The Classic Negroni

1/3 Sweet Vermouth

1/3 Campari

1/3 Dry Gin

It would appear to be the simplest of beverages. Three distilled liquors measured in equal parts, chilled and served with an orange garnish.

Year after year, I would request this most simple of beverages, to be met with an annoyed, blank stare from the bar man.  The instant that I glimpsed that stare, I would quickly feign a change of heart and order a glass of wine. Then, I happened upon a tiny wine bar in West Hollywood.  I hesitantly asked for a Negroni from the very tall barman, who to my shock and amazement, couldn’t have been happier to receive the order.  He leaped into motion, pouring, concocting, inquiring about substitute spirits that I had never heard of, furiously stirring, burning oils from the grated pith of fresh citrus, finally and quite dramatically pouring the entire contents of the shaker over fresh ice. He proudly placed in front of me what was to be my first perfect Negroni. Life as I knew it would never be the same.  Nor, happily, would the Negroni.

That wine bar (Bin 8945) and that brilliant bar man (Damian Windsor) soon began to suffer our arrival weekly.  Damian’s execution of the classic Negroni took on many forms, many spirits, and many flavors, all exceptional.  It was the first glimpse of a cocktail renaissance in Los Angeles. We witnessed its brilliant beginnings and have since marveled at what it has become.

The world of the bartender has evolved exponentially since that first encounter with Mr. Windsor.  Talented bar men and women are now touted as mixologists, and woe unto those that cannot offer his or her guest a wild and heretofore unknown version of any classic cocktail. The two cocktails pictured above were produced behind the bars of Cole’s in downtown Los Angeles and Red Medicine in mid city LA; the version below at The Tasting Kitchen in Venice, CA. Each interesting variations, each superb in its own brilliant way. Liqueurs are interchanged, classic evolves into modern, and men and women that once churned out hundreds of Apple Martinis nowadays exhibit just as much creativity and thoughtful contemplation as a great chef.

It is the rare occasion that I receive that annoyed, blank stare from a bartender upon ordering a Negroni.  It is more often that I sink into the cool comfort of a Negroni as I have never tasted or enjoyed before, envisioned entirely anew, while respecting the classic recipe of this simple, delicious beverage.

Read HERE about a brilliant variation of the cocktail from one of my favorite food and beverage writers, Frank Bruni of the New York Times.  The man enjoys a good Negroni!

Mr. Windsor may be found in Los Angeles HERE and HERE.  Ask for him by name!

Filed under: DCPR dine out series — admin


Each week, we present our most delicious bite.

This week, the duck liver mousse with warm, sweet almond biscuits at State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, California.

Anyone that has spent more than a few minutes working in a restaurant understands that when heads are turning, it can only mean one of two things: 1) The server has gone missing. Or, 2) Something has just been delivered to a table that has grabbed the attention of everyone in the dining room.  At State Bird Provisions, the latter inevitably occurs each and every time that a server strolls past.

One of the most ingenious concepts to arrive in the “show us what you got” world of food and dining fanaticism, State Bird Provisions serves its lucky few guests via a dim sum carte brimming with small plates. Each time the cart arrives in the dining room, it does so with a new offering of tastes and textures.  As well, there is a modest menu of a la carte offerings that remains on the table throughout dinner, simultaneously doubling as menu and guest check.  The restaurant was just named Best New Restaurant in America by Bon Appetit magazine, and the intimate space is overflowing with chefs and restaurateurs from around the country.  There is something very special happening here, and it is clear that a great deal of care and thoughtful attention have gone into the creation of this dining destination.

The Dish this week could honestly have been any of several that we enjoyed.  There were many extraordinary tastes.  Most extraordinary, however, might have been the realization that many of them were in the $5 range, and none that we enjoyed was above $9.  With price and affordability in mind, this might be the best dining deal in town.  Any town!

In his review, the San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer states of the dish, “One of the most compelling dishes is the duck liver mousse ($6), as light as whipped butter and served with warm, sweet almond biscuits similar to a financier cake. It plays off the classic Sauternes/foie gras pairing, but I like this even better.”

