resto oh oh, spirit possession

Across the Great Divide: Decentering the Organism and the Ontological Hangover.

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Hangovers are funny things. In all of the usual laughingly lamentable, mind-stripped-bare-by-its-bachelors-even, sorts of ways, but also in how they present an opportunity for uncontrolled experimentation with ways of feeling – ways of feeling badly, yes, but sometimes involving new plains of badness, ways of being a body that foreground one’s corporeality with terrific and – if we’re lucky – fascinating immediacy.

What I’m thinking of right now is the consequence of a late development in my drinking life, my intense interest in weirder, wilder, (especially sour) beers, and to a lesser degree, the same (minus the sour) in wines. It is perhaps best described as waking up with the immediate feeling of a balance having been tipped, as if your body is not poisoned but occupied – become home and host to the microflora of wherever, Vichte and the Zenne, Anchorage or Greensboro Bend. There is a taste that seems not so much to linger in your mouth as be produced at the source, in your very saliva; it reminds you of all that you have taken in, drink upon drink, and inspires the suspicion that some perverse innovation in the typical food-to-energy equation might have been achieved, like an internal ferment has begun that might finally coax the self-identity of the flesh out of its jingoistic discretion. Like you might be taken and changed (I mean, we’re so much provirus already, I should think the ol’ human microbiome is just waiting for an opportunity to jump the rails and go all Brundlefly).

The second most recent time that I experienced this (come to think of it, I suppose I wasn’t even hung over yet. Jesus.) was a few Sundays back, after an fully engaged afternoon at Tørst, the Evil-Twin-affiliated Brooklyn beer bar helmed by Noma/Momofuku/Fat Duck alumnus Daniel Burns, and frequented, I discovered, by the kind of magnificent, munificent bastards with whom one can slide into that easy camaraderie founded solely upon the mutual enthusiasm for cool beers.  We (my newly acquired cohorts and myself) had all sorts of absolutely brilliant shit – Bayerischer Bahnhof‘s Pineus Gose (lautered over pine needles), Stillbow Oxtisanal (aged in blueberry wine barrels, which against all odds was wonderful), Crooked Stave’s Surette Saison, Evil Twin & Westbrook’s Justin Blåbær blueberry Berlinerweisse (also improbably excellent, in spite of the recurrence of blueberries), Tart of Darkness (sour stout!) – but by nightfall I was starting to feel that my already debauched constitution (it was Sunday, and I was on a “working vacation”) mightn’t be able to withstand even so pleasant a bacterial onslaught.

To provide a little context for the above ravings, one of the more exciting turns the international craft beer world has taken in recent years is the renewed interest in wild and ambient environmental yeasts, coupled with experiments in barrel-aging. Both are strongly associated with the Belgian tradition; while we have Pasteur to thank for elaborating the mechanics of open fermentation and laying to rest the idea of spontaneous generation (although ironically, pace Bruno Latour, in the process spontaneously generating a world of microbes around us), pre-Belgian Low Countrymen  had been fermenting beer in open vats, aging them in empty wine barrels, and letting all sorts of weird-ass bacteria get involved since the 1500s. Now you have all sorts of craft and kvlt breweries eager to experiment with the old traditions, combining a venerative and curatorial spirit with an almost postmodern iconoclasm (local notables including Dieu du Ciel, Trou du Diable, Hopfenstark, and Toronto’s Bellwoods, among others), and coming out with some fantastic beers. It may be pure biophilia (or biofetishism?) to say that these beers taste especially lively, because it already takes a certain orientation toward the messiness of life for descriptions like lactic acid, horse blankets and farmyard to come off as “lively” (as opposed to, say, foetid) in an aromatics context, but blast, I have such an orientation, and these beers have such a taste. And after a full afternoon of them that Sunday – the classic Belgians and their bastard diasporic interpretations alike – I was beginning to feel as if the tastes were tasting me.

