Thursday, March 25, 2004

Mute approval

The question of music in restaurants and bars is always contentious. I like to think I hit it up the middle pretty well when I work on Friday nights -- jazz in the early hours, slowly getting louder and more modern as the night goes on -- but I'll admit that bu about midnight all bets are off and we'll get as loud as we need it to be to survive 'til last call. It's a bar, after all.

I've read critics who say that if the music's too loud you should ask the server to turn it down. I heartily disagree. You heard the music when you first came in and you still sat down. Music is part of how restaurants define themselves and who their clientele is going to be. if it's too loud for you (and the place is also pretty much full) they don't want you and your tea-drinking, deep, lingering conversation sort in there. If it's too loud, leave.

Some places, admittedly take the music thing too far. I was in a place in New York with about six specials that had to be delivered orally and the waitress had to come to each of us individually and shout in our ears. We all nodded politely and when she left we turned to each other and asked what the specials were. None of us knew. The music was that loud. Fortunately the food (off the menu) was very good. I always imagine and angry chef demanding to know why the waitstaff weren't pushing the specials.

Eric Asimov at the New York Times suggests that the trend is going the other way these days and that restaurants are finally turning off the music. I hope this isn't entirely true -- with some exceptions, I hate going to places without any music at all. The trick is finding the right level and the right mix, so that patrons aren't annoyed by the chatter from the table next to them but are also often barely aware of the specific song playing.

That's what we try to do. Until power hour at least.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Hendrick's -- It's Not for Everyone

There's a long standing debate about whether or not a vodka martini counts and I don't want to give too much away from my Martini chapter in my hopefully forthcoming Mondo Cocktail, but frankly, it doesn't. I'm not judging anybody, if drinking a chilled, tasteless, odourless beverage at $7 a glass turns you on, go right ahead -- but if you want to drink a real martini, gin is the only way to go.

Gin has a distinct flavour and even if you don't think you like the taste of gin, you're likely to enjoy it in a properly made martini, which should, by the way contain some vermouth.

Now, I am halfway through the best martini of my life as I write this and I think it only fair to indulge the secret. My friend Siobhan has been on me for a while to try out this new (to Ontario, at least) gin called Hendrick's and she was quite right.

Made in Scotland, Hendrick's calls itself an unusual gin, which it certainly is. I might be imagining it, but I do believe I can smell the cucumber. Also, I'm a sucker for packaging and it has a bottle I'm almost hesitant to hide away in the freezer (where gin should be stored for ideal martini purposes). Check out their website and you'll get an idea of how easy it is to fetishize.

Thank you Siobhan, you've changed our lives for the better.

Monday, March 15, 2004


I'm very happy to report that I mastered blackened chicken livers with lemon beurre blanc over the weekend. While one taster declared they were better than Southern Accent's (they make the uber blackened chicken livers), I think this is an exaggeration. You see, I ran out of cayenne and had to resort to an awful lot of black pepper as my seasoning, which made them a little too spicy.

I have made several attempts in the past with so-so results but this time several things came together which made it almost perfect. First, I got Rowe Farm chicken livers which seem much bigger, healthier and have a much nicer colour than normal livers. I had to cut them in halves or thirds, coated them and then got the cast iron pan ready to go.

Flea and I were discussing one of the problems I've had in the past, which is that to blacken properly, you have to get the pan so damn hot that it smokes up pretty much the entire house and sets off all the alarms. Flea had the stunningly simple solution of cooking it over a fire pit. Now, I don't have a fire pit, but I threw the pan on top of the barbecue until it reached premium temperature and put the livers in the pan out there.

From there, you sear the livers (sans oil, whatever they tell you) for a very brief length of time. The theory, my chef friend told me, is that the pan must be so hot that the livers don't actually touch the pan because the force of heat actually pushes them up a millimeter above the pan's surface, keeping them almost jumping up from the heat the entire time.

The lemon beurre blanc is dead easy. Minced shallots fried in white wine and lemon until they are almost a paste, then add cream, and butter. Pour on top of your livers and serve with some french stick or, if you have it, jalapeno cornbread.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

I wasn't entirely thrilled with my result, but it was better than my first go -- I was a Screaming Orgasm and I felt that was rather undignified. Flea got Martini, so I may go back and just try to duplicate his answers. What would Flea say?

You like it fast and strong and you drink for one reason: to get piss-ass drunk!
Congratulations!! You're a shot of some good old
hard liquor!

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