Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Old Gristmill Corn Whiskey

Corn whiskey is a much neglected segment of the American whiskey market. Often likened to backwoods moonshine, corn whiskey tends to be marketed to those nostalgic for prohibition. The two leading brands, Platte Valley and Georgia Moon, are packaged in a ceramic jug and a mason jar respectively. The message is clear: this is your grandpa's whiskey, if you grandpa was Jed Clampett.

But what is corn whiskey?

Corn whiskey is a whiskey produced from a mix of grains made up of at least 80% corn. Unlike Bourbon, another corn-based whiskey, corn whiskey need not be aged or stored in wood. If it is stored in wood, it must be stored in used or new uncharred oak whereas Bourbon must be aged in new charred oak.

For years, corn whiskey did not see much growth, and up until a year or two ago, Heaven Hill made nearly all the corn whiskey on the market. With the onset of the craft distilling movement, however, there is a whole new set of corn whiskies on the market from start-up distillers. Corn whiskey is particularly appealing to microdistillers because they can release it without the time necessary for ageing, which gives them the potential to turn a profit while their other whiskies rest in the barrel.

Today, I will be sampling Old Gristmill corn whiskey from the Tuthilltown microdistillery in upstate New York. Old Gristmill is made from 100% Hudson Valley corn.


Old Gristmill Authentic American Corn Whiskey, 40% abv, Tuthilltown ($30).

The first thing I notice about Old Gristmill is its color, or lack thereof. It is completely colorless. This is, of course, expected of an unaged whiskey, and I suppose to a vodka or gin drinker, it wouldn't be a big deal, but I'm used to brown spirits. I'm not often sipping something that could be mistaken for water.

The nose comes on sweet with a Tequila scent. I also smell grapes and that raw, sweet smell of unaged spirit. Because of my own preconceptions about corn whiskey, when I taste it, I brace for harshness, but what I get is far from harsh. The whiskey is smooth, with hardly any burn at all, and slightly sweet. It still tastes more like Tequila to me than whiskey, and certainly moreso than Bourbon. Late in the palate there are citrus notes as well, which are common to very young whiskies. Then, on the finish, there's the corn, buttered popcorn to be exact, very subtle but present nonetheless.

This is my first corn whiskey and it's certainly been one of the more interesting tastings, in large part because I had no idea what to expect. I have always associated corn whiskey with neutral flavored firewater, but this is a subtle and flavorful spirit, though I wouldn't call it complex.

I will continue to drink it neat, though I think I appreciate it more as an academic exercise, a window into whiskey and what it tastes like prior to ageing, than a purely pleasurable experience. It does seem to have the potential to be highly adaptable; my mind swirls with ideas: Corn Margaritas? Corn Mojitos?

Old Gristmill is not yet available in California, but other Tuthilltown products are starting to appear here so perhaps we will see it soon.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

RIP Pastis

LA is a funny food town in some ways. It's an easy place to find a great meal for two for under $30, be it a pastrami sandwich at Langer's, dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley, Thai, Korean or a taco truck taco. It's also easy to find a great meal for over $200 at one of our numerous and growing fine dining establishments, but it's very hard to find a great meal for two for $100. What is an LA couple to do when they want to splurge on a meal without taking out a second mortgage?

For years, a great answer to that question was Pastis, which closed its doors earlier this month. The Beverly Boulevard French restaurant offered up well prepared French dishes at decent prices. A full dinner with apps, desserts and drinks, would run a couple about $100, depending on the price of the drinks.

I particularly loved the profiteroles. Unlike the normal pastry, Pastis profiteroles were more like chocolate wontons, fried wrappers filled with molten chocolate. I also loved the Moroccan mint tea service, which featured a sweet mint tea with pine nuts poured artfully from a few feet above the glass.

Nothing lasts forever, but recently, we've been saying farewell to too many good, reliable venues. I'm sad that Pastis has added its name to the LA restaurant necrology. I'll miss Pastis and the mid-priced niche it filled.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Cherry on Top: Luxardo Cherries

I have often scorned the maraschino cherry, that candied, heavily died, artificial monstrosity that sits at the bottom of Manhattans or on the top of ice cream sundaes. Surely, in a world of slow food and bar chefs, we can come up with something that tastes better than a ball of plastic and looks less scary than the typical maraschino.