Fortunately, my next stop happened to be a quiet little bar attached to a young distillery, where they have pink gin on tap, a gin named after Dorothy Parker, and a cocktail called the fucking CANNIBAL CORPSE REVIVER Nº 2 (which I didn’t try, however, because it is tall and I do not drink tall drinks out of a fear, perhaps, of going soft). They also produce an excellent take on a jenever tasting so smartly and directly of rye that one wonders if whisky might not actually be the best (liquid) expression of the grain. As I might have guessed, the administration of a succession of gins and bitters was precisely what was required to scour my insides and restore some semblance of order to the micro-flora and -fauna of my body, so that in short order I was feeling so much less yeasty and invaded, so merely human that I could have sang a song. The incumbent ontological hangover pre-empted by the more familiar and conceptually un-challenging regular hangover. Good old gin.

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spirit possession

Embittered III: Love on the Kill Taker

for a more helpful image, see: http://images.nymag.com/listings/bar/3_amor-y-amargo.jpg

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Amor y Amargo is a little bar, easy to miss, not far from The Big Gay Ice Cream shop in Manhattan’s East Village. it appeals to me for the most obvious reason – it is a bitters bar. but finally going there revealed a whole other set of charms that i had not anticipated – it is in fact tiny (like, the size of my kitchen, maybe seating for eight, tiny), they have scotch eggs, they have vermouth on tap, the bartenders were excited to talk about bitters and in turn stoked by -our- excitement to talk about bitters (well, one of them was, the other seemed ill-tempered and sullen, but perhaps it was merely the set of his mouth, for he too was quite willing to speak volubly about amari), they were playing Fugazi, they don’t stock any juice. 

this last is important for a realization that i made after consecutive nights at Amory y Amargo and Hotel Delmano, both bars well-regarded for their cocktail stylings: i do not love an easy-drinking cocktail. what i had at Delmano was well-crafted, but it was unexciting (despite the ambitious combination of Ardbeg and dry sherry, along with some other things that immediately strike one as unmixable in a cardinal-sins-of-teenage-swampwater sort of way). everything i had at Amor y Amargo was thrilling, inspired, or at least instructive. i would not claim that the cocktails of the latter are necessarily better-made than those of the former, but they are more to my tastes.

the cocktail is a strange thing. part of the magic, or alchemy, of the cocktail, is the assembling and admixture of various boozes in such a way that what one arrives at does not immediately impress upon the drinker the truth of it actually being just a glass of hard(ish) liquor(s). creations of great elegance, delicacy, and smoothness may be coaxed out of quite forceful and even caustic ingredients, and i respect these as high expressions of craftsmanship, even artistry. however, i prefer those cocktails that are a little more up in the shit; those from which one does not get the impression of a spirit subdued – tamed or transformed by mixological prowess – but of several distinct voices, put into excited and perhaps surprising conversation. it is not that there is no harmony in such drinks, but there is not only harmony. there may be moments of dissonance, moments of one voice, or one idea, drowning out or dominating others, interspersed with harmonies fleeting and unpredictable, or sustained but set back from the foremost interplay of flavours.*

this is in part why i love drinks that prominently employ ‘digestive’ bitters – one is introducing an element of considerable complexity into what is already a heady mix, and when it works the results can be truly impressive.** it is also why i as a rule loathe highballs, for nowhere is it more patent that the intent is to ‘mask’ the taste of the spirit therein. now, i don’t have a problem with people not liking the taste of booze, but it happens that i do. nor do i take issue with the frank and honest desire to just get wicked ripped tight, so i can appreciate the highball’s usefulness. i am not opposed to their existing, i would just rather not drink them. i like the taste of most alcohol, that is not bad alcohol, and so i would like to taste said taste. if the alcohol is truly awful stuff, more often than not adding orange juice and coconut milk and pineapple wedges is not going to much improve the situation, and more extreme (but less X-treme than pineapple wedges) measures may perhaps be in order.***

so Amor y Amargo doesn’t stock juice. they don’t serve highballs. they restrict themselves to the cocktail philosophy of “booze mixed with booze with a little aromatic booze for character”, and they do it well. perhaps the most playful of the drinks i had was one of the bartender’s creations that he dubbed My Old Piano. i had (predictably) asked for something weird and challenging and maybe a little savoury, and, mischief-maker that he was, the bartender had just the thing in mind. what he served up was all smoke and apple funk and some sort of warm, spicy confusion – i had to assume it was something involving calvados and the Laphroaig bitters that improbably exist and inevitably they stock, and some kind of mmel – it reminded me so weirdly of Thums Up or one of those other cuminy-tasting Indian pops. i was right about the mmelbut had the other stuff all flipped around. it was in fact rye, mezcal (which supplied the smoke), sweet vermouth, and apple bitters. shit was crazy. and the kind of trickery whereby one realizes as much by the involuntary narrowing of one’s eyes appraisingly as by the taste itself that one has been charmed. charmed, perplexed, in the best sense of the word.

