Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Empire Tap Room (Part Noelle)

I’d like to add a little to Josh’s review of the Empire Tap Room. The main problem with the place as a bar is that it’s really not a bar. Despite what the name suggests, it’s more of a restaurant where patrons can find rich food in a fancy pub setting. Tables with tablecloths take up more of the room than bar seating. On one occasion, I actually went there for lunch and enjoyed a really lovely warm goat cheese salad and polenta (this expedition documented on my food blog). On warm afternoons, you can sit in the courtyard, where there are sunshine, vines and a fountain.

And if you’d like a beer with your meal, by all means…

Empire Tap Room
Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/empire-tap-room-palo-alto
651 Emerson St
Palo Alto, CA 94301
(650) 321-3030

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Empire Tap Room

Across the street from the trendy frozen yogurt bar Fraiche sits this even trendier bistro/bar. I’ve been trying to think of a word other than “yuppie” for this place, but so far, I’ve been unable.

Normally, I’m very pro-yuppie atmosphere. I love me some coziness. Oak finishing, softly lamp lit tables, I’ll take it all. But there’s one part of the yuppiness I can’t tolerate (not anymore, at least): Stuffiness. As soon as their goofy, awkward, coke bottle-bottomed bespectacled waiter approached me, I knew. The place was a morgue. It was where white collar, Silicon Valley folk go to die, at least for the night. The rotund bartender managed to disprove my theory that all porky people are jolly. The end; don’t go here.

651 Emerson St
Palo Alto, CA 94301
(650) 321-3030

Lots of beer on tap. $4 for 10oz, $6 for 20oz. No idea how the cocktails are.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Panya Bistro + Ichiriki Loft

You know the weird thing about karaoke is that songs simultaneously have more and less meaning. I can finally understand what some singers are saying when I read the words on the screen.

But karaoke was how the night ended.

The night began by trying the sangria at Panya with my parents.

The drink: Panya Sangria, $5
Taste: If I were to use a simile for the special sangria at Panya, I would say the sangria is like a wine cooler. Does the comparison seem shallow? Well, I guess it fits then. I tried the red wine one (there was also a white wine). It was extremely sweet and also bitter like citrus rind. The bottom of the glass had collected quite a lot of fruit debris.
Ingredients: The waiter said he didn’t know what was in the Panya Sangria.

Happy Hour at Panya will knock a dollar or so off of drinks. The menu is full of exotic-sounding cocktails of simple preparation. A guava martini, for instance, is vodka and guava juice. All specialty “martinis” are $6 and sangria is $5 (regular price martinis are $7.50). All the happy hour food is $5 or less. There are selections of spring rolls, chicken karaage, papaya salad and cold tofu.

Not a place to go out of your way for the drinks, but the atmosphere is fun and the food is moderately priced and tasty.

Then Nicci took me to Ichiriki Loft for my goodbye.

I really enjoyed Ichiricki Loft. There was lots of comfortable seating, the music was pleasant, the staff was super nice, and the low lighting gave a nice ambiance. The drinks aren’t hardcore if you’re trying to line it up to classic mixology, but they’re sure tasty. I’d go again.

Here are the various drinks everyone got (and I tasted hehehe).

Midnight tea: asian tea, lychee liquer, lemon
Taste: It’s a nice girl drink. I think they used real tea in it, so it tasted like green tea leaves. Very sweet.

Lychee martini: vodka, lychee juice, lychees
Taste: I find most lychee martinis too sweet, but this one struck a perfect balance between real lychee flavor and sugar. I think the key was using real lychee juice. There was also no burn in this drink, which was nice.

PP: 151 & watermelon puckers.
Taste: This was actually a shooter Nicci enthusiastically ordered. It’s really smooth. I’d recommend it.
Also, “PP” is not the real name of the shooter, but the actual moniker made everyone uncomfortable, so you can just use your imagination. If you feel uncomfortable, you are probably in the ballpark.

Shiso mojito: twist on the mojito with shochu shiso instead of rum.
Taste: This was OK. I’m not a huge shochu fan. Personally, I think that shochu makes a better substitite for vodka instead of rum. On the bright side, this drink brought out the mint a little lightly. It didn’t taste as sweet.

Then we went off to the karaoke place. Nopes, I wasn’t drunk, but the Norwegian girls next door sure were. One of them talked to me for a long time in the bathroom, and then waved enthusiastically as I left the building. Well, always nice to make friends one way or another.

