Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

Friday Happy Hour: The Garden

Photo courtesy of Jenn Larsen
“The Garden” cocktail
courtesy of Jenn Larsen

After almost two weeks of struggling with being sick and exhausted, my disco nap this past Wednesday night was in danger of becoming an early bedtime. Then the tweet came through from Fedward with the magical phrase, “There is a bottle of Gran Classico behind the bar and a drink including it on the menu. Somebody’s holding out.”

I bolted out of bed and dashed over to American Ice Company. Yes, it was a race of mad cliches. That’s what “bitter love” does to the granddaughter of a Torinese during an aperitivo shortage.

Spirits in Black happens roughly every month at American Ice and has quickly become my favorite recurring event in the city. Patrick Owens just plain rocks as he mixes drinks inspired by heavy metal while head-banging and air-guitaring with abandon, and I’m always impressed by Ashley May’s ability to keep everyone happy and in line. Joined by a guest bartender and a metal DJ, it’s a night that brings out the best in the DC drinks and music scenes – people are talkative, friendly, and enjoying themselves.

And then there are the drinks. Continue reading

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Friday Happy Hour: Special-Edition Burial at Sea

One of the many benefits of the recent flourishing of cool small breweries in the area has been the interesting collaborations that result when they put their creative energies together. One such beer, Burial at Sea, came about when DC Brau teamed up with Baltimore’s Oliver Breweries to create an English Dark Mild Ale which was released earlier this year.

Add to that collaboration a third level: Aging that beer in barrels from various distilleries including, though the work of the staff of Jack Rose and Boubon in Adams Morgan, a special edition version of Burial at Sea aged in Bulleit Rye barrels. This aged batch of the beer was released at Bourbon this week during a special event with Mr. Tom Bulleit himself from the distillery on hand – as well as the founders of DC Brau and a festive crowd that turned out on a Wednesday night to enjoy the limited offering.
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Friday Happy Hour: Jungle Bird at Passenger

Tuesday was an amazing day. I went outside to see the shuttle glide overhead – and after that it seemed like my whole day was dusted with little bits of space magic. I was absurdly productive, managed to pull off some things I did not expect to work, and generally felt very accomplished and excited about the world.

Obviously, a day like that called for a celebratory drink with friends.

Being Tuesday, we headed over to Passenger for their long-running weekly Tiki night. The weather was a trifle chillier than “the islands” on that night, but recent warm temperatures and sunny days had well-primed me for tiki-style refreshment.

When I arrived and looked at the chalkboard of drink features for the night, I knew exactly which one was made for me. Jungle Bird brings together tiki classics of pineapple, lime, and rum – specifically Smith & Cross – with one of my favorite liquors of all, Campari. Served over crushed ice in a big, frosty hurricane glass, the drink was a little lighter in body and less-sweet than some tiki drinks, while still being perfect for imagining somewhere tropical.

By the end of the night, our group of six had gone through enough of them that an entire bouquet of little orchid garnishes had made their way into our hair or onto a sizable pile on the table. Rarely do I order the same drink twice in a row, even when I really like it – but this one I did. It was a magical day.

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

Friday Happy Hour: Rite of Spring at Room 11

Friday Happy Hour is back after our month of ARTINIs – and, I am pleased to report, we will be including some additional voices from our other drinks writers in this space from time to time, in our efforts to bring you the most diverse collection of drinks experiences we can. Spring seems like a perfect time for this sort of re-vamp – and so what could be a more perfect drink to kick off this new season than one called Rite of Spring?

While I love to pester the awesome staff of Room 11 to make me experimental drinks based on what is often a string of near-nonsense adjectives – and they consistently make creative, tasty cocktails off the tops of their heads from my silly prompts – I also like to keep up with the drinks they feature on their menu. These change with the seasons and are generally the results of extensive testing and experimenting.

On a recent visit, their chalkboard offered Rite of Spring and, given the lovely warm day, how could I turn that down? As the name suggests, this is springtime distilled into a coupe glass. Starting with Beefeater gin (of course – what spirit could be more spring than gin?), the drink builds floral notes with a chamomile honey syrup, lavender bitters, and lemon juice. A pinch of aromatic chamomile buds are sprinkled across the top.

The chamomile and lavender has an almost aromatherapy quality of instant calming – so much so, in fact, the staff has nicknamed the honey “sleepy syrup.” After a sip – and, particularly, a smell – one can easily conjure images of a stone house set in the English countryside, surrounded by gardens and probably some kind of stately dog (or whatever else one imagines oneself to have at their country estate – for me, gin and a basset hound will do). All around, Rite of Spring makes for a perfect tipple to enjoy in the early evening of a breezy spring day.

