New Additions…Elderflower Edition…

My new bottle…Thatcher’s Elderflower Liqueur (left), vs. St. Germain.

I stopped by the liquor store today to replace my bottle of St. Germain.  Inquiring into the lack of bottles on the shelf, the ABC employee asked if I’d be interested in Thatcher’s brand Elderflower liqueur.  This was the first time I had heard of it, and seeing that a bottle of Thatcher’s was a bit cheaper than St. Germain (about $20 for Thatcher’s versus $38 for St. Germain), I figured I didn’t have much to lose by trying it out.

Thatcher’s has lower alcohol content (30 proof vs 40 proof) than St. Germain.  Thatcher’s smells a bit lighter…St. Germain has a more intense smell (and taste) that reminds me of lychees.  The taste of the Thatcher’s is more floral than St. Germain, and I’d say a little more refreshing.  I pick up more of a berry taste with the Thatcher’s in the aftertaste as well.  I could also see taking Thatcher’s straight or as a shot (although cocktails are where this would be best for me), whereas the St. Germain is a little too sweet/thick for that.  The flavors are different enough that I’d consider having both of these in my bar, though.

Also, I’d recommend checking out the elderflower liqueur taste test that this blogger did (way more interesting than mine was).

Other Elderflower liqueurs I’ll need to try:

The Bitter Truth Elderflower Liqueur

Bramley & Gage Elderflower Liqueur

Chase Elderflower Liqueur

Pür Likör Blossom Elderflower Liqueur

More on elderflower/elderberries here.

Blue Ginger, 3 July 2012

While I was visiting New England, I made a stop at Blue Ginger in Wellesley, MA.  Ming Tsai, once on The Next Iron Chef and other Food Network shows, opened this spot in 1998.  My friends had been raving about this place for awhile, so it was on our to-do list while I was out there.

The Blue Ginger kitchen working hard.

We started out with a couple of drinks from Blue Ginger’s creative cocktail menu.  I got the Thai Coconut Martini, which consisted of cilantro- and chili-infused vodka, Coco Lopez coconut milk, and lime…great flavor combination.

Thai Coconut Martini. “Creamy, spicy, delicious,” per the menu…I concur.

This was my first opportunity to obtain foie gras since the California ban on the delicacy went into effect, so I went a little overboard and both of the options.  Blue Ginger has two starters with foie gras, including a Foie Gras-Shiitake Shumai in Sauternes-Shallot Broth, and the Blue Ginger Charcuterie Plate.  The latter consisted of duck prosciutto, foie gras torchon, and country pâté.  Both were good…I especially liked the sweetness of the Sauternes broth with the shumai dish.

The Foie Gras Shumai. The shumai themselves came out in a dim sum bamboo container, and then were moved into the broth.

Charcuterie with delicious foie gras torchon (bottom right).

Seeing the need for another cocktail at this point, I chose the Gosling’s Gold Iced Chai Latte – chai-infused rum with Bailey’s and honey syrup.  Again, really tasty.

Gosling’s Gold Iced Chai Latte.

Moving onto the entrees…I went with the Grilled New Zealand Rack of Lamb, and my friends went with Szechwan Chicken and the Sake-Miso Marinated Alaskan Butterfish (two of the house specialties).  All of these were excellent.  The lamb was exceptionally prepared – juicy and tender – and was served with a crispy taro-corn cake, asian chimichurri, and adobo cream.  The butterfish was incredible.  I was a little jealous I didn’t get that myself, and if I go again that’s what I’ll be getting.

My rack of lamb.

Szechwan Chicken with Lapchang Sticky Rice and Sautéed Mustard Greens. Served with Garlic-ginger-soy syrup and sweet chile sauce.

The incredible butterfish, served with wasabi oil, soy-lime syrup, and vegetarian soba noodle sushi.

If rhubarb is ever on the dessert menu, I get it.  Blue Ginger has a Crème Fraiche Cheesecake with Rosé Sobet topped with gingered rhubarb, strawberries, and candied pistachios.  Also good was the Bittersweet Chocolate Cake with cardamom ice cream and chocolate ganache.  Great end to the meal.

Ming Tsai has some of his recipes (including a few of the ones featured at Blue Ginger) on his PBS show “Simply Ming“.  A few of the episodes are online on his website, which I’d encourage you to check out.

Blue Ginger
583 Washington Street
Wellesley, MA 02482
(781) 283-5790

Book on OpenTable

Bacon and Beer Tasting at LivingSocial, 22 July 2012

Bacon and beer (and shots of rye whiskey) go so well together.

