Friday, June 24, 2011

cocktail hour: angel's share

One of the things that makes summer exciting: the profusion of bright and shiny new summer cocktail menus. As taken as I am with winter-perfect concoctions involving whiskey, egg and spices, there's something exciting about a refreshing tipple made with vibrant summer fruits. A couple of weeks ago, my cousin Melissa and I went to St. Mark's Place to enjoy the grilled goodness at Yakitori Taisho and then have some delicious cocktails at Angel's Share. Angel's Share is a speakeasy of sorts that's only accessible through the Japanese restaurant Village Yokocho. They have some truly exceptional Japanese bartenders that take their craft very, very seriously and I just love it there.

It was a humid Tuesday evening so I immediately gravitated to this summery drink: Watermelon Man. Made with organic cucumber-flavored vodka, fresh watermelon juice and a sprig of basil, it was deliciously refreshing and deceptively strong.
Melissa picked the Velvet Scene, a drink apparently conceived by pastry chef Chika of Chikalicious. This effervescent drink contains Tanqueray gin, fresh kiwi and fresh grapefruit juice made just from the sweet pulp, all spiked with a bit of honey and lavender.
The most memorable drink of the night, however, was the Cheek to Cheek, which had us so intrigued that we didn't want to share. It starts out typical enough for a cocktail: white rum, muddled berries, fresh lemon juice and white cranberry juice. But then Vincotto is added in—slow-cooked, non-fermented grape reduced until its sugars have caramelized. And then comes balsamic honey, yoghurt and mascarpone foam, and suddenly you're in dessert territory. Is it a cocktail masquerading as dessert or vice versa? I don't know, but it is decadent and delicious.
If my evening at Angel's Share was any indication of how the rest of the summer will turn out, it's gonna be a sweet, sparkling and deliciously tipsy one!

Angel's Share is located at 6 Stuyvesant St., 2nd fl, New York, NY, 10003.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

cocktail hour: clover club

I find that a very well-made cocktail can be as satisfying as a delicious meal. So when I read about the first ever NYC Cocktail Week going on from June 15-29, I was beyond excited. Adding to the anticipation was the fact that some of the city's best cocktail bars are participating: Clover Club, Death & Company, Employees Only and Lani Kai. The deal is that you get two cocktails plus an appetizer for just $20.11—pretty sweet considering most specialty cocktails at such establishments run from $12-16. The event benefits City Harvest's fight against hunger and The Museum of the American Cocktail's efforts to preserve mixological history—and I do so enjoy drinking for a cause!

The problem is that what I love about going to these cocktail bars is the experience of perusing extensive cocktail menus or in cases when there is no menu, spilling obscure cravings to the bartenders and waiters and allowing them to surprise me with something incredible in a glass. This doesn't necessarily lend itself well to the restrictions that understandably come with Cocktail Week's prix-fixe arrangements.

I trekked over to Brooklyn one Thursday night to join my cousin Melissa and her boyfriend Ben for cocktails at one of their favorite spots: Clover Club. We went there brimming with excitement at the prospect of Cocktail Week but our hopes were quickly shot down when we were told that the special menu was only served before 7PM and after 10PM. We asked to take a look at the menu, nevertheless, to see what was being offered. On Clover Club's NYC Cocktail Week menu:

COCKTAILS (Choose two)
New York Sour
Bulleit Rye Whiskey, lemon, orange juice, red wine
Tanqueray No. 10 gin, herbal liqueur, grapefruit, lemon juice
Hotel Nacional Special
Zacapa 23 Rum, apricot liqueur, lime juice, pineapple juice
Jack Rose
Applejack, lime juice, grenadine

APPETIZERS (Choose one)
All right, so they are potato chips ...
but they are tossed in duck fat and
served with a truffled crème fraiche.
Deviled Eggs
Classic deviled eggs, served three ways:
topped with smoked paprika & garlic breadcrumbs,
crispy bacon croutons and mushroom duxelles.
One of each. 

