MUSINGLY By Karen D'Or

Writing Portfolio, Travel Stories & Other Diversions

Tag: drink

Christmas Cookie Martini

Consumed by Carrie: New Orleans’ Holiday Traditions

 

Roosevelt Hotel Holiday Lights

Roosevelt Hotel Holiday Lights

As you might expect, Christmas is New Orleans has special traditions; it’s not so different from other parts of the country — but it definitely has a unique flavor! There are pralines and pecans pouring out of every corner, beautiful light displays in City Park, complete with a Cajun Santa Claus with alligators pulling his sleigh. There are Christmas Eve bonfires that reach high into the sky, lighting up the banks of the Mississippi and caroling on the streetcars and into Jackson Square. 

My favorite thing to do is to go see the beautiful decorations at the elegant Roosevelt Hotel. While at the Roosevelt, I stop by the famous Sazerac Bar for a festive holiday cocktail – one of my past highlights is the festive Christmas Cookie Martini. 

Christmas Cookie Martini

But lets get to one of the best parts of Christmas in New Orleans, the FOOD!

One of the earliest signs (and oldest traditions) that the holiday season is right around the corner is the Reveillon Menu. Reveillon is French and means awakening. This title was given to the meal that was typically served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve. It was meant to give nourishment and energy for the next mass early on Christmas morning.  You will see Reveillon menus at a lot of the best restaurants in town; Restaurant August, Bayona, Commander’s Palace, Domenica, and dozens more.

The menus are usually made up of three courses and are served throughout November and December. First courses usually include something with oysters, turtle soup or gumbo.  Commander’s palace is featuring a chargrilled oyster stew, and Antoine’s menu has Alligator Bisque. I noticed that a popular choice for the second course is dishes using small birds such as quail or squab. There is of course always a fish option, and also pork or veal. Braised meats are prevalent, pork shanks at Domenica, short ribs at Café Adelaide, and veal osso bucco at Brennan’s. Some restaurants go the celebratory route, pulling out all of the stops with caviar, foie gras, lamb, and special cocktails. I have to say that I’m partial to the time-honored traditional menus that stay true to New Orleans cuisine.

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herbsaint dinner at the bar Nov. 2013

Eating Off Your Plate

herbsaint dinner at the bar Nov. 2013

herbsaint dinner at the bar Nov. 2013

Food loving friends and family contributed to my delicious and libationary 2013. Here are some of the highlights of a plentiful year:

Sharing Food.The joy of sharing food together reflects on the quality of the friendship. My daughter, Robyn, jokes that our family has a tendency to eat off of each other’s plates, uninvited. Perhaps that is odd, but the gracious and intentional sharing of food can deepen most relationships. I wrote about sharing a leisurely meal with a dear friend earlier this year in the Redd Meet post.

Sharing my love of New Orleans. The April 2013 trip (it was dear friend Liz’ first time in NOLA) was described in my previous post: Restaurant and Bar Reviews 2013. So much laugher, great music and delectable experiences during her inaugural visit. My second trip (Thanksgiving 2013) had a number of food and drink highlights, many of which I reported on chow.com NOLA board, one of my favorite online places with some of the best overall discussions about food anywhere. Chowhound NOLA is so entertaining and convivial that not one, but two, of my chow correspondents astutely “ambushed” me on the November trip.

Sharing success. My daughter’s dear friend, Carrie also has her own fun and informative blog Consumedbycarrie.com. She also makes an awesome chocolate chess pie!

Sharing skills. I went to our local Sur La Tableto get some new skills. “Wives with Knives” is an enactment-style TV show on ID, but mayhem was not my purpose in taking the basic knifing class. I am seeking additional confidence as a cook because, frankly, I think it will make be a fitter foodie. Although I was not very coordinated in the class, I have been more adventurous in the kitchen and have committed zero crimes with my new Kyocera ceramic chef’s knife.

Sharing hobbies. In 2013, my husband and I we realized we had made a great trade: I become a true baseball fan – hanging in there for an abysmal season – and my husband had opened his mind and stomach to fine food. Here are our a few of our new favorite spots around ATT Park in San Francisco.

