 1016 AV Amsterdam, Netherlands, +31 20 625 4334). The tasting room serves sixteen types of van Wees jenever. The young jenevers have a light, bright flavor. The old jenevers, of which there are many, have flavors varied by the choice of botanicals and the length of time spent in oak casks. Some of those jenevers are aged as long as fifteen and twenty years to create flavors similar to brandy or fine Scotch. 


The Van Wees Distillery (Van Wees distilleerderij de Ooievaar) originally opened in 1782, may be the oldest, continuously run jenever distillery in Amsterdam. Fenny van Wees, the current owner and distiller, took over from her father who followed his father into the business. Now her daughter, Nikki Swart, has joined her. Their small batch jenevers are sold in bars around Amsterdam and exported throughout Europe, although not as yet to the U.S. About her release, the Miracle of Amsterdam (Mirakel van Amsterdam), she uses phrases commonly employed to describe fine wines and exquisite whiskeys. 



“It smells like honey, straw, vanilla, lemon, cardamom and other sultry scents, as if you’re wandering around through a warm eastern countryside. Tasteful and yet absolutely charming and elegant. In my opinion a female jenever, made by a female.”

For a completely different experience, a must-stop on a jenever tour of Amsterdam is the House of Bols (Paulus Potterstraat 14, 1071 CZ Amsterdam, +31 20 570 8575). The design style is modern, bright and colorful. In the Mirror Bar, the décor is fun and exciting as guests gather around the long bar to watch mixologists ply their trade. Guests can also join a workshop in cocktail mixology and have tastings of Bols’ liquors and jenevers as well as take a tour of the distillery and experience the varied aromas and flavors used in creating spirits in the Hall of Taste. 

Jenever in the U.S.

Making an appearance in Michelin-starred restaurants and bars around the country, jenever appeals to mixologists who like its distinctive flavors and its ability to play nice with other ingredients.  

Leo Robitschek at New York’s Nomad Bar (1170 Broadway, New York 10001, 212 796 1500) uses jenever to build complex flavors in his cocktails. To make the Dr. Walnut cocktail, he mixes Bols Genever 1820 with Amaro Ciociaro, Royal Combier, hazelnut liqueur, lemon juice, egg white and shaved walnuts. For a completely different experience, Bols Genever 1820, pisco and cachaça are combined to create a high-octane base in the Sakura Maru cocktail, flavored with sheep’s milk yogurt, lemon juice and agave. 

At San Francisco’s Mint 54 (16 Mint Plaza, San Francisco 94103, 415 543 5100) in Union Square, Jacobo Rosito uses a light touch when he creates jenever cocktails.  His New Era cocktail, a riff on a Moscow Mule puts Bols 1820 Genever front and center in a light mixer of St. Germain, lime juice, Fever Tree ginger beer and a few dashes of Angostura Bitters. For his Smokey Old Fashioned, he accents Bols Barrel Aged Genever with Lapsang Souchong syrup and bitters 12.  


Rosito says that those two cocktails are now the most popular at 54 Mint. For an after dinner digestive, he recommends Bols Barrel Aged Genever, which he happily admits he loves neat as his own end-of-the-evening treat. Rosito declares enthusiastically that jenever will become the new trend in the U.S.

Cesar Cerrudo at Mercado Modern (301 N. Spurgeon Street, Santa Ana, CA 92701, 714 338 2446)
also benefited from a visit to Amsterdam. Cerrudo riffs on classic cocktails using Bols genevers. With a nod to Amsterdam’s Red Light District, for his Red Light Negorni he uses Bols Genever, Pisco Viejo Tonel Acholado, Galliano L’Aperitivo infused with strawberries, lavender infused Carpano Antica Vermouth, Fee Brothers Rhubarb bitters, Fernet Vallet and clove smoke. His customers enjoy the way the genever interacts with the pisco, giving his Negorni a distinctive flavor profile.


