Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Well, maybe not so simple

Just when I finish extolling the pleasures of my favorite classic cocktail, the Champagne Cocktail, what happens? Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, I find the one whose bartender doesn't know how to make one.

It started well enough, I ordered my cocktail, the bartender nodded. I returned to my conversation. When I looked back a few moments later, I saw the bartender pouring my cocktail out of a shaker into my glass.
Hmmmm, I thought, that's interesting; I've never had my Champagne shaken before, but I'm willing to try something new.
Then she handed me my pale, pink, rather cloudy drink. Cloudy? Hmmmm. I took a sip. Sweet, fruity. Fruity?
What's in this? I asked.
Raspberry puree.
Raspberry puree? I repeated. I asked for a Champagne Cocktail.
That's right - Champagne and raspberry puree.
How about Champagne, a cube of sugar and some bitters? I asked.
Bitters? What kind of liqueur is that?

At that point, friends, I surrendered. I drank my Champagne 'cocktail' - not a Mimosa, not a Bellini, and definitely not a Champagne Cocktail - quietly, and when I was done, I asked for a Perfect Manhattan, straight up. But that's a story for another day...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

it's the simple things, after all

I have a new addiction... it's relatively harmless, as part of its charm is the limitation of just one. Not that one couldn't have more than one - but, somehow, that would defeat the purpose.

I have discovered the perfect aperitif - the Champagne Cocktail. Deceptively simple (a bit of sugar, a dash of bitters, Champagne, and perhaps a twist of lemon if you're feeling festive), this cocktail lends the start of any evening an air of festivity, while not shouting "let's celebrate!" at the top of its lungs.

Sitting easily at the bar, sipping slowly on this slightly sweet, slightly bitter, slightly fizzy drink - you just know it's going to be good night. The cocktail can be followed up nicely by another, more "serious" cocktail, if that's the direction to which you are inclined, or just as easily by a good meal and good wine.

Try drinking just one, it's the perfect way to put any evening in a good mood.

Monday, February 19, 2007

We are the music makers

I was visiting one of my best friends over the weekend, and while we were sitting in the dining room sipping coffee (that she roasted herself!) and catching up, a little glimmer caught my eye. I looked up to see one of my favorite quotes "We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams" (courtesy the fabulous Willy Wonka) floating perfectly above the bay window in mellow silver.

Fantastic! I said. Easy! she said. Go to WonderfulGraffiti.com - any quote, any size, pick your color, pick your font and poof! Easy to put up - easy to remove. Seriously, you can just peel it off when making music and dreaming dreams is no longer your thing (or when your lease is up and you need to leave those bare white walls as white and as bare as when you moved in).

If coming up with your own words seems a bit daunting, the site offers quite the collection of cool quotations, designs and more to put on your walls, your refrigerator, even chalkboards. This is a great thing.

It seems only fitting then that one of my favorite quotes (I've even printed it on my business cards) is
"Invention is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple." (Also courtesy the inimitable Mr. Wonka.) Check out this wall graffiti and put a little butterscotch ripple in your home.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

For goodness sake

If you forget everything else you learn tonight, remember this word: "ginjo" - or so spake John Gauntner, sake guru, last night. "Ginjo," that would be Japanese for premium sake (actually, make that 'super-premium sake' - which, if you really want to know, makes up only 6% of all sake produced). John is the sake guy. No really, he is. And he really knows his stuff.

I signed up for this class thinking: I like sake, but I never have any idea what I'm ordering or why and wouldn't it be nice to have a clue? In 2 hours, John gave me more than a clue - for instance, according to John, 90% of the time sake is "fairly priced" - meaning that 90% of the time you are going to get what you pay for. As I know, unfortunately all too well, this is decidedly not the case when choosing wine.

And what about this? Sake is made from rice. Yeah, yeah, you knew that. Did you know that the rice has to be milled before the sake can be brewed - and that the more grain that is milled (ground away), the more expensive the sake will be? And, even though all sake is made from rice, there are really two kinds of premium sake - those made from rice and ONLY rice, and those made with distilled alcohol. And, the rice-only sakes are called Junmai. And, whether a sake is Junmai or not is relatively immaterial to selecting a sake - so that's one word I can jettison when attempting to make sense of a sake list.

