Saturday, March 6, 2021

Day of the Dude: Lightning Round

It's that glorious time of the year again, folks: the Day of the Dude, when we celebrate the anniversary of the first time the Dude, Donny, Walter, and all their buds graced the big screen. It's something of a minor holiday around these parts, as the film is a shared favorite of the A&T guys and the day has become as good a reason as any for the three of us to get together and hang out for a bit, blog style.

We thought we'd mix it up a bit this go around and do a little Lightning Round Q&A session. David, John and Pablo each sent in some questions, and we all had a go at answering them. Without further ado, here we go! 

JOHN: A good day to you, sirs! Before we launch into, what's everyone drinking while answering the questions?

DAVID: [note from John: Sorry for this, but... HAHAHAHAHA - you're drinking water. Sorry, again, couldn't resist. Please delete and proceed when ready] I'm leaving that in. I'm deployed in a (sobs) dry country at present, thus fueled by the twin fires of coffee and spite.

I am, however, glad that we can do something here that doesn't have to involve actually making a drink - thanks to the guys for indulging me there, since I'd be well and truly out of the running if not for that.

PABLO: A banana boulevardier. I had my doubts when I first saw it on IG but it’s a nice riff and super refreshing. It’d be even better somewhere sunny where there’s plenty of sand. And you know, a country that isn’t dry.

His and Hers CR#2s... made with my new jigger (thanks Mom and Dad)!
JOHN: I'm indulging in a Corpse Reviver #2: Gin, Dry Curacao, Cocchi Americano, fresh lemon juice, and a touch of absinthe. I SWEAR this was made before (spoiler) I saw David's answer to Round 1, Question 1. For whatever reason, it actually started to taste better after I read his response. 

Alright, with that important business out of the way, here we go. For real.


QUESTION #1: Okay - if you were forced to live in a (sobs) dry country for a few months, what's the first cocktail you'd make when you got home again to those wonderful, wonderful bars we have?

DAVID: My usual go-to-a-meteor's-about-to-land-on-us-all-the-end-is-nigh drink would be - no surprise to either of my co-conspirators here - a Martini. But I've been thinking that on my arrival home this time, a Corpse Reviver #2 is in order. I'm exhausted. I need some gin, a bit of Absinthe, it's just an amazing, complex drink. Kind of hits all the bases, a little herbal, a little sweet, a little savory, strong but also quite subtle. The kind of thing you can kick back and geek out on, as well as just sip. 

Being a geek, this is perfect for me.

JOHN: Man, this is a tough one. For the sake of argument, I'm going to assume that a) I've just walked in the door; b) my vermouth is well cared for, and c) I don't have any other perishables in the house. In that case, I'm probably going for Manhattan with a (proper) Maraschino cherry. I love a Manhattan, preferably with an orange twist, but a cherry will do. A Negroni is a close second, but I find a twist is integral. It really ties the drink together.

PABLO: I’d be happy with any of the aforementioned drinks but I definitely would lean towards a nice, very cold martini. But of course I would never go to such places.

QUESTION #2: Someday soon, there will be such a thing as "gatherings" again. Weird concept, but once upon a time this involved bringing multiple people together indoors for something called "social interaction." Said interaction was facilitated by beverages one does not find in dry countries. What's the first thing you'd make for a "crowd," once these exist again? Not a finnicky long-build-time crafted drink, but something that's still awesome when you make it in batches? 

And at this point, we all need some steenkin' batches.

DAVID: I love Negronis for this. A) because it's an amazing drink, and B) because the 1:1:1 proportion of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth is the easiest damn thing to scale up. Those two things in combination are hard to argue with. 
Granted, not everyone goes for the bitterness or the sheer strength of the drink, but I find that more people like it than think they'll like it, if that makes sense. In my experience it's one of those cocktails where if you tell people what's in it they're more likely to wrinkle their nose at you; if you just hand them one and say "try a sip," more often than not they're pleasantly surprised.  

