Friday, October 30, 2015

October 2015 Digest

Smoke, Spice and Spirits in Austin

Austin, Texas is a pretty hot place. Even in October, the temperatures rise to the mid-90s (seriously). Nonetheless, it's a pretty cool place too. Chris and I enjoyed a wonderful long weekend in Texas' capital city, one of America's fastest-growing big cities, seeing the sites and enjoying amazing barbecue, Mexican and cocktails. You can read about out eating and drinking experiences, the highlights of which were our barbecue dinner at Stubb's, excellent modern Mexican at La Condesa and perfectly made cocktails at CU29 (check out my attempt to recreate the Elijah's Railcar, our favorite drink from the trip) and Garage. A real find on the trip were the breakfast tacos--an Austin "thing"--the best of which were from Taco Joint, a short walk north of the sprawling University of Texas campus. My recipe for Steak, Egg and Smoked Gouda Breakfast Tacos is inspired by our favorite tacos from that amazing little taco joint.

Fall Cocktail Week: The Magic of the Manhattan

There are a lot of great cocktails, but there's something truly magical about the combination of rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters, the simple foundation of the ever-so-complex Manhattan cocktail. This month, I took a closer look at our favorite drink with my Ode to the Manhattan Cocktail, a in-depth look at the components of the drink in an article I called "Manhattan Construction," and I shared 10 recipe variations (see the cocktail recipes list below) including classic and modern interpretations (some of my own too) of the drink. And if that wasn't enough, I did an 8-2-Eat list on Further Exploration of the Manhattan.

Bringing Chicken Fajitas Indoors

Chicken fajitas are one of our favorite things. We enjoy them frequently from various Tex-Mex restaurants around D.C. and even when we travel. Although traditionally fajitas are grilled--making them an ideal summer food--I wanted to create a recipe for fajitas cooked in the kitchen that are just as tasty as their grilled counterpart. This recipe for Sautéed Chicken Fajitas is the result of that effort, and it's become one of our stay-at-home Saturday night favorites.

A Final Pocketful of Summer

We said farewell to summer with these Vegetable Stuffed Pocket Pitas, using the last of the season's fresh tomatoes and cucumbers along our favorite Mediterranean flavors, including hummus, tzatziki, feta cheese, olives and pitas.

D.C. Restaurants
Our local outings this month included a trip to The Partisan, D.C.'s delicious meat-centric restaurant expanded from the Red Apron butcher shop, and DBGB, the first D.C. restaurant from famed New York chef Daniel Boulud.

The Partisan (American, meat)

DBGB (American, French)

Austin Restaurants and Bars

24 Diner (American, breakfast)

Congress Bar (cocktail bar)

CU29 (cocktail bar)

Garage (cocktail bar)

Guero's Taco Bar (Mexican)

Iron Works BBQ (barbecue)

La Condesa (modern Mexican)

Lamberts (barbecue, grill)

Stubb's (barbecue)

Taco Joint (tacos, breakfast tacos)

Taco Shack (tacos, breakfast tacos)

Food Recipes

Steak, Egg and Smoked Gouda Breakfast Tacos - Inspired by the tacos at Taco Joint, our favorite breakfast tacos from our Austin trip.

Sautéed Chicken Fajitas - Bring summer grilled fajitas indoors with this flavorful marinated sautéed version.

Vegetable Stuffed Pocket Pitas - A final recipe with summer tomatoes and cucumbers featuring Mediterranean flavors of pita, hummus, tzatziki, olives and feta cheese.

Cocktail Recipes

Traditional Manhattan - The simple classic of rye, sweet vermouth and bitters.

Classic Manhattan #1 and #2 and # -  Two recipes exploring why different ratios of whiskey-to-vermouth may be appropriate depending on the type of whiskey used.

Winter Manhattan - A little smoky scotch, whiskey barrel-aged bitters and the amazing Carpano Antica vermouth make this variation a favorite for the colder months.

White Manhattan - A lighter variation of the manhattan made with white whiskey, Dolin blanc vermouth, Benedictine liqueur and orange bitters.

My White Manhattan - My take of a White Manhattan with white rye whiskey, Dolin blanc, Combier orange liqueur, maraschino liqueur and orange bitters.

Black Manhattan - A darker take on the drink made with Averna, an Italian amaro.

Perfect Manhattan - A variation of the drink that includes both sweet and dry vermouths.

Spanish Harlem - Tequila stands in for whiskey in this Manhattan variation.

Brooklyn - An old Manhattan variation with dry vermouth and maraschino liqueur.

Elijah's Railcar - Similar to a Black Manhattan, this drink was our favorite among the many great cocktails we enjoyed during our time in Austin.


Butternut Squash - 8 delectable recipes featuring this favorite fall vegetable (including a to-die-for lasagna with sausage, sage and goat cheese).

Sandwiches - 8 favorites, including a deluxe club, grilled cheese and classic tuna salad.

Further Exploration of the Manhattan - 8 more pieces (7 stories, 1 podcast) that further explore the history and modern day delight of our favorite cocktail.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Steak, Egg and Smoked Gouda Breakfast Tacos

As I mentioned on Monday, one of the greatest discoveries of our recent long weekend in Austin was breakfast tacos. They combine breakfast-oriented foods like eggs, sausage and potatoes with typical taco fillings and garnishes. There are taco joints all over the city that served them.

Our favorite breakfast tacos were from Taco Joint, a small taco restaurant just north of the University of Texas campus. I imagine a lot students make themselves regulars there, and who could blame them. The tacos are cheap, filling and delicious.