These drinks and snacks sound lovely enough but once I browsed through the extensive cocktail menu, so many wonderful things jumped out at me and I realized that I would not have been happy sticking to the abridged Cocktail Week menu. There were so many intriguing drinks waiting to be tasted and I didn't mind paying a few extra dollars for that privilege. For my first drink, I chose the signature drink, the Clover Club, and with my first sip, I fell in love. Any place that has an egg white in its signature tipple is clearly my soulmate. The Clover Club contains gin, dry vermouth, lemon, raspberry syrup and egg white, and is oh so very delicious ...
I can't recall what Ben's drink was but it was bright, refreshing and perfect for a humid summer afternoon ...
After tasting Ben's excellent drink choice, I thought I'd follow suit for my next drink. Ben ordered the Barrymore Room off the menu and I did the same. This was definitely my kind of drink with rye whiskey, an egg white and some mysterious but delicious friends comprising the drink. I seem to be embroiled in a love affair with rye whiskey and egg these days (I recently had a particularly delicious concoction in Milk & Honey involving rye whiskey, champagne and an egg yolk! LOVE.). It's out of control.
For her second drink, Melissa chose the Blush Baby, which seemed very promising with its mixture of rum, demerara syrup, lemon, blackberry, raspberry and rosé wine. From the look of it, you expected a drink just bursting with berry flavors ... but it tasted kind of watery. It was just okay.
For his last drink, Ben ordered the much maligned and mistreated Mai Tai. If you've only had this in, say, a Cancun all-inclusive resort which shall remain unnamed with an odd fellow named Greg, you'd probably hate the stuff. At its worst, a Mai Tai will contain cheap rum, artificially-flavored juice and that godawful darn sweetener. Over at Clover Club where the ingredients are legit, the Mai Tai sparkles with rum and fresh lime juice and makes you just want to lay out on a sandy beach somewhere with cocktail in hand.
Cocktail Week or not, I thoroughly enjoyed my evening at Clover Club. Admittedly, the Clover Club would be quite a trek for a Manhattanite and I'm quite sure that even a serious cocktail enthusiast from Manhattan would rather squeeze into one of the tiny cocktail bars in the city for a tipple rather than trek out to Brooklyn. I live in the Financial District, however, which is a skip and a hop to Brooklyn so I am much more inclined to come back for more. I thought that the Clover Club's expansive digs dressed in vintage sofas and leather booths were a nice, relaxing change from Manhattan's lilliputian bars where you sometimes have to battle for seating space. The existence of this gorgeous bar with even more gorgeous drinks definitely adds to Brooklyn's ever-growing draw on me.

Clover Club is located at 210 Smith St between Baltic and Butler Sts, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn (718-855-7939)

Monday, June 20, 2011

wanderlust: the 8 restaurant, macau

I love dimsum. I love the mayhem of it: the little Chinese ladies pushing around metal carts loaded with dumpling- and bun-filled bamboo steamers; the aggressive and usually elderly women who accost the pushcarts before they even reach their tables to ensure they grab the best stuff first; and the way the pushcart ladies shove those steaming parcels under your nose, demanding you decide right now whether you want this or not. It is pure heaven for me to spend a weekend afternoon surrounded by this madness because it means I get to eat one succulent dumpling after another until I am dizzy from sheer gluttony.

The Eight Restaurant at the Grand Lisboa in Macau is quite different from the dimsum experience I'm accustomed to. For one thing, this Cantonese/Huaiyang cuisine-focused restaurant boasts of not just one but two Michelin stars. It is housed in one of the most over-the-top and opulent casinos in Macau, with sleek and modern interiors by famed Hong Kong designer Alan Chan. No little ladies with pushcarts here—but over 50 types of dimsum are, in fact, served in these luxe digs during lunch.
The restaurant takes its name from the number considered most auspicious by the Chinese because it sounds like the word which means "to generate wealth." The Chinese consider the number 8 so lucky, in fact, that they started the Beijing Olympics at exactly 8 seconds and 8 minutes past 8PM on August 8, 2008. So it's no surprise that a casino such as Grand Lisboa would pick this lucky number as the name of its most heralded restaurant.

My in-the-know friend Tamara picked this place when I told her I wanted to eat really good Cantonese fare. We came to 8 Restaurant right after swan-diving off the Macau Tower so the first order of business was getting some celebratory drinks. I was stunned when they brought us the wine list.
I was so intimidated by that list that I choked and ordered a beer instead! Next order of business was to get some food inside our grumbling bellies. We quickly devoured the standard dimsum favorites we ordered, like steamed shrimp dumplings and siu mai:
We had some spring rolls, which are always delicious ...
... these spring and summer rolls were phenomenal. Our server recommended this and it totally blew us away. Basically, they've taken a crisp fried spring roll and enveloped it in a layer of soft rice flour wrapper. The wonderful textures just take this roll to a whole other level of deliciousness. I would jump off another tower just to have one right now.
After the dim sum, we got down to serious heart-palpitating business. We had roasted goose, which I was really excited about. Roasted goose is a dish I associate with vacations to Hong Kong because my family and I used to bring an entire roasted goose back to the Philippines every time we took a trip to Hong Kong. We love it that much and this one lived up to my expectations.
Because we do love us some pork, we had to have barbecued suckling pig. I love the perfectly crisp skin, which is attached to the tender meat by a very thin layer of fat. It is served with these cute little rice cakes at 8 Restaurant.
Finally, there was some pigeon, which had been poached in homemade soya sauce. Tender and delicious, albeit freaky for Westerners, I can imagine.
Michele and Tamara were generous enough to treat us for lunch so I don't quite know how much our meal cost, but according to Tamara she was surprised at how reasonable the prices were considering the restaurant's 2-Michelin star status. So if you find yourself in Macau jonesing for some solid Chinese food, definitely pay 8 Restaurant a visit. The food is excellent and the decor jaw-dropping—no pushy ladies but an experience to remember, nevertheless.