JOHN: Funny enough, if I've got the ingredients on hand (looking at you, Cocchi Americano, you fickle mistress) I love making Corpse Reviver #2s for folks, especially if they've had one before. A Daiquiri is a close second (2 parts rum, 1 part lime juice, ¾ part simple syrup), in part because it is almost always a revelation for folks (it's not frozen... it's not cloyingly sweet... it's not served in a big gulp?!). That said, a French 75 is my go to party drink. 1 part gin, 1 part lemon juice, ¾ part simple syrup, topped with sparkling. I serve it long on ice, as Mr. Harry Craddock prescribed, and it is always a crowd pleaser. It's great for batching, too: bottle up the gin/simple syrup/lemon juice combo, chill it on ice next to a bottle of champers, and you can even let your guests mix it up themselves.

PABLO: For company when I’m planning on being outside by the grill or even if I’m going out of town longer than a weekend, I second the Negroni. It’s easy to scale up and delicious. I’ve also done the same with a boulevardier. But I’ve been interested in doing a big bowl of proper punch, which I haven’t done and I think a get together once it’s safe to do so would call for one.

QUESTION #3: Because I'm eating chow-hall food these days, I'm thinking culinary. Because like cocktails, "culinary" (as opposed to "edible") is something I'm in short supply of. We all know bitters - we make them, we love them as a cocktail ingredient. What are some other uses we can put these to? 
Also, fun fact - did you know that French combat rations include things like salmon salad and duck paté? Truth. I almost signed up on the spot.

DAVID: So bitters are seasoning, basically. Like all seasoning, they have their own flavor, but if used properly they also serve to draw out and highlight other flavors in whatever they're mixed into. Just like salt, they shouldn't be so present that you taste what they're in and think "ooh, salty" - but a judicious amount will compliment and make whatever the bitters are in taste more strongly like itself. 

The same is true if you use them in cooking. If I'm making something like a roast leg of lamb, I'll coat the roast in a mixture of butter, herbs and bitters and sometimes (shhh, don't tell anyone) anchovies. Trust me, if you do it right you and your dinner guests will never know there's bitters in there - or anchovies, for that matter, although you've got more room for error with the former than with the latter - but it'll be the most amazingly-flavored lamb you've ever had. 
You can do the same with a steak - cook the steak the way you like it, and then rest it with a pat of butter mixed with bitters on top of it, and this is making me so hungry I can't even tell y'all.

JOHN: Umm.... it adds depth to ramen? It all seriousness, I've used bitters with steak, chili, and any number of beef or pork heavy dishes. I'm not the primary chef in my household so I can't say this is a regular occurrence. I can say, though, that if you fear that bottle of vermouth has been in your fridge too long (you are keeping it in your fridge, right? Right?!), use it in place of wine in whatever you are cooking. Great substitute!

PABLO: Beyond cocktails the most common place I use bitters are for salad dressings. Grapefruit bitters and most citrus bitters work great for homemade dressing. But so do celery, fennel, and more herbal bitters. I’m curious to use them for grilling but haven’t gone down that road. Yet.



QUESTION #1: When things finally "return to normal", what is the first cocktail bar you'll go to, what will you order, and why?

DAVID: There's a wine bar in DC called The Eastern, forever near and dear to my heart as I helped open the place. Wine bar it may be, but the bartenders are terrific, it benefits from having a whiskey bar as a sister establishment (Pappy? Check.), it's locally-owned, and they've used some of our bitters, which speaks well of their taste and disportment. Terrific place, if I do say so myself. The guests are more local than they are weekend partiers, which is also something I'm in need of right about now. 
I'm also happy to say the place has survived the COVID apocalypse, which so many haven't.  
For a more purely cocktail-focused bar, I love Left Door, also in DC. I haven't had the heart to go online and see whether they've survived the apocalypse as well. I get turned off by overly sweet drinks, and they really get savory and bitter there. It's creative, and one of those places where I get genuinely tied around the axle going through the menu because the cocktails do not in fact all sound like they'll taste vaguely the same.

