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Spirits & Cocktails

Acadiana: Fine Southern Cuisine in Downtown D.C.

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A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine invited a group of us to a Washington, D.C. Restaurant Week dinner at Acadiana on New York Avenue. Having never been there, I asked around and was told to stop at the bar before dinner. My tipster told me that the bartenders at Acadiana make a great Sazerac. He was right, and my friend had made a fine selection for dinner.

Acadiana knew how to make me feel at home. The first thing I saw as I walked to the bar was the single television on the far wall tuned to the Washington Capitals game. This put me in a good mood even before the bartender served my Sazerac, with Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, a dash of Lucid Absinthe, Angostura and Peyschaud’s Bitters, and simple syrup. Obviously the absinthe is the dominant flavor in the drink, but it is not so overpowering as to destroy its complexity. Better yet, by the time I was halfway through it, the Caps were up 1-0.

Once my friends arrived I decided to switch gears and ordered a Category Five, Acadiana’s version of New Orleans’ Hurricane. Made with El Dorado Light Rum and Goslings Dark Rum, the Category Five was sweeter and, well, less thought-provoking. My first sip took me back to my two visits to Mardi Gras and lunch at Mother’s followed by walks up and down a crowded Bourbon Street and singing at Cats Meow.

Dinner was just as enjoyable. I started the evening with my first turtle soup experience, one that I would happily repeat. It was comfort food at its finest, salty and warm and a perfect appetizer for Acadiana’s perfectly prepared ribeye and truffled mashed potatoes. Oh, and the southern style biscuits didn’t hurt either. In fact, they were almost as good as my wife’s.

If there was one disappointment on the night it was the wine. After perusing Acadiana’s extensive wine list, I selected Domaine La Tour Vielle’s 2007 La Pinide, Collioure AC. Probably not the best choice I have ever made. It had a bright acidity and impressions of red fruit, but it was not particularly complicated and had no distinguishing or particularly enjoyable characteristics. If I had to describe it briefly, I might call it a generic red wine and give it a 1/2 on a scale of 5. That said, Acadiana’s ribeye can help any wine.

Overall Experience —
Average Entree Appx. $25

Acadiana
901 New York Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 408-8848

Proof: It’s Not Just About Wine

A while back, I wrote a review of my dinner experience at Proof in Downtown Washington, D.C. As I explained then, Proof is an outstanding wine destination. What I did not learn until recently is that the bartenders at Proof also make very impressive cocktails. My initial assumption that Proof is only about the wine was definitely mistaken. I recently enjoyed a couple of excellent cocktails there and strongly recommend that you try them too.

The Devil’s Grin — Proof’s blend of whiskey, campari, amaretto, lime juice, and cane syrup starts sweet until the bitter takes over on the back end. This is a wonderfully complex drink in which you will find several layers of flavor.

The Charlie Lindbergh — I have a confession to make. Here it goes. I don’t like gin.* There, I said it. At least not certain gins. I don’t like the taste of juniper. It is a shortcoming that will likely prevent me from ever becoming a true cocktail geek. Despite knowing this shortcoming, I occasionally try a gin-based cocktail hoping to improve myself. Proof brought me as close as I have ever come to an enjoyable gin experience with this combination of gin, apricot liquor, cochi aperitivo, americano, and orange bitters. If you like gin, don’t hesitate. Even if you don’t like gin, it may be worth the experiment.

Proof
775 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001

*Update: I drafted this post before relaunching the blog. After writing about Proof, I had an interesting gin experience at The Columbia Room in The Passenger that may have changed my mind. I hope to post about this tasting in more detail soon.

The Easiest Tasty Treats You’ll Ever Make at Home

Everyone wants to make their own wine. Of course, I have no talent in such things and would surely end up disappointed. Besides, who has the time and the space to do it right? Well, even if you can’t make your own wine, there is a similar activity you can pursue that is much simpler and almost as rewarding: infusing spirits.

