Month: August 2006

Drinking Games 

This summer the American movie culture has added a new drinking movie to the list. Beerfest is about a bunch of beer drinking dudes that vow to win the international drinking games held in the Munich underground during Oktoberfest. While the movie has the obligatory sophomoric humor, plenty of nudity and, well, lots of drinking, it also reminds us of that age-old pastime, drinking games.

From what I recall, drinking games are designed, well, to get people drunk. They are for those youthful drinkers who grimace at the taste of a shot of tequila or a gulp of beer. But taste is not their objective. They speed up the process of social lubrication for people who tend to sip by making them chug. Wine, beer, spirits… it doesn’t matter what you down, just that you are downing large amounts of it.

To jog you own memory, as the act of playing these games tends to kill brain cells and make you forget how to play them, I have listed a few basic drinking games. The rules are general and are apt to change during the course of the game as location, environment and state of inebriation may affect game play.
Chugging involves the basic game of how fast one can down a beer or glass of alcohol. It is the basic competition for drinking. Various devices such as oversized mugs, the tube and funnel or ‘yards’ of beer (a glass tube a yard long) can be used. The winner can win money, drinks, or the loser can be made to buy the next round.
Quarters (or shooters) is the quintessential drinking game. While most play it with a glass of beer, shots glasses filled with tequila are also a favorite. The rules are simple. You bounce a quarter off the table and try to make it into the glass. There are two ways to play. The shooter, if he makes it chooses the unlucky sap to drink the contents. Or, as everyone is intoxicated, they have to drink it themselves. This has never made sense to me as one could purposely miss to avoid downing the concoction. For style points one can catch the quarter in his or her teeth from the glass although someone better know the Heimlich maneuver.
Beer Pong is a complicated game which is a combination of bowling, shuffleboard and carnival game. Players attempt to put a tennis ball (although ping-pong balls work as well) into beer cups arranged in a triangle shape. Two players or teams attempt to put their balls in the cups. As the rules are extremely complicated and variable this can be a challenging game. It has achieved worldwide status through the World Series of Beer Pong and other professional tournaments. Of course, one could put cocktails in the glasses and make it much more challenging.
Kattabos is perhaps the oldest drinking game and was perhaps played at one of Plato’s parties. Known in the modern age as arrogance players pour a small amount of alcohol into a glass and then attempt to predict the flip of a coin. If they guess correctly, then the glass passes to the next person. If incorrect, then the player must drink the entire glass.
The Name Game is a drinking game that doesn’t center around speed drinking or chugging, but instead the interesting result of the fact that there is an inverse relationship between drinking and intelligence. The more you drink the dumber one gets. The name game takes advantage of this phenomena to hilarious results. One person says the name of a person, place or thing. The category must be decided upon beforehand and a “judge” is always a good idea. The next person must say the name, place or thing but it must start with the last letter of the previous player’s answer. For instance, with a category of fruit, the first person says “plum.” The next person can say “mango.” Then the next person can say “orange.” Repeats are not allowed. A variation involves clapping to a beat and the person must say their answer within a certain amount of time. The penalty is, of course, taking a drink.


Bombay Grill 

While Boise has its full share of ethnic restaurants to choose from, it’s nice to see an Indian restaurant migrate downtown. And although I make no claims to know excellent Indian food from just plain good Indian cuisine, I have faith in my ability to know “bad” food when I tastes it, no matter what the type. After a few lunch buffets and a dinner at Bombay Grill, I would definitely categorize it in the “good to excellent” category.

So it was a little disheartening to see the restaurant empty as we walked in on a Wednesday night. Why aren’t more people in here? Don’t people know that an Indian food restaurant is downtown? Don’t they know what they’re missing?

I’ll tell you what they’re missing. They’re missing an excellent meal, with flavors and spices not in your typical American kitchen (or grocery store for that matter). They’re missing naan and paratha, breads baked by putting dough on the sides of a clay oven. Indian breads are crisp, chewy and perfect for sopping up leftover sauce off the plate. Diners are also missing saag, a creamy spinach dish served with paneer (a type of cheese), lamb, chicken, seafood or potatoes. In a variety of spiciness levels one can choose from, you have to forget what you thought about grandma’s creamed spinach as a kid and at least try it. I personally can’t get enough of the stuff.