we had a discussion about the provenance of the name, which was inspired by the Diana Ross song “My Old Piano”. i’m not sure i understood at the time, but i think that like the drink, the song and its lyrics have a confusing charm, both dignified and ridiculous. i’m not sure this is what he meant.

Love is called / My old piano / I have a ball / With my old piano / My baby entertains / The real life of my parties / But still retains / In all the dignity / His international style / Exudes an air of royalties.

what?

* i have said all this before, apparently. see “Bottled Symbolic/Semantic Violence.”

** at the same time, i can appreciate the position that some such ingredients are too wild to play well with others. i spoke with a bartender at the Comstock in SF who, for all its immense popularity, shied away from using fernet in cocktails (San Francisco is one of the largest consumers of fernet branca outside of Italy. it is conventionally taken as a shot with a shot of ginger in rapid succession). she did eventually capitulate in the form of a jest by making me a cocktail of fernet, sherry, sweet vermouth and genever (which i had said i thought was gross), which on paper now appears to be a riff on the Hanky Panky/Gibrone, but at the time was all very wtf and according to my notes tasted good, but a little rubbery, and like “gougère cheese air.” i trust this was either the dry sherry or the four other cocktails talking, and anyway, we were just in there looking to find out who shot who in the Embarcadero August, 1879.

*** notable exceptions to this “rule” would include fernet & coke, wherein despite the tooth-shrinking sweetness of cola, the fernet plays with it in such a way as to highlight that coke actually does have an incredibly weird and medicinal taste itself, to which we have just become accustomed, so the fernet succeeds in again making strange that so familiar product; fernet & orange juice, which seems to work only because it shouldn’t (think toothpaste and OJ); and a slew of soda-water-containing drinks: the gin & soda (where g&t makes me gag), campari & soda, pompier aka vermouth cassis. as much as i want to, however, i can’t abide whisk(e)ys & soda. generally i have too much poncey regard for scotch, and bourbon & soda distinctly tastes like watered-down (in the worst sense) bourbon to me. perhaps with rye? i doubt it.

additional exceptions would include the soon-to be recounted events of our ill-fated trip to Niagara Falls last summer (tentatively entitled “Hot Dogs at the Brink of Insanity”, that involved warm vodka & canned strawberry kiwi juice, shots (which i also loathe) at a Boston Pizza/Video Arcade, spending 45$ on a ferris wheel, and awakening/awakening into, greater life-pain than recent memory is fit to accommodate. the point being that while, if you can call pouring liquor and juice back and forth between bottle and can to achieve some uniformity a “highball”, highballs were involved, i wouldn’t say it elevated them in my esteem.

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resto oh oh, Uncategorized

Pig In The City

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well shit, in case you were keeping tabs (which you weren’t. i know you weren’t, why would you?), when in NYC the other week i managed by sheer special providence to knock another whatever off the ol’ Omnivore’s 100. myself and some compatriots were hoofing it through the East Village (from a wine bar that i accidentally invited several people to, being deceived by the [perhaps overly?] unprepossessing design of their snack menu. the fare [as in, the food, not the bill) itself was bold and streamlined, but the layout [of the menu] was horrible.*) on our way to get some #1 dumplings when what should up and totally exist but a CURRYWURST BAR.

so obviously we had to stop and have pilseners and currywurst. which was a tough decision, because we were on our way to get delicious dumplings, but after a moment of total psychological paralysis, one of our company came to my aid and was basically like, “Dude, currywurst,” which if you don’t know, is fries with fried sausage covered in curry sauce.

it’s basically the poutine of Germany. Continue reading

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