Month: November 2006

A Classic Remake 

Author Ian Fleming’s James Bond is perhaps given the most credit with the martini’s phoenix-like status over the years. Every so often, a Bond movie comes out and the famous “Shaken, not stirred,” line delivered by the Bond du jour inspires many to order up the deliciously dry concoction. Just released, the remade Casino Royalerevisits the old 1953 story in which Flemming had high hopes for his version of the martini.

About midway through the film, during the poker games to end all poker games, Bond orders a martini, and on second thought, gives the barman a recipe. In our jaded modern world one might think that calling out a specific brand of gin in a movie might be product placement, but true to the original Casino Royale, Bond orders his drink with three parts Gordon’s Gin, one of vodka and a half-measure of Kina Lillet, garnished with a long slice of lemon peel. Take note, all you closet romanticists: Bond then christens his new concoction the Vesper.

Let’s deconstruct this recipe. Gordon’s is a brand of London dry gin, fitting for a spy of the British Crown. In the original Casino Royale, the vodka, some say, represented the Russian influence during the Cold War, when the drink originally was invented. In the remake, however, the Cold War is reminisced about. The Kina Lillet is an interesting choice as a substitute for the dry vermouth. This herbal wine is often substituted for the dry French vermouth in classic martini recipes. By using so much, it has a tendency to make the martini slightly amber in color and very wet. The addition of a lemon peel is interesting not only for the color and shape, but the chemical reaction as well. Lemon peel tends to soak up the harsh bitterness of gin to some degree and imparts a light citrus flavor if left to marinate for a few minutes. It’s subtle, but so is Bond.

Only once in Fleming books did Bond drink a martini. In subsequent books, Bond drank champagne, bourbon and scotch. It was only in the movies that the famous martini-drinking spy developed his signature drink. As an final note and commentary about Bond’s legendary martini status, in the remake of Casino Royale, a bartender asks the new blond, blue-eyed Bond if he wants his martini shaken or stirred. “I don’t give a damn,” he replies.

–Bingo Barnes

Advertisements

Koi 

I love sushi. If I were on death row, sushi and pepperoni pizza would be part of my last meal. My internal depth gauges seem to malfunction when I sit down at a sushi bar. I can order piece after piece, roll after roll, and I never seem to fill up. It amazes and astounds my friends. Then I myself am amazed and astounded when I get the bill and realize I’ve eaten three days’ salary worth of raw fish.

Boise is lucky to not only have so many sushi restaurants, but good ones. One of the newest on the scene is Koi, in the home of the former Grand Gourmet. An upscale and thoroughly modern interior embraces guests as they enter. The sushi bar and accompanying cocktail bar in the main room expands to the back with comfortable dining tables surrounded by beaded screens and water features. Sound travels lightly in Koi, trapped by the curves and comfortable spaces the interior design provides.

My sushi partner and I started with my traditional double drink, a large hot sake and a large Kirin Ichiban. They balance and support each other for that hot/cold yin/yang thing. The menu is extensive, with an array of sushi and sashimi, soups, appetizers, salads and entrees, some of which include a South American fusion quality. The hot scallop appetizer in a mushroom and cheese sauce was to die for. The appetizer sampler gave us an assorted taste of several kinds of thinly sliced sashimi, shrimp and asparagus, all beautifully arranged and presented.

Our order of sushi and rolls arrived, and the food was plated very artfully. The house special Tokyo Roll, a rice-less tuna roll wrapped inside a thinly sliced cucumber shell, was superb. No piece of sushi was half-cut or small and even the mackerel, which can smell very, well, fishy, when it’s not fresh, was odor-free and delicious. For an entree, we shared the broiled freshwater eel. This fatty piece of fish resembles Kobe beef cheeks and melted in our mouths. With a sweet eel sauce and a sprinkle of sansyo, it was divine.

Koi is definitely an upscale sushi restaurant. You can get high-quality, cheaper sushi at other restaurants around, but if you want fine art, a full assortment of exquisite cocktails, fancy specialty house rolls and Japanese entrees unlike any other you can find in town, this is the place. Koi is the Museum of Modern Art of sushi restaurants in Boise.