Marlowe: http://marlowesf.com/  Wonderful post-game comfort food

Zare Fly Trap: Mediterranean cuisine with modern Persian influence. Delightful pre-game, had a great meal with Mimi this summer. http://www.zareflytrap.com/about_us.html 606 Folsom Street

83 Proof: A wonderful neighborhood bar http://www.83proof.com/ 83 First Street between Mission and Market.

With 2014 adventures in the planning stage, I hope to read the great food writers, get creative in my recipes –- and make sure to grab a few bites off of everyone’s plate!

 

Refreshing bourbon Buck at 1760

No Moldy Pillows: A Night in San Francisco

My husband and I were looking forward to our San Francisco date night – an early  celebration of my birthday — for a couple of weeks. Focused around my obsession with 1760, a new hot dining spot Polk Street, we wangled a 7:45 dinner reservation, nabbed an inexpensive Union Street hotel, and even scouted out a couple of street fairs featuring a plethora of local SF bands.

 As middle-agers with obligations, there are logistics in getting away from home – even for one night. Accordingly…

..the dog went to the kennel,

I packed an overnight bag,

made an egg-white omelet, and then….

…my dear Bob wobbled down the stairs in the throes of a very sore throat.

After he finished sipping a large mug of hot coffee and attempted to clear stubborn sinuses under a warm shower, he bravely decided to go forward with the Saturday night plans.

After a quick stop at the beauty store (where I got them to glue some fuzzy eyelashes on correctly) we headed straight for the Mission District, a thriving neighborhood that bustled intriguingly on a bright October afternoon. On Valencia Street we stumbled upon Bar Tartine. The bistro had been on my list of “to-dos” for a while, but I assumed we’d just grab a quick taco at the street fair. However, I was hungry, and Bar Tartine’s menu looked friendly and fun. The thoughtful hostess got us in quickly at the tail end of their Saturday brunch — and we were not disappointed.

Over drinks Bob recalls that, during the 1980s, he had success finding cheap apartments in the Mission. This luck scoring great living spaces was one of his prime attractions to San Francisco, and was in stark contract to his experience in Chicago, where, in spite of being a native, he couldn’t quite get launched.

And here we were, in a fancy lunch spot ordering a beet Mimosa and a Prickly Pear punch cocktail.

Well, Bob ordered the latter. My husband is one of the only people I know who picks a cocktail off a menu even when he does not recognize any of the multi-syllable ingredients. He sees the word “punch” and thinks a sweet pear-flavored party drink.  Not so with this prickly pear concoction. As I am quickly drinking my bright, pink, refreshing Mimosa, he grimaces after one gulp of his pale orange brew:

“Tastes like a moldy pillow that’s been in a basement for six months.”

The Bar at Bar Tartine San Francisco

The Bar at Bar Tartine
San Francisco

Because of his cold, and his vivid description, I did not try The Moldy Pillow cocktail—however, as I glanced over Bob’s shoulder, towards the bar, I saw a waitress toss the very same drink down the bar sink.

Nevertheless, Bar Tartine was wonderfully delicious in a welcoming spot in the heart of the Mission.  We split the Everything Sandwich, a hearty two-hander on freshly baked and toasted bread filled with lox, fancy cream cheese (quark), crisp lettuce, capers, fresh tomato and herbs.

Our tiny hotel was on Union Street not far from Van Ness Avenue, a great location for a low-key Russian Hill evening. Free parking in San Francisco is like manna from heaven, and $170 per night price tag is below average. So, although the hotel décor was shabby, and our wall heater inoperable, we rather liked the Pacific Heights Inn for its comfy bed, great location, and generous parking policy. Once in a safe spot in the Inn’s parking lot, our car stayed put until our ride home the next day!

Putting our feet up for a short respite, Bob quietly watches the World Series game while I read my novel about a pirate queen who kidnaps a gourmet chef.  Soon its time to walk the half-mile to 1760 Polk street, passing busy bars filled with baseball fans and Halloween revelers.

1760 has perfect modern ambiance with low-level lighting, plenty of brushed steel and well placed glass and mirrors. The restaurant is busy with a charming intimacy that comes from smooth operations and confident staff. The timing of the entire evening was impeccable, and our lovely Isabella had no trace of the San Francisco over cool wait attitude. She cared as did her fellow servers and bus-people.

