A Night of Cocktail Exploration

 

After searching through Yelp for the craftiest cocktail place in downtown Boise, I decided to give the Press & Pony a try.  Aided by my daughter and hubby as the designated driver, we passed through the velvet curtained entryway into a small speakeasy environment with a copper-topped bar and tin-tiled ceiling.  Score-atmosphere galore where the bartenders were knowledgeable and downright hardcore in their stance to serve only the most unique craft cocktails to their customers.

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Absinthe anyone? Press & Pony has atmosphere galore plus well crafted cocktails in downtown Boise, Idaho.

Of course, after reviewing the menu of cocktails (no food here-serious drinking only), I interviewed the bartenders on their most popular drinks and ingredients.  Boy did I get an earful of passionate discourse on the ingredients needed to create cocktail masterpieces.  Settling on the classic Old Fashioned to try first, it did not disappoint.  Eric the Bartender proclaimed their Old Fashioned to be the best in Boise and with the essence of lemon and orange mixed with simple syrup, bourbon and 8 dashes of two types of bitters served in a classic old fashioned tumbler with a big ass ice cube, the better not to melt and dilute the drink I was told, I contently sat back to sip and enjoy this masterpiece of alcohol.  As I brought my nose to the glass, the lemon and orange oils diffused the smell of booze and lightened the bourbon taste.  Delightful!

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House-made tonics and sodas delight even the non-alcoholic sippers
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Shots and Classic Cocktails with complex ingredients

Next up on the cocktail tasting menu for me was the Corpse Reviver No. 2 that combined gin, lillet blanc, Cointreau, lemon juice and an absinthe rinse for good measure.  The name alone compelled me to give it a try plus I had never tried absinthe so the Corpse Reviver was perfect!  Shaken not stirred, it arrived in a short goblet with tiny floats of ice on top.  Delicious with a kick!  Eric pointed out that absinthe is 53 proof and not to be trifled with.  As Hannah put it so aptly when she tasted her Dark + Stormy (dark rum+ginger beer+lime juice) cocktail, “Oh Jesus!” 

In asking Eric about the focused assortment of their liquors behind the bar, he expressed disdain for the standard popular brands like Maker’s Mark and Jack Daniels-not even available at their establishment, thank you very much.  As he put it, if customers come in and ask for vodka or “regular” drinks like Jack & coke, he directs them to the “douche kiddie bars” down the street where it’s all about cheap booze vs. refined cocktails.  Tell us how you really feel, Eric.  I like a bartender with principles.

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Absinthe anyone? Press & Pony has atmosphere galore plus well crafted cocktails in downtown Boise, Idaho.

Next up on the cocktail research tour, we met up with our friend Ryan H. and walked quickly on this single digit frigid night to the Red Feather Lounge, a more mainstream alcohol emporium but with a late night happy hour (yes, we were out that late believe it or not) so we could enjoy hot beignets with warm butterscotch dipping sauce with our cocktails.  Paired with a “Fever of the Mad” (Extra Dry Gin, Herbsaint Pastis,  Fresh Lemon, Fee Bros. Peach Bitters, and Egg Whites) the beignets soaked up all the alcohol just fine.  I had wanted to try a drink featuring egg whites as this is a hot trend now.  The Fever was light, frothy and a perfect way to end a night of intensive cocktail research.  Taking the Red Feather motto to heart, “A bar without bitters is like a kitchen without spice.”, it’s back to Seattle today to continue the research at Canon, one of the top cocktails bars in the nation.  Watch out!

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Absinthe anyone? Press & Pony has atmosphere galore plus well crafted cocktails in downtown Boise, Idaho.

Theater, Scotch and Sailboats…Oh My!

 

Who on Earth would predict that a musical about 9/11 and how the town of Gander, Newfoundland welcomed 7,000 passengers on 38 planes diverted there that day would be so inspirational and wonderful?  NOT ME!  Boy, was I shocked.  We laughed and cried and didn’t want it to end.  I have to tell you, when Thom told me where we would be going this past Thursday night, I was wanting to do almost anything else!!  His dear childhood friend that has worked for 30+ years at American Airlines guiding flights around the world, Billy, and his wife were scheduled to come visit us for the opening of the play as he was personally involved with the main character in the story, Beverly the pilot of one of the flights diverted.  Billy guided Beverly and her flight to safety that horrific day and they have stayed in touch ever since, bonded for life by tragic circumstances beyond their control.