About a year ago I stopped to grab a bite to eat at Matchbox before a Washington Capitals game. Along with my sliders, I ordered a Matchbox Punch, which the menu informed me was made with orange juice, pineapple juice, sour mix, grenadine, and all of the bar’s infusions. No one will call it a marvel of artistic cocktail creation, and cocktail geeks would surely thumb their noses, but that doesn’t make it any less tasty.

I decided that I wanted to make it at home. I had orange juice, pineapple juice, sour mix, and grenadine. But I was short the infusions and who has the time to make them? I did some snooping and found out that pretty much anyone has the time. You really don’t have many excuses.

A simple Google search will give you recipes for creations like strawberry infused vodka (by far the yummiest infusion to drink straight up), pineapple infused rum, and blackberry infused vodka. If you really want to get crazy, you can do infusions with herbs like rosemary and lavender, or with some vanilla beans. The purpose of this post is not to rehash these formulations (though it essentially amounts to cutting up the fruit, sealing it in a jar with the spirit, putting it in a cool, dark place, and waiting). The purpose is to note some things that I have learned along the way that may be of help if you decide to try this. Here’s a list of 10 tips for simple infusions:

1. Vodka is, not surprisingly, the easiest, cheapest, and most versatile spirit to infuse. As I have said before, I recommend Smirnoff as a good mixing/infusing vodka as it provides a good balance of quality and value.

2. Although you don’t need to track down the best fruit in town to make a good infusion, the quality of the fruit will affect the taste of the final product to a degree.

3. Rum is hard to infuse, so if you are going to try it use a higher fruit-to-spirit ratio than with vodka and give it an extra day or two to contemplate itself.

4. Blackberry infused vodka may not taste great straight up, but it works well in a cocktail. It’s a hard fruit to infuse, so give it all the time you can. We let ours sit for a month, and I have seen some websites recommend a year.

5. Filtering properly is a good thing.

6. The tedious parts of infusing are more fun if you do them with someone else.

7. If you are looking for a nice color in your infusion, stick with fruits.

8. Don’t try to eat the fruit left after pouring off the liquor. Eeeeew.

9. Wash out your jar thoroughly after pouring off your infusion to eliminate the strong scent left behind before making your next infusion.

10. You can make an interesting vodka martini (to the extent that term is not a contradiction in terms) with home-infused lavender vodka, home-infused vanilla vodka, and dry vermouth.

Building on this last point, the best part of infusing spirits is experimenting with them when you are done. Here is the current recipe for my version of Matchbox Punch, though it can change from one day to the next and depending on the sweetness of any given infusion:

2 oz. orange juice (or cranberry juice, if you want to switch things up)
1.5 oz. sour mix
1.5 oz. strawberry infused vodka
1 oz. pineapple infused rum
1 oz. blackberry infused  vodka
splash of grenadine
garnish with lime; serve on the rocks

Chris’ Punch

You’re out of excuses.

The Gibson: Quality Cocktails in the U Street Corridor

My wife and kids headed out of town to visit family a little while ago, leaving me with 6 days of quality bachelor time. My first order of business was a good cocktail — I mean a good cocktail. After asking around and considering some options, I decided that The Gibson was the place to go. The drinks did not disappoint and my friends and I had a very enjoyable evening, even if The Gibson is guilty of some of the pretensions of many quality bars these days.

Lets get my minor hang-ups out of the way. News flash: Prohibition has been repealed. You are not a speakeasy. Accordingly, your website can contain more than a few old pictures with your contact information. Also, you can put a noticeable sign over your door stating the name of your establishment. I am not saying we have to put golden arches up there, but you can subtly mark your territory. Again, The Gibson is not alone here. For example, I also love me some PX, and I appreciate that they put a bit more information on their website, but I can do without the blue light marking the spot — a small sign will be sufficient. These are personal dislikes and are simply a matter of taste, but I feel better now that I have gotten them off of my chest.