1760 subscribes to the small (shared) plate model, and Isabella was quite clear explaining which were the larger and which were the smaller, appetizer-like plates on the menu. After ordering two great cocktails (Bob sanely ordered a mango/rum drink and I had chose the wonderful bourbon-based buck), we opted for two small plates, two large plates and one dessert. Soon an amuse bouche of celery topped with a pungent bleu cheese arrived and was quickly gobbled up.

Our favorite dish was next: Dungeness crab “siracha.” This artful salad of very fresh crab, tiny dots of siracha around the plate, with nuances of celery and yuzu fruit is a perfect starter, so perfect we nearly re-ordered prior to dessert.  Next out (timing was perfect) was Crispy Octopus and Squash Ravioli and both were excellent.

Refreshing bourbon Buck at 1760

Refreshing bourbon Buck at 1760

 I had my second bourbon Buck.

Knowing we wanted to finish this lovely evening off with the right sweet, we went back to the menu for warm pears and goat cheese friseé salad alongside a Milk Chocolate Ganache plated with hickory ice cream, bourbon caramel, and marshmallow. We certainly had enough food but 1760’s sweet finale was a complimentary Brown Butter Sponge Cake, apple-bourbon gelato and cheesecake mousse birthday dessert.

Our evening finished up at The Royal Oak bar for a nightcap. The Addams Family Values movie was playing on the big screen TV, and all around the young locals were dressed up as pirates and Wookies. Even the Pope was there.

Bob & A Pope

Bob & A Pope

 Glad the festivities culminated a few days prior to my birthday: with an ill husband, a rushed work project going sour, and the age of 57 hard for me to grasp, the rest of my birthday week has felt quite like a Moldy Pillow.

 

 

ATT Park, San Francisco, California

Five Ways to Cope with (Baseball) Loss

 

ATT Park, San Francisco, California

The World Champion San Francisco Giants are resoundingly un-championlike this year, so the foray from Sonoma County to the stunning ATT Ball Park, in San Francisco’s China Basin, can feel onerous. Call me unsportsmanlike, but it is true: the trek from the North Bay (either via auto or the ballpark Ferry) seems a breeze when our guys of summer are on a winning streak, but can drag on like a six extra unproductive innings when they are losing!

So here are my hints on how to get through these tough times:

1.    Stay overnight in a luxury hotel, particularly for night games. Nothing takes the sting out of a stunning defeat than an easy walk from ATT Park to a 4-star hotel. If you are feeling particularly frugal, pick up a nice screw-top red wine from one of those ubiquitous liquor store’s with flickering fluorescent lights — and partake in hotel glasses alongside munchies Milano cookies and sweet potato chips. If you are feeling more generous, belly up to the bar at a high-end watering hole, order a fancy cocktail (or hot brandy if it is one of those SF summer evenings!) and note the number of people around you in SF Giants gear or hipster costumes.

2.    Skip the ballpark fare and treat yourself to a nice dinner before, or after, the game.  My two new favorites dining spots near the park are Marlowe right across from the Cal-Train station on Townsend near 4th street and Zaré at the Fly Trap on Folsom near Second Street. If you need a beverage, and you don’t want to fight the brew pub crowds close to the park, head up to First Street (between Market & Mission) and belly up to 83 Proof’s fine bar.

83 Proof's Fine Bar

83 Proof’s Fine Bar

3.   Don’t let the turkeys get you down. Losing at home is even harder when an arrogant Pittsburg Pirate fan (who claims to be a Giants fan) sits behind you and yells well, like an umpire, for each and every “Buccies” run. I’ve sat next to nicer LA Dodgers fans, frankly, but you cannot let opposing fans get you down, even when they tell you to change seats after a couple of scowls. Really?

4.   Take plenty of photos. Win or lose, we all know it is one of the most beautiful ballparks in the world. Always good to catch loved ones wearing more than one hat!