Finally, my concerns have been addressed by Luxardo, the Italian drinks company that makes wonderful liqueurs. Luxardo Marasche Marasca Cherries are real, candied cherries marinated in cherry syrup. They have a beautiful, dark red color and taste sweet and cherry-like (as opposed to tasting like plastic). Unlike traditional maraschinos, they are immediately recognizable as cherries, both in appearance and taste, and quite good cherries at that.

Putting a Luxardo cherry in a Manhattan turns the garnish from a throwaway into a distinct part of the drink. It absorbs some of the flavor and leaves a bit of cherry in your last sip. Finally, I feel like I get the cocktail cherry.

Luxardo cherries are available from Hi-Time Wine for $15.99 for a small jar (360 grams). They are slightly more expensive on Amazon ($17.95), but there, you can also buy a twelve pound can for $148.50, if you really go through those cherries.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Cheap Booze - Great Whiskey Under $20

Do you think you need a huge bank account to afford good whiskey? Sure, if you want some fancy, Distiller's Edition, super-peated, aged in Sauternes casks stuff, it'll cost you, but there are plenty of great and affordable whiskies. To prove the point, I put together a list of ten great whiskies available for less than $20.

All the prices listed are the going rates at Hi-Time Wine; I used Hi-Time because it has a fabulous selection and on-line ordering, and I wanted to list things that were readily available to the California consumer. I also wanted a place with mid-level prices that were fairly representative of general pricing and Hi-Time tends to be right about there; that means that you may be able to find better deals on the bottles listed. My intent isn't to seek out sales and special offers, but rather, to list whiskies that are generally affordable.

The list is in descending order of price and I tried to include a variety of whiskey types.

Bowmore Legend, Single Malt Scotch, $19.99. Yes, there is a peated single malt Scotch for under $20; enjoy the perfumey smoke of Bowmore for less than a Jackson.

Buffalo Trace, Bourbon, $19.99. As good a standard Bourbon as you'll find with a nice rye kick, Buffalo Trace may be the best bargain in whiskey, period.

The Famous Grouse, Blended Scotch Whisky, $19.99. The most popular blend in Scotland is my choice for the best blend in the under $20 category.

George Dickel No. 12, Tennessee Whiskey, $19.99. This is my favorite of the Tennessee whiskies, and one of the most underrated whiskies. Great on its own, but also the perfect whiskey for a Manhattan.

Forty Creek Barrel Select, Canadian Whisky, $18.99. One of the most heralded Canadians, with lots of sweet caramel and fruit.

Kilbeggan, Blended Irish Whiskey, $18.99. A blended Irish from Cooley that has a nice malty flavor.

Michael Collins, Blended Irish Whiskey, $18.99. An independently bottled Cooley blend for those who like it on the lighter side.

Rittenhouse 100, Rye Whiskey, $17.99. Find perfect rye balance in this 100 proof rye rye whiskey.

Wild Turkey 101 Rye, Rye Whiskey, $17.99. One of the most underrated of rye whiskies, WT 101 has a powerful rye spice and serves a good contrast to the more subtle Rittenhouse.

Tullamore Dew, Blended Irish Whiskey, $15.99. For the basic Irish category, I'll take Tullamore over the standard Jameson or Bushmills.

Ten great whiskies under $20. Now go out and stimulate that whiskey economy!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Birthday Cheese Making Experiment

Only a spouse who truly loves and understands me would get me a cheese making kit for my birthday. I am a lucky man indeed. She first read about Ricki Carroll's home chessemaking operation in Barbara Kingslover's locovore manifesto Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life and was convinced I would love making my own cheese.

Carroll runs a cheese making supply company and sells books and other materials to home cheesemakers. Her starter kit for making mozzarella and ricotta comes with a book and DVD as well as various supplies and ingredients, including vegetarian rennet tablets, citric acid, finely cut cheese salt, cheesecloth and a thermometer. Once you have the kit, all you need is a big pot, a slotted spoon or ladle and milk.

