Monday, January 18, 2010

Chi Cha Lounge - A Caipirinha Catastrophe

Some family was in town on Saturday and it was restaurant week so we were not looking forward to the droves of people who would be at some of our favorite places so we thought we'd have a few drinks at Chi Cha lounge. Not that Chi Cha is on our bad list. It is one of those lounges that has stood the test of time. It was a great choice for the night in that it wasn't too crowded and its laid back loungey atmosphere offered exactly what we were looking for.

After rating the Caipirinha at Perry's I decided to see who else makes a good one so I went with the one offered on Chi Cha's cocktail list. I noticed that in the listed ingredients it said something like "simple syrup," which is normally not how sugar is incorporated into a Caipirinha but I thought I'd see what it was like. It was so sweet that all you could taste was the sugar and some of the mint. I felt like it would have tasted better over some pancakes than as a drink. The limes were lost in and their only redeeming value was adding some extra green to the color. For me, the limes in a Caipirinha should be one of the pillars of the drink with a good amount of sour and tartness slightly sweetened with some sugar. I couldn't even make out the cacha├ža.

I don't know if the simple syrup has been incorporated into the ingredients to make it easier for the bartender to squeeze it into the mix compared to having to crush the sugar into the limes and mint, but it seems they are getting lazy. I think this is a downfall of some bars where you have "bartender fatigue" where he or she has made the drink hundreds or thousands of times and they simply loose touch with the ingredients and the process - it becomes a mechanical procedure.

Perhaps Chi Cha should take their bartenders aside every once and a while and give them a refresher course.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Oyamel - Classic Margarita

Just met with some buddies for a couple of drinks at Oyamel and we caught the end of happy hour so we ordered some of their classic margaritas ($4) and some tacos. They were like butter. The tequila, Herradura Silver, is as smooth as silk and played extraordinarily well with the freshly squeezed lime juice and triple sec along with what appeared to be shaved salt which dissolved immediately when sipping. However, they know the trick to a great margarita which is a splash of freshly squeezed orange juice. I learned that while getting a personal tour and lesson on the Patron Tequila Express when it passed through Union Station. It is often left out of or never even considered in margarita recipes and it's such a pity. It's a natural way to sweeten and to add a bit of complexity to the flavor.

I've also had the "Oyamel" with salt air, which is a spin-off on a margarita with fresh lime juice, Patron Citronge and Jose Cuervo. The salt air serves as a replacement to the salt-rimmed glass and the texture is similar to its name. Instead of experiencing the immediate impact of salt, the salt air adds a more well-rounded briny dimension to the drink giving the benefit of salt but in a whole new way - as a foamy cappuccino-like layer. It also looks pretty cool. Salt air is one of Jose Andreas' classic feats of molecular gastronomy, something he is famous for especially at Mini Bar. The Washingtonian was able to get the recipe. Whip up some salt air at your next party and you'll be the talk of the town.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Aroma Company in Clevland Park - Gimlet Gurus

My brother and one of his old college friends were in town and they wanted to smoke some cigars so I did a little searching online and found The Aroma Company in Cleveland Park. I'm not much of a cigar smoker but I indulge now and then. It was a Tuesday night so there wasn't much of a crowd.

I began the evening with a Hendrick's gin martini and three olives. Though the place had a bout a total of 15 people in it it took a while for the martini to arrive. Once I tasted it I knew that its delay was due to the care put into it. It was sublime. A perfect balance of gin accented by a bit of vermouth and the brininess of the olives.

After smoking a cigar my mouth felt like it needed to be cleansed and I was in the mood for something with more of a brighter flavor so I asked for a gin gimlet. Holy !*#!*^ Moly! It was perfect. Smooth but still just a bit sour with a good proportion of lime juice and just enough sugar to take the edge off but not too sweet.

It's so nice when you visit a bar with a bartender who is not only well trained, but takes pride in their work. I'll be coming back for more.

This place has a fun but not too loud atmosphere and for those who might be turned off by the smoke, they have a smoke-free back room. I would also like to give them props for helping my friend find some food. They don't offer any food but can supply you with menus from takeaway places on the same street that you can phone in, pick up and eat in Aroma.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year - A Revelation on Faux-Lounges

Now that we have entered a new decade I have been reminiscing about the last 10 years and when it comes to bars I desperately hope that this next decade will mean the end to faux-lounges, you know those incredibly hip "locales" where upon entering you feel like you are in a SKYY Vodka ad. Everyone inside, dressed to kill so not to offend the "dress code", is trying to fulfill their fantasy of living out a P. Diddy video, but in reality they are some underpaid bureaucrat who is buying the establishment's $12 cocktails on credit. I'm completely guilty of subscribing to this same fantasy - perhaps it's a phase some of us go through, but this past decade seems to have birthed so many faux-lounges that make you feel like you just dicked by a used-car salesman after you've left. You stand in line only to pay a cover that gets you in to an overcrowded room with a bar so understaffed that you know whatever you order will be some rushed and watered-down version of whatever you order that you opt for the most uncomplicated of cocktails only to be disappointed anyway.

Don't get me wrong - there are plenty of legitimate lounges out there created by some people with a real unique sense of style and sophistication. These places have stood the test of time and offer their patrons a great all-around experience focused on quality. What I'm referring to are those cookie-cutter meat factories that are the McDonald's of lounges.

I hope the next 10 years will entail the rise of the uncomplicated, come-as-you-are establishments that offer a real product and an atmosphere to match. Forget the bells and whistles, give my friends and me a drink, some nice music, a comfortable place to sit, maybe some dancing and lets enjoy each other's company.