Friday, September 23, 2016


Of course it's the record player that's really cool.

You’ve probably heard me say before that James Bond, fictional as he was, must have been the worst customer in the world when he came into the bar where you were working. He’d be there telling you how to make his drink, telling you how to do your job, being an all round clever dick.  I imagine a certain amount of spit might have gone into the shaker if he ever turned his eyes away.

Well, thanks to a book titled The Man with the Golden Typewriter, a collection of Ian Fleming’s correspondence, edited by Fergus Fleming (Ian’s nephew), it seems that Bond’s far from fictional creator wasn’t much less annoying.

Fergus has tracked down Ernest Cuneo, an American lawyer, newspaperman, author, intelligence liaison officer,a spy during World War Two, and a long time friend of Fleming.  Cuneo is quoted in the book, “Of all the maddening trivia through which I have suffered, nothing quite matched Fleming’s instructions on how his (martinis) were to be made. [He] was painfully specific about both the vermouth and the gin and explained each step to the guy who was going to mix it as if it were a delicate brain operation. Several times I impatiently asked him why the hell he didn’t go downstairs and mix it himself, but he ignored me as if he hadn’t heard and continued right on with his instructions. Equally annoyingly, he always warmly congratulated the captain when he tasted it as if he had just completed a fleet manoeuvre at flank speed.”
Oh dear. 

     According to some credible, if not cast-iron, online sources there was a time when Fleming was drinking a bottle of gin a day. His doctor convinced him to substitute bourbon.  Where do people find these doctors?

I can’t for the life of me find a photograph of Ian Fleming with a martini, unless that's one above in a wine glass (surely not): hard enough to find one of him with a drink.  Cigarettes and guns no problem whatsoever.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


I was thinking of the opening line of Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights Big City, “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this ..”

I was in Beverly Hills – and I always feel like I’m an illegal immigrant when I slide over the border into Beverly Hills. Everyone there is (or at least gives the impression of being) so slick, so moneyed, so untroubled by the realities of existence, so veal-calf-ish, that I think the secret police are going to ask for my papers, find I don’t have the right ones, and then, if I’m lucky, they’ll give me 30 minutes to get out of town.

In this case I was there because I’d been to a wedding at the Beverley Hills Courthouse (congratulations Elina, congratulations Anthony) and this was the post-reception drink.  We were in Wally’s, which sounds like a modest kind of place, but this being Beverly Hills it isn’t.  You want to read their blurb?
“Creating a space that allows Wally’s to elevate its core mission of providing quality, value and service – with the inclusion of a restaurant under the same roof – has spawned a unique environment in which to enjoy both an elegant dining and a unique shopping experience.”

Well it’s not untrue.  The cheese counter in the back is hard to resist.  And as you can see, the walls are lined with bottles of wine, which seems a very reasonable design choice, though I couldn’t help thinking that once in a while somebody must grab one of those bottles and try to stick it in their bag.  Maybe there are security cameras – and I’m sure if they catch you they beat you up very discreetly, if very thoroughly.

Anyway, this cocktail is the main reason to blog about the Wally’s:
POMP IT UP - Belvedere vodka, Pamplemousse liqueur, grapefruit juice, up - $14
     Personally I’d have squirted some lemon or lime in it – but that’s me all over, never quite sour or acidic enough.

These days I also find it impossible to hear the word pamplemousse without thinking of the song, “Foux Da Fa Fa” by Flight of the Conchords, currently being used in a TV commercial for milk:

And I did wonder why the drink was pinkish – pink grapefruit I supposed, which it is, but channeled (I’m now pretty sure) through pamplemousse rose liqueur, there are quite a few of them apparently and I can't swear this is the kind they use at Wally's, but you get the idea:

And the fact is, Wally’s do serve some kick ass charcuterie and cheese plates, almost worth the risk of crossing the border:


Thursday, September 8, 2016


More sausage lore:  There’s a terrific Thai place in a mini-mall on Sunset Boulevard (the address is the ominous 6660 W Sunset Blvd) called luv2eat, where the staff is wonderfully gender fluid.

And the food is really good too.  This is Thai Isaan Sausage, which was beautifully sour and acidic, which which may have been because of fermentation, though it could easily have been lime juice: there’s sticky rice in there too.

And there’s this, 3 kinds of barbecue (that’s 2 pork, one duck) over jade noodles:

And also on the menu is something that caught my eye as “pork leg over” – which sounds pretty obscene if you’re an Englishman – though of course in fact it’s “pork leg over rice” – but a man is entitled to snicker, fluidly or not.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Well it's true, but there's no need for the potty mouth, is there?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


One of the things I like about old cookbooks is that they’re often wonderfully imprecise about quantities – a pinch of this, a dash of that, a knob of the other.  Likewise with certain old cocktail recipe books. 

If you look into a copy of The Artistry of Mixing Drinks by Frank Meier, of the Ritz Bar in Paris, (and I confess I only have a facsimile of the 1934 reprint) you’ll find a somewhat inscrutable recipe for a Queen’s Peg:
“In a large wineglass; a piece of ice, one half-glass of gin; fill with Champagne and serve.”
But how large is a large wineglass?  How large is that piece of ice?  Presumably the measure of gin is half an ordinary sized wineglass, rather than a large one, but how large is that?  I don’t know and I really don’t care.  And with this attitude I made my own, using cava rather than Champagne, natch.

    I also went with a tumbler rather than a large wineglass, but I thought that was near enough volume-wise, and I’m still on my large spherical ice ball kick, so that made for a pretty substantial piece of ice.  I put in a decent pour of goodish gin – Death’s Door from Wisconsin - and I topped it off with some run-of- the-mill cava.  It looked like this:

      And how did it taste?  Well, it tasted odd.  You could still very much taste the gin – Death’s Door is a pokey liquor, heavy on juniper, coriander and fennel – and you could of course taste the bubbly.  But it was less than the sum of its part, or maybe it was that the parts simply refused to combine. It wasn’t bad and it was certainly drinkable but I think I’d rather have had a glass of gin and a glass of cava separately.  So then I tried again. 