Thanks, Nicci, Ryan and Will for taking me out! Woo hoo!

Panya Bistro
Ala Moana Center (near Longs, Sears, and Gap)

Ichiriki Loft
510 Piikoi St. - Honolulu

Postscript: I'm really sorry this post is so late! Also, I have been rather absent as of late. Two reasons: 1. Spending hiatus (otherwise known as unemployment). 2. Josh has most of the pictures, and then we don't upload them!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mexican Hot Chocolate

If you've never made Mexican hot chocolate at home, you're missing a real treat. It's super easy, so I'll break it down for you real quick. Here's the general recipe:

A few triangles of Abuelita chocolate (should be in the hispanic food/international food section. Or go to any Mexican market)

Some milk

See how easy that is? Start with a triangle or two, and then add more to taste, if you like it creamier.

If you want to be REALLY adventurous, try the same recipe, but with an ounce or so of Amaretto.


If you are bat-shit crazy, you can add about 1/2 an ounce of Grand Marnier to that. Noelle like it, I didn't... I don't really like mixing Grand Marnier with anyway

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Grand Marnier Margarita

Or, as I like to call it, the Grand Marnierita. It flows off the tongue.

The Margarita in the same boat as the Martini and Gin and Tonic, as far as celebrity is concerned. You’d never know it based off of those horrendous, high fructose corn syrupped-to-death monstrosities you get at Mexican restaurants or bars, but the Margarita is a delicious, full and complex drink. There are relatively few ingredients in a Margarita: Tequila, Cointreau (an orange liqueur), and lime juice.

I was in the store today, and I noticed that Grand Marnier (another orange liqueur) is trying to elbow it’s way into Margaritaville more forcefully than ever before. Trying to use its reputation to woo customers, the package said: “Make the perfect Margarita with Grand Marnier.” I’m not one to pass up a challenge, especially with booze.


The Recipe:

1.5 parts Tequila
.5 part Grand Marnier
juice of a small lime

I made two sizes of this drink, the first was 1.5oz Tequila/.5oz GM. The second was 2oz Tequila/.75oz GM.

Please bear in mind that Grand Marnier has an alcohol content that is just as high as your Tequila, in all likelihood. I’d say make the smaller version, unless you really want to feel it.

So, how does the Grand Marnier hold up? Quite simply, it’s great. Tequila is a fantastic liquor, with a lot of flavor. It also has a serious soft spot for orange. I think it would be pretty hard to do a Margarita wrong with any type of orange liqueur. Even generic Triple Sec would do, in a pinch. Unless you have extremely discerning tastes, and simply can’t stand one or the other, I’d say use whichever you have lying around/ is cheapest to buy.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Louder Music = More Alcohol

A recent study found that when a bar or club environment is noisier, people drink more alcohol. The research suggests that when people can't socialize, they feel more awkward and drink more.

This seems to explain why so many bar environments are so loud. Ugh. There are so many perfectly good bars with lovely furnishings, tasty drinks and optimal lighting...and then everything gets covered with a blanket of pop.

This all said, I like quieter bars and restaurants.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pumpkin Ale

I like it! It actually tastes like pumpkin. ^_^ A good Whole Foods buy.

Pearl + Nobu

I had the pleasure of hanging out last week with Derek, one of my favorites. We were going out one last time before my move to San Francisco--so this was a special occasion. What’s better to add to good conversation and good food? Well, I guess throw in some good drinks. And all three didn’t fail us.

Pearl’s Cocktail menu is devised by Francesco, the Las Vegas mixologist mentioned in the Lewers post. He seems to be putting his mark on Honolulu. He’s created menus for at least three Hawaii bars: the Halekulani (both House without a Key and Lewers Lounge), Rumfire, and also Pearl.

At night, the place turns into a dance club, but before that, it's actually a very pleasant place to sit and eat. There are several bars at which you can sit and also sprawled tables for bigger parties.

The only thing that bothered me about Pearl was that the uniform for female bartenders was this super low-cut vest that hardly covered anything; the whole back was exposed. Call me old-school (or I guess progressive, depending on who you are), but I think female bartenders should be able to get more respect. The guys didn't have to walk around shirtless or in speedos.

Derek and I made Happy Hour (which lasts until 8!), so our first round of specialty cocktails were a bit cheaper. We also chose three dishes off the happy hour menu: the calamari, the Kobe burger and the pork loin. Each were about $8.