Food and Drink, Special Events, The Features

ARTINI: Week Two Feature Nights

Ronald Flores of Art and Soul's cocktail for ARTINI 2012. Photo credit: Dan Swartz. Courtesy of the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

ARTINI 2012 is underway! Twelve** Eleven talented bartenders have created cocktails inspired by works in the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Every Friday the We Love DC drinks team will wrap up the week’s feature nights with reviews of each artini entry, to culminate at the gala on March 31st. We kicked off Week One last Friday; let’s see what Week Two had at the bar.

ARTINI 4: Jon Arroyo, Founding Farmers
Inspiration: Behind Every Good Man, Nina Chanel Abney, 2010, acrylic on canvas

Reviewer: Moses

What kind of beverage can be inspired by one of the hottest young American artists, Nina Chanel Abney? Abney was named to Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30” this year, and her work starred in the Corcoran’s “30 Americans” exhibit this past autumn. Abney’s Behind Every Good Man depicts her characteristic mask-like facial imagery and buzz of sexual energy, creating an unsettling scene, where one look captures both terror and resignation. Continue reading

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Friday Happy Hour: Tonic for Everyday Neuroses

Getting together with friends for a cocktail party is pretty great – but even better if your guests include, say, authors and experts who want to talk about their work, a chef who whips up some very sophisticated morsels, and a terrific mixologist to make the drinks. That is the concept behind Fireside Cocktails by The Coterie. Meeting once a month at Fathom Creative (and, really, I can only dream of having a living room as chic as their second-floor gallery/event space), these events combine some of my very favorite things – intriguing conversation and tasty drinks.
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Friday Happy Hour: Sunburner

My friend and I were heading more or less home for the night, but it was uncommonly mild and a bit early, so we decided to stroll a few blocks out of the way to get a drink before turning in. The last couple of times we had tried to slip into Tabard Inn, it had been crowded with people seeking the cozy confines on cold nights – but on this warmer evening we were able to easily grab spots at the bar.

It being a Thursday, the super sweet Chantal Tseng was behind the bar – in pigtails and argyle knee socks, no less. She made each of us one of her four featured drinks of the night. I received the Sunburner.

Chantal told us she was on “a blood orange kick,” and the Sunburner certainly was part of that. The citrus purée had a thickness that gave the drink a pleasantly rich and silky mouthfeel. The overall composition was not very sweet, but instead vegetal and dry in a really gratifying and unexpected way.

Stopping in for that one drink quickly slipped into a few more (including more blood orange) – every one of them delightful.

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

Friday Happy Hour: Hong Kong Empress

Monday marks the beginning of the Lunar New Year, and Natalia has a round-up for us of restaurants offering special menus and events. I was invited along with her to sample the special holiday offerings at Zentan Restaurant in the Donovan House hotel. In addition to the food, I got to try some of their signature Asian-inspried cocktails.

The Hong Kong Empress is the only whiskey-based drink on the list, so naturally my eye went right to it. Rye, specifically, combined with a cinnamon syrup, organic ginger, and served on the rocks with two slices of candied blood orange.

When it first arrived, it seemed pleasant, but on the sweet side for my taste. However, this was one of those times where the pairing really snapped the drink into perfect focus. When a Szechwan hot and sour soup (which was, in fact, both spicy and sour – deliciously so) arrived, the sweet, citrusy drink was the perfect compliment. They really balanced and enhanced each other in a delightful way. Both the soup and the cocktail should be on the menu even after the new year celebration, so drop in and enjoy all winter long.

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

Friday Happy Hour: The Cheap Date

Normally, I am not one for frills or added flavors when it comes to my coffee. I like the taste of coffee too much just as it is, thank you – maybe with a swirly kiss of microfoam if a pro is making it for me. Beyond that, I typically avoid white chocolate mochas, cran-banana-hazelnut syrups, or the like. However, this time, I gave in to a fancy, frothy coffee concoction – et je ne regrette rien

At each Peregrine Espresso, they have a monthly signature drink. This is an opportunity for the staff to show a little whimsy behind the bar, applying their top-notch skills and ingredients to make something outside the norm. After reading the description of the Logan Circle location’s current special, The Cheap Date, several times, I was forced to concede that it hit on so many of my favorite flavors I just had to try it.

Served in a small gibralter-style glass, it is a date and anise-infused mocha, topped with a freshly-made orange-scented whipped cream. Having not had a mocha in ages, I was a bit unprepared for just how rich and chocolatey the drink would be, but with the sweetness tempered by the espresso and the delightful date and anise elements which complicated the classic combination just a touch. Floating on top was a cloud of the aromatic orange whipped cream which, as it melted into the drink added just a touch of citrus tang as well as dense creaminess. This was a dessert of a coffee drink, to be sure – something to end a chilly evening rather than jump-start one’s morning.