Our favorite combination there was the steak, egg and smoked gouda cheese taco, which I've attempted to recreate with this recipe. I garnished the tacos with some chipotle cream, which went beautifully with the gouda and steak.

Steak, Egg and Smoked Gouda Breakfast Tacos
Inspired by Taco Joint in Austin, Texas

1 tbsp. vegetable oil
3/4 lb. ribeye steak
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 large eggs, lightly scrambled
1/2 cup sour cream
Tabasco Chipotle hot sauce, to taste
8 corn tortillas
1 cup shredded smoked gouda cheese

1. Heat oil in a sauté or grill pan over medium-high heat. Season steak with salt and pepper and add to hot pan. Sear the steak on both sides for 2 minutes each, then reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking steak, flipping every 2 minutes, until it is light pink in the middle, about 8 minutes total for a medium steak. Set aside on a cutting board to rest for 5 minutes, then slice against the grain into thin strips.

2. Heat 1 tbsp. butter in a medium nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add the eggs and cook, stirring occasionally, as the egg forms small curds. Season with salt and pepper and, when cooked through, remove from the pan.

3. Add the sour cream to a small bowl and stir in hot sauce until it reaches a desired level of heat and taste.

4. To assemble tacos: place a double layer of corn tortillas on a plate or taco holder. Add a few slices of steak, a couple tablespoons of egg, a sprinkle of shredded cheese and a couple spoonfuls of chipotle sour cream. Serve immediately.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Stuffing Our Faces in Austin, Texas

I've shared before the fact that barbecue is one of the types of foods that makes my mouth water, and my love of Tex-Mex/Mexican is legendary. That's what made our recent weekend trip to Austin, Texas pretty special: the city does both of these really well (it also does cocktails well, which I wrote about last week). Over the course of a few days, we samples some pretty amazing barbecue and Mexican restaurants and also discovered a wonderful morning food Austin is known for: the breakfast taco.

Stubb's brisket sandwich

Texas and Texas Barbecue Capital

Austin is the capital of Texas, but it is also the capital of Texas-style barbecue. After all, it's home the country's most famous barbecue restaurant, Franklin. As much as I'd have loved to try Franklin, I wasn't willing to give up half a day of a short vacation to stand in line or it. Nonetheless, we still found excellent barbecue in the city.

Hungry after the long flight on our first night, we set out for Stubb's, the casual barbecue joint and music venue that was a short walk from our hotel. You might recognize the name for their national brand of barbecue sauces and rubs. We settled down for a delicious plate of sliced brisket served on Texas sliced bread. This brisket was a real winner--tender, moist and meaty. It was smoky, but not overly so. We also enjoy the coleslaw, which showed admirable restraint with its creamy dressing, as well as the creamy potato salad.

The beans you get with Texas-style barbecue may be unfamiliar to those expecting the sweet Southern-style baked beans. Although I've seen recipes for Texas-style beans with honey, brown sugar or molasses, when I've ordered them in restaurants they are not typically sweet, at least not as sweet as the Southern-style baked beans. That said, they are really good and nicely complement a helping of smoky meat.

Stubb's was hosting a band the night we went in, but thankfully we were able to get a table quickly and had prompt, friendly service (I appreciated that Stubb's has actual table service). Basically, within an hour of landing in Austin we had barbecue, live music and even saw a fight (of sorts, as a group of guys sitting near us got a little rowdy). How perfect is that?

Lamberts angus short rib

On another night, we headed to a different kind of barbecue restaurant, Lamberts. This is a little more upscale than your typical barbecue restaurant, and their menu features grilled items in addition to its oak-smoked barbecue dishes. The restaurant is located in the historic Schneider Brothers building in the Second Street shopping district.

While the grilled dishes were tempting, we stuck with barbecue, enjoying the black angus brisket with brown sugar, coffee rub and pickled escabeche (jalapeño). Although I'd say we preferred the Stubb's brisket, the black angus short rib was out-of-sight good. The tender, flavorful rib was garnished with a spicy cilantro and scallion slaw plus a fennel and caper relish. Our other sides were also good, particularly the Brussels sprouts with bacon and brown butter.

The service at Lamberts could use a little attention. They were very efficient, perhaps too much so, and not as friendly as the servers we encountered elsewhere. I was also disappointed with how our food was served, which made it difficult to share. When ordering, I asked the server if it made sense for us to choose a couple of barbecue entrees and sides to share, which she said was a good plan. Yet, our food arrived as individually plated entrees rather than family style, which made dividing the plates to share a bit of a hassle. Sharing is such a trend in restaurant-eating now, that it is surprising to find a restaurant that doesn't make it easy.

That said, the food at Lamberts was quite good, and it's one of the few options for barbecue where you can get a reservation. They also made a quite decent Old Fashioned with demerara sugar, bitters and a thankfully simple garnish of orange peel.

Before I move on from barbecue, I want to give a shout-out to Iron Works BBQ. Chris and I did not go here, but I visited it a couple years ago during a business trip to Austin, and it was fantastic. It doesn't look like much: the interior is a bit ramshackle, with tables covered in those cheap red-and-white plaid vinyl tablecloths. But that's part of the charm, accentuating the down-home vibe of the really excellent barbecue. I sat on the back porch overlooking Waller Creek and enjoyed an amazing sampler of sliced brisket, beef ribs and sausage.