That said, once inside, The Gibson is a good looking bar with a good atmosphere. It’s a bit dark and the music was a bit loud to my taste, but no one else in my party seemed to share these concerns. The service staff is knowledgeable and friendly, and the drink menu is comprehensive. Most importantly, The Gibson passed my biggest test — I gave them a general idea of what I like in a cocktail and told them to bring me something I would love . . . and they did.

That first drink was a Boomerang, consisting of rye, Dolin Dry, homemade Swedish Punsch, a bit of simple syrup, and dashes of Angostura Bitters and lemon juice. Exactly what I wanted — not to dry, not too sweet, with a bit of a tart kick. The staff nailed it on the first try.

After our first round, the six of us decided to order a pitcher of The Gibson’s Seasonal Punch for the table. We were six people with very different tastes, but the punch was roundly praised. Made by mixing apple brandy, rum, pineapple, syrup, whiskey, and Champagne, the punch was sweet but not cloying and light on the palate. It was the perfect end to the evening.

If you need a great cocktail, The Gibson should be high on your list of places to go in downtown D.C. The drinks and the knowledgeable staff make it worth paying a couple of extra bucks. Make reservations well in advance or prepare for late night (or early morning). Just make sure you don’t walk past the unmarked black door when you arrive.

The Gibson
2009 14th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C.
(202) 232-2156
Appx. $12 per drink

Drink Green with Compostable Plastic

I try to consider the environment in my daily activities, including my enjoyment of fine wine, beer, and cocktails. Say you are having a party and don’t want the glasses piling up in your kitchen. You also don’t want to through away a ton of plastic cups. If you have access to a compost pile or a composter, then Eco-Products has your solution: compostable plastic cups made from corn.  Affordable and good for the planet. I like it.

I Call It A Slapshot, You Can Call It Whatever

Now that I have a home bar, I have been playing with various cocktails. Although I should probably be spending this time preparing my second post about our recent trip to Italy, here is my first in a series of posts sharing some of my favorite cocktail recipes. This one is our House Drink; I call it The Slapshot. A tip of the hat to On Frozen Blog for turning me onto the basics for this one — if it good enough for Ovechkin it is good enough for me. The portions for the ingredients are my own and experimentation is always recommended.

The Slapshot

1.5 oz. Vodka (for a good, inexpensive mixing vodka, I recommend Smirnoff)
1.5 oz. Limoncello (homemade, if you are feeling ambitious)
0.5 oz. Grappa
Dash of Vermouth
Appx. 1/2 lemon worth of fresh lemon juice
Simple syrup (amount depends on individual taste)

A Slapshot and a Shot of J.K.A Slapshot and a Shot of J.K.

Wasmund's Whisky: A Local Twist on an Old Standby

I have to admit up front that I am not a big spirits guy. My tastes in alcohol are heavily weighted toward wine and beer. That said, I have been trying to open my palate to some new experiences. A recent tasting at a wonderful little wine & spirit shop in D.C., Pearson’s, provided me with an opportunity to do just that. Not only did I get to sip some whisky, I got to meet a local distiller who does things just a bit differently than everyone else.

Rick Wasmund is the Master Distiller at The Copper Fox Distillery, a Blue Ridge distillery in Sperryville, Virginia. He is a friendly guy who knows his craft, and he is more than willing to share his thoughts and experiences with you as you taste his Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky. Rick tells the story of Wasmund’s better than I can (as does the Washington Post), so I won’t go into the history. What I will tell you is what makes his whisky worth a try, and possibly worth a Christmas gift to your favorite alcoholic.

Wasmund’s in the Still
Just Another Day at the Office

When one thinks of single malt whisky, one thinks of Scotland, where the finest whisky in the world is made. The Scots, and just about everyone else on the planet, make single malt whisky by using peat in the kiln. The smoke from the peat filters up through the malted barley and imparts its flavor. The barley is then fermented and the alcohol aged in oak barrels for several years.

Rick Wasmund decided that he could create a unique product by doing things differently. He still uses barley (Thoroughbred barley from a private Virginia grower), but instead of employing peat in the kiln, Copper Fox burns cherry, apple, and oak woods. So far as Rick knows, Copper Fox is the only distillery in the world that does this. After being distilled in a relatively small pot still, Wasmund’s is barrel-aged in a patent-pending process that employs cherry, apple, and oak wood chips and results in a naturally accelerated maturation of the whisky.