–Bingo Barnes’ fantasy is to eat the Little Mermaid, dipped in soy sauce and wasabi.

Eat, Eat and Be Merry 

Thanksgiving weekend is upon us, and you know what that means; turkey, football and a four-day weekend! And while we love turkey, we really think pizza goes best with football. Larry Narasaki, owner of the Nick-N-Willy’s Pizza at 5628 W. State (Nick-N-Willy’s has two other Boise locations and one Meridian location as well), dropped off several pizzas for us to munch on. The take-n-bake pizzas are made with fresh ingredients and they ROCK! We chowed down on the “Fresh Jalepeno Burn”, “Outback” “Aegean” and more. Feed your favorite football fans from this new boutique pizza joint which is definitely an upgrade from frozen pizza shingles.

If you’re planning on going organic for Thanksgiving be warned that just because a company claims something is organic, doesn’t mean it is. A watchdog group for organic food, The Cornucopia Institute, has filed a legal complaint with the USDA saying that earlier this year, Wal-Mart spokespeople stated that the store would dramatically increase the number of organic offerings (at significantly lower prices of course), but is now being accused of labeling things as organic when they really aren’t. Some of these foods are allegedly being produced at corporate mega-farms in China with no organic oversight or regulations. To label products as organic, a farmer or rancher has to be certified by the USDA. There are many regulations to not only protect consumers, but the organic industry as well. If found to be violating these regulations, Wal-Mart could incur fines of up to $10,000 per offense. For more information about Wal-Mart’s alleged violations of organic regulations visit www.cornucopia.org.

For many, the holidays are an especially important time to offer aid to the hungry and homeless. Giving a turkey or volunteering to serve meals at shelters during the holidays provides both a service to the community and warm fuzzy feeling for the volunteers. You could get that warm fuzzy feeling by dropping off two or more cans of food to Super Suppers Boise at 1756 W. State St., and the Athlete’s Foot at 1758 W. State St. Donations to the food drive benefit the Idaho Food Bank.

Mixing a Beer 

If you are a beer purist, the kind who appreciates the subtle differences between lagers and porters, pilsners and stouts, stop reading now. Go away. I don’t want you to read what I’m about to say. Besides, appreciating an extremely cold, clear beer–yes, it was my idea to start Boise Weekly’s annual Coldest Beer in Boise contest despite those beer snobs who yell and scream that beer shouldn’t be ice cold–I also like beer cocktails. Yes, I said beer cocktails. Beer mixed with spirits and other juices. “Blasphemy!” you say? Well, with Thanksgiving weekend upon us, I want to prepare you for the relatives who give you the evil eye as you drink your umpteenth can of beer while lazing in the La-Z-Boy in front of the big game. A drink in a glass might, just might, make them think you’re taking a break on the beer. It’s worth a shot. And speaking of shots, try a Skip & Go Naked, which is a glass of beer with a shot of gin, lemon juice and a dash of sugar. Of course, if you actually skip and go naked, the relatives will definitely give you the eye. If you’re lucky, they might even leave. The next morning, if Cousin Teetotaler is still around, you can have a Red Eye, which is basically a Bloody Mary with beer instead of vodka. If you avoid the salad fixin’s in the glass, you might be able to get away with it at breakfast by calling it tall glass of tomato juice. On the other hand, if you want the full-on dramatic “I’m drinking booze so leave me alone” effect, go full bore with the Flaming Dr. Pepper. This concoction requires a ceremonial process. Take a shot glass and fill it with Amaretto. Then you pour a dash of Bacardi 151 or similar overproof spirit and light the thing on fire. When the flames flare up, drop the shot glass into a beer. When the fire goes out–a critical step–you slam the whole thing down. It tastes like its namesake, which is pretty cool.