Smaller glass, blue ice sphere, different tum-of-the-mill cava, much cheaper supermarket gin.  Friends, it tasted better, at least in so far as the tastes blended somewhat, which may be only to say that the taste of the gin receded in the mix, so the drink tasted more like a gin and tonic, with cava replacing the tonic.  Not the very worst idea, but still somehow an attempt to combine things that don’t really need combining.

Could I tell you exactly what quantities went into either of my two Queen’s Pegs? No I could not.  Could I make another that tasted exactly the same as either of them?  No, not exactly, although I think I could get near enough.  Whether you’d like it, I can’t say.

I looked up a few modern recipes for Queen’s Peg and they of course tend to be very precise - the modern consumer likes to be told exactly what to do - but they’re still variable.  Epicurious says 3/4 ounce dry gin to 6 ounces of Champagne, James Beard says 3/4 ounce dry gin to 4 ounces of Champagne, says 1 part gin to 5 parts Champagne but has nothing to say about overall quantity.  The ice cube seems optional.  There’s also some debate about whether it should be served in a wine glass or a champagne flute, but really, that’s likely to be the least of your problems.

Sunday, August 28, 2016


 You know I’ve always been interested in how the owners of restaurants decide what name to give to their establishments.  And for years I’ve been walking past a restaurant with the inscrutable name No Tomatoes, an Indian café in a mini- mall on Beverley Boulevard.

Why would you call a restaurant No Tomatoes?  Why would you choose that name as opposed to, say, No Partridges, or No Bull’s Pizzles.  I’ll probably never know.

I walked past it again a couple of days ago.  It was first thing in the morning and I was on my way to an appointment.  It was early and the place wasn’t open yet, but it looked as though it was still in business.  They had even, it appeared, recently taken a delivery of large amounts of tomato. Wha?

But what really caught my eye on the menu displayed in the window was the naan ‘wich – not an especially exotic or difficult thing to make – just curried vegetables and chicken wrapped in naan - but since I’d never had one, I decided it’d buy one on my way home after the appointment.

Back I went, at about 11.30.  There were tables outside the restaurant, the front door was open, and as I stepped inside I could smell the sweet rising scent of curry, and see food sitting in warming trays.  And behind the counter there was a harassed looking man, obviously Latino rather than Indian, who said, harshly, “Closed.  No more open.”

I wasn’t quite sure what that meant.  Did it mean maybe that he was getting things ready and the food wasn’t hot yet but he’d be opening later?  Or had there been some sudden disaster, a power cut maybe?  It did look a bit gloomy in there.  I tried to ask for more details, but the guy repeated, a little louder this time, “Closed.  No more open.”  Well, I can take a hint.

So I headed home, and decided I’d go into the local supermarket on the way, and buy something for lunch.  In I went and, blow me down, they had a salami flavored with absinthe!!!  I couldn’t resist any more that you’d have been able to.

 Man that was a good salami.  I tried to convince myself that I could taste the absinthe and maybe I could, but it really wasn’t the full on Green Fairy experience. 

But I could definitely taste the hatch chiles, very hot but not burning, and there was something gorgeously rich and greasy about the whole thing. 

Probably it was better than a No Tomatoes naan ‘wich would have been, but having looked on Yelp it seems that No Tomatoes is closed permanently, so I suppose I’ll never know.  But that still leaves a few unanswered questions.  Why was the name still up, why was the menu still in the window, why were their tables outside, why was there food in the heating trays inside, and why had they bought so many tomatoes?  Somebody out there possibly knows.  Here’s a picture from Yelp that shows what I missed:

Thursday, August 25, 2016


There was a short time of my life when I used to hang out with actors (I had my reasons).  And some of them used to drink Black Velvet – i.e. Guinness and cider - because it was supposed to be good for the voice – it “opened the throat” apparently.  I used to drink it too, though my throat didn’t need any opening.

Of course we weren’t drinking real Black Velvet: that involves Guinness and champagne and was created by a bartender of Brooks's Club in London in 1861, to mourn the death of Prince Albert.  I didn't actually know that until about ten minutes ago.

Brooks's club - on a quiet night

Over the years I stopped drinking Black Velvet, and I can’t say I really missed it, but lately, when given the chance, I’ve been drinking it again.  Here’s a very decent one I had at Dargan’s, an Irish bar in Ventura.  The cider was Strongbow, the first alcohol that a whole generation of teenage English drinkers ever tasted.  Or perhaps that's just me.

The best thing is that you drink the cider through the Guinness – it all has to do with specific gravity, no doubt.  If you’re interested, that’s a Snakebite in the back – half cider, half Harp lager.

Back in the Psychogourmet Utility Kitchen I’ve been trying to do something similar but different– and a bit classier – Freixenet cava and Big Bear Black Stout.

It tasted good enough but as you can see, there wasn’t the separation I was looking for.  And Big Bear Black Stout is a big chewy, fudgy, liquorice-ish mouthful so it was a bit like drinking dessert.  Still, there’s plenty of time for further experimentation.

Now, as you may know, I am a man who is, or at least used to be, deeply fascinated by Volkswagen Beetles, and blow me down, a stash of Guinness advertising posters has been found.   I must say my first reaction that it was a lark painted by Bruce McCall, but as far as I can tell, they're, so to speak, kosher.

Those fine neutral men at Guinness evidently decided they could shift some units in the Third Reich.  The People’s car, the People’s beer.  Well, only up to a point.