My favorite was the calamari because it had three dipping sauces: spicy marinara, mayonnaise, and teriyaki (the one I liked best!). The pork loin was also tender and rich. It came with a great side of potatoes cooked with onions.

Anyway, sorry sorry, on to the DRINKS.

Drink 1: Ginger’s Sexy Secret

Ingredients: Corzo silver tequila, Cointreau, fresh ginger, cranberry juice.
Taste: Like many of Francesco’s drinks, Sexy Secret was fruity and sweet. The cranberry juice came out strongest of all, which is probably why it reminded me of a tequila-based Cosmo. The ginger was subtle, and I wish it showed up with a more distinct punch. Overall, very drinkable, though it lacked much complexity.

Derek’s Drink 1: Lilikoi Dream

Ingredients: Grand marnier, barsol Peruvian pisco, passion fruit, fresh govinda’s juice. Topped with crème de noya and nutmeg.
Taste: “Wow, that’s a cocktail,” was Derek’s first remark. The pisco was strong. I took a sip, too, and thought it tasted a lot like POG (that's passion orange guava juice, for you non-Hawaii people). The crème de nova and nutmeg made great garnishes. I could smell the spices as I brought my nose to the glass, and it tasted spicy. YUM.

After Pearl, Derek and I tried to go to Lewers one last time before I left Hawaii to go live on the Mainland. I especially wanted to say good bye to the bartender Tim. Alas, we arrived at the Halekulani and the whole front was boarded up! We entered the hotel through a side door, but when we got to the Lounge it was CLOSED. Boarded up for three to four weeks while they redo the floors. We asked if there were any other bar open in the Halekulani. The hotel guy said no. But we were invited to sit with some other forlorn looking tourists who were nursing drinks in some corner of Orchids restaurant. There was no Tim. And I also recalled a rather nasty encounter with some bed bugs the last time I sat on a padded seat at the Halekulani (You know you’re in trouble when your dermatologist says, “EW.”).

So instead, we went across the street to Nobu, as I had just been telling Derek how much I loved its drinks.

Nobu is mostly known as a Japanese fine dining experience. I hear the food is delicious but that a date there would leave you out hundreds of dollars.

But a section of the restaurant is also devoted to an extremely pleasant bar and lounge area. The lighting is low with candles on each table. There’s one long bar, or you can sit in stylish clusters inside or outside. They play trendy music in the background softly enough so you can talk.

The staff is exceptionally nice. On one occasion previous to that night, the bartender let us try some fried garlic peppers. He said only one in 20 was spicy. And when I hit the jackpot and almost cried, they gave me a lychee to suck on and then all the water I could ask for.

They’re also super experienced. I’ve talked to two bartenders there, and both of them had years behind them mixing drinks at all sorts of venues. Their drinks are among my favorite in all Hawaii because their recipes capitalize on the alcohol’s flavor instead of trying to mask it. To be warned, though, at $14 a glass, the drinks are also expensive. I’ve never had a more pricey drink in Hawaii.

Ben the bartender is great, though. He works most nights during the week, as well as some weekends. He worked for a few years at the Shorebird before coming over to Nobu. The owner asked him to enter the upcoming annual Grand Marnier contest. We’ll have to root for him.

Honolulu magazine once called Nobu's the place with the best cocktails. I was initially suspicious, but in the end, I have to whole-heartedly agree.

My drink: Nash-tini

Ingredients: Pear infused gin (beefeater wet), poire williams, and fresh yuzu juice
Bar notes: I asked the bartender, Ben, whether he liked the drink. He said he did, but it’s the strongest drink on the menu because it’s mostly alcohol. They don’t infuse the gin themselves, but use Beefeater Wet—I had never heard of it before, but I was willing to try it. I also learned the Poire Williams is a type of pear liquer and yuzu is a Japanese citrus. At the bottom of the cup was some kind of sweet yuzu gelatin. Yup. You can see how the drink came out frosty and clear—just how I like my martinis.
Taste: Oh, for the win. Beefeater Wet is a wonderful gin. And since gin is basically a juniper-flavored (citrus) flavored spirit, it went perfectly with the yuzu. The taste of gin was bold and round. The Nash-tini is a true cocktail in my book. Also, a lot of people generally define a martini as anything poured into a martini glass. But I appreciated that this recipe was a true spin on the classic martini. Gin-based, as always, and poire williams instead of vermouth.