By inviting mixologists to Amsterdam, Bols familiarized Rosito, Cerrudo and many others with jenever. As bartenders become better acquainted with jenever and demand increases, expect small batch distilleries like Wynand Fockink, Van Wees Distillery, Zuidam and others to make their distinctive jenevers available in the U.S. When that happens, jenever’s clean, bright flavors will compete for the attention of loyal mescal, gin and whiskey drinkers. And that will be a good day for everyone who loves quality spirits.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Having a Very Good Time in New York State's Finger Lakes

Last month I went on a road trip in the Finger Lakes. Flying to Rochester, I rented a car. For the next three days I drove south, then east, then north until I dropped the car off in Syracuse. With guides from the county tourism boards, I saw as much as I could on a too-short trip. I had a great time enjoying the lakes, visiting with farmers, looking at the beautiful countryside and meeting people who have lived their whole lives in this very special part of the country.
The focus of the trip was distilleries. Specifically, those distilleries on orchards. These are family owned farms. Those farms were allowed to produce distilled spirits because of law that was passed by the state of New York in 2007.
The Finger Lakes region is well-known for its vineyards. Now there are good products originating in the orchards. For the most part, that means apples. All kinds of apples, which are used to make hard cider. In the past when I tried hard cider, I didn't enjoy the sweetness. The hard ciders I tasted at Apple Country SpiritsEmbark Craft  Ciderworks both in Williamson, the orchard collective at Finger Lakes Cider House at Good Life Farm in Interlaken and 1911 Spirits at Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard outside of Syracuse were dry and light like champagne.
The real surprise was when I tasted the vodka, gin and brandies made from the products of those orchards. At Apple Country Spirits, I had Tree Vodka, Apple Jack and brandies made from cherries, plums and pear. At 1911 Spirits, I had 1911 Gin and 1911 Vodka. All were very good.
The vodka and gin at both distilleries were made from apples. That doesn't mean the spirits tasted like apples. They were delicious clean tasting and mild.

At the end of the trip, on my last night in Syracuse, I visited Al's Wine and Whiskey Lounge in the downtown area. The bar is relatively new but looked and felt as if it had been there since the turn of the 20th century. Tall ceilings. Brick walls. A pool table in the back. A lounge with leather couches and chairs. And a 35 foot long wooden bar backed by floor to ceiling shelves filled with bottles of spirits. The bar list is as thick as the phone book for a small city.
After a very busy trip, I was ready to enjoy the fruits of my labors, so to speak. I wanted a cocktail. One made with a local product. The way it works at Al's is instead of reading through a cocktail menu, you tell the bartender how you are feeling, which in my case was tired and what kind of spirit you like, which in my case was either vodka or gin, whichever was local.
The result was a very delicious cocktail made with Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard's 1911 Gin. I wrote up the recipe for Zester Daily. Please take a look. I think you'll want to make the cocktail for yourself. It is that good!

Upstate N.Y. Craft Distillers Get Creative With Gin

Friday, April 24, 2015

The District by Hannah An, Upscale Vietnamese near the Beverly Center

The District is a few blocks from the Beverly Center. A Vietnamese restaurant with an upscale menu and a friendly bar, chef-owner Hannah An has created an airy space with a large menu featuring organic poultry and meats, fresh seafood and a great variety of vegetable dishes that will make vegans very happy.
Many of the Vietnamese restaurants that have appeared in Los Angeles over the past year have focused on modified versions of street food: pho (the richly flavored beef or chicken noodle soup) and banh mi (French baguette sandwiches with meat and pickled vegetables). Both are available at The District, but these are versions made with high-quality, fresh ingredients and they are only two of several dozen dishes on the menu.
Hannah An is the eldest daughter of the family behind Beverly Hills' Crustacean, a restaurant known for the quality of its seafood and the elegance of the dining room. The design of the District is more casual. With an outdoor patio and windows that open to the street, the restaurant is light and airy and elegant in its own way.
Recently I joined half dozen other food writers for a tasting. We ate land animals and creatures from the deep. Some were crispy fried, others were braised with a layering of flavors. We ate steamed rice, soft braised noodles, light as air spring rolls, deeply flavored soup, a salad topped with a beautiful piece of crispy-skin salmon, an excellent Vietnamese iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk and a delicious cocktail that had plenty of heat.
The menus (lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch) overlap with dishes like pho (beef and chicken) and fried calamari available any time of day. Some like cha go roll are favorites in Vietnamese restaurants. At The District, the fried rice paper rolls practically evaporate in your mouth. There is not a drop of oil on them. Inside the well-compacted roll is a mix of ground chicken and vegetables. The garlic lime dipping sauce has enough heat and sweetness to compliment the other flavors. 

