Thursday, November 29, 2007

Raiding PDT

Though the very nice Mr. James Meehan told me the winter menu wasn't ready yet, he said he would not mind at all if I stopped by PDT on Wednesday night. I said I'd be there and volunteered almost a little too enthusiastically, "I mean, I can always come back in two weeks!"

Why so keen? Well, today I'm here to officially out myself as the most uncool person to write about beverages ever simply because it wasn't until Wednesday night that I finally visited PDT. Then again, I woke up this morning and decided shiny, magenta stirrup tights were work-appropriate THEN proceeded to coordinate an entire outfit around said clothing item, so really, I should not be taken as a barometer for anything cool or not.

Excuses, excuses, but it really was an unfortunate case of just pushing things back and my inability to set aside a time to make a visit. I simply kept telling myself, "I'll go next week," again and again until it had gotten to this point...I didn't promise that the excuse wouldn't be inexcusable. And with the winter menu looming in the horizon I wanted to stop by and see what was on the menu now as a point of comparison.

I hopped into the phone booth at Crif Dogs on St. Mark's Place feeling a bit like Maxwell Smart. The phone booth is tucked away to the side and is not readily obvious. Besides the fact that the place has been getting a lot of attention, it's really not secret since on a busy night like last night you can clearly hear the customers on the other side of the wall when you stand in front of the phone booth. But I cannot deny that it is a pretty boss feeling to pick up that handset and get buzzed in.

The back wall opened and I was greeted by a hostess who smiled and asked, "Yes?"

"Yes?"? What was that supposed to mean? Was there a password involved? I frantically thought.

"Hi, I'm here to see Jim," I said, the last part of the sentence going up? Like a question? Like how some young women like to talk?

"Sure!" the hostess answered brightly and opened up the "door" to PDT fully. The place was packed and it was 7:30 on a Wednesday night.

When I make visits to bars for work I try to not be intrusive. I kind think that the bartender is doing his thing and has his rhythm going. And more times I find myself mesmerized by what's going on and will crane my neck to see what's being made and instead will interject with a "What is that?" when something catches my eye.

So keeping with my modus operandi, I slid into a corner seat at the bar. However, I didn't take into account stuffed animals mounted here and there and the spot I chose had me accidentally nuzzling the neck of a stuffed deer's head throughout the evening.

Jim started me off with a Desert Rose. Gin infused with dried rose petals, prickly pear puree and lemon juice. The drink was garnished with a similarly-tinted pale pink rose petal.

(Desert Rose)

Did I mention that the place was hopping? I looked around as I sipped my drink and my eyes landed on someone sitting a barstool away from me who I thought looked pretty familiar. I soon realized that I was rudely staring down a member of the cocktail royal family, Leo DeGroff, son of "the king of cocktails" Dale DeGroff. I didn't want to interrupt his conversation with some folks, but I eventually leaned over to introduce myself. I was fuzzily sure we had met before and we tried to piece together where and when it would've been.

I asked for the Paul's Club Cocktail next because I was intrigued by a cocktail that used something made from white wine vinegar. Jim said it was a 19th century type of drink since the "Shrubb" used in the cocktail was a popular method of preserving fruit and was kind of like a soft drink or dessert back then. My curiosity was piqued so got the urge to Google a bit. There's a certain rum-based liqueur with "Shrubb" in its name, but what Jim was talking about is also spelled "shrub." One source I found said that for traditional shrubs, fruit was soaked in vinegar for weeks, then the strained vinegar had water and sugar added to it. Another source I read online described it as the noncarbonated version of a carbonated beverage. It also kept the fruit-based beverage from going bad. Jim said originally shrubs, like Trix, were for kids. Eventually, adults wised up and got around to adding alcohol to it. He noticed cocktails out on the West Coast using gastriques, so he figured he'd make a cocktail with a traditional 19th-century shrub of white wine vinegar, grapes and sugar. The drink is a combination of gin, the aforementioned Concord Shrubb and pastis. The pastis sits as a cloudy layer on top of the cocktail, so it hits you first before the rest of the drink.

(Paul's Club Cocktail)

I couldn't stop studying the menu and Jim set down a Woolworth in front of me. I quickly flipped around to see what was in it. It listed a variety of Asyla scotch, a sherry from Southern Spain, Benedictine and orange bitters. "But I am distinctly tasting honey," I thought to myself. "I don't see honey...oh."

The menu went on to describe the scotch as being "honeyed and smokey." I wasn't familiar with this particular scotch so it was good to confirm that my taste buds weren't just messing with me. This is why you read the menu. Or at least, this is what good menus should do.

I was on a roll, and decided to go for the Vieux Mot next. The gin drink made with St. Germain and lemon was described as "a kinder, gentler version of the more manly Last Word Cocktail: take the 'I hate Gin; challenge, lose, and join us."