Derek’s drink: Pisco Sour

Ingredients: Pisco, lemon juice, simple syrup, drops of angostura
Bar notes: Yup, this was Derek’s second pisco sour of the night. He had one just before at Pearl. We thought it was a perfect time for direct comparison.
Taste: A completely different drink from the pisco sour from Pearl! While Pearl’s was punchy with the fruit and sugar, the Nobu’s version was less sweet and more balanced. The pisco created a beautiful froth from the shaking, and Ben added a few drops of angostura. So, as you pulled the drink up to your mouth, you could smell the licorice hints of angostura as the sweeter notes hit your tongue.

An Old Fashioned Round Up

OK, so I saved this for last. We tried three old fashions made by three different bartenders over the course of the night. Here’s what we got:

Old Fashioned 1: Pearl

Ingredients: muddle cherry, muddled orange, simple syrup, club soda, angostura bitters.
Bar notes: The bartender seemed pleasantly surprised when we ordered the drink and said it had been asked for only two or three times during his years as a bartender—and that night counted as one of the times.

Old Fashioned 2: Pearl, c/o owner Beau Mohr

Ingredients: muddled cherry, muddled orange, simple syrup, 7up, and a dash of angostura.
Bar notes: Legend (in the form of Derek and John Heckathorn) had told of bar owner Beau Mohr’s old fashioned. The last time Derek and John went to Pearl, Mr. Mohr had whipped up something wonderous for them. And, as it happened, the night Derek and I went to Pearl, Mr. Mohr showed up just as we were ordering our second round. Mr. Mohr scurried over to say hi to Derek, and I got introduced. When I raised my glass at him and told him I was having an old fashioned, he said, “Oh, I’ll make ya an old fashioned.” He went behind the bar and stood over the shoulder of the bartender, leading him through each step. I later asked the bartender about the differences between their two approaches. The bartender said the only differences were Mr. Mohr’s inclusion of 7up and the owner’s approach of stirring, not shaking the drink. Small differences, perhaps, but somehow…
Taste: I preferred Mr. Mohr’s much more. The drink was notably sweeter because of the 7up but more than that, the cherry had a rounder flavor. The angostura was also came in perfectly. I like Mr. Mohr’s drink because I usually like my old fashions old skool style: no soda water, no muddled cherry or orange, just honest sugar muddled into angostura, a jigger of bourbon or rye, and sometimes orange or lemon zest. But Mr. Mohr reminds me how varied this drink can be. Each bartender has her or her own stamp. Mr. Mohr's is delish.

Old fashioned 3: Nobu!

Ingredients: muddle cherry, muddled orange, simple syrup, angostura bitters, Maker’s mark
Bar notes: Derek was so impressed with his first drink that he said he really wanted to try another before we left. He was talking story with the bartender, Ben, and Derek came around to the question, “Do you know how to make an old fashioned?”
“YEAH I do" was the response. Done and done. Ben muddled everything together and then gave it a good shake. He even added an extra cherry garnish when he saw me take out my camera.
Taste: Let the heavens rejoice! This was my favorite old fashioned of the night and my favorite in Hawaii. The taste was deep and complex with bitter accents of the Makers snuggling against the angostura. And no soda. Just how I like it. Ben was actually worried that he made the drink too strong; he tasted it when he was done and then added more simple to the cup. Oh, but it was just right.

A great night in all. What a great send off. Thanks, everyone, especially Derek!

Ho'opika Terrace
3rd Level
Ala Moana Center
Happy hour? Yes.

2233 Helumoa Rd.
Honolulu, HI 96815
Sun-Wed 5:30-10
Thurs-Sat 5:30-11
Bar lounge hours: Mon-Sun 5-midnight
Drinks: $14 (oomph)
Happy hour? Yes. Between 5 and 7 get $20 sake flights.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Lewers Lounge = Nom Nom Nom

Nevermind that Josh was already belting Shanandoah loud enough for every darkened corner of Lewer’s Lounge before even a sip of alcohol (Nightly gusto quota: filled).

Lest we forget that Lewers Lounge is a place of class. At one of Hawaii’s fanciest, schmaciest five-star hotels, the jazz bar at the Halekulani promises evenings of smooth piano tones, over-stuffed chairs, candlelight and people who don’t wear shorts (note dress code: slacks and collared shirts for men! Evening resort attire for women!).