The affordably priced dishes are large enough to share. For those who want to splurge for a celebration, there is fresh lobster and filet mignon.
The best dishes at The District draw on the flavor combinations that immediately tell you the chef is from Vietnam. Whether combined in a sauce or used in the dish itself, freshly squeezed lime juice, cilantro, peppers and pepper flakes, fish sauce, fresh fruit, garlic and lemon grass are used by a practiced hand that knows exactly how much is the correct amount.

We were served black cod in a clay pot. In Vietnam the fish used would probably be catfish. Flaky and moist, the cod has a silken texture familiar to anyone who has eaten a version of Morimoto's miso-black cod, a dish served at many upscale Japanese restaurants.  Chef An uses lemon grass, fish sauce and a five spices mix to put a little edge into the darkly rich sauce. Chinese broccoli and thin uncooked ginger strips add texture.  On the very bottom of the hot pot were two triangles of fresh pineapple lying in wait for anyone who needed a bit of sweet-acid to add to the already complex flavor profile of the dish.
The calamari plate was another standout. Topped with a salad of purple kale and frisee, the crinkly leaves complimented the crispy calamari. The dipping sauce, another classic Vietnamese mix of fish sauce, peppers and lime juice rounded out the flavors. A selection of cocktails accompanied the calamari. The colorful cocktails have colorful names: Hot Asian, Side Car to Vietnam, Love You Long Time and Face Down in Saigon. 
The playfully named cocktails are well-crafted drinks designed by David Shoham, a mixologist well-known in Los Angeles. The freshly squeezed juices and the mix of heat and sweet are masterful. 

My hands down favorite of those we tasted was the Hot Asian. I could describe it, but I'll let the menu do it for me, "lemon gras infused Loft and Bear Vodka, organic Vietnamese chili agave, fresh squeezed lime juice, garnished with lime zest and Vietnamese chili." Hopefully you noticed that "chili" appeared twice in the description. Topping the ice filled glass was a whole, bright red pepper for those who wanted even more heat. 
I didn't need more heat, but I would have happily consumed another Hot Asian if I had brought along a designated driver. The cocktail was that delicious.

There is so much more to be said about The District by Hannah An. We ate a great many delicious dishes -- pho bo (beef with noodles), Hannah's noodles with crispy whole lobster, shaken beef with filet mignon so tender it really did melt in the mouth, chicken curry with fava beans, peas, thickly cut red onion rings with Thai basil and a kale Caesar salad topped with a crispy-skin salmon filet. 
There are many more dishes on the menu I want to try. I love the idea of chef An's take on French onion soup that uses bone marrow and Vietnamese spices. I want to have the roasted ginger chicken, crispy tofu, braised short ribs, District salad with prawns, kale and curly endive, duck confit salad with Vietnamese herbs, roasted cauliflower with pistachios, coriander-crusted lamb and the flatbreads (chicken, pork belly and heirloom tomato-burrata). 

They all sound delicious.

The District by Hannah An, 8722 West Third Street, LA, CA 90048, 310/278-2345.  Open for lunch Monday-Friday, dinner every night and Sunday brunch.

Monday, December 31, 2012

For New Year's Eve: A Favorite Cocktail

The holidays are a great time to break the work routine, slow down the daily tempo, and hang out with friends and family.