Missing out on Bombay Grill also means missing some of the best prepared lamb in the valley. You’ll get dozens of little bites of heaven at Bombay with tender chunks of lamb–still red inside–stewed into a variety of curries, skewered onto kabobs or barbecued in the tandoor. And if heaven has a heaven, it’s where you’ll find the lamb shahi korma, a cream sauce with mixed vegetables, almonds cashews and raisins. My mouth is watering just writing about it.

I think for the inexperienced Indian food diner, lunch would be the ideal time to go. At the lunch buffet you can try a little bit of this and that (don’t forget the saag) and then go back for seconds. The waitstaff is top-notch and helpful in describing what, exactly, a “vindaloo” is.

In the evening, ordering a la carte is the way to go–or more specifically, I recommendoverordering. Get way too much food, and get a variety of things, because if there’s one thing that comes close to a good Indian meal, it’s the leftovers of that same meal the next day.

–Bingo Barnes can say shahi korma three times fast while juggling samosas.

Bombay Grill, 928 Main St., 345-7888. Tue.-Sun.: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-10 p.m.; closed Monday

A Tale About Frontier Whisky 

Bulleit Bourbon (pronounced like what you shoot out of a gun) has only been on the shelves a few years. Some states only began seeing it this year, but it already has made some heady progress in knocking out other premium bourbons off their top shelf. At the San Francisco World Spirits competition it took home a gold in 2004 beating out Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek and Jim Beam Black. Paul Pacult, perhaps the spirit industry’s best-known taster and critic, gave it four stars.

As a writer of spirits and cocktails myself it’s about time I came up with my own form of ranking. You’ve got to keep it simple for brains pickled by alcohol so we’ll go with a five-step ranking. In the middle you’ve got “OK”, then with quality going up we’ll go with “Good” and “Damn Good.” On the lower end of the scale we’ll go with “Drinkable” and “Swill.” Hmmm, perhaps that last one should be “Rotgut.” I’ll have to think about that. Anyway, We’ll call Boulleit bourbon “Damn Good” and leave it at that.

While it has only been on the shelves for a few years, the story goes back to 1830 when Augustus Bulleit moved from New Orleans to Louisville, Kentucky. Being a brandy maker in Louisville it was only a matter of time before he began making bourbon. My guess is grapes weren’t readily available, but corn was. When given lemons make lemonade right? As migration expanded the Western frontier, settlers and frontiersmen took whiskey along with them for trade, for medicine and for kickin’ back a little on the long wagon ride. Business was good for a whiskey maker but in 1860 Augustus died and so did his bourbon. Over a century passes and along comes Tom Bulleit, a descendent who resurrects the recipe and begins making it again. Thanks Tom.

Bulleit comes in a very cool, frontier looking bottle. The bottle is narrower at the bottom than at the top giving it a hand-crafted, old-time look. The label is put on slightly crooked, again a shrewd marketing ploy to make one believe each bottle is lovingly hand filled, prepared and packaged. It sure tastes like it is. And lest you forget what kind of whiskey it is, embossed letters on the bottle remind you that it is “Frontier Whiskey,” just like old Augustus used to make. But unlike frontier whiskey that will take old paint off a fencepost, make hardened old cowboys rasp and cough after a chug from the corked top, pickle a rattlesnake or sterilize a wound caused by an wayward arrow, this whiskey is smooth. Of course, after you drink it, just for fun, you should wheeze to your friends “That’s some damn good whiskey pard’ner.”

Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi 

Sometimes it isn’t wise to listen to the voices inside your head. After seeing “Ichiban” on the sign outside, that little voice was saying “sushi” as we walked in the door of Ichiban Steakhouse, and visions of perfectly cut pieces of raw fish shoved aside the visions of sugarplums now seven months past their prime on the main brain stage. Hungry and salivating over the thought of sushi, I was ready to eat. But when we walked in the door, the place seemed entirely empty. Then the spawn and I realized we had entered the back entrance of the restaurant, and everyone was on the other side.

After walking to the other side of the restaurant, it suddenly dawned on me that this was one of those places where you sit around the grill and watch the chef do a percussion with the knives and spatula. He’d juggle the egg before cracking it on the grill, make a lot of comments intended to be funny, construct the flaming volcano out of an onion and, as my dad once put it, ruin a filet mignon by chopping it up in to chunks. The only thing is, the spawn think it’s a riot. It’s kind of like a mini ethnic Disneyland with food. They love the show–”even when the chef misses and the egg cracks across the spatula.