We’re all for upping our classiness. So Josh and I thought we’d give it a try. We liked it so much that we went there not once, not twice, but three times during the three weeks Josh was in Hawaii.

Why do we like it so much?

1. The drinks are delish!

About four years ago, the Halekulani called on the talents of Dale Degroff, the celebrated father of the cocktail revival, to create a special menu for the upscale hotel. Mr. Degroff delivered with a tasty lineup of drinks that drew on the accessibility of local fresh fruits. Some of these drinks, like the lychee ginger caipirissima, can still be found on the menu today.

Mr. Degroff also pushed the standard of bartending to a new level. He brought the lounge quality ice of crushed and block varieties. He introduced fresh juices—no sour mixes. He entrusted the bartenders with the proper techniques of shaking and stirring. Thanks to Mr. Degroff, our humble island just got a little bigger.

But seasons change. So do cocktail menus. Just this summer, the Halekulani invited a new mixologist, Francesco Lafranconi, a Las Vegas wizard who is actually protégé of Mr. Degroff.

Today it seems the Halekulani has ended its contract with Mr. Degroff. Accordingly, some of his old recipes have been bumped off and now Mr. Degroff shares the spotlight with Mr. Lafranconi.

(Tip of the hat to my wonderful friend Derek—and the Lewers Lounge bartenders--for all of this info.)

Poor timing on my part. I discovered Lewers Lounge only after Mr. Degroff’s reigning days. Derek introduced me to the place in July, while Mr. Lafranconi was guest bartending this summer, making his transition to the permanent menu. Nuts!

I’ve tried some of both men’s drinks. I have to say I prefer Dale’s a bit more—they’re better balanced and not quite so mouth-puckeringly sweet.

Selections from my hit list, over the last five times I've gone (*blush*):

- the old fashioned
Tim, the bartender, makes a pretty mean old fashioned, my favorite in Hawaii. He uses soda water and muddled orange in addition to the maraschino cherry—it’s a popular recipe, but usually not one I prefer. I just like the straight up liquor with simple syrup, a few dashes of angostura, and maybe a muddled cherry, depending on the weather. But Tim does a great job of balancing the flavors just right. The muddled cherry tastes almost floral in the drink and kills some of the whiskey’s burn, leaving the round bourbon flavors in my mouth.

- the amante picante
A Lafranconi creation that includes the spicy notes of tabasco sauce! Cool and unusual.

- the Manhattan
The sole drink I did not enjoy as much as I should have. For some reason it had an awful lot of burn that night. And as a matter of personal preference, I don’t care to much for the bitterness of Maker’s Mark, something I often forget when ordering old fashions and the like.

- Kalihi grapes
Shhhhh. Rico, one of the bartenders, shared this favorite with us. I think it's actually a caipirinha de uva, which I believe is a Degroff creation that is no longer on the menu. It's a great cachaca drink with muddled limes and grapes. It carries a real fruit punch, a real refreshing drink, perfect for summertime. So if you go to Lewers and Rico is working, you gotta order this one. Thanks so much, Rico!!!!

- Lychee ginger caipirissima
I can never say caipirissima right, which is frustrating because it's one of my favorite drinks on the menu. Sister to the caipirinha, the caipirissima has similar drink proportions, only you muddle lychee and ginger instead of grapes and lime. You also use rum instead of cachaca. It's a great drink if you're trying to catch some island flavors.

One of Mr. Lafranconi’s great contributions? Egg white substitute! Mr. Lafranconi likes to add a bit of texture to his sours with a bit of meringue, so now the bar carries some of the powder to use in drinks such as the pisco sour. This also makes it possible for the bartenders to now make Ramos Gin Fizzes—they even have the orange flower water to do it! I have not yet tried this, though, and I do not think it is commonly ordered.

2. The bartenders are awesome!!!

Almost every time I’ve gone to Lewers, I’ve had the pleasure of being served by Tim. I love Tim not only because he makes good drinks. I love Tim because he somehow manages to embody the class of Lewers Lounge while maintaining complete earnestness and humility. When a drink isn’t to his liking, he’s not afraid to say it. He’ll also tell fun stories about what it’s like to bartend and share about the different flavors he’s been experimenting with. He’ll let you smell the different liquors behind the bars to get a sense of the flavors in their pure form. One night I was particularly excited about a new drink I had tried at school. I told him everything that was in an Aviation, and he whipped it up right there! On lucky nights, he’ll give you a taste of his original creations.