La Condesa cochinita pibil tacos

Mexican That's Not-Kidding-Around Spicy

You know how some restaurants will warn you a dish is spicy, but when you eat it, it's really not that spicy at all? At La Condesa, they aren't kidding around with the chiles. Their cochinita pibil tacos, made with achiote-braised pork shoulder and pickled habanero, set my mouth on fire. But man, were those tacos good. The heat was moderated with black beans, pickled red onion and cabbage. It was one of several delicious things we tried at this downtown Austin modern Mexican restaurant.

We also enjoyed the mole dominguero, a tender seared chicken breast served with a delicious mole sauce and grilled green beans. Guacamole is, of course, a great way to start the meal. We customized ours with roasted pumpkin seeds and queso fresco. It didn't hurt that they served the avocado dip with very good corn chips--always a plus.

Dessert was also quite good. We ordered the dulce de leche, a pudding cake with saffron and cream cheese ice cream the menu said included "sweet corn." Since fresh sweet corn was just ending its season, I was expecting fresh corn to appear in the dessert, but it turned out that sweet corn was caramel popcorn. I'm seeing popcorn more and more in desserts and I'm loving it. Such a simple way to add another interesting dimension to a dish.

Another thing La Condesa is serious about are their margaritas. La Clásica is a wonderful choice, made with El Jimador silver, Patrón Citrónge, lime and agave kicked up with a cactus and lemongrass-infused salt rim. The smoky and tart Día de Los Muertos, made with mezcal, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc and lemon was another winner. We ate a lot of good meals in Austin, but our dinner at La Condesa was possibly my favorite of the trip.

Guero's Taco Bar fish tacos

The other really good Mexican meal we had in Austin was at Guero's Taco Bar. We were wandering in and out of the shops on South Congress Street on a very hot day (it was in the mid-to-high 90s each day), and I was really ready for a good lunch by the time we hit midday. Chris sprang from the brisket tacos with braised meat that so tender and glazed with a spicy-sweet sauce. They were quite possibly the best tacos of the trip. I had the fish tacos with marinated and grilled white fish, shredded cabbage, corn and chipotle-tequila mayonnaise, which were also very good.

Also of note at Guero's were the rice and beans. A lot of Mexican restaurants serve them as sides but don't put much thought into them. At Guero's, both were very good. Although the margaritas were just average, the tacos here were outstanding and the service, despite how busy the place was, was friendly and attentive too.

24 Diner French toast platter

Breakfast Tacos: an Austin Specialty

Starting the day off with a good breakfast is critical while on vacation. We loved the food at 24 Diner so much, we went there twice. This 24-hour diner, location in the North Lamar shopping district near the flagship Whole Foods market, has a casual cool interior that's both retro and modern. It also boasts a menu as inviting as its decor.

24 Diner sweet potato hash

During our first trip, we both had hash plates, hot dishes with potatoes, onions, cheese and meet. The 24 hash is a classic rendition with bacon and sausage and a bit of heat from jalapeños. The sweet potato hash was also quite good, served with roasted poblano peppers, sausage and jack cheese.

On day two, we sprang for sweeter breakfast treats. The Belgian waffle was very good and came topped with a heaping mound of brown sugar butter (along with maple syrup on the side). The waffle itself was made from yeast-risen dough and vanilla, giving it a taste almost like French toast. Speaking of which, they do that well there too. The French toast platter came with giant-sized pieces of toast and an apple compote topping plus lots of butter.

The friendly staff at 24 Diner always kept our coffee cups coming. Were we Austin natives, this would be the kind of place I imagine we'd frequent often.

Taco Joint breakfast tacos

The other great breakfast find in Austin was breakfast tacos. Breakfast burritos are everywhere, but tacos? That's an Austin specialty, and it's a wonderful idea. Our favorite breakfast tacos were from Taco Joint, a no-frills kind of place just north of the University of Texas campus.

The menu offers a few suggestions for tacos but allows for plenty of customization too. They also provide a nice bar of additional sauces and garnishes. The steak and egg with smokey gouda cheese really hit the spot, especially with a little chipotle cream salsa on top. I also loved the sausage and egg with tomatillo salsa and the potato, onion and cheese taco. We ordered all of these with corn tortillas, which they smartly double for better taco integrity. All of them were delicious--hot and flavorful. Keep your eyes out for a recipe later this week inspired by our breakfast at Taco Joint.

Our other foray into breakfast tacos was at Taco Shack, a small local chain with a similar offering. The Texan was a delicious blend of scrambled eggs piled with slices of beef fajitas. The El Niño was a spicier offering of beans, chorizo, cheese and jalapeño. We had these tacos with flour tortillas and a little green salsa and both were delicious.

I think it's safe to say we had our fill of a lot of favorite foods in Austin. I know the city is known for a lot of creative cooking in other genres too, such as Qui, the restaurant from Top Chef winner Paul Qui. I suppose we'll just have to go back. Starting with more of those breakfast tacos.

24 Diner Belgian waffle

24 Diner, 600 North Lamar Boulevard, Austin, Texas. (512) 472-5400.

Guero's Taco Bar, 1412 South Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas. (512) 447-7688.

Iron Works BBQ, 100 Red River Street (at Water Avenue/East First Street), Austin, Texas, (512) 478-4855.

La Condesa, 400A West 2nd Street (on the corner of Guadalupe Street), Austin, Texas, (512) 499-0300. Reservations: Open Table.

Lamberts, 401 West Second Street (on the corner of Guadalupe Street, opposite of La Condesa), Austin, Texas, (512) 494-1500. Reservations: Open Table.