Unfortunately Billy recently had surgery and couldn’t travel but we went in his place.  Seated next to us were a nice couple who immediately told us that they were retired pilots who had been at the play for opening night and found it so amazing that they bought the extra tickets that Billy had purchased.  Also friends with Beverly, who was at the theater that night, they had a personal connection to this particular story, having flown during that crazy time.  Flying a few days after 9/11 for work, I remember thinking that air travel will never be the same and it certainly isn’t.  No more greeting family at the gate and please take off your shoes, no liquids over a certain size, etc.WP_20151119_21_21_19_Pro

But back to the play that brings it all to life.  With clever use of the actors playing several roles, the story is told of one particular flight flown by Beverly and diverted to Gander.  The citizens take in this mass influx of people with some trepidation but end up feeding and housing them all over town for a week or so.  Authors David Hein and Irene Sankoff nailed the snappy dialogue, plot line and wonderful songs.  I have seen many a Broadway play and this would win a Tony for sure.  Let’s hope they get publicity and make a run for Broadway.  I only hope that they keep the same cast and band because they were top-notch and I can’t imagine anyone else in those roles.  If you live in Seattle, GO SEE IT!  It’s playing at the Seattle Repertory Theatre until December 13th.  Seattle Times Review of “Come From Away”

Friday night, bearing beer and wine as boat-warming gifts, we visited our friend Brad’s newly acquired sailboat just north of Ballard.  Draped in festive holiday lights, the 3 br/2 head money pit (all boats are!) was warm and cozy below and brisk up top as the 20+ people drank and socialized.  Seeing the crowd drink scotch to warm up, I figured, “What the Hell!” and decided to join them and have my first taste of scotch.  Hmmm…it sure does warm up your whole throat for an extended period of time.  These scotch drinkers could be on to something.  My friend Kurt has offered to “school me” on the varieties of scotch as he has drank his way across Europe tasting and sipping.  Bring on Booze 101 classes!  Now, I’m not a boat person, having owned a lake cottage and boat at one point and didn’t really enjoy them, but these sailors seem to be very dedicated and borderline obsessed with this lifestyle.  Expensive, yes, but a social way to embrace the beauty of the water.  As long as it stays at the dock and the wine/scotch is flowing, count me in.  Ahoy mate!

Classic Cocktails-The Sidecar goes down smooth!

Cocktail research continues!  Next up-The Sidecar.  A classic cocktail that my mom fondly remembers from her wild days out on the town in Indy with my dad.  At Café Navarre in South Bend, Indiana, Michael shook me up a sidecar and shared his secrets to a fine drink indeed.  BTW, no, I don’t travel around the world just to drink cocktails but as I’m writing this I’m thinking that would be a cool idea.  Hmmm…..how can I make that happen?   A few weeks ago I was testing out appletinis in Vancouver on a vacation weekend but now I’m in South Bend to see mom and also to attend the ND/USC football game with my sis who somehow was able to score us tickets to this “game of the century”.  Well done, Beck.  With Coach Steve S. fired last week, I’m hoping the Irish roll.  But enough about football and now back to the REALLY important stuff… cocktails.

Cheers!
Cheers!

My handy dandy cocktail book tells me that the sidecar originated in Paris at Harry’s Bar and was invented as an elegant cocktail for American expats living there.  After Prohibition ended, there were cocktail drinkers who declared it almost made the long, dry years worth the wait.  Harry’s Bar has dubbed itself “the oldest cocktail bar in Europe” so I MUST add that to the travel list for next year.  Would I travel to Paris just to enjoy a classic sidecar at the bar that birthed it-oui!

Michael at Café Navarro makes a mean sidecar!
Michael at Café Navarro makes a mean sidecar!

My cocktail book back home lists the ingredients for a sidecar as:  brandy, orange liqueur and lemon juice.  Michael had, of course, another plan as I’m finding out that no cocktail is ever made the same.  He shook up 2 ounces of Hennessey cognac (fancy!), 3/4 ounce each of freshly squeezed (of course!) lime juice and Cointreau liqueur and poured into my sugar-rimmed martini glass.  Smooth and slightly sweet, it was the perfect balance of liquor to warm me up on a cold pre-game evening.  DAMN that was good!  Is it proper bar etiquette to lick the glass clean?

Michael was kind enough to share his vast knowledge with us on other cocktails as well.  His fav on the cocktail menu at Café Navarre is “Final Word” featuring a complex list of ingredients:  Rye whiskey, lemon juice, Luxardo maraschino liqueur, green Chartreaus, spanked mint and lavender bitters.  “Spanked” mint?  How do you spank a mint you might ask???  Well, Michael gave us a quick spanking demo–lighter than a muddling, just place the fresh mint in your palm and gently bruise it.  Gotcha-can’t wait to spank some mint myself.