Rico is the other cool bartender there that works there. He seems to be the most senior of the bar staff and also the most adventurous. During late afternoons you can find Rico at the nearby House without a Key, and then he transitions over to help Tim during the evenings. Rico showed us the recipe he had submitted to the Grand Marnier contest. It was a fun mix of pineapple juice, crème de menthe and Grand Marnier (of course). Not a cup that’ll knock you out, but it would surely lift some of your woes by means of its carefree, fruity taste and colorful presentation. It was layered with the crème de menthe on the bottom to cleanse your mouth.

We met one other nice bartender there, but apparently he doesn’t know what the drinks taste like because he’s decided not to drink alcohol anymore. Fully support you, brah, but I gotta admit it’s a bit unusual for a bartender.

3. The atmosphere is kind of a big deal

When you hear "lounge" in Hawaii, it usually refers to the Friday night sweat fest that is Wunderlounge at the W.

That is not Lewers Lounge.

The mahogany, plush chairs, and smooth jazz tunes might make you think you smell cigar smoke and hear old bearded men. Actually, I think that’s just the sensation of pleasantness, which is sadly hard to come by at bars in Hawaii (or, really, in any state).

Lewers is the perfect place to relax--and really, what else do you look for in a bar?

Lewers Lounge
The Halekulani Hotel
Open nightly from 7:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. Entertainment runs from 8:30 p.m. to midnight, Sunday through Thursday, and from 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Attire: Collared shirts and slacks for gentlemen, evening attire for ladies.
Price: $12-13
Happy hour? No. But you can go outside to House without a Key for a pleasant sunset experience, albeit at very much non-happy hour prices.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Lewer’s Lounge – The Best Bar in Oahu

Before I even start, let me remind you that Oahu is an island, and a small one at that. So when I say this place is the best bar there, remember that the competition can only be so stiff. Disclaimer done.

Just kidding, one more disclaimer. The people in Hawaii are nice. Not just please-and-thank-you-nice, either. Lobotomy nice is more like it. Try driving there, it’s maddening. People bend over backwards to give each other the right-of-way. And the bartenders are just as nice. As a result, I got many a free drink at Lewer’s lounge, and my memory is accordantly fuzzy. What’s worse, we went three or four times. Ok, disclaimer done for real.

NO. Not done. I’ve only just remembered. Whatever Noelle says is a damn dirty lie. There was no one in that bar but us, the bartenders and servers, and the pianist when I sang Shenandoah. What’s more, the pianist asked me to, thankyouverymuch.

The first night at Lewer’s was... nice. I think I’m going to get just as tired of writing that word as you will of reading it. The atmosphere there is just short of perfect; dim lights, but not too dark. Lovely jazz from the pianist (sometimes there's a duo: Piano and upright bass, with one of them singing), and comfortable seating. Well, I assume the seating is comfortable, we went straight for the bar. Whatever, you get the picture, the atmosphere was nice enough to have me belting out American classics while still sober.

The bartenders are good folk, though they’re lacking in some of the basics of proper mixology, like measuring and ice and water content. I think they all have something of a sweet tooth, too. My first drink was a gin (or was it tequila? Yikes.) and passion fruit concoction. It was darn drinkable, but I don’t know if I would pay $11 for it if the setting weren’t so nice. Nevertheless, a fine drink.

Free drink number one: Unnamed, submitted to the annual Grand Marnier competition, conducted in Oahu

-Lime Juice – ½ oz
-Pineapple Juice 1 oz
-Grand Marnier ½ -1 oz
-Creme de Menthe ¼- ½ oz

I was peering over his shoulder as he made it, so I don’t know how accurate the recipe is, but something tells me it doesn’t matter so much. Shake everything but the Creme de Menthe and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the Creme de Menthe; the result should be a pale, lime colored drink with a beautiful dollop of dark green Creme de Menthe on the bottom.

This is a tasty drink, but it’s almost too sweet. To be honest, I wouldn’t buy it. It’s pretty much the definition of a girl drink. Plus, there’s no hard liquor, which means it goes down smooth, but it lacks depth of flavor. There is a very pleasant mint aftertaste, though.

Free drinks two and three were relatively unremarkable. The first was supposed to be some kind of apple shooter, but it didn't taste like apple to me and I didn't see what went into it. The next was a supposedly grape flavored shooter. Noelle loved it, so I'll leave that one to her. I thought it was so-so; it was another of Rico's (the mint flavored disaster's creator) children.