Cold weather makes the outdoors less hospitable. A warm kitchen invites like no other room in the house.  Pulling together appetizers, a salad, main dish, and a couple of desserts, is a lot of work but also great fun. 

With New Year's Eve tonight, I'm turning to an old favorite, a drink that evokes the sweetness and excitement of the tropics.

Because there are edible pieces of fruit at the bottom, include a spoon so the cocktail can be enjoyed as a drink and an appetizer all in one.

Tropical Rum Cocktail

Yield: 4

Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup white rum
2 Fuyu persimmons, ripe, slightly soft, finely chopped
1 cup fresh orange juice, sweet
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
16 ice cubes

Method

Pour the white rum into a pitcher, add the powdered sugar, and stir well to dissolve. Add the finely chopped persimmons, orange and lime juice, and stir well to combine.

Put 4 ice cubes and a spoon into each glass, pour in the drink, making certain that the persimmon pieces are divided equally and serve.

Variations

Top with a fresh sprig of mint

Adjust the proportion of orange and lime juice, to taste

Substitute finely chopped mango, strawberries, kiwi, or fresh passion fruit for persimmons

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Apple Pie Gets Whisky Tipsy

For the holidays, old favorites are entitled to special love. Case in point, apple pie. Nothing is more American and no dessert is more satisfying than apple pie, hot from the oven, topped with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Delicious as it is, special occasions call for special ingredients.

Whisky's smoky sweetness seems like a perfect companion for apple pie's richly comforting wholesomeness.

My mother made apple pie for Thanksgiving and Chanukah. Her recipe was the essence of simplicity. One of those dishes that intuitively adheres to the principle of "let the ingredients speak for themselves."

At a time when farmers markets didn't exist in cities, my mom would pack my sister and myself into her Dodge and we'd head out to the farms in the areas surrounding Banning, California, the small town on the way to Palm Springs where we lived during my high school years.

Sometimes we'd stop at stands along the highway and buy a basket of apples, maybe a pumpkin or two, and a grocery bag filled with lettuce, beans and onions. When she had decided we would make a whole day out of the trip, we would go to one of the many U-Pick 'Em apple orchards in the area. My sister and I would clamber up the tall ladders, my mother holding on to the bottom as we picked apples and deposited them in the pails provided by the farmer.

Happily we don't have to travel as far now, since farmers markets bring fresh apples to our neighborhood on Sunday in Pacific Palisades and Wednesday and Saturday in Santa Monica. The Fuji apples from Ha Farms are firm and sweet and make an especially good apple pie.

The nice folks at Maker's Mark gifted me with a bottle of their whisky, the idea being I would come up with a nifty cocktail for the holiday season.
It didn't take much effort on my part to mimic the beautiful version of the Manhattan served at the Westside Tavern (10850 W. Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064) in West Los Angeles.

Called the Proper Manhattan, the secret to their upgrade of the classic cocktail is the addition of Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6, manufactured in New Orleans by the Sazerac Company and sold locally at Wally's (2017 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90064).
Thinking about my mother's apple pie and eyeing the Maker's Mark on the counter, it was easy to put two and two together.

For many years, I've been tinkering with my mother's apple pie recipe--adding cream and crystalized ginger to the crust--so including whisky with the apples seemed like the perfect addition to a holiday apple pie.

Normally I wouldn't use whisky in cooking because the alcohol cooks off and I would much rather sip whisky than use it for flavoring, but a whisky apple pie, topped with a premium vanilla ice cream and served with shooters of Maker's Mark whisky and Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6 seems like a fine way to celebrate the holidays. Nothing like double-downing on a good thing.

Manhattan Shooters
When a cocktail seems like too much of a commitment, a Manhattan shooter is a great way to go, the perfect size to accompany appetizers and snacks.

Yield 1

Ingredients

1 1/2 ounces premium whisky
1/4 teaspoon dry vermouth
5 drops Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6

Directions

Keep the shot glasses, whisky, vermouth and bitters in the freezer. When ready to serve, take everything out of the freezer, measure, mix, pour and consume the shots along with a slice of the whisky apple pie.

