Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gin, Bloody Marys & a Moveable Feast


According to popular belief, the bloody mary was invented by a bartender named Fernand Petiot at Harry's New York Bar in Paris during the 1920s. After Prohibition ended, Petiot moved to New York where he introduced his tomato based concoction at the bar in the St. Regis Hotel and the rest as they say is hangover curing history.

Charles and I went to Harry's New York Bar during our last trip to Paris as we thought it would be fun to visit Hemingway's favorite watering holes. I didn't order a bloody mary since I was more in the mood for gin and opted for a dirty martini instead. Charles drank Famous Grouse Scotch on the rocks. He picked up a taste for it in Amsterdam and I can't figure out if he orders it to be ironic or if he really likes it. The cocktails were great but the scenery at Harry's Bar was even better. The wood panelled walls are adorned with college pennants from all over the US, the white coated bartenders are beyond professional and even though nobody was smoking, there was still a distinct patina of haze in the room. You could feel the ghosts of time sitting beside you sharing your bowl of peanuts.

I'm a big gin fan and I remember reading somewhere that the original bloody mary may have been made using gin instead of vodka since gin is what they mostly drank back then. I went through a phase where if I ordered a cocktail, it was always a bloody mary but I also didn't want to give up my gin so I asked for a gin bloody mary. The juniper and other aromatic botanicals in the gin really marries (hee hee) well with the sweet tang of the tomato juice and the overall flavor is far more savory than with a vodka based mary. Trust me, it's a good a drink.

I have two favorite gins at the moment - Hendrick's ($37) and Cap Rock ($32). I discovered Cap Rock earlier this summer at a restaurant in Boulder, Colorado. It is a made from a blend of fruits, buds, seeds, and spices infused and distilled in a base spirit made with organic Jonathon and Braeburn apples. Twelve different botanicals (some dried some fresh) and two fresh juices are used to produce layers of fresh aromas and tastes. I commented to the bartender how much the gin smelled like lavender and he said they infuse the base with lavender flowers grown about 10 miles from the distillery. It's a must try for any gin enthusiast. Because this gin is so floral, I don't recommend mixing it with anything and to enjoy it straight over ice or chilled and up. Good news - Drinks Over Dearborn carries it.

Most recently, I have also discovered Right Gin ($27) from Sweden. I attended a cocktail tasting with famed mixologist Peter Vestinos. He made a pomegranate cocktail using Right Gin and all I could taste in this drink was black pepper. Peter said the black pepper component was courtesy of the gin as they infuse the base with Sarawak black pepper from Borneo. A light bulb went off in my head and I thought, this could be gin's answer to black pepper flavored vodka. I made a batch of bloody mary mix this past Sunday and instead of my usual Hendrick's, I poured in some Right Gin and the difference was amazing. With Hendrick's, you can really pick up the celery seasoning and the flavor is more on the savory herbal side. As expected, Right heightened the black pepper notes and the overall flavor was spicier and not as "sweet". It just goes to show you how much fun you can have with the flavor variations in gin that you can't have with the neutral nature of vodka.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Frankie's $5 per glass Wine List


Charles and I spent the past Thanksgiving holiday week in Amsterdam and Paris. Turkey day happens to fall around my birthday and although I have been to Paris several times, I had always wanted to visit Amsterdam so we thought, now was good of a time as any for a European jaunt. Paris was glorious as ever and Amsterdam has become a newly discovered favorite.

Whether it's art, history, culture, scenery, coffee shops that don't really serve coffee or certain vices, Amsterdam certainly offers a little something for everyone but of course I was most excited to try the local food and drink. Our guidebook suggested that we try one of the many cozy and charming brown cafes that can be found all over Amsterdam. Bruine ("brown") cafes are to Amsterdam what pubs are to London, casual neighborhood spots filled with locals in search of a soothing drink, friendly conversation and affordable, tasty snacks. Once you step into one of these places, it's easy to understand where the moniker, brown cafe comes from. The walls and tables are often made from a rich, dark colored wood, worn down and stained with time and memories. Aside from running into the local characters, the best feature of these cafes was you could order a glass of wine and snacks such as bitterballen (croquettes), cheese sandwiches or spicy meatballs for 3 Euros each, a much welcome arrangement considering the US dollar doesn't go very far in the European Union these days.

Right before I had left for vacation, I was working with one our restaurants, Frankie's Fifth Floor Italian and Pizzeria on setting up a similar type offering for a hungry and thirsty after five pm crowd. I sourced 8 different wines that we could offer for $5 a glass, $10 a half carafe and $15 for a full carafe and the culinary team at Frankie's created a menu of items for less than $5 a plate. Of course, Frankie's is set on the fifth floor of a luxury shopping mall on Michigan Avenue and not in a decades old building perched on a charming canal but our hope is that we can provide you with what I experienced at those lovely brown cafes in Amsterdam - a place to catch up with your friends, enjoy a glass of wine or two and a few different tasty dishes at an extremely affordable price.

Here is a sampling of wine, cocktail and food items that are available Monday thru Friday in the Pizzeria at Frankie's after 5 pm (you can also park in the building after 5 pm for a validated rate of just $5).

WINE $5 per glass
La Marca Prosecco, Italy
Rocca Pinot Grigio, Italy
Kiona Riesling, Washington State
Rex Goliath Pinot Noir, California
Leda Pucci Chianti, Italy
Alamos Malbec, Argentina
Rudina Nero d'Avola, Italy
Citra Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Italy

Cosmpolitan 900
Candy Apple Martini
Mediterranean Manhattan
Limoncello Martini

Marinara Sauce & Toasted Breadcrumbs
Creamy Polenta
Brown Butter Sauce
Imported Bufala Mozzarella
Speidini Style & Oven Roasted

CICCHETTI - Small tastes to accompany a glass of wine or a cocktail $3 each
Served with crostini
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Basil, Chili Flakes

PICCOLI - Small Italian Sandwiches $3 each or 2 for $5
Tuscan Kale & Percorino Cheese
Oven Roasted Tomato & Handmade Mozzarella

Frankie's is a Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant located at 900 North Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. 312-266-2500