Security and Shelter 

Surel Mitchell explores protection, wonders of shellac

I have enjoyed Surel Mitchell’s work since I last interviewed her for the Spring 2004 Idaho Arts Quarterly, in which she was the cover artist. So I was honored to be given the opportunity to review her latest show at J Crist Gallery. Can I be an unbiased reviewer? Probably not. In the small Boise art world, it’s hard not to have developed a few friendships with fellow artists. But I rarely mince words.

Golden, honey-dripped three- and two-dimensional works by Mitchell adorn the J Crist Gallery main room with more of Mitchell’s works down halls and around corners. Having seen her studio and lifetime of work, it’s hard to pin her down to a specific style. But if viewers only see her show, entitled “N’est ce pas?,” they will clearly see that Mitchell has focused on a theme over the previous few years, especially with her exploration and love of shellac. The show is a great opportunity to see Mitchell’s recent work.

“Sheltering That Which Is Fragile and Precious” is one series of pieces in the show. The pieces are shellacked packages hanging on the gallery walls that offer amber tones of paper-wrapped things bound with waxed twine. They were made “while thinking about things precious and fragile,” the Mitchell told me in 2004, which mirrors the name for this series. The shellac turns the paper slightly transparent and it’s as though a viewer can glimpse ghostly objects inside. Some packages offer no glimpse of their contents and only their titles (“Air,” “Earth” and “Water”) offer a hint at what is inside. The packages of letters allude to freedom-of-speech themes, perhaps insinuating that to protect it, we must secure it.

Protection and shelter are major themes in Mitchell’s work. Her drawings of umbrellas (note: Mitchell dislikes sunlight) portray unreliable protection, as holes and tears seem to work their way onto the fragile fabrics on their tops. Some umbrella drawings verge on the abstract, and look like large, canopied trees, drawn in a minimalist style. Some of the drawings on large sheets of handmade paper are linked together with the shellac and the drawings stretched all the way across. Similarly, other drawings of circles and imperfect circles with wonderful amber hues reflect not only the circles of sun and light sources, but of umbrellas bent by the wind as if viewed from above.

In another group of pieces, a row of beautifully built display boxes, each with a working antique keyed lock, protect a series of poems and corresponding books. Each book, made with shellacked pages and bound ornately as an illuminated manuscript, is mounted inside a case below a gold-inked poem placed on a black background. If viewers were to remove the books and carefully leaf through the pages, they could read the handwritten poem inside.

The one work that stands out the most, and differs from the rest in the collection, is a large brown painting which commands a central point in the show. The canvas is a field of brown so dark, it’s almost black. Floating in this void is an object. The title gives no hint to what the object is. While it looks like a seed pod or blossom, organic in nature, it could just as easily be a medical device or alien probe.

While the work is beautiful, stark and disturbing at the same time, it stands in contrast to the other works much like an exclamation point on a sigh.

The Flaming Moe 

You won’t find this cocktail at any bar in town. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a recipe for it or someone daring enough to drink it, but it warrants mention as the drink rapidly approaches its 15-year anniversary On November 21, 1991 an episode of The Simpsons aired in which Homer, unable to find a beer while being forced to watch his sister-in-laws’ vacation slides, mixed together a bunch of liquor and one secret ingredient: cough syrup. When one sister-in-law accidentally dropped cigarette ash into the concoction it went up like Bananas Foster and voila, the Flaming Homer was born. The drink was stolen by Moe the bartender who renamed it the Flaming Moe, promoted it, and earned temporary fame and fortune because of it, ruining his friendship with Homer who revealed the secret ingredient at an Aerosmith concert in Moe’s Tavern.

So how do you make a Flaming Moe? Soon after the episode aired, some Finnish bartenders devised a recipe based on the fictional drink. The cocktail, called Salmiakki Koskenkorva, or Salmari for short, is made with a Finnish vodka flavored with ground-up salty licorice candy named Turkish Pepper. This candy contains ammonium chloride, giving the cocktail a black licorice and cough medicine taste. It has the unique side effect of stimulating the salivary glands, an effect similar to Homer’s ability to immediately drool around anything appetizing. The Salmari cocktail had its heyday in the 1990s, creating somewhat of a cocktail revolution in Finland at the time. Today it is apparently still a popular drink for tourists.