As you know if you are a regular reader, I eat lots of cheese, but though I've occasionally heard about home cheesemakers, I'd never contemplated making my own. I've seen artisan cheesemakers in action before and it doesn't look easy. However, Carroll starts you on the easiest cheeses and has done an amazing job of finding recipes that can be replicated in a home kitchen with everyday ingredients.

My first project was the Thirty Minute Mozzarella, a cheese that could allegedly be made in a half hour. The process is amazingly simple. You heat up the milk which curdles upon the addition of citric acid. Then you add rennet and heat it a bit more. The rennet creates the solid curds which separate from the whey. Once they have separated, you ladle the curds into a bowl, salt them and microwave it a few times, stretching the cheese a bit in between heatings. A gallon of milk produces a softball sized mozzarella ball.

I figured that, while it looked easy on TV, the actual process would be a bit harder. Once you get the hang of it, it is remarkably easy, but it took me three tries to make something edible.

The first try was with Trader Joe's Organic Whole Milk. It didn't work, turning into a runny, mess. My hypothesis is that TJ's treats its milk to very high temperatures during pasteurization. The book warned that ultra-pasteurized cheese would not work for cheesemaking, and while TJ's isn't labeled ultra-pasteurized, the result was the same that was warned of for the ultra-pasteurized cheese. So, we took a quick trip to Ralph's for some Altadena and Ralph's brand milk, both of which worked.

The second batch came together as cheese, but had the consistency of rubber. Two hypotheses here. Either I cooked it to too high a temperature or I played with it too much when it was about ready (it was hard to resist stretching and braiding it like taffy; it's fun stuff).

Batch three was a success. I added a bit more salt than recommended for flavor, cut down the heat and resisted the temptation to treat it like silly putty. It was moist and delicious.

The cheese that results doesn't taste much like the fresh mozzarella you get it stores, but was very tasty. It has more of a milky taste than a cheesy one. We ate it plain and on a bruschetta.

The cheese was also not as tasty when cool. Freshly made and warm, it was wonderful and hard to stop eating, but it became a bit hard when cold. I ended up warming it prior to serving.

Next up I'll be making ricotta and will report back. The book actually includes recipes for all manner of cheeses, hard, soft, washed rind, cheddars and more, but many of those appear pretty labor intensive and require presses and other special equipment. For now, I'll stick to the easy ones. What a great, cheesy birthday present!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cake Monkey on my Back

Cake Monkey is a delightful little bakery that makes souped up versions of Hostess and other junk food classics. I tried a number of their snack cakes available for purchase at the Silverlake Wine Shop.

The Yo-Ho is a Cake Monkey take on the similarly named Ho-Ho. This was quite a faithful interpretation, complete with barely-chocolate flavored coating and sweet cream-like substance within. Frankly, I'm not a big fan of Ho-Hos, so this dessert didn't really speak to me, though I recognized the accomplishment of creating such a thing out of wholly natural ingredients. If you're a Hostess fan, this is for you.

The Raspberry Red Velvet Cakewich was much more my style. Despite its moniker, it has little similarity with a red velvet cake beyond the color. The prize is the cream filling which has a strong raspberry taste. I also enjoyed the Peanut Butter/Marshmallow Cakewich which had white and peanut butter cream in a yellow cake.

All of the aforementioned cakes had a definite Hostess vibe going, but my favorite Cake Monkey product wasn't a cake at all. Li'l Merris are oatmeal cookie sandwiches with maple vanilla cream. Modeled on Little Debbie cookie sandwiches, the cookies were just perfect, soft rounds with plenty of oatmeal flavor, and the cream was a lusciously light maple buttercream.

According to their website, Cake Monkey also has offerings based on Pop-Tarts and Snowballs as well as many of their own creations. You can't order on-line, but you can call in orders or pick them up at Silverlake Wine.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: A Whiskey Mission in Pasadena

Mission Liquors, in Pasadena, has always been a great liquor store, but I recently visited after a long hiatus to find that they have become even better.