Draining After Aging
Success!

The final product? Well, it is smooth with full, rich flavors while not being too harsh on the palate. It is different from the whisky you would normally sample, as the woods employed impart different flavors than your standard peat and oak barrels. While I may not be a whisky expert, I know what I like, and I liked this. If my word is not good enough for you, all I can tell you is that 20-30 people attended the Wasmund’s tasting at Pearson’s . . . they all left with smiles on their faces and bottles in their hands.

Distillery Dog
One Happy Distillery Dog

$35.00 per bottle.

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The Holidays Approacheth: A Brief Bow to the Consumeristic Urges in All of Us

If you are anything like me (and who isn’t), you are coming closer and closer to buying your first house. As a man, I do not need much in a dwelling. I presume it will have a roof, heat and air, and at least one bathroom. We’ll put a bed in it someplace. While I would like it to be as environmentally friendly as possible, we can work on that over time. I am sure Mrs. Wine with Dinner will have many ideas on how to lay things out, and I will likely go along with most of them. But I do have one desire, a place to entertain. Let’s call it, “The Man Basement.” I mean, it is fun to go out, but sometimes it is nice to be able to have people over in the comfort of your own home.

What would I put in The Man Basement you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. Part of it, probably one-third, would be a wine cellar. Nothing too fancy, but climate and humidity controlled, maybe with a small table and chairs for tasting. The remaining two-thirds of the basement would be an entertainment room with a large HDTV mounted on the wall opposite the wine cellar and some couches and chairs for the boys to watch the big game on, or for Mrs. Wine with Dinner and me to relax on while watching Return of the King. Depending on how much room there was maybe we’d get crazy and put in a pool table and some air hockey. In any event, there would be one last essential ingredient, a fully-stocked bar. Conveniently, Mrs. Wine with Dinner and I already owe each other a bar from Christmas last year.

Let’s face it, for many of us, even if we are not wine aficionados, alcohol is an integral part to many social gatherings. From Stanley Cup Game 7’s, to Wedding Showers, to Birthday Parties, to Christmas Eve, to Super Bowl Sunday, a well-stocked bar and a wine cellar can help to create a welcoming environment for friends and family on many occasions. Indeed, no occasion is needed for a friend to just swing by, have a drink, and watch Reservoir Dogs. While this certainly may be an expensive project up front, the enjoyment of this space (not to mentioned the money saved from less bar visits) should make the project will worth while.

With all this in mind, I have been keeping my eye out for books, magazines, etc. that might guide me as I fantasize about hosting 30 or 40 of my closest friends for the Super Bowl. I have come across a few interesting items in the last couple of weeks that may ultimately be very useful to me in this project. I list them here in the event that you share my desire for a Man Basement. For that matter, they might be useful for a “Girl’s Den,” or just for the small liquor cabinet that you keep in your apartment or condo.

Keys to the Cellar: Strategies and Secrets of Wine Collecting, by Peter D. Meltzer — a good place to start when thinking about building a wine collection.

The New York Bartender’s Guide, by Sally Ann Berk and 17 New York Bartenders and Drink Specialists — an inventory cocktail recipes along with a great list of items and ingredients necessary to start a home bar.

The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide, by Sharon Tyler Herbst & Ron Herbst — similar to <u>The New York Bartender’s Guide</u>, though I would probably favor that text if you are looking for one source.

Be Wine Connected USB Flashdrive — kind of fancy for a flash drive, but this cute little bottle contains some interesting features, including a guide to the last 100 vintages of Bordeaux and Open Cellar software for managing your growing wine cellar. I just saw this online the other day, so I can’t vouch for quality, etc., but it certainly looks interesting.

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Update:  Here is another one I just found today (12/5), the Wine Collector 250.  A bit much?  Have we crossed the line yet?  You be the judge.

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