Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Favorites

It makes sense, I suppose, to start with my favorite from each category; this blog's version of the "What would you want if you were stranded on an island" game.  So here goes.

  • Whisky 
I'm starting here because, quite honestly, it's the easiest decision.  As I write this, I am drinking my last half shot of BenRiach, a 20 year old single malt Speyside Scotch that I bought in England several years ago.  In a break from my normal tastes, this has almost no smoke to it, but it is even smoother than even the best blends I have had.  With a light note of vanilla, and a beautiful finish, this is the perfect Scotch, with just one problem:  I CAN'T FIND IT IN THE USA!  I have tried, and tried, and tried, but I have yet to find it, even in stores that are Scotch heavy.  I could order it, but even as good as this stuff is, I can't bring myself to spend $200+ on a single bottle to get it shipped here from England when I can drink from any of the numerous bottles of good to great Scotches on my shelf.

Honorable Mentions:  Lagavulin 16, Balvenie DoubleWood 12

  • Beer
This is a tough one, but it really comes down to two breweries competing for the number one spot:  Stone Brewing Co. of Escondido, CA; and Dogfish Head Brewery of Milton, DE.  Stone's Arrogant Bastard Ale is a heavy, harsh, bitter, and delicious beer that will make fun of you as you drink it.  Seriously, it does.  This is what it says on the label and their website, www.arrogantbastard.com:

"This is an aggressive ale. You probably won’t like it. It is quite doubtful that you have the taste  or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth. We would suggest that you stick to safer and more familiar territory–maybe something with a multi-million dollar ad campaign aimed at convincing you it’s made in a little brewery, or one that implies that their tasteless fizzy yellow beverage will give you more sex appeal. Perhaps you think multi-million dollar ad campaigns make things taste better. Perhaps you’re mouthing your words as you read this."

 So, if you're of the sensitive variety, either in taste buds or personality, this is NOT the beer for you.  If you like big, strong, higher ABV beers (7.2%) this is for you.  Just remember, "You’re Not Worthy™"

As for Dogfish Head, they are my favorite brewery overall, and WorldWide Stout is the best of the best.  At a massive 18% ABV, this will literally knock you on your ass.  I tried it at the 2011 American Craft Beer Fest and it blew me away.  It was the first beer I tasted and I'm so glad, because it was by far the best I had all day and it disappeared shortly after (Stone's was already out of Arrogant Bastard by the time I arrived).  I'm not really sure how to describe this beer other than to say it reminded me of sipping a really, really good bourbon, if bourbon had a creaminess and smoothness to it that can only come from a true stout.  Despite its high alcohol content, this beer drinks really easily, but don't make the mistake of drinking it like a normal beer; it's not, it's more like drinking whisky or other high ABV spirits.

If you forced me to pick one of these, I'd take the WorldWide Stout, but only because it's not available year round like the Arrogant Bastard.  You really can't go wrong with either, but don't pick up either one if you're looking for a refreshing beer that will be nice on a hot day.

Honorable Mention:  Geary's London Porter

This is also the time for a shout-out to Beer Advocate, the best beer rating website on the internet; these guys are AWESOME!  Seriously, check them out, you won't regret it the next time you go out and are trying to decide what kind of beer to drink.

  • Food
This is even harder to decide than the beer, because I just love all kinds of food.  I won't even offer you a specific dish that is my favorite, because I won't be able to decide; rather, I'm going to talk about a few cuisines and dishes from each that I really love.  These are in no particular order.

*Korean:  Spicy heat is probably my favorite food characteristic, and Korean delivers with ease and impunity.  From real Ramen soup (which totally ruined my shameful past love of the stuff that college kids think is Ramen), which makes me grin from ear to ear as I cry spicy tears, to squid and vegetables in spicy sauce, and almost everything else I've tried for that matter, I just really love Korean cuisine.  It's really simple in a way, in that it focuses on the ingredients, not on some kind of fancy technique like French or other European cuisines (not knocking French cuisine, but it does often seem to focus more on the technique than the individual ingredients), but the flavors are tremendously complex.  The heat in my favorite dishes never overwhelm the other flavors, which is key, because so often we experience spice as being this hurdle that the eater must overcome, rather than as a simple complement.  

There is a great little restaurant in New York City called Danji that serves tapas style food using traditional Korean flavors; pretty great concept, not cheap, but worth every penny.  Try the Steak Tartare and Bulgogi Sliders; you'll thank me.