Since we went to Lewer's so many damn times, I was able to do something I can't normally pull off: Try a classic. So I ordered a Sazerac.

I'm not sure I'm ready to talk about it. It was a disaster. So, let's start in the past.

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of imbibing this classic, let's get up to speed. According to legend, it's the first cocktail...EVER. While that may be an old wive's tale, or unknowable, it's at least one of the first.

Hailing from New Orleans, this drink began as a way to trick people into taking their medicine. Mr. Peychaud (you may recognize that name, since it's plastered on one of the two most important aromatic bitters around) figured out something that Mary Poppin's neglected to mention: Sugar stops working when you grow up. So instead of using sugar, he used brandy, and probably a damn sight more than a teaspoon.

The way I make this drink, credited to John Avery, the Baron of Booze:

- Absinthe wash
-Absinthe is legal now. Enjoy in moderation
-To perform this technique, pour a teaspoon or two of absinthe into a clean old fashioned, preferably chilled. If you have any glasses that are smaller than an old fashioned but larger than a shot glass, use it! Roll the absinthe around until you've coated the entire glass. I was taught to pour the absinthe back into the bottle ("Waste not, want not: There are sober children in China." God bless John Avery). This may seriously contradict alcohol rules, I don't know.

-In a separate glass, chill (with plenty of ice, always use plenty of ice) and stir a mixture of 2 oz Rye Whiskey and 1/4-1/2 oz of simple syrup. Splash in a dash or three of Peychauds bitters. Stir for some time, 30 seconds or more, depending on how strong or weak your pallet is.

Strain the drink into the prepared glass, and be ready to enjoy.

That's what should have happened at Lewer's. Here's what really happened:

-First, the bartender sputtered something about "house recipe," and there may have been a "forgot" in there somewhere.
-Then, out came the Angostura. Enough said.
-I didn't catch this next part, but I can guess: He put in 1/4-1/2 oz of Pernod. I don't know if you like licorice, but I don't.

I smelled this drink before I tasted it. One word. Ugh.

But, oh joy, the bartender noticed me sulking (it only took 30 minutes) and gave me a free drink... a poorly made whiskey smash. Hey, the conversation was good, though.

So please, go to Lewer's. Don't make me beg, it's definitely the best bar in Oahu. The prices are beyond competitive, considering how much you will pay elsewhere, for a much worse drink. I gladly dropped 30 bucks there, plus a $15 tip.

House Without a Key

Nothing at House Without a Key can live up to the view from its patio area. There you have it. If paradise is anything like that, I may find Jesus yet. I think I can put a photo or two up to show you what I’m talking about.

Ah, there we go. See what I mean? The place is gorgeous. The music is surprisingly pleasant, although I admit I have a sick, sick love of nice background music. The performers complimented the surroundings perfectly, and that’s about the best thing I can say.

So, when you go to House Without a Key, be ready to enjoy the view. The cocktails...well, that’s another matter. I had my doubts going in, to say the least. Perhaps my favorite memory from this place is either the horrific bug bites Noelle suffered (providing endless opportunities to poke fun at her, as well as a fun day of hospital visits) or a saucy, old white woman trying to explain to the barely English-speaking waiter what a Rickey was (juice of half a lime, or more if it’s a dry one, 2-3 oz of gin, or, if you prefer/have no taste buds/hate flavor, vodka). Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting much in the cocktail department.

And then I ordered the Mai Tai.

It wasn’t until the next week that I found out that House Without a Key and Lewer’s Lounge shares bartenders and recipes, the only difference is the volume of people (hence Lewer’s Lounge’s quiet atmosphere and incredible service). I also found out that the Mai Tai is the strongest drink on either menu. Judging by how hard that beast hit me, I should have guessed. Hawaiian establishments generally guard their Mai Tai recipes pretty carefully, but I found out that this one had two types of dark rums and lime juice as its base. From what I understand, there isn’t much lime juice. Some simple syrup to balance flavors, and a generous layer of Bacardi 151 floating on top. Come to think of it, that may explain why I so readily sang at the pianist later that night at Lewer’s....

But a strong drink does not necessarily make a good drink! This one sure did, though. The Mai Tai at House Without a Key is exceptionally tasty, and shockingly drinkable for how much hard alcohol there is in it. In cocktail lingo: The drink was perfectly balanced. The presentation, as you saw, was a bit frilly, to say the least. But hell, it’s Hawaii. When in Rome, you know. The sugar cane is a nice touch, because you can chew it afterwards, releasing delicious sugar and a bit of rum that’s soaked in.