While Finland’s recreation of the Flaming Moe might taste like cough syrup, the concoction called Purple Drank allegedly contains actual prescription cough syrup and lemon-lime soda or fruit juice. It has no ties to the original Flaming Moe as far as we can tell.

Pacific Subs 

When it comes to Idaho, there are only a few things related to submarines. Lake Pend Oreille in the northern part of the state is one of the deepest in the world and the fifth-deepest lake in the United States. It is the founding home of the Farragut Naval Training Station where the U.S. Navy tests large-scale prototype submarines. Also, there is a Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine SSN-764 that is named the “Boise.” Other than that, we’re a landlocked state.

The submarine also lends its name to a sandwich. Legend heralds that the sandwich that became known as the submarine sandwich (or sub) was brought to America in the early 1900s by an Italian immigrant named Dominic Conte. He named the sandwich for the shape of the baguette roll that resembled the shape of a submarine hull. The sandwich is also known as the hoagie, the grinder, the torpedo and the hero, to name a few variations. Interestingly enough, I was heavily recruited by the U.S. Navy out of high school spend time on a submarine tending to the reactors. It was an interesting idea but the thought of being cooped up being underwater all the time was not my idea of fun at the tender young age of 18. All of these thoughts raced through my mind as my dining companions and I ordered our food at Pacific Subs on Main Street.

Sandwiched between The Hangar and Pengilly’s Saloon in downtown Boise, this sub shop stays open late and delivers until 3 a.m. It’s nothing fancy, but the ingredients look fresh and they have a large variety of sandwiches and a few salads. Our order included the Big Fella (med. $6.99), which is replete with Genoa salami, capicola, ham, roast beef, turkey breast, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and onions. We also got a small turkey sandwich ($3.57), a small veggie ($3.57) and a medium TBA ($4.99), which along with the turkey, bacon and avocado from which it gets its name, also has provolone cheese, Ranch dressing, lettuce and tomato. It’s the kind of place that is nice to drop in for a sandwich to go. The prices are fair and they even serve beer.

I have to admit, some of the hardest reviews to do are at restaurants that are decidedly average. It would have to blow me out of the water for me to get too excited. On the other hand, it does blow away chain sub shops. And, I’d rather eat a sub than live in one.

–Bingo Barnes lives in a glass house.

China Palace 

Close your eyes. Imagine Homer Simpson holding a doughnut. His eyes are half open. His tongue is hanging out the side of his mouth, painfully hanging on to a dollop of drool. Homer says, “Mmm, doouuugghhhnuuut.”

Now imagine me (not so different than Homer) holding a fried shrimp with its carapace and legs still on, lightly sprinkled with salt and pepper and saying, “Mmm, salt and pepper shrimp.” This wasme when I visited China Palace. Salt and pepper shrimp is a favorite dish of mine. While most Western (a.k.a. American) folks will not eat shrimp unless the shrimp are completely peeled, for this dish you are supposed to put the whole thing in your mouth and crunch it all up. Yeah, you might be picking a piece of shell or a tail out of your teeth later, but you won’t get the full effect unless you do. Consider the shell and tail roughage, good for your intestines. It’s sublime. At least, I think so.

OK, so my dining partner wasn’t too thrilled with it, but she was completely satisfied with her moo shu pork–those fun little wrappers you fill up with vegetables and your choice of meat.

We wanted to get some Chinese style BBQ spare ribs for an appetizer, but they’d had a run on them earlier. It must have been busy during the dinner rush. We were dining later–in fact, the last to leave–which may explain the slight lack of attention we got. But that’s OK. We were hungry and lost in conversation anyway.

Chinese restaurants used to be a dime a dozen. They’ve been replaced over the last 20 years with a variety of other Asian cuisine, from Thai to Mongolian to Japanese, so the ones left standing must be doing something right. China Palace is no exception.