*Ethiopian:  For all the jokes that are made about East African foods (search alternate definitions for  "MRE," the Meals Ready to Eat that the military gives personnel in the field for one example), this really is an amazing group of foods.  Like in many poorer countries, Ethiopians took what they had available (spices) and used them to great effect to enhance the sometimes meager ingredients available.  Kitfo, a spiced, raw ground beef, is not for the faint of heart in the USA, where we have been taught that raw beef is evil and dangerous (it's not, at least not inherently so), but it is among the most flavorful things you could ask for.  Lamb and chicken are also heavily featured in Ethiopian cuisine, but I've been to Ethiopian restaurants with a friend who is a vegetarian and she enjoyed herself immensely (she had a lentil dish, and it was delicious).  Forks will not be found at an authentic restaurant, so be warned, if you don't like using your hands, you won't like Ethiopian, where you will be given plenty of injera, a spongy, flexible flatbread to use as a vessel.  The first time I had Ethiopian, I did not enjoy the injera on its own, finding it to have an acidic, vinegary taste that was unappealing, but since I have not had that issue, though the injera was not particularly flavorful anywhere, but I suspect its not supposed to be heavily flavored.  FYI, like with most Middle Eastern countries, Ethiopians eat with their RIGHT hands; the left is traditionally used for certain, shall we say, sanitary purposes, and so it is considered unclean.  You have to be more talented than me to avoid using your left hand at all to tear pieces of the injera off, but if you get a weird look from the staff, that's probably why.

*Japanese (Sushi, really):  I like Japanese food in general, but sushi is really where it's at.  I love fish in general, but especially raw fish, without much adornment, where you really taste the fish itself.  Toro/Otoro (fatty bluefin tuna belly), hamachi (yellowtail) and unagi (freshwater eel, not served raw) are my favorites, but I really like just about everything offered in most traditional sushi joints other than a few of the roe (fish egg) options, which just don't quite work with me for textural reasons.  The simplicity of sushi really appeals to me greatly, as most traditional sushi does not include much in the way of sauces, and if the ingredients aren't perfect you can tell; despite this simplicity, the quality of the chef is key, and if you find a good one...KEEP HIM.

So, those are my three favorite cuisines, and just like with the beers, if I had to pick one it'd be the one that I find the least often; in this case, Ethiopian.  I can find acceptable sushi and (shockingly) very good Korean in my area, despite it being very rural here, but I have to drive two hours to Boston or three to New York City to have Ethiopian.

Honorable Mentions:  Chinese (the real stuff, not what you get at "Chinese" restaurants), Bar-b-que (Eastern North Carolina style being my favorite, but any will do; gotta love smoke!), and Yucatan Mexican (a great combination of numerous different ancestral cuisines)


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Welcome!  I never really intended to have a blog, but I figured since there are so many out there, one more couldn't hurt.  This is not intended to be some stuffy, distant examination of food, whisky and beer; rather, all of those things are, in my mind, fun, so why shouldn't reviews of them be the same?

Food is a required part of our lives, sure, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be discriminating in our tastes.  This isn't 1740, when you pretty much just ate what was there; with the massive abundance of food available to us as Americans, we can generally find a way to eat good food every day.  This blog will include my reviews of restaurants that I go to, some recipes of my own invention, and occasional rants against the idiots who tell us that we MUST eat organic/vegetarian/insert your own adjective.  I'm not knocking the people who do choose alternative diets to my beloved omnivorous lifestyle, I just don't like the increasingly haughty and entitled attitude that often comes along with it.

Whisky...ooooh, whisky.  Hell, even whiskey sometimes!  Whisky, for those who don't know, refers to Scotch, or whiskies based off of Scotch, such as Canadian, Japanese, etc etc.  I will focus on Scotch, mostly single malts, other than the occasional critique of a particularly good (or bad) blend that someone gives me as a gift.  I'll occasionally delve into Irish whiskey or Bourbon as well.

And finally, beer, that most cherished of all alcoholic beverages; from the cheap (PBR draft for a dollar anyone?) to the, well, not cheap (I've spent $18 on a four pack of Stone's Arrogant Bastard Ale before), beer is virtually omnipresent.  Stay out of Iraq, Iran, and a few other countries where Sharia or similar legal styles ban it (and I suppose there are other reasons to stay away from Iran and Iraq too...but do you really need any?) and you can get beer; hell, people even plan trips around it, and who can blame them?

So, I hope you'll keep reading in the future, and if anyone has any suggestions of beers, whiskies, restaurants, recipes, or anything else, feel free to throw it out there, I'd love to hear what you've got to say.  On occasion I may also throw in some unrelated posts about sports, books, politics, television, or whatever else gets stuck in my head on any given day; feel free to ignore them.


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