(Vieux Mot)

I don't hate gin, but my next thought after reading that was, "Well, OK, now I HAVE to drink the Last Word too." It read like a challenge and I'm kind of like Marty McFly and his aversion of being called "chicken" when it comes to challenges about imbibing. At the time, I wasn't sure if I'd had the Last Word before. It sounded familiar. Going through my old notes now, they tell me that I most definitely did, but it had been a while and I was looking for a refresher.

"Am I going to regret asking for this?" I asked Jim, considering that so far I had gamely downed several drinks made with several types of spirits and liqueurs on an empty stomach. I decided that maybe I should make this one my last. I probably should've taken my cue from some of the other patrons around me who were also ordering hot dogs from Crif Dogs.

Jim said the changes to the menu would be pretty drastic. Not everything would be replaced, but it would be a fair amount. For example, the Vieux Mot would probably be gone since it has more summery flavors.

"So in two weeks?" I asked again about the new menu.

"Probably," Jim answered then added jokingly, "But I'm not in too big of a hurry. It's going to be a long winter."

Please excuse our appearances...

This is kind of funny considering my previous post was all about how to present yourself online, but if you happen to stumble across my blog and notice that it's looking a bit strange or notice anything out of place, it's because we're still trying to get everything up and running. What can I say, it's the birth pangs of a new blog.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Being all Web 2.0

I managed to catch Jeffrey Morgenthaler, the head bartender for El Vaquero in Eugene, Ore., on instant messenger a week ago, and got to talking with him since previously I had left what I thought was a very cryptic message on his voicemail about a particular drink I was writing a story on. I have to admit, it was a bit novel talking to a source on IM. Shall I dare say it? It even felt downright taboo, since I'm more used to utilizing IMs for non-work related communication.

It was also fitting that I was communicating with Jeffrey this way considering that I was introduced to him not in meatspace, but by stumbling across his site/blog while doing a Google trawl for beverage menus.

I have had someone on the other end of the line ask, "Hey, how'd you hear about us anyway?" when I call to ask about beverages. I say honestly that I came across them while doing a search online. It might seem disappointing to some that my dirty secret of finding out new drinks is like an online version of covering my eyes and throwing darts at a dartboard. However, it comes down to the fact that besides relying entirely on press releases, a lot of times I tend to do cold searching to find new drinks and new things happening on drink menus outside of New York since I can't regularly go on a physical, nationwide "Tour of Tipple" awesome as that would be.

So my tip for the day? Use the internet to your advantage and get your drinks known. You never know who's going to stumble across your virtual doorstep. Working with the online department of Nation's Restaurant News, I've noticed restaurants' sites that have fallen to disrepair from not being updated enough or having old and incorrect info. This also means the drink menus don't fare any better.

If you have a seasonal menu, what better way to flaunt that than by having a regularly updated menu online? A lot of very "pretty" sites are Flash-heavy with bells and whistles, and I do mean "bells and whistles" when I think about all the times I've gone temporarily deaf from being blasted by a site's music and fumbling hysterically to turn it off. This is a large reason why my work computer's sound setting is on "mute" by default. But I digress. The point is a thoroughly designed site can many times be a difficult to maintain site. Restaurant and bars should discuss with site designers beforehand about the longterm maintenance of a site and devise a way to easily update things in the future when it comes to changing information on the site.

Sure, you might say, easy enough when you have a menu that rotates every couple of weeks or month, but what if you have something that changes daily? Well, I don't mean that every member on staff needs to be HTML/XML proficient code wranglers or site designing wizards, just keep in mind changes do happen and try to plan for it. Even noting that something is set to change regularly or daily should suffice. At the Teardrop Lounge in Portland, Ore., people can subscribe to a e-newsletter and receive information about the lounge, including menu changes. Customers can find out what's going to be in the daily changing Flowing Bowl, described on the online menu as a "rotating selection of hot punches, mulled wines & festive libations."

It keeps people interested. They want to know what's coming up next. Another cool thing about having an internet presence, in my opinion, is that it helps create and maintain a loyal community. People have their favorite bars and favorite bartenders, so why not extend that into an online community if you can? Getting news, tips and even recipes of drinks you like from that bartender you trust at your favorite bar seems like icing on the cake to me.

As I continued to chat with Jeffrey I mentioned that this blog was soon to make its debut, so I'd be much obliged if he could keep me up to date on anything new he was working on.

"I just finalized my fall/winter menu today!" He typed back. "Would you like the PDF?"

Of course I did. Merely seconds later, there it was, sitting in my inbox. Ah, delicious technology. If you want to take a gander, check it out by clicking here. There's something new, like the Marmalade Sour, and something "old" like the Bees Knees, which was a Featured Cocktail a little while back.