Stubb's, 801 Red River Street (on the corner of 8th Street), Austin, Texas. (512) 480-8341.

Taco Joint, 2807 San Jacinto Boulevard (two blocks north of Dean Keeton Street), Austin, Texas. (512) 473 8223.

Taco Shack, 402 Brazos Street,  Austin, Texas. (512) 473-0101 (Also at eight other locations.)

Stubb's Bar-B-Q Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Lamberts Downtown Barbecue Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato La Condesa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Guero's Taco Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 24 Diner Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, October 23, 2015

8-2-Eat: Further Exploration of the Manhattan

8-2-Eat: Manhattan Cocktail

8-2-Eat is my food-focused list series. A perfect Friday distraction. Since the Manhattan cocktail is the theme this week, I offer eight additional articles (actually seven and a podcast) covering various aspects of my favorite cocktail.

My Poor Liver Podcast: "The Manhattan Transfer." Eddie and Neil try Manhattans made with three different bourbons and three different sweet vermouths. A fun experiment and the reason I learned to love Carpano Antica vermouth.

Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails. I shared quite a few Manhattan recipe variations this week. If you're looking for more, this wonderful book has a section on Manhattan variations with 13 recipes that get pretty creative and even include rum.

The Cocktail Chronicles. Paul Clarke's book, The Cocktail Chronicles, which I reviewed earlier this year, also includes a great section of Manhattan variations (including one I featured earlier this week, the Black Manhattan).

Imbibe Magazine: 10 Places for Manhattans in...Manhattan. I ordered a Manhattan recently in Manhattan and it was unfortunately not up to snuff. Too bad I didn't consult Imbibe Magazine's list first to find some really great places to get a Manhattan.

Eater DC: Here's What a Manhattan Costs Around DC. Of course, you can get a good Manhattan outside of Manhattan. Here's a map with 12 places to get them in D.C.

Huffington Post: Manhattan Taste Test: Does Expensive Rye & Vermouth Improve This Classic Cocktail? A wonderful Manhattan taste-test article, ranking the results of various combinations among eight rye whiskeys and three sweet vermouths.

SF Gate: The Manhattan project: A bartender spills his secrets on the king of cocktails. Gaz Regan, the guy behind Regan's orange bitters, discusses Manhattans in depth in this 2007 piece, providing his advice for each component of the drink (not unlike I did on Monday). I love how he compares them to martinis: "over the past century or so, while the martini has morphed into an excuse to drink straight gin or vodka, the Manhattan has stood its ground."

Edible Manhattan: Decline and Fall of the Manhattan. An interesting piece comparing the history of the martini to that of the Manhattan: "the Martini became malleable, protean; it was whatever anyone wanted it to be, and so became the most popular and famous cocktail of all time. The Manhattan didn’t change, rather it became more set in its ways."

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Exploring Austin's Cocktail Bars

CU29 Austin, Texas

[Update: Bar Congress has closed.]

The other week, Chris and I spent a long weekend in Austin. Next week, I'll fill you in on our adventures in barbecue, Tex-Mex and, a real find, breakfast tacos (clearly we ate well). But this week, I want to focus on the great cocktail bars we visited. Cool cocktails bars have been a particular focus of ours this year (see Death & Co, Mayahuel and 2 Birds 1 Stone, for example), and Austin did not disappoint. We steered clear of the 6th Street party scene to discover three fun and exciting cocktail bars working their magic with a focus on good service and quality ingredients.

Classic Setting, Creative Drinking

It's rather unfortunate that cool cocktail bars are hard to find. They're doing the whole speakeasy thing, which is fine. I honestly don't have the patience for too much of that (no passwords please). So it's nice to find a cool cocktail bar that does it the old-fashioned way: it's on the street with a sign. How novel!

CU29 (pictured above) may present a traditional front, but there's nothing ordinary about this spectacular downtown cocktail bar that's just a short walk from the Texas state capitol. The roomy space has a long meandering bar fronting a rather impressive stock of bottles. Although the name may sound like it's meant for people in their 30s, it actually refers to the elemental name of copper, which the pots around the bar are made of.

The menu is filled with original creations. The night we visited, we saw a particular bent toward bitter-and-sweet Italian amari mixed with whiskey and agave spirits. How perfect! I enjoyed the El Dueño, a smoky-sweet concoction of mezcal, Averna amaro and green chartreuse. Even better was the Friendly Stranger, a sort of fancy take on the Manhattan made with bourbon, Cherry Heering, Grand Marnier and walnut bitters topped with egg white foam and a orange peel flamed with a bit of green chartreuse. It was an elaborate and delicious drink.

But best of all was the Elijah's Railcar, another Manhattan-like drink but very different from the Friendly Stranger. I tried to approximate what we had on Monday, and although I think I came close, it wasn't quite as magical as I remember it in the bar. With a base of James E. Pepper 1776 rye whiskey, the drink also contains Meletti--another amaro--chocolate bitters, honey liqueur and a topping of freshly grated cinnamon. Wonderfully aromatic and well-balanced, it was the best cocktail we had during our time in Austin, and one of the best we've had this year.

We liked the bar so much we went back a second night, during which the bartender made us off-menu cocktails based on whatever we told him we were interested in. He hit the mark with each one. It's nice to find a place where the bartenders are as greatly skilled as they are friendly. Combine that with the classic atmosphere and the occasional live music, and CU29 is a real winner.