Mission Liquors is in Northeast Pasadena on Washington Boulevard, east of Lake. They used to be in a fairly cramped space, but they have moved to a larger, adjacent building and now have plenty of room, which has allowed them to expand their whiskey selection considerably.

I always liked Mission for Bourbon, but now they have a greatly expanded Scotch selection, including a number of lines of independent bottlers. On my recent visit I also found several whiskies that I had never seen on LA shelves, including the Last Drop blended Scotch whisky (if you have a few thousand dollars to blow) and one of the Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection bottles. I've never seen any BT Experimental in California, so that was an exciting find, though they only had one, and it's now in my closet.

They also had a number of micro-distillery whiskies that are not readily available. Their Bourbon selection, though, was less impressive than I remembered, and across the board, their prices were high. Still, it's a great selection with some real rarities.

Mission Liquors
1785 E.Washington Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91104

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Seoul Food: Seongbukdong

Named after a neighborhood in the northern part of Seoul, Seongbukdong cooks up what could be best called Korean comfort or soul food. Emphasizing the fermented and the braised, it's the type of food that will make you feel all warm and fuzzy.

As in most places, Seongbukdong's panchan varies, but it tends to emphasize the fermented more than most places. Aside from several traditional kimchis, I've had a green variety of cabbage kimchi with nuts and a fermented shiso dish. Imagine the strong flavor shiso, fermented; it tasted like eating a winery, a not entirely pleasant experience but interesting.

Braised Mackeral is the thing to get here, a stew served in a single, large metal bowl, which looks like the inner pot from a rice cooker. A quick look at all the metal bowls around the restaurant suggests that this is one of the most popular dishes. The mackerel is cut in steaks and cooked up with onions and year-old kimchi. The strong taste of mackerel and its somewhat oily texture works well against the funk of the aged kimchi. The best part, though, is the rich red broth that you slurp up from the bottom of the pot; it's more than a soup, a kimchi jus.

The funk continues with spiced pork and bean paste casserole. This is a two part dish. The pork is a nice but unexceptional Korean BBQ pork plate, but the casserole, which is really a soup, is the stand out. I'm a big fan of doenjang, the fermented soy bean paste which is used as a condiment in many Korean dishes, and the bean paste casserole broth is the essence of doenjang, thick, rich, fermented and salty.

The best dish at Seongbukdong, though, is the spectacular steamed beef short rib. Again, the name is deceptive. This is a braised short rib in a rich, sweet jus. Served in a ceramic pot, the rib is thick cut (i.e. not the typical kalbi style cut) and as tender as any braised short rib I've had. The sweet, beefy stock encases the soft rib meat in a way that shouts that this is comfort food, rich and warm and so good that when the beef is done, you drink the sauce by the spoonful. This dish would definitely cheer me up on a melancholy day.

So good, so warm, so Seoulful.

3303 W. 6th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90020
(213) 738-8977

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pure Peruvian Doughnuts: Puro Sabor

The great Thi Nguyen recently did a fabulous write-up of LA Peruvian spots in the LA Times. Thi is an old time Chowhounder who was the editor of the Los Angeles edition of Chownews back in its heyday, and I won't try to redo his good work.

Everything he says about Puro Sabor, the traditional Peruvian spot in Van Nuys is true. On a recent visit, we loved most everything, including the various ceviches, the chicken fried rice (arroz chaufa) and the tender, stewed beef dish seco de carne. But the greatest dish of the evening was something that didn't appear in Thi's review, though Thi says it was in the original draft.

Picarones are pumpkin doughnuts served in syrup. As a doughnut fiend, it's hard for me to describe how excited I was when these heavenly rings appeared. Served fresh out of the frier, the doughnuts come piping hot and perfectly crisp. They have an eggy composition that makes them light and fluffy; imagine a twice-fried French cruller served hot and you may begin to understand the transcendent quality of these picarones. I didn't get too much pumpkin flavor from them. They are served in a palm sugar syrup infused with spices; I detected cloves and maybe some cinnamon. And be warned, you may find yourself not only spooning the syrup over the doughnuts, but spooning it directly into your mouth.