I went to yet another great event at LivingSocial‘s 918 F Street – Bacon and Beer Tasting with Flying Dog Brewery and Founding Farmers.  For $19, we were treated to four small bacon dishes created by Chef Joe Goetze of Founding Farmers, four beers from Flying Dog, and a shot of rye.  Over the hour-long tasting, we were presented with various information on the beers and bacon dishes.

Here’s what we had:

Snake Dog IPA and Double Dog Double IPA.

We started off with the Snake Dog IPA (7.1%) and Turkey Bacon with Apple-Onion Confit with four-year Vermont Cheddar, followed by the Double Dog Double Pale Ale (11.5%) with BBQ Spiced Artisan Grilled Hickory Bacon.

I especially liked the Apple-Onion Confit that went with the turkey bacon…it was made with caraway, yellow onion, Granny Smith apple, jalapenos, bay leaf, celery salt, and other ingredients. Really tasty.

After a short break, and a shot of rye, we started on the second course.  Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout (5.5%) washed down Black Pepper Maple Glaze Apple Wood Smoked Bacon with Danish Blue Cheese, while Horn Dog Barley Wine paired well with the Bacon-Wrapped Blue Cheese-Stuffed Dates (my favorite – these were delicious).

The dates were awesome…I may reproduce them for my next gathering.

Another great event at an excellent price.  This tasting appeared to be extremely popular…I think LivingSocial was having a couple of tastings a day.  As of the writing of this post, the deal is still available.  You can sign up for it here.

Beer Tasting with ChurchKey and LivingSocial, 15 July 2012

On Sunday, I went to a beer tasting event at LivingSocial’s 918 F Street led by Greg Engert, the beer director for ChurchKey and Neighborhood Restaurant Group.

I can confidently state that I have never met anyone as knowledgable about beer as Mr. Engert.  He certainly brings his academic education and experience to his craft.  For two hours or so, he was able to discuss the history, economy, science, and societal aspects of beer.  More importantly, he had picked seven beers that even I, a beer novice, could easily tell apart.

A veritable professor of beers, Greg Engert introduced us to seven exceptional brews.

We started the first round with three beers:

  • Jolly Pumpkin Bam Noire
  • ChurchKey’s Flavor Category: Tart & Funky
  • Beer Name: Bam Noire
  • Brewery/Origin: Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales, Michigan
  • Style: Saison – Dark
  • ABV: 4.3%

According to Engert, the Bam Noire is what beer tasted like for 99% of its history.  Tart, sour, and a slight vinegar smell at first.  It had a clean aftertaste with a hint of smokiness.

  • Schlenkerla Weizen
  • Flavor Category: Smoke
  • Beer Name: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen
  • Brewery/Origin: Brauerei Heller-Trum, Germany
  • Style: Hefeweizen
  • ABV: 5.2%

BACON.  That’s all I could think of when I smelled, and then tasted, this great beer.  The extremely smokey nose and flavor comes from the beechwood it’s fired with.

  • Stillwater Cellar Door
  • Flavor Category: Fruit & Spice
  • Beer Name: Cellar Door
  • Brewery/Origin: Stillwater Artisanal (at DOG Brewing), Maryland
  • Style: Saison – Blond
  • ABV: 6.6%

Fruit nose with a hint of sage.  The sage comes out more in the taste…white sage was used to flavor it.  This beer is contract brewed by Stillwater at DOG Brewing in Baltimore.

The first three brews. My favorite from this round was the Schlenkerla Weizen, in the center.

At this point, we got a break to collect some charcuterie.  Good selection that went well with the rest of the beers.

Don’t mind the plating…I put this one together myself. I need to remember to eat before going out to these things.

Round two consisted of these four beers:

  • Victory HopDevil Ale
  • Flavor Category: Hop
  • Beer Name: HopDevil
  • Brewery/Origin: Victory Brewing Company, Pennsylvania
  • Style: American IPA
  • ABV: 6.7%

Fruity nose and taste.  Orange/citrus notes.

  • Duck-Rabbit Doppelbock
  • Flavor Category: Malt
  • Beer Name: The Duck Rabbit Doppelbock
  • Brewery/Origin: The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery, North Carolina
  • Style: Dunkles Doppelbock
  • ABV: 8.5%

I wasn’t sure what to peg the flavors in this as…I thought soy sauce, and somewhat similar to the next beer.  More intense flavors than the Hitachino, and a little more bitter, especially at the finish.  From what I gather, for a hoppy beer, this wasn’t that bitter though.  As I don’t normally drink a lot of beer, I have more taste testing to do before I can figure that out on my own.

