Thursday, May 26, 2011

Give up alcohol forever?

Sitting around with some friends over drinks a hypothetical question came up of whether I would give up alcohol (meaning any and all alcoholic beverages) for the rest of my life for $1 million. I didn't take me long to answer no. Many were surprised. Don't get me wrong, $1 million is a lot of money. If I used that to pay off the mortgage, student loans, etc. that would leave great deal of disposable income that could go a long way to increasing my standard of living.

However, the thought of doing so put feelings of emptiness and disconnect in my head (no, I'm not an alcoholic - just read on).

I guess it depends on the person, but the act of drinking to me is not just about the consumption of alcohol and getting a good buzz or even the occasional spins. It's more about the collective experience drinking plays within our culture. Other than the occasional after-work beer or martini that I make at home, when I'm drinking I'm with friends and/or family, as well as have opportunities to get to know some fascinating strangers. It would be giving up an aspect of one's culture that allows you to interact with people on so many levels. Sharing a bottle of wine with people isn't just about the physical effect the wine has on you, it's deeper than that. It's about sharing that moment, combining it with food and conversation experiencing something together and growing friendships.

Yes, yes to all the people who are thinking "life would be just fine without alcohol and you can still go to bars and other occasions without drinking." But to me, being the odd-ball-out who is drinking cranberry juice with friends at the bar or at a friend's BBQ would just make me feel awkward like the vegan at Thanksgiving sitting there on the periphery of the experience with their quinoa.

It's not a question about whether I could live without alcohol. Of course I could. It's a question about whether you would give up something that connects you to the people around you - giving up a part of your culture - something that on certain occasions unites you with others. Maybe I'm over-thinking this. Call me crazy. The money could go a long way but would you give up something that is a significant part of your culture, your family, your social life, your life-adventures...for $1 million? Would you give up dancing or listening to music for that amount of money?

Remember, the question was for $1 million. And if you're like me, I guess the next question is: "What's your price?"

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Caipirinha at Mate

I recently joined some friends at Mate in Georgetown on the corner of K and 31st. It had been a few years since I had been inside with its ueber-sophisticated, loungey atmosphere and rows of primped fashionistas. Mate comes to you from the same people who run Chi Cha Lounge, Gua-Rapo, and Nena. It offers a sushi menu to satisfy your hunger. There happy hour runs Monday-Friday from 5-7pm and offers selected $6 cocktails, $7 martinis, $4 beers and $6 wines. Our server was terrific, coming back at the right time to check in but not annoyingly hovering or MIA. It's list of signature cocktails is a fun but cautious medley of Latin flavors catering more to the palate that doesn't want to go too far of the beaten track.

Having reviewed the Caipirinha at Chi-Cha Lounge and Perry's I thought I'd see how Mate would compare. As you may have seen from my Chi-Cha Lounge review, their Caipirinha was something to be desired. Mate had their act together. Unlike a lot of versions around town that play to less mature palates, the cacha├ža was the pillar of the drink with its distinct fruity and woody notes. It was balanced lovely by a perfect ratio of acidic lime juice and just the right amount of sugar giving it a pleasant smoothness to the mouth. It wasn't trying to be anything else. It started off bold and finished clean.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Masa 14 Mojito Tradicional

Though this city offers an amazing variety of some of the most dynamic cocktails, I'm also on the lookout for the great common classics - the house wines of the cocktail world. Like the restaurant owner who tests a new chef with with something as simple as an omelette, you can tell a lot about a bar based on how they handle the standards. As the temperatures rise one of those classics that simply quenches your thirst and brightens your mood is the Mojito. It's a straight forward drink with rum, lime, mint and sugar (liquid or granulated), and a quick splash of soda water.

On my way home from U Street I dropped by Masa 14 and got their Mojito Tradicional made with Bacardi Castillo silver rum. The atmosphere there is sophisticated with its clean lines, exposed brick and open ceilings. Masa 14 attracts DC's busy, young professionals who are looking for an interesting variety of food and it delivers with its incredibly stocked menu of Asian-fusion tapas mixing traditional Spanish with the Orient. The staff was friendly, quick and and always willing to make recommendations.

I ordered and in what seemed just seconds the mojito appeared on my table. From my other posts you will know that I'm not the biggest fan of candy-sweet drinks. Nothing kills a cocktail more than by sweetening it to the taste of a sorority girl on spring break at Daytona Beach. Well folks, for the first time I will report that that Masa's Mojito was not sweet enough. It had the refreshing lime tartness and acidity that I love from a good mojito and the Castillo rum came through as the team captain, supported by the fresh mint, but was left flat by a lack of sugar which gives a mojito a balance of sweet and sour. This may have been a simple oversight that happens to all of us (or perhaps it was batch-made) but this can be a common affliction of many of the larger, more corporate-style establishments in the city. When it gets busy their bars tend to turn into assembly lines focused on speedy service, which can be a good thing. But slowing it down a notch and letting your customers know that their wait will be rewarded is what I think makes a great restaurant.