Sake comes in grades (based on, you guessed it, how much rice is milled away). The words I did learn and remember are the different grades (John has a great and simple chart of all this):

  • Daiginjo -- generally the top of the food chain in sake )at least 50% and as much as 65% of the rice is milled away)
  • Ginjo -- one step below Daiginjo
  • Junmai-shu and Honjozo-shu -- the bottom of the premium sake food chain
  • Tokubetsu -- a special type of Junmai-shu... that I really liked, especially Suigei ("Drunken Whale")
There are 1600 sake brewers in Japan - somewhat overwhelming when you can't even read the label. But, on the flip side, find a few you like (John's not-lists are a good start) - and chances are you'll like their sake in every grade.

If you have questions, want to learn a little something, or are just a tad curious about sake - John Gauntner's site is a great place to start.

Oh, and the other thing he said to remember? Drink what you like - don't worry about the grade. Now don't you wish your parents had told you the same thing growing up?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

BIN to heaven

A wine bar with serious wine, that doesn't take itself seriously? A restaurant with unbelievable food, without unbelievable prices? Am I dreaming?

Nope - I'm eating at Bin 8945, over in West Hollywood on Santa Monica Blvd. Perched on a stool at the bar, letting David, the owner, pick out a bottle of red and a menu to match, I couldn't be happier. We ask for a good value, an earthy red - and after a few short minutes of reflection, David snaps closed the list and announces he knows exactly what he's giving us.

He sets two large round goblets in front of us and uncorks a bottle of 2001 Paternoster "Synthesi" from Italy. I've never heard of it, and neither has my dining partner, who knows his wine. David pours us each a glass and we take a sniff. Wow. We take a taste. Now we're talking.

David walks away to take care of another table and, as I breathe in the berries and the leather, I think to myself - this guy's going to forget more about wine than I'm ever going to know. And he's wearing jeans and a funky t-shirt. He's waxing poetic about his Play Station 3. That's the kind of guy I want picking my wine.

He's got the resume (Guy Savoy in Paris, Le Cirque and Aquavit in New York, and Aubergine in Newport Beach), but surely didn't bring the attitude. He loves good wine, but is the first - in fact was the first when I was there - to say, dude, it's just wine, it's not going to change your life.

I'm already happy, and then he introduces the chef, Mike, whom David's kidnapped from Ford's Filling Station. (According to David, he dressed for the occasion in black and with hood, stuck his finger in Ben's back and said, your chef or your life. Happily for all, Ben's still breathing.) And the two of them proceed to discuss what combination of dishes and flavors will best complement the wine...

Out comes a procession of dishes, a rare tuna burger topped with a quail egg (which we don't break fast enough for David, do me a favor? he asks. Break that egg into the burger - it will make all the difference. We do and it does.) Monkfish on a heavenly puree of root vegetables. Pork cheeks glazed in chocolate. Each pairing with the wine differently and perfectly. David capped the dinner with a sherry and a persimmon dessert cake.

All in all, I could only ask that more restaurants took a page from David's book. The place, the people, the wine, the food... I can't wait to go back.

Well, auto-text this!

My thoughts on the essential auto-text entries for every girl:

Huh? -- short and sweet, this can be used to respond to texts that are too dumb, too suggestive or too cryptic. And without prejudice. Pretty good for 3 letters.

Done and done -- quick and slightly smart-ass. Perfect text form.

Thanks! You rock! -- my personal favorite, this can be used to respond to almost anything. Let the other side figure out if you're being sincere or sarcastic.

What can I say? -- this, too, covers a lot of ground

Ummm, oops? -- when you need to say you're sorry, but you're not quite sure you mean it.

Perfect -- simple, to-the-point, one word. Perfect.

Wish I could -- the covers-all-bases slide out response. Would that it were so easy in real life.
Wish I could - another time? -- when you want to leave the door open.

Thank you -- Just because we live in the digital age, doesn't mean we shouldn't still make our grandmothers proud.
and, Thank you. I had a great time
or even, Thank you. My turn next time

And please ban, delete, obliterate these from existence:

Miss u
- need I say more?

Luv u
- this is worse than Miss u

c u 2moro/2nite/l8r
- ok, unless ur(!) 15 years old, this is downright unacceptable. Auto-text is your chance not to sound like a teenager, an idiot, or pathetic.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

This is a movie - not a film!