  • Hitachino Nest Sweet Stout
  • Flavor Category: Roast
  • Beer Name: Sweet Stout
  • Brewery/Origin: Kiuchi Brewery, Japan
  • Style: Sweet Stout
  • ABV: 3.9%

As mentioned above, I found this similar in taste to the Duck-Rabbit (although I’m not sure I should’ve with the different flavor categories they fall into).  I found this one to be a little bit mellower and sweeter.  Cleaner finish than the Doppelbock.

  • Tuppers Keller Pils
  • Flavor Category: Crisp
  • Beer Name: Tuppers’ Keller Pils
  • Brewery/Origin: Tuppers’ Hop Pocket Beers (at St. George Brewing), Virginia
  • Style: Kellerbier-Zwickelbier
  • ABV: 5.0%

Bready nose and taste with a hint of grapiness.  I don’t know how something that tastes doughy can also be crisp, but surprisingly it was.

The last four beers. Hard to pick a favorite out of this group, but I’d probably say the HopDevil (the one on the left in the top row).

Some additional bullet points from the evening with Engert:

  • Local isn’t good just because it’s local.
  • Hungarian oak barrels are the best.
  • There are more U.S. brewers today than at any time since 1889.
  • The people who brought you ChurchKey will be opening Bluejacket around March 2013.  Location will be near Nationals’ Stadium.

I haven’t made it yet to ChurchKey, but after this class, and my subsequent rediscovery of beer, I will be dropping by in the near future to try some more.

America Eats Tavern, 26 June 2012

I made it a point to try out America Eats Tavern, José Andrés’ American history restaurant, before it was set to close after a final dinner on 4 July.  America Eats was opened as a concept restaurant partnership between  Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup and the Foundation for the National Archives.  The restaurant broke out dishes that were based on accounts of food and drink consumed throughout America’s history.  I loved the concept, as well as the stories of each dish posted on the menu.  I’m really disappointed that I only just got to try the restaurant since it’s now closed, as everything I tasted was excellent.  I’m hoping that Andrés will continue to have some of the popular dishes at some of his other venues.

I started off with a cocktail, Franklin’s Milk Punch.  It was based on a recipe contained in correspondence from Benjamin Franklin to James Bowdoin (I found the letter and some additional information here – also included is a modern recipe for the drink).  It sounds a little odd – you put milk and lemon together with brandy and a few other ingredients before removing the  resulting curds – but it came out tasty.  One of these days I’ll try making it myself.

Benjamin Franklin’s Milk Punch. Nice lemony taste.

My first appetizer was a half dozen oysters-on-the-half-shell.  America Eats provided two house-made fruit vinegars (watermelon and raspberry – I liked these), lemon juice, and pepper for garnishing.


…and garnishes.

My server, Lavon, had some fantastic recommendations for my orders.  Next up was one of these – the Shrimp ‘N’ Anson Mills Grits.  Nice buttery grits with bits of bacon and fresh shrimp.  Delicious.

Great recommendation from my server, Lavon.

As I’ve written in earlier posts, I’m a huge fan of foie gras.  I’ll almost always get it when I see it on the menu.  At America Eats, they had an interesting combination dish – Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches with Foie Gras.  It sounded so unique that it was not going to get passed by.  It was amazing…the tastes worked so well together.  It came with Saratoga Chips (more on that here) and a bottle of milk…great pairing.

So, so good.

Great sides for the PBJFG.

My second cocktail was the Switchel.  Billed as a drink from colonial times, the Switchel was a mixture of rum, cider vinegar, molasses, and ginger.  The cider vinegar was the predominent taste, but it was still refreshing.  It went well with the Americana theme of the restaurant and the rest of my dishes.

The Switchel.

My last starter (is it really a starter since it was my fourth?) was the Vermicelli Prepared Like Pudding (see here for Lewis Fresnaye’s original recipe from 1802).  I was a little worried that this would be too heavy for me to continue on with the meal, but it wasn’t, regardless of the pasta and cheese involved.  This was some of the best mac and cheese I’ve had.  The mushrooms (morels I think) went great with the dish.

Way better than regular mac and cheese.

Okay – on to the entree.  Based on another recommendation from Lavon, I went with the BBQ Beef Short Ribs with Hoppin’ John…tender beef with black-eyed peas and rice in a spicy sauce.  Great stuff.

Short Ribs…Excellent.

Even after all this, I just could not pass up dessert.  Based on my server’s final recommendation, I ordered the Pecan Pie.  Andrés’ take on the pecan pie included candied pecans and some molecular gastronomy – bourbon foam.  I washed it down with a glass of Bulleit bourbon neat.  Great end to the meal.

What a great ending.

Great meal all around.  I liked the closing touch too.  Everyone’s bill comes out in a vintage American book.