Garage Bar Austin, Texas

Park Yourself at This Bar

On our first full day wondering around Austin, we passed a nondescript down parking garage with "cocktails" written above one of the garage entrances. How odd, I thought, and chalked it up to Austin's quirky side.

Turns out, there is actually a cocktail bar in that parking garage, a rather cool one. The appropriately named Garage is built into a surprisingly roomy space near the entrance to the garage. The swanky minimalist interior has a round bar at the center with small tables along the lounge's concrete walls.

The drinks here were also very good. Cheers to bar manager Chauncy James for designing such an inventive menu. Some of our favorites were the Someday Baby, made with tequila, mezcal, honey chamomile and lemon, and the Psychedelic Fir, which combines gin, malic acid (sounds strange, but it adds sour flavor), lime and ClearCreek's Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir, a product I have in my bar but haven't been sure what I should do with it.

Classics on Congress

Amazingly, the bar hidden in the parking garage wasn't the hardest to find among these three. It was this one--a narrow bar space that connects two restaurants along Congress Avenue. We searched and searched for the entrance to Bar Congress before realizing that you must go through either Restaurant Congress or the Second Bar + Kitchen to get to the bar.

Bar manager Jason Stevens designed the menu with classics in mind. Most of the drinks date back to the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Chris had the Tequila Daisy, a 1930s-era tequila cocktail with Marolo Chamomile Grappa, honey wine and citrus. I chose the Queen's Park Swizzle (pictured at right), a refreshing blend of rums, lime, mint, bitters and sugar. So if you're in the mood for something old-fashioned, this is definitely the spot.

Austin isn't Texas's largest city, but I don't think it's an exaggeration to say it's become the state's best-known destination for good food. With great cocktail bars like this, I wouldn't be surprised to learn it's the state's best drinking destination as well.

Bar Congress, 200 Congress Avenue (enter from either Restaurant Congress or Second Bar + Kitchen), Austin, Texas. (512) 827-2760.

CU29, 720 Brazos Street, Austin, Texas. (512) 474-0029.

Garage, 503 Colorado Street (inside a parking garage--no joke--between 5th and 6th Streets), Austin, Texas. (512) 369-3490.

Garage Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Bar Congress Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato CU 29 Cocktail Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, October 19, 2015

Ode to the Manhattan Cocktail

Manhattan cocktails

During the past year, we've discovered a new favorite cocktail: the Manhattan. Of course, it's not a "new" drink, and we'd be drinking them for years. But, for whatever reason, lately it's what we turn to the most.

A good Manhattan is wonderfully satisfying: it has the woodsy/spicy flavor of whiskey, a bit of sweetness from the vermouth and a touch of bitterness. It's cold but not frozen, assertive but not overpowering, not too sweet and not too bitter.

In his book, Imbibe!, David Wondrich, renowned chronicler of cocktail history, states that there is general agreement that the Manhattan cocktail did in fact originate in New York. After that, there is a lot of disagreement as to its origins, a common problem in tracing the history of many of the best-known cocktails (I summarized some of these theories last year when I wrote about the Manhattan as part of my cocktail bitters week). No matter how it started, Wondrich says that drink was pretty well established by the mid-1880s. As such, it predates the classic martini by about a decade.

This week, I'm going to focus my attention upon this intoxicating drink: its history, recipe variations and, importantly, how to make it well. I have a companion article up today on constructing the perfect Manhattan. Below are links to 10 variations on the Manhattan that I put up on my site today.

I'm not the only one who likes to play around with Manhattans. My friends on the My Poor Liver Podcast tried three different bourbon-based Manhattans in their "Manhattan transfer" episode last year. And check out The Rakish Bon Vivant's excellent overview of his Manhattan experiments, published on the Duncan Quinn site. (Anybody know who The Rakish Bon Vivant Is? His blog hasn't been updated in 3 years, but he has some great content.) Check back on Friday for an 8-2-Eat with further reading (and listening) on the Manhattan.

Traditional Manhattan - The basic classic of 2:1 rye whiskey and sweet vermouth with bitters.

Classic Manhattan, variation #1 - A heftier 3:1 rye-to-vermouth ratio made this my Manhattan of choice for most of this year.

Classic Manhattan, variation #2 - Playing with ingredients, a subtle switch from variation #1 featuring my new favorite sweet vermouth, Carpano Antica.

White Manhattan - A brighter take on the Manhattan made with unaged rye whiskey and white vermouth (I've actually included two recipes here--one by a San Francisco bartender and my own version).

Winter Manhattan - The opposite of the white Manhattan, a smokier, woodsier version I created that I think is perfect for cold months.

Black Manhattan - The classic Manhattan but made with Italian amaro instead of sweet vermouth.

Elijah's Railcar - A variation on the Black Manhattan with a little honey and an aromatic grating of cinnamon.

Brooklyn - Admittedly, not a Manhattan, but it's close cousin from across the East River. The Brooklyn uses dry instead of sweet vermouth, getting its sweetness instead from maraschino liqueur.

Perfect Manhattan - A classic variation that uses both sweet and dry vermouths in equal measure.

Spanish Harlem - A south-of-the-border version made with añejo tequila instead of whiskey.

Manhattan Construction

Classic Manhattan Cocktail

How do you build the best Manhattan? That's a simple question with a not so simple answer. Like a lot of cocktails that have been around awhile, there are lots of ways to make a Manhattan. Opinions on what makes "the best" Manhattan are likely as strong as the drink itself.