Handcrafted cocktails at Café Navarro feature a complex array of ingredients
Handcrafted cocktails at Café Navarro feature a complex array of ingredients
Lavender bitters--who knew?
Lavender bitters–who knew?

Michael also introduced us to the complex world of bitters.  His bar houses a wide array of medicinal looking  bottles that add another layer of complexity to cocktails and are a staple ingredient for the handcrafted cocktails featured on his menu-orange bitters, lavender bitters, #2 bitters, etc.  Michael even suggested that you can add a dash of bitters mid-drinking a cocktail to create a whole different experience within just one glass.  A whole “bitter” world to explore in future blog posts-the research MUST continue!

Now, I’m off to throw on multiple layers to keep warm at a chilly 30ish degree evening ND game tonight-GO IRISH!

The Cocktail Quest Continues…

Ask a bartender for their appletini recipe and you will quickly find out that everyone has their very own special way to make it.  What the hell???  You’d think a simple cocktail like that would be pretty standard from place to place.  After intensive research (someone has to do it!) I got quite the list of varied ingredients and suggestions on how to make the perfect appletini.  Please let me share.

On our first stop, the Templeton diner that was recommended on Yelp as having “character” certainly did as it was in the rough section of Vancouver next to a TripleXXX peep show establishment.  Most tourists would run the opposite way if they found themselves in this type of neighborhood in a foreign country.  Not us-we embraced it and took photos!  Now, a diner known for burgers and milkshakes might not be the best place to try out appletini’s but, you betcha, we did just that.  Nothing goes better with a plate of poutine than an appletini!

Our lovely waitress shared her unique recipe—vodka, peach schnapps and apple juice.  Crazy tasty!  Paired with plates of poutine and salads/burgers plus milkshakes for the boys, we had quite the feast and laughed ourselves silly over our choice of fine dining experiences the first night in Vancouver.  We know how to have a good time-pick a shabby diner next to a peep show with a jukebox and liquor.

After our walking tour of Gastown the next day, we were starving and conveniently close by my favorite restaurant in Vancouver-the Water Street Café.  Quite the opposite atmosphere from the prior night’s diner, this café had the white table cloth vibe going on and was in a historic gorgeous building.  I had been there multiple times when in town on business and always get the same thing-salmon risotto.  So delicious but how would their appletini’s taste???

Water Street Café-Sour Puss is the key to an appletini!
Water Street Café-Sour Puss is the key to an appletini!

Another lovely waitress shared her bartender’s ingredients—vodka, apple sour puss liquor, simple syrup and a drop of lime juice.  Now, I’ve never made simple syrup but she suggested a 1/3 raw sugar to 2/3 hot water formula.  Even with the syrup, the appletini’s we were tasting were still not as sweet as the ones in Shanghai.  The quest for the perfect appletini continued later that day at our hotel because having an appletini at lunch just wasn’t enough.

Patti enjoying the appletini at Water St. Café in Gastown
Patti enjoying the appletini at Water St. Café in Gastown

The bartender at the Marriott Pinnacle was most accommodating to talk us through his appletini creation that included vodka, pineapple juice and fresh lime topped with a slice of apple.  Now, he very quietly told us that he prefers apple juice to pineapple juice but the Marriott chain forces him to use pineapple-how dare they stifle his cocktail creativity!  He also suggested we could use agave to sweeten it up if we preferred.  When I asked him why the appletinis in Shanghai were so very green instead of the light green we were seeing at his bar, he suggested that perhaps they used a tamarin syrup with agave muddled together to “green it up” a little.  I appreciated his honesty and sharing of tips.

Now, all appletinis are good (just as there is no bad wine or pie) but the quest must now continue in Seattle.  I hear that Canon on Capitol Hill was named the 6th best bar in the world.  Who knew???  I MUST check it out.  Also dying to run to the liquor store in the U.S. to see if they have Sour Puss in stock or if that is just a Canadian odd liquor….l’ll be looking for that black mean ass kitty on the bottle and then I’ll know I have the right stuff!

Finally made it to Granville Island, Vancouver, BC!

As many times as I’ve been to Vancouver, I’ve just never made time to visit Granville Island, one of the top tourist attractions here.  Yesterday, I finally made it!  After researching the water taxi situation, we made our way to Yaletown and caught the water taxi, a cute little boat that holds about 10 people comfortably.  After a quick 10 minute ride across the water, we hopped off ($7.50 each round trip) and immediately immersed ourselves into the market.  WOW-what amazing fruit including a long dark purple grape thing I had never seen before.