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

Friday Happy Hour: Barrel-Aged Negroni

Barrel-aging was so big in 2011 that it popped up on some contrarians’ year-end lists of most-overdone trends in the dining and drinking world. Personally, I disagree. When done well, that round, woody quality imparted by leaving something to age a bit can really add depth and deliciousness to whatever you put in there and it can give a subtle twist to a classic recipe. The trendiness of house-aging spirits or whole cocktails has just made it possible for even smaller places to get in on a few tiny barrels behind the bar.

While Boundary Stone might not bill itself as a “cocktail place,” they nonetheless keep a very solid collection of spirits around. Normally I have a beer or bourbon when I am there, but I was intrigued when the specials chalkboard boasted of a barrel-aged Negroni made with Bluecoat gin – and was pleased when the brightly colored drink arrived. On the sweeter side for a Negroni, the five weeks spent in a miniature (read: quick-aging) barrel gave the drink a real cohesion and suppleness in the mouth. The oaky flavors hit almost immediately and provided a lovely counterpoint to the bitter Campari.

Due to the capacity of the small barrels, Boundary Stone makes only a limited batch of each aged cocktail at a time. Should you not catch this one, they have a vanilla-infused Manhattan coming out next and other experiments down the line – so keep an eye on the chalkboard for those.

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

Friday Happy Hour: Dolcezza Hot Chocolate

As Americans, I feel like we very often describe something as “European Style” as a euphemism. It either means that thing is classy and refined or, as in the case of my apartment’s “European Sized” washer-dryer, simply small. The hot chocolate at Dolcezza is certainly the former – but served in a rather American-sized portion.

The dark, glossy chocolate arrives spilling just over the edges of the cappuccino-sized mug, dribbling little trails down the outside, pooling in the saucer. It is aromatic with cinnamon and spices and has a substantial, silky mouthfeel without being quite as thick as the more shot-glass sized portions one sometimes gets. Accompanied by a warm, crispy churro, it is completely decadent without being overwhelmingly sugary. Though less-dense than some, the full six ounces was a bit too much for me to finish, I must admit, and could almost be split between two people.

Some fancy hot chocolates in town distinguish themselves by the addition of spicy elements or interesting “adult” ingredients (both of which I like) or piles of whipped cream and other toppings (which I generally could do without), but the Dolcezza version is simple and avoids taking the treat over-the-top.

It more clearly reminds me of the hot chocolates of my childhood, typically served from silver pots on trays of hotel room-service breakfasts in various now blurred-together Continental locales – and when it comes to hot chocolate, more like one’s childhood memories is generally better. Like cupcakes and grilled cheese sandwiches, hot chocolate is one of those nostalgia foods I waver on if adults should even consume at all – but when you make the nostalgia this appealing and delicious, it is certainly hard to write it off.

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

Friday Happy Hour: Port City Tidings

One of my first Christmas beers of the season, Tidings from Alexandria’s Port City Brewing was a very pleasant welcome to this year’s winter warmers.

The strongest of all Port City’s offerings at 7.8%, Tidings is a Belgian Pale Ale with the addition of honey and seasonal spices. The honey was especially prominent in the glass I had at Rustico in Alexandria, tasting as if it might not have completely fermented out leaving a fair dose of residual sweetness and honey flavor. There are lots of flavors of coriander, clove, and pepper.

Tidings is not quite the super-high-ABV, syrupy wallop of a winter warmer like some breweries come out with around this time of year – more of a subtle toast to the season and one which seems like it would work well as a party tipple or paired with a holiday dinner.

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

Friday Happy Hour: Hot Drinks at POV

P.O.V. at the W Hotel is rightly famous for the sweeping views off the rooftop terrace – but that may not bring it immediately to mind for a wintertime tipple. It should though because – as was on display at this week’s “apres-ski” themed party presented in conjunction with Gilt City DC – the terrace is heated and so are the tasty cold-weather drinks. There are even cozy W-branded blankets if needed to help you keep the nip of cold off as you sip on your cocktail.

Prior to the opening of the party, media guests were invited to sample the seasonal menu: Hot Apple Buttered Rum, Pumpkin Cider, Sheridan’s Coffee, and the Whiskey Skin. A chocolate soda and Blood Orange Old Fashioned are also available for the holidays, but we were there to focus strictly on steamy things served in mugs.
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Friday Happy Hour: Hail the Wale

11-11-11 is hardly over and there is already internet backlash. Rest assured, as special as I think today is, I will make no claims about numerology or if your wish made at 11:11 will come true.

