Archives for category: cocktails

WP_20130628_002We West Valley-ers have long had to make the trip to Studio City, Sherman Oaks or at the very least Encino to find a restaurant that offers something a bit interesting, innovative, and stylish for our dining experience. Could it be that those days are coming to an end? Perhaps not in the near future, but there is hope in a new Woodland Hills establishment, “The Local Peasant.”

In a large, open, warehouse-like space, with the entire front wall open to the street and outdoor seating, the atmosphere is that of a lively, urban pub. In a nod to the current cocktail culture, the drink menu is divided into pre and post-prohibition cocktails. It’s nice that they give as much attention to the classics (sidecar, negroni) as to their own innovative concoctions, our favorites being the “Gordon’s Cup” and the “Basil Pepper Martini.”

The food is a modern spin on your typical bar fare- homemade salt & vinegar crisps, cheese fritters, meatballs, and porkbelly with pickled watermelon rind and tamarind. The “Bacon & Eggs” pairs deviled eggs with brown sugar chili applewood smoked bacon…mmmm! There are gluten-free and vegan choices, such as the standout edamame vegetable salad with corn, roasted peppers, jicama, and avocado- a perfect choice if you want something light and healthy after pigging out on porkbelly! There are also more substantial dishes, such as pizzas, chicken stew, salmon and lamb shank. We haven’t been here enough times to try all of it yet, but we will definitely be working on it.

The Local Peasant was a very welcome surprise for us here in the West Valley. It’s a fun, stylish restaurant with innovative food and drinks that would definitely hold it’s own in West Hollywood- but we’re glad to have it here in Woodland Hills. And I dare say, if you are living in West Hollywood, it’s well worth a trip over the hill!

The Local Peasant :: 22901 Ventura Blvd, Woodland Hills

Some people like to browse the bookstore after a dinner out- that’s what John & our son wanted to do after dinner last night. I’d rather browse a liquor store.  It’s kind of similar, really…especially if you’re in my favorite aisle, “Liqueurs and Apertifs.” Each bottle, like a book, has a story to be told- wars between families, secret recipes, descents into madness, prohibition-thwarting underground tunnels. The best part about these stories though, is that you get to add your own chapter. Luckily there is a liquor store right next to the book store.

All of my usual friends were there to greet me- Pimm’s, Lillet, and of course Campari.  One bottle jumped out at me however.  I’d always wanted to try Aperol.  Aperol is Campari’s sweeter, gentler cousin.  It’s flavors of bitter orange, rhubarb, gentian root and cinchona bark definitely present a similar flavor profile to that of Campari.  Aperol though is lighter, sweeter, and much more orangey.  It would be great in the summertime by itself over ice but mixes well with vodka, gin and prosecco.

I’m sure I’ll spend some time experimenting with Aperol and various other liquors, but for now I wanted to find a basic Aperol cocktail- something that showcases the bitter orange flavor and -quite honestly- gives a little bump to the meager 11% alcohol content.  There are many Aperol cocktail recipes out there, most consisting of either Vodka or Gin, lemon juice, sugar, and perhaps some bitters.  When faced with the choice of Vodka or Gin, I always choose Gin, so here is tweaked version of several recipes I found.  If you still haven’t made friends with Gin, don’t worry.  It adds a nice botanical flavor to the drink, but doesn’t give you the overwhelming pine flavor you remember from the cheap-ass Gilbey’s you drank in college.  Enjoy!

Aperol Cocktail

1.5 oz Gin (please, not Gilbey’s…Hendrick’s, Bombay Sapphire will do), 1.5 oz Aperol, 1 oz Fresh Lemon Juice, .25 oz (or just a dash) simple syrup, a couple drops Angostura Bitters

Shake ingredients over ice, strain, garnish with orange peel.  For more drama and nuance, garnish with a flamed orange peel.