Mother Mason, by Bess Streeter Aldrich.

I’m going to miss America Eats Tavern – wish that I had experienced them earlier – but I expect that whatever Andrés does in that space will be excellent as well.

For a little more on America Eats, check out this timeline from Eater DC, or follow the Twitter feed…I’d expect that the updates on the new restaurant will be posted there.

District of Pi, 10 July 2012

I go to a lot of these LivingSocial 918 F Street events, and when I do, I end up passing by a few restaurants.  District of Pi was one of those places.  After going to the course on Tiki Mixology with Jon Arroyo on Tuesday, I stopped in with a couple of people I met at the class.

Immediately our olfactory senses were bombarded with the mouth-watering smells of Pi’s main dish – pizza.  We jumped right in with an order of the Pi Bites (prosciutto and cheese sticks).  Cheese sticks are a guilty pleasure of mine, and these ones were tasty with the addition of the prosciutto (plus it was a small starter so I felt less bad about ordering them).

Pi Bites

What I really wasn’t expecting was District of Pi’s creative cocktail menu.  As an example, I ordered the Papyrus, which consisted of lavender-infused tequila, Drambuie, orange, and Allagash Belgian-Style White…really tasty and complex beer cocktail.

Papyrus cocktail…a unique recipe.

The pizza was really good.  I ordered a small 9″ (large is 12″) deep-dish pizza called the Kirkwood, which included mozzarella, italian pork and beef meatballs, red peppers, and basil.  District of Pi’s deep-dish pizzas are made with the cheese on the bottom, the rest of the ingredients, then the chunky tomato sauce on the top.  Our server, Stephen, said the Kirkwood was his favorite, and it did not disappoint.

My Kirkwood pizza. Thanks Stephen! There is a thin-crust pizza above and to the left for comparison.

District of Pi also has a ton of other ingredients you can add to your pizza, which you can find here.

I’ve also seen a District of Pi food truck driving around for the lunch crowds.  You can find the food truck menu here.

I’ve been negligent in hitting District pizza places, and I’ve heard great things about several of them (see here, here, and here for a few “best of” lists).  I’ll post about other ones as I hit them.

Tiki Mixology with Jon Arroyo, 10 July 2012

On Tuesday I went to yet another great LivingSocial 918 F Street mixology course.  Jon Arroyo, chief mixologist of Founding Farmers, went over the basics of tiki cocktails, followed by a tasting of four drinks from the genre.

The LivingSocial 918 F Street Bar…decked out with tikiness.

Arroyo did a great job of explaining the cocktails and the history behind them, as well as some other useful cocktail bullets:

  • Cocktails are spirit, water, sugar, bitters.
  • Mojito is a swizzle vs a tiki (see also Queen’s Park Swizzle).
  • Pour sweet, sour, then spirit so if you mess up and have to pour out you won’t waste spirit.

On to the evening’s cocktails.

  • Zombie – a cocktail with eleven ingredients invented by Don the Beachcomber.  This one had 3 different rums, Falernum, bitters, absinthe, grenadine, fruit juices, cinnamon syrup, and was topped off with a mint sprig.
  • Mai Tai – one of the best known tiki cocktails…this one created by Trader Vic.  Rums, curaçao, orgeat, and lime juice.
  • Scorpion – A smaller version of the scorpion bowl….rums and brandy (or cognac) with triple sec, lime, and orange juice.
  • Painkiller – a creamy tiki cocktail that includes coconut milk (Arroyo makes his own), orange juice, pineapple juice (in this case we used pineapple syrup – I’ll have to try making that) and, of course, rum.  The drink was garnished with nutmeg.

Fantastic class taught by a master mixologist.  Definitely worth the while.  I’ve been very impressed with the two mixology classes that I’ve attended thus far at 918 F Street, and I heard good things that night about others that I, unfortunately, missed.  I’d encourage others to attend if they’re in the D.C.-area.  See below for some more photos of the evening.


Mai Tai


Painkiller – the other drinks were prepared by Arroyo and his team, but we made these ourselves.

Queen’s Park Swizzle – they made one of these to demonstrate how to make a swizzle utilizing an actual wooden swizzle stick (not the plastic straw most are familiar with).

Jon Arroyo (center) and team. They certainly set the tiki mood that evening. Apologies for the blurriness.

Finz Seafood and Grill, 8 July 2012

Based on my friend Kara’s recommendation, I checked out Finz in Salem.  Finz, a harbor-side restaurant on Pickering Wharf, has a fantastic menu full of excellent starters, entrees, and cocktails.

View of the Finz deck.