The 8 Restaurant is located at the second floor of the Grand Lisboa. Phone (853) 8803 7788 or visit the website for reservations.

Friday, June 17, 2011

beer chronicles: birreria

Oh beer, how I love thee. Let me count the ways.
  1. I am one of those people who, at the end of a long and tough day, finds solace in an ice cold brewsky.
  2. After running 26.2 miles over the course of 5 hours last November, I stood for about 2 more so I could tip back a couple of the good stuff.
  3. I'm quite positive that the sight of a well-stocked beer aisle or a bar tap with a large variety of brews makes my eyes twinkle far more than the Barney's shoe sale rack.
  4. I was once the hostess at Loreley, a German beer garden in the Lower East Side. While it may have caused a bit of confusion among patrons who did not expect the hostess to look like an anime character, I had mad skills at handling highly inebriated folks. And I got to drink a lot of delicious German beer.
  5. I find it very difficult to take a man who doesn't drink beer seriously. The sight of a man sipping a fruity drink beside a girl chugging a beer (a tiny one at that) is just sad.
  6. At any given time, I will most likely have more questions for my server about the beer selection than today's specials.
  7. If I ever became filthy rich, the only thing I'm positive I'd want in my dream home is a wall full of taps with all my favorite brews.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. I love beer. So it recently struck me that it's been a serious oversight on my part that my beloved brewsky hasn't received some special love on my blog. Well, all that changes starting now with my new section, Beer Chronicles. With beer spots spreading in New York like an epidemic, I'll have lots of excuses opportunities to drink up and share my favorite finds with you.

To kick off this new section, let's start with the hottest, newest beer spot on the island: Birreria.
Birreria is the crown jewel of the Italian marketplace behemoth that is Eataly. I'd been wanting to try it but the first time we came to Eataly, it wasn't open yet. Last Monday, I was wandering past the Flat Iron building carrying a bag of groceries and thinking about what a beauty Manhattan is during the golden hour when I realized a friend of mine from Manila was standing right on the street corner. Paolo convinced me without too much arm twisting to join him and some friends for a brew and some chow at Birreria.

It was surprisingly busy considering it was a Monday night. We had to line up and check in with a host at the ground floor, who took down the size of our party and a cellphone number they could text us at once there was a table ready. We got the text about half an hour later and finally got on the elevator which would take us to the rooftop. Once there, it turned out our table still wasn't ready and we had to hang around a bit more. Finally we were seated and again, a bit more of a waiting game for a server ... for beer ... a long wait for beer.

But once the beer and food arrived, all memories of waiting seemed to vanish. We started with a delicious brew recommended by our server, a Belgian-style brown ale aptly named Raison d'Etre by Dogfish Brewery. For $20, we got a carafe of the good stuff, which fills four of their glasses up to ye high.
This was my first time to try a Dogfish Brew and I have to say, respect! It's a complex beer, with fruity notes and caramel-like sweetness coming from beet sugar and raisins, but with a shade of bitterness to round out the flavor. It also packed a pretty strong punch at 8%. I liked it a lot. As much as I love beer though, this plate utterly and completely stole the show ...
That, my friends, is the most succulent and flavorful piece of pork shoulder I have ever sunk my teeth into. Beautifully marbled with fat, braised in beer to tender perfection, sweetened with a dash of apricot jam and given an extra kick with the side of mustard, it is pure bliss in a bite. At first, I was taken aback that such a tiny plate was priced at $19 but after tasting that stuff, I'd say it's worth every penny. I would come back to Birreria over and over and over and over again just for this. Apparently, Birreria gets its pork from a farm in Iowa where pigs are raised in the wild and fed clovers, grass and herbs. If this is what happy pigs taste like, then run free my dears.