What shocked me most about the Mai Tai at House Without a Key was its depth of flavor. As the ice melted and I got further down, the drink became more complex, picking up some spicy elements, in addition to a bit more sweetness. The same drink at Lewer’s, though quite good, lacked this quality.

The drinkability is a bit of a problem, though, because of how strong the drink is. The bartender’s at Lewer’s told me, laughingly but seriously, that no one could do three of those drinks and walk out happily. I half wanted to challenge them, but then I came to my senses.

The Hano Hano Room – Where Cocktails go to Die

The drink I had here looked like someone emptied a neon sign into a glass, and tasted about the same, only with an entire ginger root ground into it. I don’t remember what it was called, and I only vaguely remember the ingredients:

-What tasted like artificial mint flavoring
-Blue curaco
-A shit ton of ginger
-What I think was Satan’s urine.

Do not try this mix at home. It was awful. I added some water to the drink, and crushed up the mint garnish with my fingers. That made it a bit more palatable, but just enough to choke down. For as much as that drink cost, you’d better believe I was going to finish it.

Go to the Hano Hano room for the view. It is astounding. The glass elevator is cool, too. The creepy old couple dancing in a way that made it clear there was going to be some very serious, very disgusting sex later that night was not so cool.

Order wine.

The Hanohano Room - Go for the Glass Elevator! Or the Radio Show on Saturday Mornings

How happy we look in this picture. Wide grins, bright eyes.

Funny how faces can be deceptive.

Not that we didn’t enjoy ourselves at Hanohano Room. We got there about 10 p.m. on a weekday and found the highest point in Waikiki is as breathtaking as it sounds. Floor to ceiling windows. A lounge singer that sings mostly jazz with the occasional Shakira interlude (specifically, “Hips Don’t Lie"). A man and a woman tearing up the dance floor with as much ferociousness as suggested by the guy’s thigh-huggingly tight tiger print suit. And the glass elevator that took us to the 30-floor high restaurant was so cool that we went up and down twice (Josh offered a sheepish explanation to the couple that entered on Ride 2, but it turned out they only spoke French).

Yes, I think breathtaking was the right word choice.

But this blog is about drinks so let’s talk about drinks!

The drinks…were terrible. I’d like to consider myself the Paula Abdul of this blog, the voice of compassion, the yin to the yang, the graceful enthusiast in contrast to the crotchety elitist. But there’s no diplomatic way to put this… Both cocktails tasted medicinally syrupy and sweet--actually, hand over the Dimetap and we'd at least stop the runny nose while we're at it. We could barely finish our drinks, which made us especially sad since each glass hit us with $12!

Unfortunately, I don’t think the bar used fresh juices in the drinks, which seemed evident both in taste and color. Josh’s looked like Crayolas gone liquid. Mine was something called the Lilikoi Rita—as the name suggests, an attempt to tweak the margarita. Both were a clash of sugary liquors. Yuck. No balance. No finesse. Maybe on par with the sticky shooter you'd get during last call at the club.

But I don’t want to keep bashing the place. It's not a cocktail lounge, but a hotel restaurant. It never promised exceptional drinks, and so I left feeling unbetrayed (though maybe my pocketbook felt differently). The Hanohano Room did boast about its unparalleled view, and in that respect, it delivered. The atmosphere was great (despite the extra dash of tragedy the other pleasant circumstances added to the cocktail), and we went home with a cute picture and a bottle of Sauza tequila, which we had picked up from the market on the way home. Mmm, a duo of tequilla sours and a few episodes of Frasier, anyone?

Not so bad for a night, not so bad.

The Hanohano Room
at the Sheraton Waikiki
30th floor
2255 Kalakaua Ave.
Honolulu, HI 96815

Dinner: 5:30pm - 9:00pm
Cocktails: 5:30pm - 11:00pm
Happy hour? No.
Dress code: Yes. No Beach or Athletic Wear, No Logo Tee Shirts, No Baseball Caps.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


How was that for a frou-frou introduction? Don't mind Noelle - I'm the real voice of reason on this blog. But I suppose you can't have a yin without a yang, milk without cookies, or a suave white boy without an awkward asian girl. Hopefully our two perspectives will provide a complete view of whatever it is we do here. Noelle will probably tell you a bit more about that.