Here then are my opinions, honed to perfection (or so I'd like to think) with quite a lot of experience and research (ahem).


First and foremost, Manhattans can be served in different ways. I prefer mine served up (i.e. in a cocktail glass without ice). They are also sometimes served on the rocks in a lowball glass, which would keep the drink colder but also dilute it more if you don't drink it fast. A Manhattan is a strong cocktail. It should be enjoyed and not downed quickly with a few swallows. Save the rocks and rocks glass for an Old Fashioned.


An "up" Manhattan calls for classy glass--something statuesque. It can be either a coupe (the rounded kind that champagne was once popularly served in) or a cocktail glass (the conical kind some people call a "martini" glass). Pop the glass in the freezer before you start making the drink to give it a nice chill.


Whiskey is the base spirit of a Manhattan, and about half the finished drink is whiskey, so choose a good one. Although a lot of people make a Manhattan with bourbon, rye whiskey is traditional, and I prefer it myself. While a bourbon Manhattan isn't a bad thing, I find it gives the drink a softer, sweeter profile. I like the rougher flavor of the rye. I wouldn't recommend other types of whiskey for a Manhattan. Rittenhouse and Bulleit are my favorite rye whiskeys. Clay Risen's authoritative American Whiskey Bourbon & Rye: A Guide to the Nation's Favorite Spirit calls Bulleit rye "a fine choice for a Manhattan cocktail" and says that Rittenhouse rye is "a spot-on classic rye." I keep both stocked in our bar depending on my mood.

Sweet vermouth

Sweet vermouth, also known as Italian or red vermouth, is what you want to take the edge off the whiskey and add sweetness. Dolin sweet vermouth is a very good choice for Manhattans, and I love that they sell their vermouth in smaller bottles, so you can use it up and it stays fresh. However, lately, I've become a convert to Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, a relatively new product that adds a bit of vanilla. It makes for a fantastic Manhattan. Some variations also experiment with Italian amari, which can be fun, although not traditional.


The traditional ratio for a Manhattan is 2:1 whiskey to vermouth. I find the 2:1 works great with a 100-proof whiskey like Rittenhouse rye. When using a standard-proof (in the 80s to 90s) whiskey, however, I like to up the whiskey a bit to 3:1. There are, of course, other formulas. Gary Regan's Bartender's Guide uses a 2 2/3 to 1 ratio, making for a stronger drink.


Traditionally, a Manhattan is made with Angostura bitters. If you have a single bottle of bitters kicking around your bar, it's probably this one. However, other bitters work great in a Manhattan too. Orange bitters can make for a bright drink, while chocolate bitters can add a dessert-like component. And during the winter months, Fee Brothers' whiskey barrel-aged bitters makes for a particularly cosy Manhattan. I also sometimes split the difference with one dash of aromatic (Angostura or whiskey barrel-aged) bitters and one dash of orange bitters. I don't recommend using more than two dashes of bitters per drink, as it can make the drink too bitter.


Since a Manhattan is all alcohol, experts would advise stirring it, and I really do agree. Shaken Manhattans can get too diluted and it's weird to get a Manhattan with a few bubbles on top, a telltale sign it was shaken. Stirring a cocktail isn't just a few turns with spoon. You need to stir long enough to thoroughly chill and slightly dilute the drink, at least 30 seconds up to a minute.


Manhattans can be garnished with either a cherry or a citrus twist, but not both. This isn't an Old Fashioned (and really, and Old Fashioned also only needs one garnish). When I started making Manhattans, I was in the orange peel camp, but I migrated to the preserved sweetened cherry camp. Maraschino cherries are traditional and easy to come by; however, I often garnish my Manhattans with the darker bing cherry, just because it looks cool.

Cocktail: Traditional Manhattan

2 oz. rye whiskey, such as Rittenhouse
1 oz. sweet vermouth, such a Carpano Antica or Dolin
2 dashes bitters, such as Angostura
Maraschino or bing cherry, garnish

Combine whiskey, vermouth and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry.


Ode to the Manhattan and Recipes for 10 Manhattan Variations

Cocktails: Black Manhattan and Elijah's Railcar

Elijah's Railcar cocktail

The Black Manhattan is a simple variation on the classic formula: substitute an Italian amaro for the sweet vermouth. Presto! Black Manhattan. Amari (the plural of amaro) are Italian herbal liqueurs with complex sweet and bitter flavors. Using an amaro makes for a wonderful Manhattan that's both more bitter and more sweet than usual. Many amari have a higher alcohol content (30 to 40 percent) like a liqueur you'd keep in your liquor cabinet, although some have less alcohol (15 to 20 percent), more like a fortified wine, and should therefore be refrigerated. Credit for this drink goes to Todd Smith, bar director of the Bourbon and Branch bar in San Francisco.

For a wonderful variation on the Black Manhattan, I heartily endorse the Elijah's Railcar (pictured above). We encountered this drink at the CU29 bar in Austin the other week, and it was hands-down our favorite cocktail of the trip. It's a wonderful riff on the Black Manhattan with a touch of honey and an aromatic finish of freshly grated cinnamon. It's a perfect drink for the upcoming holidays.

Although not on the bar's menu, I asked the bartender what was in it. The measurements below are my own, but the technique was hers. I haven't been able to find a recipe for this drink online, but what I have found suggests it originated at the Soho Cocktail Bar in San Antonio, Texas.