It behooves you to make a reservation here as soon as possible. Although the table next to us was seated with three different groups of people throughout our time in the restaurant, it is important to remember that this is a tiny spot and reservations are precious.  You, however, will be very happy that you arrived.

Note: The restaurant is named for the state bird of California, which is always a signature offering of the menu.  Any guesses?

Filed under: THE DISH — admin


Each week, we present our most delicious bite.

This week, the crispy spring rolls with dungeness crab, lime, pea pods, fines herbes & chili at Red Medicine in Los Angeles, California.

It was late night, the dinner hour long since past.  We’d hosted an important event earlier in the evening, stopping afterward to check in on some new restaurant openings.  As we drove through the city to go home, the thought of a particular reward of “red medicine” made us smile.  Of course, the red medicine we had in mind was a bit different than that of the restaurant of the same name.  Fortunately, however, they offer an expertly prepared version that photographs almost comically alongside the restaurant’s logo.

We hadn’t visited Red Medicine since their heatedly controversial opening last year.  It was extraordinarily provocative.  Chef Jordan Kahn was clearly exploring culinary inroads that LA had never before witnessed.  It remained to be seen exactly how the city would respond to the concept over time.  To our credit, Angelenos have clearly responded in large and happy numbers.  And in a pleasantly stark contrast to the new spots that we had just visited, Red Medicine was busy and bustling at an unusually late hour for L.A., and the barman here welcomed us at with a smile and a terrific cocktail.  And a menu.

Fortunately, this decision to enjoy a late night snack turned out to be a very good decision, indeed.  Jordan Kahn has always pushed the envelope.  I can vividly remember my first introduction to his cooking, with a dessert display at Brad Johnson’s restaurant awards event for Angeleno magazine.  It was designed to grab attention and it did, with Jackson Pollack-esque drama splashed across white tiles.  The next year, he upped the ante, with guests entering a “performance space” in which how one viewed his food was give equal importance to how one tasted the food.  Fireworks.

I didn’t expect fireworks from a Spring Roll.  Then I took a bite.

Whenever I forget that there is a Negroni sitting in front of me, something serious has just happened.  It was one of those moments when you stop… you squint… you pause to think of what you are experiencing….the flavors…the textures.  It was startling.  Flavors were subtle and shocking, familiar and altogether new.  I had to grab the menu and re-read the description.  It read so simply, and yet arrived with flavors as complex and enjoying as anything I’d tasted.  Ever.  ALL THAT from a little crispy spring roll?  Incredibly, yes. Had the hour been earlier, I would probably have ordered a second serving. Instead, I ordered another Negroni and reflected upon what a great time it is to live and dine in LA.

Filed under: THE DISH — admin


Each week, we present our most delicious bite.

This week, the lima bean raviolini with lemon cream, purple basil, pecorino at Cube Cafe, Cheese Bar & Marketplace in Los Angeles, California.

This extraordinary little plate arrived in front of me after a particularly long and difficult week.  I was in search of a quiet, contemplative dinner and a nice glass of red wine to celebrate the arrival of the weekend.  What I received was the unexpected surprise of “delicious goosebumps,” a phrase that I jokingly use to describe dishes that are so perfectly composed that it literally causes a physical reaction, an almost shocking surprise of suddenly recognizing that you are enjoying the brilliance of the perfect pairing of food flavor and texture.  For those that work in the hospitality industry, this is a religious experience, that moment when all conversation ceases and the table suddenly commands the attention.  It is a startlingly delicious moment. And although we are incredibly fortunate to have a great deal of delicious food at our disposal these days, this experience is very rare, indeed.

This dish is presented in two sizes, a smaller portion (pictured above) for $10, and an entree sized portion for $16.  It was enjoyed alongside two others, a seasonal panzanella market tomatoes, avocado, persian cucumbers, olive oil croutons, parsley, shallots, sherry vinaigrette ($11) and braised baby octopus, charred radicchio, cipollini onion marmelata ($9).  Three small plates that made for one magnificent dinner.  Oh, and there was also that great glass of red.  Truth be told, more than one.

Filed under: THE DISH — admin