Whisky Apple Pie

Use any variety of apple you enjoy. I like Fuji apples which are sweet so I can use less sugar.


Ingredients
6 large sized apples, washed, peeled, sliced 1/2” thick
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup whisky
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon golden raisins
2 tablespoons roughly chopped raw almonds
5 large pieces crystallized ginger
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 teaspoons raw sugar
1-2 tablespoons ice water

Method

Make the pastry first. Hand chop the crystallized ginger as fine as possible. Put the flour, butter, sea salt, 2 teaspoons of raw sugar, and the crystallized ginger into a food processor and pulse until well-blended.  

While the food processor is running, slowly add the cream and then a little water at a time until the dough forms a ball.

Sprinkle flour onto a cutting board. Remove the ball of dough, divide into two pieces, put onto the flour and flatten into two 6” disks. Wrap each disk separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 60 minutes. Just before you are going to roll out the pastry, remove the disks from the refrigerator and allow to soften for five minutes.

On the floured cutting board, remove one disk from the plastic wrap and roll out the dough so it covers a 9” pie dish. 

Gently lay the dough over the pie dish and press down to fit. 

Trim the excess dough off the edge with a sharp paring knife. 

Make a dozen holes in the bottom of the dough. Weigh down the dough with ceramic pastry balls, uncooked rice, or beans and bake 15 minutes in a preheated 375 F oven.

Remove. Let cool on a wire rack. Remove the weights.

Roast the chopped almonds on a piece of aluminum foil in the 375 F oven for 5 minutes and remove.

For the filling, put the whisky, lemon juice, raisins, and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl. Toss the apple slices in the mixture so the apples don’t discolor.  Let sit 15 minutes. 

Spoon the apples, raisins and almonds into the prebaked crust. Pour 2 tablespoons of the liquid on the apples. Reserve the rest of the liquid.

Roll out the top crust on the floured cutting board as before. Lay the pastry on top of the pie. 

Trim away the excess. Use a fork to press together the edges of the top and bottom crusts. The tines will make a nice design along the edge.

Use a paring knife to poke half a dozen slits in the top pastry to allow steam to escape.

Bake in a preheated 375 F oven 30 minutes. 

Place the reserved whisky-brown sugar liquid in a small saucepan. Reduce to one quarter the volume over low heat, stirring frequently.

Remove the pie from the oven. 

Brush the whisky syrup on top of the pie and dust with a sprinkling of raw sugar.

Return to the oven for an additional 25-35 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned.  Remove from the oven, place on a wire rack and let cool.

Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

For New Year's Eve: A Favorite Cocktail

The holidays are a great time to break the work routine, slow down the daily tempo, and hang out with friends and family.

Cold weather makes the outdoors less hospitable. A warm kitchen invites like no other room in the house.  Pulling together appetizers, a salad, main dish, and a couple of desserts, is a lot of work but also great fun. 

With New Year's Eve fast approaching, the search is on to plan a festive meal. What better way to begin the celebration than with a drink that evokes the sweetness of the tropics.

Because there are edible pieces of fruit at the bottom, include a spoon so the cocktail can be enjoyed as a drink and an appetizer all in one.

Tropical Rum Cocktail

Yield: 4

Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup white rum
2 Fuyu persimmons, ripe, slightly soft, finely chopped
1 cup fresh orange juice, sweet
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
16 ice cubes

Method

Pour the white rum into a pitcher, add the powdered sugar, and stir well to dissolve. Add the finely chopped persimmons, orange and lime juice, and stir well to combine.

Put 4 ice cubes and a spoon into each glass, pour in the drink, making certain that the persimmon pieces are divided equally and serve.

Variations

Top with a fresh sprig of mint

Adjust the proportion of orange and lime juice, to taste

Substitute finely chopped mango, strawberries, kiwi, or fresh passion fruit for persimmons

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