Black Manhattan cocktail

Black Manhattan
Adapted from a recipe by Todd Smith of San Francisco's Bourbon and Branch

2 oz. Buffalo Trace bourbon whiskey (although rye is the more traditional pick for a Manhattan, bourbon is what's used for this drink)
1 oz. Averna (or other Italian amaro)
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash Regan's orange bitters
Bing cherry garnish

In a cocktail mixing glass, combine whiskey, amaro and bitters with ice. Stir until very cold, about 30 seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the cherry.

Cocktail: Elijah's Railcar
Inspired by the Elijah's Railcar at CU29 in Austin

Honey liqueur, for rinsing the glass (see note below for recipe)
2 oz. Rittenhouse rye whiskey
1 oz. Italian amaro, such as Meletti or Averna
2 dashes chocolate bitters
Bing cherry, garnish
Grated cinnamon

1. Pour a tablespoon of honey liqueur into a coupe glass and swirl to rinse the glass. Dump out and repeat.

2. In a cocktail mixing glass, combine rye whiskey, amaro and bitters with ice. Stir until very cold, about 30 seconds, then strain into the liqueur-rinsed coupe. Garnish with a bing cherry and freshly grated cinnamon.

Note: You can buy honey liqueur, but it's easy to make. For a small quantity, combine 3 tbsp. honey and 2 tbsp. water in a microwave safe container (like a glass Pyrex measuring cup). Microwave on high for 15-20 seconds, remove and stir to combine. Add 1/2 cup vodka and stir combine. Store in the refrigerator.

Cocktail: Spanish Harlem

Spanish Harlem

Whiskey is the heart and soul of a Manhattan. So what happens when you set the whiskey aside?

If you go the tequila route, you end up with a Spanish Harlem, a Manhattan variation where aged tequila stands in for whiskey. It's named for the section of northern Manhattan known for its large Latino immigrant population. I made my version with añejo tequila, which is aged for at least 1 year--shorter than many whiskeys but longer than most tequilas.

This drink was featured last summer during a My Poor Liver Podcast. They joke about having invented it the previous week and then found out it already existed (I know how that feels--I remember an evening where I "invented" a White Russian).

Cocktail: Spanish Harlem

2 oz. Sauza ańejo tequila
3/4 oz. Dolin sweet vermouth
1/4 oz. Cointreau (orange liqueur, triple sec)
2 dashes Bittermens mole bitters
2 dashes Regan's orange bitters
Bing cherry, garnish

Combine tequila, vermouth, Cointreau and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass with ice and stir until very cold, at least 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with a cherry.

Manhattan Cocktails: 2 Classic Variations

As I explain in my Manhattan Construction post today, the simplest way to vary a Manhattan is through its ingredients and their ratio in the drink, that is the proportion of whiskey to vermouth.

Below are recipes for two classic variations on the Manhattan. They both call for whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters--nothing fancy. But the subtle variation in ingredients and the ratio will result in a slightly different drink.

The first version is what I was making for most of the year. It employs a 3:1 ratio of whiskey to vermouth, making for a slightly stronger Manhattan than you get from the typical 2:1 ratio. The drink is dry but just sweet enough.

Part of the reason I changed the ratio in version 1 is that I was using a 90 proof rye, rather than a 100 proof. For version 2, made with 100 proof Rittenhouse rye, I found the traditional 2:1 ratio works better, as the 3:1 Manhattan when made with Rittenhouse was too assertive.

You'll notice I also recommend a different sweet vermouth. I recently discovered Carpano Antica, and it's fantastic. The one drawback of this vermouth is that it only comes in a large bottle, so you gotta really use it, since sweet vermouth starts to go bad after a month or two in the fridge (and for the love of all things cocktails, do not store opened sweet vermouth at room temperature--it's a wine).

Lastly, the garnish is different here as well, but that's just for fun, as it really makes no difference in taste. I think the darker look of a bing cherry looks cool in a Manhattan, but maraschino cherries are a fine choice too.

Cocktail: Classic Manhattan (version 1)

2 1/4 oz. Bulleit rye whiskey
3/4 oz. Dolin sweet vermouth
1 dash Regan's orange bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
Maraschino cherry garnish

Cocktail: Classic Manhattan (version 2)

2 oz. Rittenhouse rye whiskey
1 oz. Carpano Antica formula sweet vermouth
1 dash Regan's orange bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
Bing cherry garnish

Combine whiskey, vermouth and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry.

Cocktail: Winter Manhattan

Winter Manhattan cocktail

Take the Manhattan to a winter place. A place that's a little smoky, a little woodsy. It's like a drink you could enjoy in your mountain cabin with a warm, crackling fire in the fireplace while a soft snow falls outside. That's the idea behind the Winter Manhattan. Cheers.

Cocktail: Winter Manhattan

2 oz. Rittenhouse rye whiskey
1 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
2 dashes Fee Brothers whiskey barrel-aged bitters
1 tsp. Laphroaig Islay Scotch
Bing cherry, garnish

Combine whiskey, vermouth and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold, about 30 seconds. Pour the Scotch into a chilled cocktail glass. Swirl the Scotch around the glass and pour out any excess. Strain the cocktail into the glass and garnish with a bing cherry.

Cocktail: Brooklyn

Brooklyn Cocktail

Everyone's heard of the Manhattan. It's one of the most famous cocktails. But the other four boroughs of New York City also have cocktails named after them.

The best of those is the Brooklyn, which is fairly similar to the Manhattan: they both have rye whiskey, vermouth and bitters; however, the Brooklyn is made with dry vermouth with its sweetness coming from a touch of maraschino liqueur. It's a nice drink and it's no newbie: the recipe in the PDT Cocktail Book dates back to 1910.