Ask, and you shall receive. And I received a good movie – message and all.

Blood Diamond is a long movie, no question (it clocks in at 2 hours, 18 minutes); but – the true sign of a good movie – I never once looked at my watch. Similar to Titanic, Blood Diamond sets a small, personal tale inside a big, almost un-fathomable story – and both stories are the better for the pairing.

The intertwined stories of the journalist, Danny Archer (played by that veteran of epic movies, Leonardo DiCaprio) and the father, Solomon Vandi (played by the mesmerizing Djimon Hounsou) play out against a heartbreaking depiction of civil war, oppression and child soldiery (I’m not sure that’s a word – but if child labor and child slavery are, child soldiery should be too. On further thought, it would be a much better world if none of those three phrases existed).

Blood Diamond isn’t always easy to watch, but it is impossible to look away from. The chemistry between DiCaprio and Hounsou drives the plot forward relentlessly, and it is a good plot – maybe a bit farfetched, maybe a bit convenient, but gripping nonetheless. And it does serve the film-makers’ purpose of elucidating the terrible, terrible plight of a country torn apart in every which way.

The internal strife of civil war and hopeless politics battling the external pressure of the unceasing demands of the industries feeding our (yes, our) consumer and consumption-centric society is nothing less than heart-breaking. The transformation of young boys – soccer-playing, normal boys – into numb, mindless shooting machines is horrific. The image of the boys, toting guns nearly as long as they are tall, striding through the grass, shooting into a village - remorseless and uncaring - is indelible.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, there is nothing good about war, about killing. In this story, as in every story, I'm sure there are a dozen sides to be told - and Blood Diamond, the movie, tells only one. But it's a pretty awful one at that - and I'd be hard-pressed to imagine another side to it that would provide a good reason for slaughtering so many people.

Monday, February 05, 2007

It's a bleak, bleak, bleak world

Is it just me, or does everyone get a little weary come the end of the year, when we're bombarded with movies that are "worthwhile," "meaningful," "serious?" Not necessarily a bad thing, mind you - but, this year in particular, it seems as though the filmmakers (and I use the word "film" advisedly) feel as though the very fact of their message gives them license to forgo some movie-making basics (and, yes, I used the word "movie" advisedly too).

There's no question that movies can have a message, that they can teach and enlighten as well as entertain and delight. And that some movies, by the nature of their message, will be less 'delightful' than others. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be good movies. Want to see a great movie, and get a pretty eye-opening look into anti-Semitism? Check out "A Gentleman's Agreement." How about an example of a little movie, tight and beautifully acted, that also gives you a good look at the merciless drug trade and the victims of its mechanics? Take a gander at "Maria Full of Grace."

Where was it written in 2006 that a movie couldn't be serious, couldn't communicate a Message, unless it was well over 2 hours long? "Babel" - 2 hours, 23 minutes. "The Departed" - 2 hours, 31 minutes. "The Good Shepherd" - 2 hours, 40 minutes. "Flags of our Fathers" - 2 hours, 12 minutes. Now, some really entertaining, good movies have also been long - "Titanic" is the first one that comes to mind. But to keep my attention for well over 2 hours - something pretty compelling better be on-screen. And, I’ve got to tell you, most of this year’s ‘films’ – those serious celluloid syllogisms – don’t live up to that. I could probably have seen at least one, if not two, more movies in the time I wasted with the extraneous or too-long scenes.

Which doesn’t help the January/February race to see them all before the you-know-whats. Now I’m stuck seeing one bleak, grim, dreary movie after another. One after the other, I saw The Departed, Babel, and Children of Men. That's enough to make anyone sink into a pit of despair. Later that same week, for kicks and giggles, I went to see Notes on a Scandal, which really cheered me up.

I am still working up the gumption to see the rest of the contenders: Flags of our Fathers -- WWII and our defense industry's soulless marketing machine at work; Letters from Iwo Jima -- the suicidal stand of Japanese soldiers and their wholesale massacre; Volver -- murder, incest and ghosts; Little Children -- adultery and betrayal; The Good Shepherd -- bleak depiction of the cold war and the sale of souls to fight it.

I'll keep you posted.