Doughnuts, of late, have migrated from diners and doughnut stands to the dessert menus of many high-end restaurants. I've had them at Grace, Craft, Mozza and Little Dom's. The picarones at Puro Sabor, however, were far and above the best restaurant doughnuts I've ever tasted. The doughnut dish, alone, is worth going back for.

Puro Sabor
6366 Van Nuys Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 91401
(818) 908-0818

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Scotchtails - The Rusty Nail

For part two of our Scotchtails series, we explore the Rusty Nail, a combination of Scotch and Drambuie.

Drambuie is a liqueur made from Scotch, flavored with something called heather honey and eleven herbs and spices, or something like that. There's a whole, dramatic story with Bonnie Prince this or that passing on the secret recipe, but I've never been much for whisky origin myths, preferring to just drink the stuff.

Drambuie has a pleasant anise scent. It has a very sweet, anise-flavor on the palate, almost like black licorice candy. The texture is thick and syrupy, and it has an objectionable, somewhat bitter finish. It isn't something you would want to drink neat. Drambuie's alcohol content is 40%, which is high for a liqueur though on the lowest end for a Scotch.

The rusty nail recipe is simple: two ounces of Scotch, one-half ounce of Drambuie, garnished with a lemon twist. As with our Rob Roys, I tried a variety of Scotches for the drink.

This thing just isn't my cup of tea. I find Drambuie to be far too sweet, and it dominates the Scotch. If I want an anise-scented whiskey drink, I'd rather have a Sazerac. The best thing about a rusty nail is the name.

I have to say, I was much less enthused by our Scotchtails than I was by our classic Bourbon and rye cocktails. If anyone has any great Scotch cocktails, let me know, but for now, when I'm feeling cocktailish, I'll definitely reach for the American whiskey...and we will have more American whiskey cocktails coming soon.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Angelic Agnolotti: Osteria Mozza

After visiting the much-hyped Pizzeria Mozza last year, I left enjoying it, but thinking the pizza was overrated. For me though, the test of a truly great restaurant is whether it calls you back. Do you get that itching feeling that you have to return, either to revisit the food you previously ordered or to explore the rest of the menu? Sometimes, I get that feeling the minute I walk out the door, other times it takes a few days or weeks, but that to me is the true test of whether I really loved it, not as an academic matter, but on an intensely emotional level. With Pizzeria Mozza, I never got that feeling.

Possibly because I never got that feeling from the Pizzeria, I never made a huge effort to get to its sister restaurant, Osteria Mozza. Having recently visited, though, I can already tell that the Osteria is in an entirely different category.

There were many great things at Osteria Mozza, from the burrata with fried guanciale to the perfectly cooked sweetbreads picatta with artichokes (and extra points to them for putting sweetbreads back in the entree category where they belong), but the highlight was the pasta.

Pasta is nice, but it isn't usually a dish I go nuts for. The Agnolotti at Mozza, however, was a whole new level of pasta. The small pasta squares were delicate, just a tad chewy, and stuffed with a rich combination of pork, lamb and salami. They were served in a beautifully subtle burro e salvia (sage and butter sauce), which was thicker than you would expect, almost as if the butter would congeal at any minute, though it never did. This was way beyond your typical ravioli in sage and butter, including the very nice version served at Fraiche. The tenderness of the pasta, the salty meat filling, the thick butter and sage all came together in an extraordinary way to create one of the great pasta dishes I've tasted.

The $19 serving of Agnolotti would make a light entree for one or a nice, shared appetizer for two.

I know already that I'll be back.

Osteria Mozza
(You really don't know where it is?)
641 N. Highland Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 297-0101

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Taking the Bitters with the Sweet

Bitters are among the least understood elements of cocktail culture, but you can tell a true cocktail geek by how many bitters they have on hand. One to three indicates an amateur, three to ten an aficionado, and if any of them are homemade, you may be dealing with a cocktail obsessive.

What are bitters?

Bitters are seasoning, the salt and pepper of cocktails. They are not necessarily bitter and should not be confused with the Italian aperitifs, like Campari, that are sometimes referred to as bitters and actually do have a bitter taste. Cocktail bitters are used sparingly, only a few drops per drink, and vary in flavor profile; they generally run from 35% to 45% alcohol, though some have much less than that. Recently, with the rise of mixology, there has been a proliferation of new and interesting bitters on the shelves of liquor stores and bars.