The bitters are a bit tricky. Traditionally, the drink is made with Amer Picon, but good luck finding that. I've read all sorts of suggestions for what you can substitute for it, but I think the easiest thing is to just use a few squirts of Angostura bitters (Leave it to Brooklyn to include in its namesake cocktail an ingredient no one can find).

Since I like my Manhattans up, it seems right to serve the Brooklyn on the rocks, or perhaps with one big round rock like I've done here.

Cocktail: Brooklyn

2 oz. Rittenhouse rye whiskey
3/4 oz. Dolin dry vermouth
1/4 oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1/4 oz. Amer Picon (may substitute 2 dashes of Angostura bitters)
Bing or maraschino cherry garnish (optional)

Combine whiskey, vermouth, liqueur and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold, at least 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coup and garnish with a cherry, if desired.

Cocktail: White Manhattan

White Manhattan

While you can drink Manhattans year-round (we certainly do), as a dark-spirit drink, it seems best-suited for fall and winter. So what to do during the summer if you're really craving a Manhattan but not in the mood for the dark, caramel notes of whiskey? You can try a White Manhattan.

This variation is made from clear ingredients, rather than the typical brown ones. Hence it's a "white" Manhattan.

For the whiskey, you'll need a white whiskey, also known sometimes as "white dog," which hasn't been aged in a barrel and therefore hasn't taken on the brown color that comes from barrel-aging. There are a number of choices on the market, both for white bourbons and white ryes. I went with Wasmund's rye spirit, which is made in Sperryville, Virginia, from 2/3 rye and 1/3 malted barley. At 124 proof, this is strong stuff. It has a nice smoky nose to it, almost like a mezcal.

For the vermouth, you'll want white vermouth, also known as bianco or blanc. Although dry vermouth is clear, it's not very sweet. White vermouth is sweet like sweet (i.e. red) vermouth, so it's perfect for a White Manhattan. Dolin makes a nice version. Unfortunately, they don't sell their blanc vermouth in the smaller-size bottles like they do their dry and sweet vermouths, so you'll probably want to find other cocktails to use up that bottle before it goes bad (give the Silence Is Golden a try).

Below, I offer two variations on the White Manhattan. The first is a recipe The Washington Post ran in 2010 by Neyah White, former bar manager of Nopa in San Francisco. His recipe adds a touch of herbal Benedictine liqueur. This is a delicious drink, although the Benedictine actually makes it yellow instead of white. Wanting a truly clear Manhattan, I instead used Cointreau and maraschino liqueur in "My White Manhattan" (pictured above).

White Manhattan

White Manhattan
Adapted from a recipe by Neyah White of Nopa in San Francisco

1 1/2 oz. white rye whiskey
1/2 oz. Dolin blanc vermouth
1/2 oz. Benedictine liqueur
3 dashes orange bitters

Combine whiskey, vermouth, liqueur and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold, at least 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

My White Manhattan

2 oz. white rye whiskey
3/4 oz. Dolin white vermouth
1/2 oz. Combier orange liqueur
1/4 oz. Luxardo maraschino liqueur
2 dashes Regan orange bitters
Orange peel garnish

Combine whiskey, vermouth, liqueurs and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold, at least 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

Cocktail: Perfect Manhattan

Perfect Manhattan

Many would argue that a traditional Manhattan is as perfect as a Manhattan needs to be. Yet there is a variation called the Perfect Manhattan, so named because it's made with both sweet and dry vermouth in "perfect" balance--1/2 ounce of each. With this Manhattan, ditch the cherry and garnish with a lemon twist instead.

Perfect Manhattan

2 oz. rye whiskey
1/2 oz. dry vermouth
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
Lemon twist garnish

Combine whiskey, vermouths and bitters in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold, at least 30 seconds. Garnish with lemon twist.

Friday, October 16, 2015

8-2-Eat: Fall into Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Crostini with Crispy Shallots

8-2-Eat is my food-focused list series. A perfect Friday distraction. This week: 8 recipes with butternut squash, a favorite fall vegetable.

Smoky Butternut Squash and Apple Soup. Bacon lends some smoke to this velvety pureed soup made with butternut squash and apples. Included with this post: tips on how best to peel and cut up butternut squash.

Butternut Squash, Goat Cheese and Sausage Lasagna. This is one of my absolute favorite ways to serve butternut squash--as a substitute for tomatoes in a homey lasagna.

Fall Grain Bowl with Butternut Squash. Roasted butternut squash is the perfect focal point for a healthy fall-themed grain bowl.

Southwestern Fall Grain Bowl with Turkey, Squash, Pecans and Sage. Another take on a a fall grain bowl, this time a spicy version with hominy and pecans inspired by our last year's trip to the Southwest.

Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Crostini with Crispy Shallots. Looking for an elegant fall starter? Look no further than these lovely crostini, a mix of sweet and savory flavors.

Turkey and Butternut Squash Meatloaf. Squash in meatloaf? Why not. It adds moisture and a bit of sweetness to the classic homemade dish.

Wheat Berry Salad with Butternut Squash, Hazelnuts and Sage. A lovely and healthy side for Thanksgiving or as a standalone weekday meal.

Cocktail: Hot Butternut Rum. Ever had a cocktail with butternut squash? Local bartender Todd Thrasher's recipe for butternut squash base inspired this seasonal drink with rum, ginger liqueur and hot sauce.