The menu has all the basics. There’s a variety of Kung Paos, Szechuans, Mandarin this and that, Hunan-styled dishes, fried rice dishes, soups and even a couple of clay pot dishes. All are available with your standard meats (beef, chicken, pork or seafood) or vegetarian style. There’s nothing fancy like you’d get at that big Chinese chain restaurant, but it will be hearty and filling. They don’t have to tell you your dishes will come out family style. You won’t be subjected to a lesson in how your sauce is made. They serve it up and leave you alone, which is what I like.

The true test is if the leftovers you take home are good the next day. I’m enjoying the remnants of the meal as I write. Oops. Excuse me while I get that last piece of rice out of my keyboard.

–Bingo Barnes opts for a fork over chopsticks when he is really hungry.

Sunday Distractions 

On a Sunday afternoon, tired of the beautiful sunshine, the gorgeous fall colors, the perfect temperature for driving around with the windows down, we ducked in to the Crescent “No Lawyers” Bar.

On Sundays, the prime tables and chairs are dominated by middle-aged men watching football games wearing the “uniform”–sports jerseys of their favorite NFL teams. This leaves the less desirable tables for viewing the games available … exactly what I wanted. When I go to a bar with a companion who desires attention be lavished on her, I try to sit with my back to the televisions or I tend to get distracted. Strong peripheral vision is a genetic trait cultivated over millennia that protects us hunter types from being ambushed in the tall grass by saber-toothed tigers or rock-wielding advanced primates.

I ordered a bloody Mary, a double-distracter as it provides things (garnishes) to play with and the dulling effect of alcohol, thereby lowering my ability to avoid distraction. An order of tater tots loaded with toppings provided another distraction, especially when the bloody Mary kicked in and I started trying to toss the tots in my mouth.

After the bloody Mary was gone, I ordered a cold Bud to wash the tots down, guzzled in as few trips to the lips as possible (the modus operandi for a Sunday afternoon), which softened the glares from my companion. Someone started giving away door prizes but didn’t call our numbers, so I ordered a Margarita.

Wow. Look over there. That was that some great punt return! And on that screen there is a fumble. Ooh, those cheerleaders are hot. Hey! There’s one tot left. It’s mine!

Everyone is cheering. What happened? Which screen? Darn. I missed it. Ouch, that was a hard hit by that big dude over there. Now where’d she go? Oh well, barkeep, another round of tots. The Raiders just scored and this game has another quarter to go.

The Snows of Revolution 

During the Bolshevik revolution, there was the communist Red Army, the Ukranian nationalist Green Army, the anarchist Black Army and the White Army. The White Army backed the Tsar and were known as the White Russians. While the drink of the same name contains a Russian spirit–vodka–it is the only tenuous link to the origin of the White Russian.

The cocktail is fairly modern, but it is definitely one of the mainstays that any bartender worth his or her salt knows how to make.

It has even made it onto the silver screen. The Dude in The Big Lebowski drank White Russians and got mighty upset when they were spilled. Catwoman in the movie of the same name ordered a White Russian sans everything but milk. Made with approximately equal parts vodka, Kahlúa and milk (or cream), this basic drink has spawned many variations (from Wikipedia with additional sources):

White Russian–Vodka, Kahlúa and milk in equal portions over ice. Tia Maria or a similar coffee liqueur can be used instead of Kahlúa. Half and half or whipping cream instead of milk can be used for a thicker concoction.

Anna Kournikova–A White Russian with skim milk; Black Russian–A White Russian sans lactose; Bolshevik (a.k.a. Blonde Russian)–A White Russian with Irish Crème liqueur instead of milk; Brown Russian–A White Russian with powdered chocolate drink mix; Cocaine Lady–A White Russian with peppermint; Dirty Russian–A White Russian with chocolate syrup; Irish Russian (a.k.a. Smooth Black Russian)–A Tall Black Russian with Guinness beer; KGB–If we told you, we’d have to kill you; Russian Yoo-Hoo–A White Russian with Yoo-Hoo instead of milk; Tall Black Russian–A Black Russian with cola; White Canadian–A White Russian with goat’s milk; White Cuban–A White Russian with rum instead of vodka; White Meseta–A White Russian with a splash of bourbon; White Vegan–A White Russian with soy milk.