JOHN: I asked this question and I really don't have a great answer. I'm in a new a town and don't know where to go! I've heard good thinks about the Jazz Club in Baku and look forward to trying out their Martini (absolute first try at any cocktail bar) sometime soon. I'm hopeful that the next time I'm in the US things will have opened up so that I can finally (finally!) get to the Columbia Room in DC (if only I knew someone with a gift certificate...), as well as Attaboy and Death & Company in New York. After hearing that Pegu Club closed down as a result of covid, I realized that there's not time like the present to hit up those wishlist spots. Beyond that, I honestly just look forward to hosting people at the home bar. Sigh.

PABLO: For Christmas 2019 I received gift certificate/card to Jose Andres’ Bar Mini and another for Columbia Room. A month later my second son was born and shortly thereafter everything went to shit and the world closed down due to COVID. Both places offer amazing, high end drinking experiences. The places are stunning, the staff amazing and knowledgeable, and the drinks are beautiful. They’re great places.

I am grateful for the more local spots offering delicious to-go cocktails from Falls Church Distillers and B Side and am also looking forward to getting back there more often, too.

QUESTION #2: What are the odds Walter Sobchak was in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021?

DAVID: Say what you want about the tenets of MAGA, at least it's an ethos...
JOHN: So, what David said. That said, he also seems oddly focused on The Jesus'... um... unsavory criminal history. He's obstinate ("Am I wrong?!" "This is what happens when you find a stranger in the alps!" "Calmer than you are!"). He's prone to conspiracy theories ("That poor woman... kidnapped herself. Come on dude, you said so yourself!") and skepticism ("[Dude] And, you know, he's got emotional problems, man. [Walter] You mean, beyond pacifism?"). He's armed ("Over the line!"). He's a bit of a bully ("Shut the fuck up, Donny."). Let's be honest: there's at least a 50:50 chance Walter was in DC on January 6, 2021.

PABLO: He wasn’t there. He wanted to but ended up at the wrong place destroying the property of someone not at all involved. See what happens Larry!?

QUESTION #3: Would you like a little olive brine in that Martini, sir?

DAVID: Blasphemy! Sacrilege! Heresy! Profanity! Murder! I'd ferment orange juice under the radiator before I went there. Foul besmirchment of the Pure and the Good... 

And this is weird, because I love olives and I love martinis and I love olives IN martinis, but all of the above is actually my reaction with no hyperbole whatsoever. The brine in a martini... if you gave me a choice between that and a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, I'd have to sit back and think about it.

JOHN: [tosses an olive-shaped hand grenade into a crowded blog and slowly backs away. With his brine-free martini in hand.]

PABLO: I’m never going to order one in bar. I’m also not above having one every once in a while. What’s not to like? Gin: delicious. Olives: delicious. Olive brine: delicious. I don’t do the half ounce pour of olive brine, usually a bar spoon worth and sometimes I church it up with a few drops of olive oil on top. It’s a nice, savory option here and there, just behind a Gibson. 

It’s comforting to know I can take David’s if someone makes him one, though.



QUESTION #1: Fill in the blank and explain your answer: 
The Dude : White Russians; Walter : ________

DAVID: My God, I'm back in the SATs all over again... Y'know, I'm torn on this one. My first reaction was beer with a whiskey back, but something tells me Walter's actually a wine guy. Like for all the ranting, angry bluster, he's got a cellar full of Chateau Mouton Rothschild and can cite chapter and verse on the various merits of each vintage and what the difference is between left and right bank, and what to pair with each... ad nauseam. 
He is exact (OVER THE LINE!), he has a strong sense of when rules are rules (bowling) and when they can be broken ('Nam), he has a strong sense of tradition (not rolling on Shabbos), and attention to detail in the propriety of things. He loves information and knowing about things... wine guy. Definitely.

JOHN: I mean... it's Manichewitz, right? Or beer. Or the Apocalypse Now shooter. Gulp.

PABLO: Manischewitz martini with a gefilte fish garnish. David would pray for a dirty martini at that offering.

I’m thinking he’s going for something spicy and bitter. Or maybe a riff on a revolver (a .45 for him in this case?). I’m going with a rye, coffee liqueur, and alpine amari like Alta Verde or dell’Erborista, perfectly suited for when you find a stranger in the Alps.