How do you use bitters?

As noted above, numerous cocktails call for bitters, and if you have any new or unconventional bitters, the first way to try them is in one of those cocktails. Slip a few orange or mint bitters in where you would traditionally use Angostura, and see what happens. It's all about experimentation.

Which bitters should I buy?

Well, it depends how much of a cocktail geek you are and what drinks you want to make, but here are a few I would recommend, in order of importance (in terms of drink-making versatility).

Angostura Bitters

If you have only one bottle of bitters, you must have Angostura. This secret Trinidadian formula is what most recipes mean when they say to add bitters. It is the key seasoning to many classic drinks, including the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, the Pisco Sour and the Champagne Cocktail.

As with most bitters, the ingredients are strictly confidential, but Angostura has a beautifully spicy aroma in which you can detect cloves, dried flowers and other potpourri elements. Its flavor is so ingrained in me that it's hard to disassociate it from a Manhattan or Old Fashioned. When I taste the bitters, I taste the cocktail by association.

Peychaud's Bitters

Peychaud's Bitters from New Orleans is the second bottle you should buy if you want to expand your bar. Peychaud's is the essential ingredient in New Orleans' signature drink, the Sazerac as well as some more obscure New Orleans cocktails. The brand is, in fact, owned by the New Orleans based Sazerac Company. Peychaud's has a bright, red color and an anise/licorice flavor.

Orange Bitters

Angostura and Peychaud's will make you able to make a wide range of drinks. If you want to expand even more, the next thing to pick up is a bottle of orange bitters. Orange bitters can be switched out for Angostura to create a lighter flavor with a hint of orange. As opposed to Angostura and Peychaud's, which are proprietary recipes, there are a number of orange bitters on the market, including versions by Angostura and Fee Brothers as well as Regan's Orange Bitters.

Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters

Having Angostura, Peychaud's and orange bitters will allow you to make pretty much any drink in any book. What happens, though, when you want to play around and make something a bit more experimental? That's when you reach for something different, and for me, that's Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters.

Fee Brothers is a Rochester, New York company that makes a large range of bitters, including mint, peach, orange and rhubarb. The Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters are a relatively new product, first introduced in 2007.

The most prominent flavor in the Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters is cinnamon, with hints of allspice and clove. It has a somewhat bitter finish. Used in a Manhattan, the Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters give the drink a nice spicy kick which plays well with the other ingredients.

I'd be interested to hear if any of you home (or professional) mixologists have any favorite bitters or favorite drinks that use bitters.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Faced with Layoff, Accountant goes from Cooking Books to Bacon Wrapped Hot Dogs

Four months ago, Bruce Weinstein was drawing a six figure salary at a top five accounting firm. "It was the classic boom period job," he wistfully recalls, "I drove fast cars, went to all the clubs, and dined out on an expense account every night. Spago, Patina, PF Chang's, you name it, I ate it." He won't describe exactly what he did as an accountant, but notes that his clients were always satisfied, "Let's just say the statutes of limitations are still running and leave it at that."

But early this year, the recession economy caught up with Weinstein and he found himself laid off. Rather than working on contract and trying to make ends meet doing the same work he used to do for less income, he decided to go in an entirely different direction.

"I wanted to do something more hands on. I wanted to do real work that made people happy, even if it didn't make me rich. Then I thought, you know, when you come out of Staples after a Lakers game or a concert at midnight or one in the morning and you grab one of those bacon wrapped grease-bomb hot dogs from a little cart, that is one of the most satisfying meals you could ever have."

"I could do that," he thought to himself, and that is exactly what he did. It wasn't easy getting started. Weinstein spent the first three months purely on R&D.

"You know, it's harder than it looks. For the first two weeks, I was like, how do they get the bacon on there? I mean, here I was cooking up my bacon to a fine crisp and roasting up the dogs, and then I'd go to do the wrap, and the bacon would just crumble. I thought, Jesus Christ, I have an MBA, I've got to be able to figure this out. So, I went out to the Garment District to watch some of these old pros, and it turns out," at this point Weinstein moves close to me and in a barely audible whisper says, "they wrap the dogs before they cook the bacon."