Loved one in two hats

Loved one in two hats

5.  Sing. As you head home after a losing game, try NOT to listen to the post-game wrap-up show on the radio. It is always tempting to over-analyze weaknesses, and commiserate with others, but better for the soul to pop in some tunes and sing your way home— there will always be another game, and another season!

 

sazerac cocktail

Transformation NOLA-style

Renowned writers have long explored the decadence and idiosyncrasy of the Big Easy. I won’t try to compete with decades of great prose and poetry, but will offer my list of personal transformations since falling in love with the city New Orleans. Here are ten ways that the Crescent City changed the life of this native northern Californian:

 

1.  Appreciation of Jazz and its history. I may not understand it, but I like Jazz — especially if brass and young people are involved. 

 

2. Now prominent in my living room bar is a bottle of artisan-distilled Rye whiskey. My rye love started with the Sazerac Cocktail. If you have not experienced a Sazerac, get thee to New Orleans!

 

sazerac cocktail

sazerac cocktail

 

3. I am  now staunchly spoiled when it comes to wait-staff hospitality, and am exceedingly impatient with what I now call “California-style indifference” in any restaurant.

 

4. Consider myself a foodie. Thanks to an extroverted couple from San Diego— who were also lost waiting for a streetcar at Riverwalk, we discovered a sampling of New Orleans favorites— like Casamento’s and August— on our first visit. Now I am a shameless food follower and have even been called a great ambassador by local chowhounds.

 

5. Addicted to accumulating airline and hotel miles and points. Since my darling daughter now lives in New Orleans, I have a great excuse to travel. Deep discounts and free nights make it much more fun. 

 

6. Cocktails.  Thanks to a hint from the locals,  I don’t even look at a food menu until I’ve ordered a cocktail!

 

7. Sundresses. I think they are a must in the summer, but the sundress becomes more appealing for a middle-aged women when a charming young man, walking an Uptown neighborhood street, says: “That dress is perfect for today!”

 

8. Da Track. The thought of spending Thanksgiving day at the horse races would have upset my life balance before NOLA. Da Track is a New Orleans tradition:  a spicy mix of old timers and young hipsters coming together in their best hats and finery on Thanksgiving afternoon. Looks like I will be there for 2013, too.

 

9. Hurricane alerts. My daughter may be composed during storm warnings, but her worried mother is on Twitter, Hurricane watch, Weather Channel and the NOAA website at any inkling of Gulf storms.

 

10.  Joie de vivre. I enjoy the pleasures in life more passionately knowing that in our vast nation there is a place as magical and unique as the City of New Orleans.

 

To my new friends in New Orleans, to my dear daughter who may never leave, and to all the friends I hope to meet on my journeys, I share some BB King:

 

“I don’t care if you’re young or old

Get together, let the good times roll.”

  

Karen D’Or

July 2013

 

Inside Redd, Yountville California

Redd Meet

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series North Bay Everyday

“Oh they won’t mind, they’re pretty laid back,” said the half-naked lady about Redd, one of the throng of Yountville restaurants that have turned northern Napa valley into a food mecca.

During our annual day-spa trip, Bobbi (my best friend from college) and I tend to include post-treatment eating, drinking and shopping — often reversing spa-induced relaxation. We are both high energy; thirty years ago a man called us an “assault to the senses.” Each year we meet in Napa, get pampered, share travel stories, and express gratitude that we made it through the 80s intact.

Bobbi’s calling Redd to let them know we may arrive late, so the nice half-naked spa lady — a local — is sharing her impression. We are concerned Redd might be one of those stuffy gourmet places; it has a Michelin star and 28 Zagat points. Spa lady is right and the hostess seems surprised we would even call.

Inside Redd, Yountville California

Inside Redd, Yountville California

Luckily, our experience at Redd (named after chef Richard Reddington) is unhurried in spite of our late-lunch tardiness and concerns about a soon-to-close kitchen. We miss the last outdoor table since Redd is pleasantly crowded for a Saturday afternoon, but the interior is open, light, gleaming with shiny wood floors and pewter accents, and smiles light up our exfoliated faces as mellow hostess leads us to a corner booth.