A typical grill seats eight and although the restaurant has at least that number of grills, they packed us in to one with two other groups of patrons. This is par for the course at a Japanese steakhouse, where maximization of the chef’s time is necessary. It’s much easier for him to slice, dice and stir fry rice for a group of eight at a time than eight individual servings.

But my desire for sushi, and the fact that I told the spawn we were going for sushi (which is one of their favorites), made us order a few a la carte items from the tiny sushi bar. The sushi looked a little anemic, but if I closed my eyes it tasted fine. Knowing there would be quite a bit of food from any of the meat selections on the menu, I limited the spawn to one children’s portion of the teriyaki chicken, and I got the big mama-jamba plate, the Kinja platter. With shrimp, lobster and filet mignon in addition to the miso soup, kabob-ish appetizer and dessert called a “snowball” (a chocolate sundae with coconut), I knew I’d have enough to share with the two little birds next to me.

The spawn, while quite entertained, were also very well-behaved throughout the whole meal. And the other patrons, whose initial looks about being forced to sit next to two young-uns were not seemingly positive, by the end actually looked amused.

Back to the food. Yeah, it was good. It was cooked excellently and we had full tummies walking out of there. Besides you have to admire a place that refills your tea and the kid’s drinks as often as they did. As we left, Ichiban got the best compliment I can think of: The spawn asked if we could go again sometime.

–Bingo Barnes does not even attempt to juggle eggs.

Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi, 1233 Broadway Ave., 426-9188. Mon.-Fri.: 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Sun.-Thu.: 4:30 p.m.10 p.m., Fri.-Sat.: 4:30-11 p.m.

The Original Sin… Pomegranate

If you’ve ever broken open a pomegranate you might ask yourself, “Why would anyone want to eat that?” Granted, it’s not the most appealing fruit to American palettes that prefer large volumes of soft homogenous flesh in their fruit. The inside of a pomegranate contains hundreds of smaller flesh covered seeds and resembles a tumor gone bad rather than a fruit. But this apple shaped fruit with what looks like a bullet exit on one end has been around for millennia. Some scholars even believe that in the Garden of Eden Eve actually plucked a pomegranate and not an apple as modern Western religious folk would have you believe.

Cultivated around the Mediterranean and Middle East for as long as recorded history, the flavor ranges from sweet to tart with a strong tannin flavor. Most people have already encountered pomegranate juice in the form of Grenadine syrup, which is thickened and sweetened pomegranate juice.

As Europeans migrated to the new world, they brought the fruit with them to cultivate. The reasons were simple. It is easy to grow in warm and temperate climates. Its versatility allows it to be used as a juice, in foods, as spices and as medicine. One pomegranate can provide 40 percent of a daily requirement for vitamin C and it has a large range of anti-oxidants. It has been shown in clinical trials to be effective in reducing heart risk factors, lowering blood pressure and has had some promising results in combating prostate cancer.

With it’s popularity rising in the West (Oprah has her own version of a pomegranate martini) it is no wonder we would find new pomegranate products creeping on to the shelves. Pomegranate juice sales increased 800 percent in 2005 and at least two liquor companies have incorporated the pomegranate into their products as well.

PAMA, produced by PAMA Spirits Co. in Bardstown, Kentucky, uses California pomegranates to create a sweet and tangy liqueur that mixes great in light summer drinks and martinis. Lately, I’ve found it nice over ice topped with club soda and a lime but the tag that comes on the neck of each bottle has an array of cocktail recipes to try.

One of my favorite vodkas, Pearl, has introduced a new pomegranate flavored vodka called Persephone which makes a fantastic martini. The name is a clue to the ancient story behind the pomegranate. In Greek mythology, Hades kidnapped Persephone to be his wife in the underworld. When Persephone’s mother, Demeter mourned for her, all things green quit growing as mama was the goddess of the harvest. That’s when papa Zeus stepped in. He couldn’t see the earth dying over this matter. But the Fates had ruled that anyone who ate or drank in the underworld was cursed to spend eternity there. And, after Hades tricked Persephone to eat six pomegranate seeds she was cursed to spend six months of the year down below. So, when Persephone is underground, mom mourns and we have fall and winter.