5 Treasures: Cocktail Fights & Johnnycakes

16 Dec

The Finals

Tracy Latimer of jm Curley knocks out Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden in the final round

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.

The Competitors

The Competitors

While Tracy Latimer of JM Curley was busy knocking out Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden in the final round to clinch the belt, the rest of us were drinking Sangrita and eating Frito Chili Pie. Adding to the excitement was the ability to bet on bartenders to win swag. While my prediction proved right when the math fell apart in the end, that’s expected when the drinks are flowing.If I was looking to do an event, I’d hire Nick Korn. Since leaving behind the bar of Citizen Public House to start Off-Site, he’s the hardest working non-bartender in the business right now. “This event was predicated on the idea that cocktail competitions are stupid.  COCKtail FIGHT was the brainchild of the same people that brought us Remixology and was based on the same concept: that competitions should be fun and bartenders should have to put on a show,” Korn tells me.
Tracy Latimer of Jm Curley
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!
Judge Jon of Beantown Drinks

Judge Jon of Beantown Drinks

Jon Berkowitz of Beantown Drinks served as one of the judges and gave me a typical Jon diplomatic quote that helps explain why I’m never asked to judge. “Cocktail Fights was more of a battle than a competition. All the competitors put on a great show and made some very tasty drinks. Judging a cocktail competition with such energy and improvised moments makes for a truly enjoyable event.”
MC Crazy Dan on Left

Left: MC Crazy Dan, a man who should never be given a microphone, a date, or an invitation to be among civilized company

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

Asians Taking Pics of Food

LA Son authors Roy Choi, Tien Nguyen, and Natasha Phan document the fresh uni in the window

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.

Natasha Phan and Roy Choi at Neptune Oyster

Pictures of Asians Taking Pictures of Food: Natasha Phan and Roy Choi clean their plates at Neptune Oyster

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.


Natasha Phan, Tien Nguyen, Me, and Roy Choi celebrating the release of LA Son so far from home

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.

Roy Choi Cooking Demo

Roy Choi Making Ghetto Doughnuts from his book LA Son

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

Far From The Tree: Bols Genever, Berentzen apple liqueur, and bitter lemon syrup

Far From The Tree

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


Donnie Wahlberg Judges our Dueling DTOs

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.


The real winner? Donnie’s rattail

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