Once the recipe was perfected, there was the business plan, and like any MBA, Weinstein needed to find a niche.

"I knew I wasn't going to cut it downtown; the competition there is fierce," so he headed for Beverly, Hills that is. Now he pushes his cart through the streets of this ultra-rich enclave, decked out in a business suit and tie, with a sign reading "All Natural, Slow Food, Bacon Wrapped Hot Dogs." When I inquire about the sign and note the empty Ballpark Franks wrapper in his garbage bag, Weinstein shrugs and says, "Give the people what they think they want at a good price and they will be happy."

Still, life is not all roses. Bacon wrapped hot dog carts are illegal to operate in Los Angeles County, and Weinstein has had his share of run-ins with the law.

"I'm essentially working in an underground economy. What I do is criminalized, even though it's a totally victimless crime, I mean except for the cows and pigs, and whatever else is in a Ballpark Frank. For the first few months, the fuzz were totally on my ass. They wanted me to be up north of Santa Monica Boulevard, by the park up there, but I need foot traffic, and that means Rodeo or Canon or Beverly Drive. Now I wander, no more than twenty or thirty minutes in one place. I'm like a hot dog nomad."

He has also developed somewhat of a celebrity following but is hesitant to give specifics, "I'm not going to name names, but let's just say I have a couple of regulars named Paris and Britney; they know where to find me."

Asked if he might use Twitter to communicate his location like the now-famous Kogi Korean taco truck, Weinstein demurs, "What I'm doing is illegal; I can't create a record of it. It would be like gold in the hands of the DA. I've got no problem, personally, with the BHPD mind you," Weinstein gives a little wink, "I just prefer my pigs in a blanket."

Next Week: Burnt Out Talent Agent Turns Echo Park Duck Feeding Pastime into Foie Gras Success Story

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Scotchtails -- The Rob Roy

In last year's series of classic whiskey cocktails, I highlighted cocktails made with American whiskey, though I threw some Scotch in here and there. Now, I thought I would add some balance by featuring some Scotch cocktails.

A Rob Roy is simply a Manhattan with Scotch instead of Bourbon or rye whiskey. As with the Manhattan, it's a combination of two shots of whisky, one-half shot of sweet vermouth and a few dashes of Angostura bitters, garnished with a lemon rind or a maraschino cherry.

The Rob Roy is a perfect place to start our Scotchtail series, but which Scotch to use? I tried three very different whiskies with my lovely Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth.

The Basic Rob Roy - Johnnie Walker Black

This is the Rob Roy you would be likely to get at a basic bar (if they know what it is). Overall, I'd say the Johnnie Walker isn't bold enough to hold its own against the spicy, herbal notes of bitters and vermouth. It takes a big whiskey to mix into a cocktail like this and something bolder is called for. The JWB Rob Roy tastes like a glass of vermouth, which is nice enough, but not what I ordered.

The Smoky Rob Roy - Black Bottle

Because I love the peat, I next went for a Black Bottle Rob Roy, made with everyone's favorite peaty blended Scotch. The results were...interesting. There was a good deal of smoke on the nose and an interesting saltiness to it, but the taste was a bit medicinal for me.

The Sherried Rob Roy - Macallan

My third Rob Roy used the ultra-sherried cask strength Macallan plus a dash of water to lower the alcohol level. This was my favorite of the three Rob Roys. The bold Macallan, with its sherry flavors, stood up well to the vermouth and bitters. It came together as a smooth, sweet and spicy drink comparable to the best Manhattans. Hmmm, maybe I should be throwing sherried malts into more cocktails.

The Highland

If you substitute orange bitters for Angostura bitters in your Rob Roy, you have an entirely different drink...the Highland. I made a few Highlands and the Black Bottle actually worked much better with the orange bitters, which contrasted the smoky flavors, than the Angostura, which enhanced the more medicinal qualities of the whisky.

Next Wednesday: The Rusty Nail