Best Event: Cocktail Fight
On a recent Monday night, Espolon Tequila and Nick Korn turned Union Square’s Precinct Bar into a COCKtial FIGHTING ring, complete with chicken wire and bookies in green visors collecting cock dollars. In a Speed Rack meets Iron Chef competition, 12 bartenders entered the ring to create delicious Espolon drinks featuring secret ingredients in record time.
In addition to upping the entertainment factor, Korn wanted to showcase great bartenders that usually skip cocktail competitions. “I wasn’t afraid to leave the city, and strove to highlight some of the amazing people fighting the good fight out in the suburbs (Brookline, Billerica, Lexington and Woburn were all represented). The unintended consequence was that we ended up with a field in which no two competitors were from the same town. I challenge you to point to another competition or other event where this has ever been true.” Keep an eye out for this event to go national next year!
The only thing I’d change about the event was the MC. Crazy Dan of Howl at the Moon was trying to get cheap laughs, but instead he confirmed how Howl at the Moon got named one of the douchiest bars in Boston. He resorted to very offensive and sexists remarks, such as when he was announcing that one of the two female contenders wasn’t going to make it to the next round. “Even though both girls are lovely and I’d take them home and do naughty things to both of them…” Luckily, Tracy is a professional and countered with piercing insults, but no one should have to put up with asshats like Dan. I got so fed up with Dan I had to leave for awhile to grab a drink at nearby cocktail sanctuary backbar. I returned because I wanted to see Tracy prove Dan wrong that a woman wasn’t going to make it to the final round because we weren’t “playing poker.” Mad respect to Tracy for winning it all with class.
Best Bite: Buttermilk Johnnycake at Neptune Oyster
With so many underrated dining spots in Boston, I find few places are worth the wait. Neptune Oyster is the rare exception, especially when you have good company visiting from out of town.
Friends Tien Nguyen of LA Weekly, Kogi maven Natasha Phan, and Chef Roy Choi were wrapping up their East Coast book tour of LA Son and celebrating a 45-minute NPR interview. After watching Roy cook up Korean braised short rib stew and ghetto donuts utilizing a can of Pillsbury dough for a roomful of students, he asked me where we should eat. He had dinner reservations for Island Creek Oyster Bar already, but I knew he wouldn’t mind another Boston seafood must-try.
Lobster rolls, clam chowder, oysters… Chef Michael Serpa of Neptune Oyster blew us away. However, one dish I had never tried before stood out above the rest: the buttermilk Johnnycake with honey butter, smoked trout tartare, and California sturgeon caviar ($16). It was a treat listening to Roy dissect each dish and compare the transcendent experience of eating the best oysters in Boston to LA’s best tacos. Roy has one of the best Twitter feeds and is apparently “LA’s Street Food King” according to the NY Times, but he’ll always be known simply as Papi to those of us lucky enough to eat his food regularly in LA.
Random Musing: Tasty Burger
Tasty Burger has got to be the most profitable restaurant in the city between 2 am and 4 am. The Harvard Square location of Franklin Restaurant Group’s fast food burger mini-chain is insanely packed as soon as the bars close. Next door bland burrito institution Felipe’s has been unsuccessfully gunning for this 4 am license for years because they know how profitable the drunk college kid market is. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve ended several nights at Tasty Burger, and started several too since they have a surprisingly hip craft beer bar downstairs complete with a pool table. It’s hard to say no to a “starving student special” featuring a burger, fries, and tall can of beer for $10.
Tasty Burger was hoping to change Central Square too, taking on Moody’s Falafal Palace as the best drunk food in the square, but the city wouldn’t grant it a liquor license. That was a deal breaker for Tasty. It’s a great option in Harvard Square, but it’s soon to have competition. I’m curious to see what will happen when Shake Shack opens in the old Om space. Sure, the opening of a location in Chestnut Hill didn’t catch fire, but Harvard students seemingly can’t get enough burgers. Charlie’s Kitchen and Tommy Doyle’s were already doing burger and beer combos, and Flat Patties nearby is still going strong, but Tasty Burger is the new it place.
I’m curious to see how well Shake Shack does. It will help that Tommy Doyle’s is closing next door and that Tasty Burger can take forever to move a line even with a large staff working. The real question: is there a demand for more expensive but higher quality burgers? It reminds me of the In N Out vs. Shake Shack debate. I’ve always found the debate strange since you are comparing apples to oranges. Shake Shack uses superior ingredients, but is also a lot more expensive. I think Shake Shack is a superior burger, but I’ll always choose In N Out because it’s a better value.
Looking forward to seeing how the burger wars shake out when Shake Shack opens at 92 Winthrop St. later in December.
Best Drink: Far From the Tree at Backbar
When I took a break from Misogynistic Dan at the Cocktail Fight, I was rewarded with this delicious drink created by Joe Cammarata, Principal Bartender at Backbar. Featuring gin and apple liqueur, the drink marries the best parts of a classic martini and an “apple-tini.” Bar Manager and co-owner Sam Treadway tells me “the joke for the name was how it was quite quite different from a sour appletini inspiration.” I passed the time with a great conversation with Backbar’s Alice Serenska, and felt infinitely better by the time I finished the cocktail (ok, and a mezcal pickleback shot). Just another reason I consider Backbar my cocktail sanctuary.
Far from the Tree
2 oz Bols Genever gin
0.75 oz Berentzen apple liqueur
0.25 oz bitter lemon syrup*
stir ingredients with ice and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. garnish with a lemon twist.
* bitter lemon syrup is made by steeping lemon wheels with sugar and water on low heat for 1 hour.
#DTO: Dueling DTOs at Park
For the uninitiated, DTO stands for Daiquiri Time Out. This Boston phenomenon recognizes that whether you are having a rough day or celebrating, there is no bad time to take a break and enjoy a daiquiri. If you ask for a DTO, you may get a straightforward daiquiri featuring rum, lime, and simple syrup. Other times, your bartender might have fun with it by adding his or her own touch.
At the end of a Harvard Square mini-bar crawl, Jen Sutherland and I ordered dueling DTOs from Park Restaurant. She went with Berkshire’s Ragged Mountain Rum and I went with Privateer Rum, and we let Donnie Walhberg decide which local rum does it better.