We meet our server, Ryan, who offers top-notch hospitality, knowledge, and not-too-intrusive congeniality. I share with Ryan (and Bobbi) my annoying new habit of ignoring the food menu until after I’ve ordered a cocktail. Because this habit emanates from my favorite new destination, New Orleans, I’ve adopted it wholeheartedly. Ryan promptly brings my Prohibition Tea cocktail and Bobbi’s glass of Baker Lane Vineyards rosé. We begin to relax, finally. I’ve convinced Bobbi to go to New Orleans with me someday.

2011217_Redd_0124Ryan tells us the only addition to the menu is an appetizer of squash blossom tempura. We ask for his menu recommendations. He confidently shares that his favorites are divers scallops and steamed pork belly buns. We start with the tempura, and a refreshing greens, citrus, goat cheese, mint, and walnut salad in citrus vinaigrette. Plenty of flavors creating a balanced blend of tart, crunch and creamy. The squash blossoms are battered and fried perfectly, but with very little flavor or spice, they are our least favorite dish.

Maurepas Lunch

New Orleans Food and Drink Marathon

SoBou Delights

SoBou Delights

I posted this trip report on Chowhound after my most recent visit to New Orleans, and a local chowhounder commented that I was a great ambassador for his City. Here is the full report; I take my eating and drinking seriously!

     It was her first night in New Orleans. We arrived late but not too late to mosey over to Irv Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse in the elegant Royal Sonesta hotel. I had a delightful house version of the Dark n Stormy, Dear Friend had a bright pink Passionfruit cocktail. We were too tired to venture much farther so opted for Desire Bistro and Oyster Bar, next door, for salads and sweet potato fries — which arrived as cold as the salads. A glorified coffee shop. My earlier Dark N Stormy was prophetic as it started sprinkling, followed later that night by a scary April T-storm.

French Quarter Fest 2013

French Quarter Fest 2013

     The sun came out for Sunday morning, the last day of French Quarter Fest (FQF) 2013. We started at Cafe Beignet for hot beignets, cafe au lait, and the Royal Street location did not disappoint. Met Dear Daughter and her friends for FQF music and a leisurely food graze which included: crab sliders from Something Else cafe (hit the spot!), Abita Amber, Tropical Daiquiris from Organic Banana and a highly-anticipated early dinner at Killer Po Boys. We each chose a different Po Boy filling: pork, shrimp, veggie and beef. Not the raves I expected from companions, however I liked my veggie/coulis version and felt Killer’s lived up to the hype.

     DF and I went to the famed Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone to find that  lightning from the prior night’s t-storm halted electricity so: a) the carousel was motionless, b) glasses were not cold, and c) no air conditioning. They closed the bar at 8 pm. DF took a sip of my sazerac; sadly it was warm. However, Monday was fantastic! Took the Confederacy of Cruisers “History of Drinking” tour with Lara the bartendress from R Bar. She led us all around the quarter on cruiser bikes with clipped-on moveable drink holders on drizzly Monday morning. First, she prepares island style (unblended) daiquiris before launching a multi-stop 3-hour French Quarter bike tour with stops for full size: 1) Finnegan’s Easy for local beer, 2) Napolean’s House for classic Pimm’s cups, stop 3) Roosevelt Hotel for Sazerac or Ramos Gin Fizz and 4) Erin Rose for frozen (or hot) Irish Coffees. At several other stops she tells the history of New Orleans relationship with alcohol. Rain was coming down as we cycled down Bourbon back to the Marigny, drinks in tow.
     A great morning followed by lunch at Maurepas Foods. After the tour we couldn’t conceive of a Maurepas cocktails, however hitting the spot were their Strawberry Salad, Arugula salad, Braised Broccoli — along with cheesy bread and their top-notch grits. Service was fantastic and everyone loved their dishes which warmed us up after the soggy bike ride.
Maurepas Lunch

     That night DF & I tried to get into Mr. B’s Bar: mobbed. Carousel was still out of power. Thank goodness we found French 75 which we loved. Why had I not been there before? Lovely bar and great drinks. DF enjoyed The Baroness cocktail x 2, and I had the very creative Caibiscus — a blend of a caipirinha with hibiscus tea. Chris Hannah is a legend and lives up to his reputation as a superb bartender.

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