The cotechino sausage that we ordered was really yummy as well but nowhere near as transcendent of an experience as the pork shoulder. This, I think, is a tad overpriced at $19. I mean, come on.
We sampled a few other beers, one of the most memorable being the Palo Santo, which we had to order since it's practically named after our visiting friend. This beer is serious business with an alcohol content of 12%. Also a Dogfish brew, it is an intense, unfiltered brown ale swirling with flavors of caramel, vanilla and good old Paraguayan Palo Santo wood—the material used to create the wooden brewing vessels used for this beer. Good stuff but so strong that they will only serve you half a Teku at at time for $7. The boys liked it.
We finished the night off with the Baladin Al-Iksir, a solid Belgian-style brown ale primarily fermented using whiskey yeasts. Lighter than a Palo Santo but rich and intriguing, nonetheless, I found this to be a great introduction to Italian beer.
Overall, I really enjoyed my Birreria experience. And because I have absolutely no ability to stay away from life-changing pork and a beer selection with depths that need to be plumbed, I will surely come back. It's probably not for everyone. I would say don't come here if all you're after is the view (the Empire State building view is a tad obstructed by the mechanisms for a ). And it's probably not the place for you if what you're looking for is that communal, lager-sloshing, Oktoberfest-type beer garden experience. Birreria is definitely more of a restaurant with an impressive selection of beer than a beer garden that happens to serve food. But if the thought of savoring an exotic selection of craft beers and top notch food makes your heart skip a beat, then this place is for you. Take it from the sign below, which sums up what this place has to offer quite nicely:
I, for one, can't wait to get back on that roof! Thanks for the treat guys!
Birreria is located at Eataly, 200 5th Avenue (entrance on 23rd Street), New York, NY 10010. Reservations for parties of 6-12 persons will be accepted beginning July 1, 2011. Phone (212) 229 2560.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

chic eats: the breslin

As a passionate and unabashed carnivore, I'm ashamed that it wasn't until April that I finally dug into The Breslin's meaty menu. Liza Ilarde was in town so we rounded up some former MEGA girls for a get-together at this chic little English-style pub. While the wait can be long and the quarters a smidgen tight, The Breslin agrees with me. For one thing, they have a great beer list with both local craft and classic English brews. And then they have a dreamy menu of bar chow that includes delights like this lovely plate of crispy sweetbreads and spiced lentils. Absolutely delish!
Our non-meat-inhaling friends went with scallops and an herbed Caesar salad with anchovy croutons.
But the winning order of the night was Minelli's: the Terrine Board featuring intriguing varieties like guinea hen with morels, rabbit and prune headcheese, liverwurst and a classic pork pâté, all served with pickles, piccalilli & mustard. At $32 for a board, it is a great spread to pick on while enjoying good beer and even better conversation.
Almost makes me want to wish for a gloomy day so I can skip the beer garden and squeeze into a cozy pub for some great beer and grub ... almost.

The Breslin is located at the Ace Hotel, 16 West 29th Street (near Broadway), New York, NY 10001-4502.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

cel vs. food: elbert's steak room

During my visit to Manila last month, I had the pleasure of paying a visit to Elbert's Steak Room, an elegant establishment tucked in a nondescript building in Salcedo Village. Finding the place proved to be a bit of an adventure, as I breezed right past the third floor and ended up on Sagittarius Building's rooftop! It was worth the trouble though as Elbert's Steak Room is definitely paradise for a carnivore like myself.

In addition to the beautiful meal, I had some lovely company. Hosting our little group was Liza Ilarde, the eternally chic editor-in-chief of Style Weekend who is also Elbert's wife. Also joining in on the steak massacre was Katrina Holigores, editor-in-chief of Expat Travel and Lifestyle Magazine and one of my all-around favorite people in the universe. Liza and Katrina were my former colleagues back in my publishing days at MEGA.
Every steak order at Elbert's Steak Room comes with a soup and salad. As if our meal wasn't sinful enough, the soup that night was a delightfully rich French onion soup. We assured ourselves that if we had our two glasses of red wine, we would be fine. According to Katrina, red wine is a vasodilator and would help our steak fat-laced blood slither through our veins despite the overindulgence. So getting our drink on was a good thing, as long as we kept it to two glasses of wine. What Liza and I wanted to know was, how big is this glass that studies speak of? I could totally deal with it if were the size of, say, Jules' beloved Big Joe or Big Carl.