Granville Market had lovely fruit including kinds I had never seen
Granville Market had lovely fruit including kinds I had never seen

We meandered around looking at exotic spices, breads, meats, pasta, etc.  If I lived in Vancouver, I would shop here all the time!  While there are a lot of touristy shops, we were able to get away from the main drag and enjoyed looking through the handmade broom store.  Whether you’re riding one (no, not ME, Thom!) or sweeping away the cobwebs, they make a broom for every need and they were just beautiful.

Handmade brooms for every need!
Handmade brooms for every need!

Next stop was the glassblowing shop where we enjoyed seeing the young gent blowing a colorful glass cup that unfortunately slipped off.  To say he uttered a few bad words under his breath is an understatement but he was resolute and announced to those watching, “It happens.”  DAMN that glass is expensive in the shop but when you see how long it takes to make it, you do understand the pricing.

Glassblowing to make lovely treasures
Glassblowing to make lovely treasures

After that, we were tired and needed a drink but the distillery was packed so we decided to find the diner I had seen on Yelp with it’s magnificent milkshakes and burgers.  Unfortunately, we found out that the diner was on Granville STREET not Granville Island so we took the ferry, walked awhile and finally found it in the gritty part of downtown Vancouver–right next to the TripleXXX Peep show.  We only take our friends Patti and Larry to the best places!  Actually, the Templeton diner had good food and we were able to introduce Larry to poutine.  YUM!  Of course, when Larry thought we said another word similar to poutine, we almost spit out our drinks.  Correcting him and cautioning him to NOT use that word again in public, we proceeded to enjoy those fries covered in white cheese and thick rich gravy along with our eclectic mix of salads, hamburgers, coconut chicken strips with chili sauce, and Portobello mushroom sandwich plus, of course, candy appletinis for Patti and I and milkshakes for the boys.  WP_20151002_18_15_39_Pro

Interestingly, they make their appletinis with vodka, peach schnapps and apple juice and they were delicious, served to us in wine glasses because all their martini glasses were broken.  Enjoying the jukebox and good company, we had an excellent first day in Vancouver!  Today we are taking a walking tour of Gastown and tomorrow we will explore Chinatown.  Looking forward to a relaxing foot massage if we can find a place!

Cocktails anyone?

I have succumbed to the cocktail craze!  When thinking of a new hobby, I had to consider the time it will take, the cost and whether I have a true passion for it…considered and DONE!  So, cocktails it is for my new hobby!  I love my red wine but it’s time to diversify.  Mock me for being a sheep by following the latest hot trend but I will be one happy camper when I’m sipping my homemade appletinis while I gaze out at Elliott Bay.

To start, though, you absolutely MUST have a cocktail cart with all the right tools to mix a masterpiece.  We switched our former turntable cart and then, being the thrifty shopper that I am, I hit up the local Goodwill store where all the Amazonians donate their barware that they no longer need.  I was able to find awesome unique martini glasses ($1.99), an ice bucket ($4.99), shaker ($4.99) and little Pig olive picks ($1.99) to outfit my cart.  Add in the necessary cocktail book found at the used bookstore for $9.99 so I know how to mix up a great martini and I’m on my way.

 

Tricked out cocktail cart!
Tricked out cocktail cart!

Next, I hit up the World Market in downtown Seattle, one of my favorite stores.  There I got classic cocktail napkins, a jigger, a strainer, a muddler (mojitos!) and stirring spoon to complete my cocktail bar.  They also had these teeny tiny liquor bottles I couldn’t resist–having a hard day at work?  Hit up the little Kahlua or Chambord for a taste!  I still have the little Irish Whiskey bottle I smuggled out of China that we got at the Irish Ball.  Good times in Shanghai!  But, I needed BIG bottles of liquor for my cocktails so I got to visit the local liquor store in Lower Queen Anne for the first time and find the makings for a good appletini.

WOW-hard liquor costs a lot of $$$!  I needed apple schnapps, melon liquor and vodka according to my cocktail book recipe-total cost $65, more than all my bar cart items combined.  But, after mixing my first cocktail for my visiting friends, Patti and Larry, I realized that a little liquor goes a LONG way!  I kept trying to make the appletini less potent but, in the end, just one drink knocked us on our butts.  We are such lightweights!  I followed my cocktail bar recipe but it sure didn’t taste as sweet as the ones we had in the bars of Shanghai.  God only knows what they put into them but DAMN they were tasty!

We’re off to Vancouver, Canada for a long weekend trip.  Patti and I will have to get a bartender there to share his appletini secrets with us so I can come back and mix one last cocktail before Patti and Larry head home to Indiana.  I think to make the winter months more interesting in dreary, wet Seattle, I might challenge myself to a try a different cocktail every weekend.  Now that’s the kind of challenge I can write about!