Being that I’m not local to Salem, and because everything sounded so good, I went a little overboard with the appetizers.  I wish I could have had more than four – several others sounded excellent – but I had to draw the line somewhere.  Our server, Kim, made some excellent recommendations throughout the evening.

I started off with a half-dozen of the Finz Wasabi-Stoli Oysters, a popular item at the restaurant.  The oysters were topped with wasabi caviar and Stoli “Raz” vodka, and served with cocktail sauce.  It was a good change from regular oysters-on-the-half-shell.

Fresh oysters with a twist.

Next up was the Tuna Tartare.  It was excellent, and included mango, avocado, red onions, ginger-soy dressing, and wonton chips.  I was sad when it was all gone.

So good…

Baked Goat Cheese with roasted garlic, Kalamata olives, and garlic bread followed.  A great Mediterranean dish, it reminded me of Zaytinya back in D.C.  I was surprised at how good it was – it was, after all, relatively simple – but I’d get it again.

Great Mediterranean touch to the meal.

The menu had a few interesting du jours, including a gazpacho of the day (I didn’t get it, although I was considering it – that day’s was an asian version) and a guacamole of the day (which I did get).  This particular day Finz was serving an apple cinnamon guac with cinnamon-sugar chips.  It was a very different flavor from the norm and worked really well…just another indicator that the creative talent at Finz is top-notch.

I’m a big fan of guacamole, and this version was creative and delicious.

Completing this last starter, we moved on to the entrees.  Going on our server’s recommendation, I went with the Black and White Sesame Tuna, which was served rare on top of seaweed salad.  It was plated with a sushi rice cake topped with crab “dynamite”, which was similar to the creamy and spicy crab topping found on some of my favorite sushi rolls, and avocado.  A wasabi cream lent some additional flavor to the dish.  I think this may be my new favorite tuna dish.  Excellent all around.

What a great dish this was. I’ll probably be getting it next time I am in Salem.

Tuna is definitely something that Finz does well.  I’d encourage visitors to try out some of that, although likely whatever one gets there would be excellent…I was impressed with all of the dishes.

Dessert was also fantastic.  I went for the Warm Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie.  The description of it interested me because it said it was baked cookie dough.  It was like a deep dish, cake-like cookie – soft and moist.  Good stuff.

Awesome close to the dinner.

Good cocktail menu as well at Finz.  Here’s a couple I had:

  • Ocean Flower – Ketel One vodka, St. Germain, papaya puree, agave nectar, yuzu juice, sriracha-infused sugar rim.  I was a fan of this one…just the right level of sweet.
  • Cucumber Spritzer – Crop Cucumber vodka, Thatcher’s Cucumber liquor (hadn’t heard of this, but it’s now on my to-buy list), lemongrass syrup, white wine, soda water.  Cool and refreshing.
  • Strawberry Fields Lemonade – Ketel One Citron, rhubarb basil simple syrup, strawberry puree, lemonade.  This one was dangerous…tasted like a really tasty strawberry lemonade.

The Ocean Flower.

Good beer selection as well.

If you’re around Salem, Finz deserves your attention.  Check them out.

NH Cocktail Party, 30 June 2012

My friends hosted a cocktail party the other night in New Hampshire where I got to put some recipes (tried and true and a couple new ones) to the test.  Sources for the recipes included Andres Aleman (Dragon’s Kiss), Gina Chersevani (Black White and Tiki, Beety Bastard), and The Passenger (Hot as Girl on Girl, Monk’s Mule, Obamacare Sling, Milton’s Stapler).


The menu isn’t fully correct – we made it up at the last minute – but it’s close.

We whipped up several different types of simple syrups that we hadn’t tested out before, including strawberry syrup (great stuff – see Andres Aleman’s recipe for that one here), mint, cinnamon/nutmeg (really good – I think I used one large stick of cinnamon and a few dashes of nutmeg, then strained through cheese cloth), habanero, ginger (used my recipe from before, minus habaneros, and plus a little more ginger), and beet.  I need to work out a good recipe for the beet syrup…mine was not beety enough for what I was gunning for.


Some simple syrups being prepped.

Most of these cocktails came out pretty well…I wouldn’t do the last item on the menu larger than a shooter though.  Way too sweet.  I’ll also need to tweak future menus a little bit..too little variation in the drinks (e.g. too many gin drinks, and too many with ginger beer – oops).

This was my first time being the bartender for a group this size (15-20).  It was definitely an experience that I’ll need to repeat…I need more opportunities where speed is important and stress exists (I don’t get that mixing drinks at home, obviously).  I’ve certainly got a ways to go to get out of novice status.


My office that evening.