The Vesper

For the past few years the world of cocktails has been dominated by ever more innovative recipes involving herbs, savory flavors and infused liquors.  I’m no stranger to infusions and the muddler – my cucumber jalapeno margarita is pretty tasty!  At some point though, I felt like I was getting ahead of myself and really needed to learn the classics and basic mixing techniques.  It’s not that I’m giving up innovation, but there’s such a history to cocktails, their origins, the evolution of recipes – I find it fascinating to read about them and very enjoyable to try and perfect them.  The more I learn, the more I realize that the smallest details make the largest difference in the quality of a drink.  For instance, many drinks that I’ve been shaking, really ought to be stirred.  And how are you going to stir a drink until the shaker is cold on the outside when your OXO shaker is double walled?  Alas, the tools are very important as well.  At least I’ve finally found a channel knife that is sharp and precise enough to do a nice lemon spiral.

Armed with said channel knife, the drink of the evening is the Vesper.  This is in the Martini family, and hence a drink with pretty simple, yet nuanced flavors.  I would recommend this for those who find a gin martini just a little too harsh, or don’t like so much of the gin flavor.  Vodka tempers the herbaceous qualities of the gin, without taking away any of the potency.  Lillet Blanc brings a slightly sweet, orange flavor that makes this cocktail – while not a thirst quencher – just a little bit more refreshing and approachable than a straight-up Martini.  Try it and see if you don’t agree!

Vesper

2 ounces vodka, 1 ounce gin, 1/2 ounce Lillet Blanc, lemon peel for garnish

After pouring the liquids into a cocktail shaker, fill with ice and stir until outside of shaker is cold  (sorry, OXO – you’re on the way out).  Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon peel.  Enjoy!

Recently a neighbor got me curious about the Sazerac Cocktail.  I’ve seen it mentioned in a few publications lately, probably due to the popularity of drinks containing the once illegal pastis, Absinthe.  On vacation in the midwest this summer, we found ourselves sans children in a popular Cajun restaurant outside of Chicago- the perfect opportunity to try a Sazerac Cocktail.  The drink being a New Orleans classic and listed in the menu under specialty drinks, I thought I couldn’t go wrong.  Although I had spent some time reading about the history of the drink, looked at various recipes and knew the ingredients, I hadn’t memorized the classic Sazerac recipe.  Still, I knew something was wrong when the cocktail showed up served over crushed ice.  The Sazerac is a sipper.  It’s all about the subtle layers of flavor- rye, bitters, and of course, absinthe.  Indeed, the Sazerac is not intended to be served with ice at all, rather you chill the glass with ice and then dump it out before adding the ingredients to the glass.  Perhaps, the bartender hadn’t made one before and skipped this important step?  That’s my guess.  Anyhow, the subtlety of their iteration of this cocktail was entirely lost in the watered down mess of melting ice.  As well, the heat and complexity of the rye whiskey was completely gone.  The only thing that miraculously survived the bartender’s cruel drowning of the ingredients was a nice underlying hint of absinthe.  The drink didn’t taste bad though.  It just was clearly not a Sazerac.  I suppose if you can’t take the heat of drinking nearly straight whiskey though, you might favor ordering yours this way.  I can take it.

Of course, this first disappointing introduction to the Sazerac Cocktail put me on my mission.  I needed to experience this cocktail the way it was intended.  An informal dinner with some neighbors proved to be a good opportunity to hone my Sazerac-mixing skills.  I’m definitely still fine tuning- do I leave any of the absinthe in the glass after coating, drop in the lemon peel or not?  I will say, however, that this was the drink I had hoped for when we were at that Cajun restaurant.  My guests seemed to enjoy it as well.  The classic recipe follows, so try it for yourself.  But please, spare the crushed ice!

The Official Sazerac Cocktail:

1 cube sugar
1½ ounces (35ml) Rye Whiskey
¼ ounce Herbsaint or other Absinthe
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
Lemon peel

* Pack an Old-Fashioned glass with ice
* In a second Old-Fashioned glass place the sugar cube and add the Peychaud’s Bitters to it, then crush the sugar cube
* Add the Sazerac Rye Whiskey to the second glass containing the Peychaud’s Bitters and sugar
* Empty the ice from the first glass and coat the glass with the Herbsaint, then discard the remaining Herbsaint
* Empty the whiskey/bitters/sugar mixture from the second glass into the first glass and twist the lemon peel over the drink, releasing the oils.  Rub the lemon peel on the rim of the glass and either garnish with lemon peel or discard (whether or not to garnish with the lemon peel is a source of heated debate)