That said, today is special, so this will be a special Friday Happy Hour. Tonight, I am hosting a meeting of the Corduroy Appreciation Club at Room 11 – and their sweet, sweet staff have created special corduroy-themed cocktails to serve. I got to collaborate a bit on the recipes, but they are mostly the creation of Room 11 bartender Iris Ho.

So, here you have the first recipe shared in my Friday Happy Hour series – a drink you can make yourself tonight to celebrate this auspicious day, or any time.
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Friday Happy Hour: Old Gold

The other night, when it was particularly chilly, I demanded to swing by Big Bear Cafe for a hot toddy. It was, in fact, pretty much the thing around which I organized my whole evening. There are plenty of places that will make you a very good hot toddy, but ever since they featured their Jamaican version a few weeks ago, I have been hooked on getting them from Big Bear.

The thing about hot toddies is, though, no matter how hard you try to photograph them, they just look like tea. Also, I have not yet precisely isolated what I like so much about Big Bear’s, so I do not have much to report. What I can report on, however, is the other cocktail I sipped that night – one of the originals off their current cocktail menu – the Old Gold.
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Friday Happy Hour: New Grist Sorghum Beer

One of my best friends was recently diagnosed with a gluten allergy, which has been kind of a drag for her – this is, after all, a girl who loves bread so much that she works for the French government. Nonetheless, this is as good a time as ever to be allergic to gluten, with many people choosing to go gluten-free even if they do not have to and more and more products coming available. After a recent, fairly successful evening of experiments in non-grain-based distilled spirits, she and I decided to make another appointment to try out gluten-free beers.
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Friday Happy Hour: Poet’s Dream

Last Sunday was my birthday. The official celebration involved some of my best friends packed into a small room at my favorite bar and lots of fun, tasty cocktails, shots of whisky with the bar’s charming owner, and at least one half-gallon sized jug of beer (which was, to be clear, shared by a couple of people – or at least I hope it was). Fun, silly, very casual.

That birthday began very differently, though. At midnight on Saturday night, I was wearing a fancy dress, perched in The Gibson with its elegant, quiet vibe. To go with that grown-up setting, I was sipping the Poet’s Dream.

Clear, dry, and elegant, Poet’s Dream is simply Plymouth gin, dry vermouth, Benedictine, and orange bitters. The Benedictine gives it an herbal note, but overall, the composition is bracing but subtle. Lots of orange aromatics, but very little real sweetness.

Even though I am another year older, I am still far from actually being a mature, responsible adult. Perhaps, as my first drink of this new year, something as serious and respectable as the Poet’s Dream will set me off on the right direction.

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

Friday Happy Hour: Chokin’ in Manhattan

Manhattans were the one of the first cocktails I started drinking, back around my ole’ college days. While sophisticated on the outside, they are accessible and sweet – and a total gateway drink. My friends and I would seek out places that made them “well” – though, honestly, we could really only discern when they were really, really bad.

While I still like a well-made Manhattan, it just is not something I find myself ordering at a bar all that often any more. There usually has to be some kind of “hook” to get my attention on a menu – maybe they barrel-aged it or use some interesting house-made ingredients. In the case of Tryst and their Chokin’ in Manhattan, they add one of my favorite liqueurs, Cynar.
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Friday Happy Hour: Blackened Gold at Toki Underground

I love Toki Underground. Super cute, great location, delicious vegan ramen, and they keep hours that suit me – which is to say, I can sit and eat a totally respectable dinner at ten on Tuesday and it is no big deal. Should you want something to drink with your ramen and dumplings (or to sip on while you wait for a seat) they have a list of sakes and unusual Asian beers – and they also mix up some interesting and tasty cocktails.
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Friday Happy Hour: Ginger Smash – Fall Version

This week has been busy, but just looking at my calendar for the next month or so is tiring. (Maybe the rest of the year, actually. I have already gotten enough holiday party invitations that I went ahead and scheduled my own before my guests booked up. Crazy.) In any event, I was grateful for a relaxed Thursday night to come along. To celebrate, I headed to an author reading at 826DC and then walked over to Room 11.

I do not write much about wine in this column, but that does not mean I do not drink the stuff in my “off-duty” time – and Room 11 is one of my favorite spots to sip on a glass of something, which had been my plan when I plopped down at a patio table. However, my friend Iris was working and it is hard to turn down cocktails whipped up by a girl who keeps a Facebook photo album called “Drinks as Friends” where she chronicles the creation of special cocktails to represent the people in her life.
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