QUESTION #2: When trying out a new cocktail of your own creation and it's not coming together, do you keep adding to it to try and save it or do you dump it? 

DAVID: Definitely a "tipping point" kind of thing. There does come a point where it just turns into mud - an indistinct glass of alcohol. Probably not actively terrible, but definitely lacking anything to make it worth enjoying. At that point I'll just dump it. Sometimes that point comes earlier than others - best to recognize it and cut your losses sooner rather than later. If I'm experimenting I don't use the good stuff, but it's still a shame to waste it. 
I'm not sure I could say for a fact where that tipping point is, it's more just a taste thing. One person's mud is another person's Long Island Iced Tea, which to me tastes like an indistinct glass of alcohol - not actively terrible, but lacking anything except a high bang to buck ratio. Lots of people love those though, it takes all kinds. 

JOHN: Recently I've really aimed to keep my ingredient list to 3-4 when experimenting. So I might continue to add more of one ingredient or the other, but rarely do I get into 5, 6, 7 ingredients and beyond. At a certain point, it either works or it doesn't, no matter how how much stuff you throw in the mixing tin (and honestly, who wants to make a drink with 8-10 ingredients?).

That said, I'm generally loath to dump a drink. I'll usually choke it down in the name of science. Or penance. 

PABLO: I’ve rarely given up hope on a drink. I definitely should have but I ignore those negative thoughts. I’ve tinkered to the point where I end up with 2-3 cocktails that are palatable at best and have also gotten lucky at the end. Of course by then I don’t know what is in there exactly and definitely not by measure.

QUESTION #3: Vodka. Does it have a place in your personal repertoire? 

DAVID: Yes and no. I rarely, rarely stock anything "good" on the vodka front, mainly because odds are you won't be able to tell a fifty dollar bottle from a ten dollar bottle. Mixed into a cocktail, it's 100% impossible to tell, so what I have in my bar is a ten-dollar bottle of Smirnoff. You will never catch me buying Grey Goose or anything like that - total waste of money. 
Two asterisks, though... 
There is, however, something really nice about severely cold vodka with something simple on the side - berries, sliced fruit. Stick the bottle in the freezer for a few hours and take it as a shot or sip it... very nice. 

There is also, however, a movement going on to push some boundaries in the legal definition of vodka, which is essentially "a neutral spirit with no characteristics whatsoever." What people are looking for is to let the subtle characteristics of the fermenting material (apples, grain, potatoes, whatever) through. Not so much that we're talking "apple brandy" as opposed to vodka, but enough to highlight the fact that an alcohol distilled from a fruit vs. a grain vs. a potato is going to have some different notes, and we don't have to erase ALL of that in order to call it vodka... I am curious about this, and I need to play around with 'em a bit.

JOHN: No... not yet. I have, admittedly, been dismissive of vodka in the past. "Vodka, eh? So... you don't want to taste what you're drinking?" What can I say, I occasionally stray into jerk territory. 

Moscow Mules are fun and all, but that is the only drink I would regularly turn to vodka for, and despite having invested in the hardware I simply don't drink them that much. That said, I've just arrived in a vodka loving country (many a grocery store in Baku have a vodka aisle. Not a "booze" aisle, a vodka aisle!) and I may need to branch out a bit. 

PABLO: I don’t know the last time I had vodka. I have several bottles and varieties including a bottle, a gift, of Russian Standard in the freezer. It’s mostly for guests. That being said, I drank vodka regularly for a while. Martinis, on the rocks... shots. It was my gateway to bigger, better, tastier things and for that I’ll always be grateful.

Though vodka and caviar is always a treat I can’t think of any cocktail that wouldn’t, isn’t made better by adding another, any other spirit. The right spirit for sure. 

For now the various bottles mostly collect dust. But maybe I’ll give them another crack.


There you have it, fine readers. "What the hell was this?" you might ask, to which I can only respond "Obviously, you are not a golfer." Regardless, thanks for joining, and we'll see you back here again soon. Hopefully before March 6, 2022. But who knows. I am the walrus.

*Dedicated to Mary Pat McGuire

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