But I digress. The point of the evening was to indulge in some delicious meat, and that we did. I followed Liza's example and ordered a rib-eye while Katrina went with the filet mignon. I had planned on going all out with the porterhouse but after the heartstopping salad of foie gras and grilled eel that I had the night before at Opus, I feared for my cholesterol levels. The rib-eye turned out to be just perfect. It was cooked a beautiful medium rare with the outside nicely seared and the inside juicy and still rosy—just the way I like it. The meat was nicely marbled with fat and oh-so-juicy. It didn't stand a chance.
There are too many places in Manila where meat gets mercilessly cooked to a dry pulp so I can certainly appreciate the value of having a legit steak room like Elbert's where one can get a properly cooked steak with good wine. Prices for steak dinners run from P1800-2900 (approximately $49-67) but for the quality of meat served, I think it's only fair. The next time you feel the need to show a steak who's boss, I recommmend paying Elbert's Steak Room a visit.

Elbert’s Steak Room is located at 3/F Sagittarius Building III, 111 H. V. de la Costa Street, Salcedo Village, Makati City 1227, Philippines

doing good: japan aid bag by two oranges

One of the most used items in my closet is the humble canvas shopping bag. I love using them for everything from toting groceries to my Spanish workbooks. During my last whirlwind Cali-Philippines-Hong Kong-Macau trip, the canvas bag I bought at Coachella was every bit as handy in the desert of Palm Springs as on the 11-hour bus ride to Sagada. Canvas bags are awesome for traveling and even just carrying around in your purse as they take up so little space and weigh nothing.

I'm an even bigger fan of canvas shopping bags with a cause. Philippine brand Two Oranges has created a Japan Aid bag in an effort to raise money for our Japanese brothers and sisters whose lives were devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. Months since disaster struck, they are still in dire need of help and every little bit counts.
The bags are priced at P250—that's less than $6! Proceeds will be donated to the Japan Earthquake and Relief Fund of the Philippine Red Cross. For more information on ordering, visit the Two Oranges website.

cocktail hour: amor y amargo

"Without the bitter, baby, the sweet aint as sweet."
- Vanilla Sky
A few months ago, Zoe, Amanda and I went on a quest to get chummy with bitters. During olden times, these alcoholic herbal infusions were used as folk remedies. In today's cocktail world, these spirits give your aperitifs and digestifs a bit of flavor and dry zest. Over at a tiny bar in the East Village called Amor y Amargo, bitters are the star of the show.

I had a flashback to a boozy evening with Zoe in 2010 as soon as I saw the countertop of the bar. Formerly Carteles, this was once a good spot for procuring Cuban sandwiches before heading up the hidden staircase for a rum punch at Cienfuegos. In typical New York fashion, this tiny 8-seater joint has turned into a bitters bar less than a year since my last Cubano in the same spot.

Our education in bitters started with a sampling of the Bittermens Very Small Batch bitters sold at the counter. We were told to rub a drop between our hands and smell it before tasting another drop. I thought it was amazing how much flavor is packed into such a very tiny amount of liquid. Then we put in our orders for some small bites and drinks. I was quite pleased with my order. The crispy garbanzos with crumbled morcilla ($6) packed a nice little kick and a satisfying crunch. The Americano cocktail on draft was pretty delicious. Yes, you read that right: they have a cocktail on tap. The Americano is a mixture of sweet Vermouth, Campari and soda. It was refreshing and had a lovely mixture of the bitter and the sweet.
My memory fails me on what exactly Zoe and Amanda ordered for drinks but I'd hazard a guess and say Zoe had the Bittermen's House Gin & Tonic ($12) with her artichoke salad ($8) while Amanda paired her white bean and oil poached tuna salad ($8) with À L’Ancienne (Cognac old fashioned with Bittermens Spiced Cranberry Citrate).
The truth is, I can't recall their drinks too well because I really preferred mine! I quite liked my second drink, too: the Mud Season, a mixture of zucca amaro (a rhubarb bitter), mirto (an Italian liqueur made out of myrtle berries), sweet vermouth, rhum agricole & Bittermens hopped grapefruit bitters. It had a caramel-like sweetness to offset the bitters, which I liked. I would definitely come back if only for a taste of the sweet vermouth on tap described on the menu as "an adult version of sangria" and dubbed life-changing by more than one fan.

I would recommend coming here with cocktail enthusiasts as it is definitely bar geek territory and bitters aren't for everyone (yet). Please don't force an appletini-loving friend to take up precious space at the bar. Leave that chair to me and my sweet vermouth.

Amor y Amargo is located at 443 East 6th Street (between 1st Avenue & Avenue A), New York, NY.
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