Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Grand-Dad Lewie

On our way to downtown New Orleans in a freezing drizzle, we stumbled upon Peche, Donald Link's new seafood joint.  It was too early for dinner, but we were cold.  We sidled up to the bar, and admired the girthy timbers supporting the high ceiling.  A gas oven blazed at the opposite end of the restaurant.  We ordered a half dozen Gulf oysters, three from Alabama and three from the Louisiana coast, and backed them with cocktails.  I had the Buffalo Louie: Buffalo Trace bourbon, ginger beer and Steen’s basil vinegar muddled with mint and crushed ice.  Steen’s is a longstanding maker of cane syrup out of Abbeville, LA.  Probably more of a warm weather concoction in the julep family, the Louie was nonetheless delicious.  One of this weekend’s projects is to try and mimic the drink.  There’s a wonderful, biscuity pale ale we encountered regularly in south Louisiana called LA 31 Biere Pale and we also downed a couple of those.  The oysters were clean and pristine, and we landlubbers should have ordered more.  

We're working with different ingredients in the north country, so when it comes to trying to approximate the Buffalo Louie it's all about adaptation.  To my mind, one of the best bourbon bargains is the bonded Old Grand-dad with its gaudy orange label and rye-heavy grain bill.  We're experimenting here so why fork out for a bottle of upper-mid shelf Buffalo Trace when you can have a fine bottle of whiskey for $19.00?  

The ginger beer makes this a fairly sweet drink and, in the original, the basil vinegar provides a tart, savory counter-balance.  To make a proper basil vinegar, one would have to steep leaves of the herb in vinegar for a couple of weeks.  I didn't feel like waiting so I made a basil simple syrup with equal parts sugar and water and three bundles of fresh basil.  

Now that I've got an even sweeter drink on my hands, the vinegar becomes more important.  There's got to be more of it and it therefore has to taste wonderful.  Luckily, I'm reminded by Bee that we have just the thing.  Mikuni, the Seattle-based wild foods company, has a line of  maple syrups that are finished in oak bourbon barrels.  They make a sherry vinegar that is stored in the barrels after they have housed syrup.  The dark amber ''tonic'' is great in salads and drizzled over kale, mustards, collards or bowls of beans.  Or pretty much anything, really. 

Here's a recipe for the Grand-Dad Lewie:  In a pint mason jar, muddle 6 or 8 mint leaves.  Add three ounces of bourbon, 3/4 ounce of basil simple syrup and a half ounce of vinegar (or more to make it more bracing).  Give it a stir.  Add crushed ice and top off with a spicy ginger beer like Cock and Bull.  Add a whole sprig of mint, give the whole a gentle stir and then enjoy- allowing the fragrant mint to tickle your nose while you guzzle.  Bring on the summer.

I've named my version of this classic from Peche after Bee's grandfather Lewis, a true gentleman if ever there was one.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Cochon Butcher, New Orleans

After our night at the Sugar Bowl Motel, it would not be overstating it to say that we were in need of a miracle.  Luck would have it that New Orleans was just an hour's drive in the icy rain. 

New Orleans is a miracle- dispensing platefuls of numinous grub despite all odds.  I just finished the NOLA food critic Tom Fitzmorris’ Hungry Town, which charts and celebrates the re-opening of the city’s restaurants after Katrina.  Page after page Fitzmorris breathlessly asserts that N.O. cuisine was and is central to the city’s recovery and healing.  He describes his first New Orleans meal after the storm, a big dinner at Restaurant AugustEighty percent of the city had flooded, 100,000 homes were destroyed, over 1000 people lost their lives.  Just six weeks after this disaster, Restaurant August was packed with people hugging one another, eating their food, grateful to be alive.  While not every resident was as fortunate, Fitzmorris, who had evacuated during the storm, was assured that night that the city would spring back from the storm's mighty blow.       

Boy was it good for us to be back!  It was cold.  Raining.  Tiny icicles clung to palm leaves and stoplights.  We checked into St. Vincent's Guesthouse, bundled up and walked the familiar mile to Cochon Butcher.  The line was huge.  Tables filled with food, windows misted over.  

Cochon Butcher is a small deli situated behind Donald Link's slightly more upscale restaurant Cochon- where we had a transcendent plate of charcuterie a couple of years ago.  The Butcher caters to the dash-in, dash-out lunch crowd with killer sammies and spectacular sides.  You can also pick up a couple confited duck legs or a freshly butchered pork roast to take home and cook.

We got a bacon melt, a cuban sandwich and a plate of roasted brussels. 
As for beverages, ''Rik's Favorite'' was just what we needed.  Rik is the shop manager and the drink he likes is a shot of Buffalo Trace backed with a bottle of High Life.  The whiskey warmed us, the beer fortified our sleep-deprived frames and the mile high stack of tender house bacon and the melty pork blast of the pressed Cubano brought us back from the brink.  And those brussels, charred and tender and tangy and swathed in chile, were otherworldly.  I cannot remember ever having been saved by food in such a dramatic fashion- we received a full attitudinal adjustment.  We parked ourselves at a low table across from one of the meat cases and drooled over the sausages, boudin, and whole cured pork bellies.  

Noticing that we were drinking whiskey at noon on a weekday, a friendly fellow who was packing sausage into bags for distribution struck up a conversation.  He told us that the shop received two hogs twice a week.  The 200-300 pound animals are broken down by head butcher Leighann Smith.  He also told us that Link had opened a new seafood place not far away, and of this we took note.

Saturday, March 8, 2014