The challenge, then, is to maximize the delight without inviting the regret. For us, the solution is the magnum. A large bottle holding 1.5 liters, or two ordinary bottles, the magnum is big enough to be impressive without edging over into mayhem. Nonetheless, produce a chilled magnum of something nice and plant it on the coffee table in front of your friends and it changes the dynamic almost as much as if you had produced the other kind of Magnum, the Dirty-Harry-do-you-feel-lucky-punk one. (In this case, the answer is "Yes, I do.") Split two ways, it will fuel an unforgettable night (and make for a morning that is, if not out-and-out rocky, at least a little gravelly); three, it's a memorable toot; four, a fine beginning. Even split among six, it offers more than a token toast. But it's not just the number of glasses it contains that makes the magnum such an engine of delight, or even the reputation it has for producing a champagne that is, all things otherwise being equal, tastier than that from a smaller bottle. It's the promise it contains.
A single bottle of champagne goes quick, too damned quick. There may be more or there may not. Even if there's another bottle at hand, you'll wonder if they're going to open it or they'll wonder if you are. With a magnum, more isn't a plan or a contingency. It's a reality, right there in the bottle. You can drink your first glass, the one that opens the afferent pathways of the brain, secure in the knowledge that the second, the booster, will follow—and if the group is a small one, so will the third, the exhilarator, and perhaps the fourth, the one that makes your head feel like it's bobbing on a string. We find that awareness to be almost as effective at loosening us up as the champagne itself.
As for the champagne: If your friends are deeply geeky in the world of wines, you can pop a magnum of, say, Bruno Paillard Brut Première Cuvée or Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé, confident that they'll be impressed. (For ordinary drinkers, though, it's safest to stick to the big, famous producers.) Part of the appeal of a magnum is the extravagance behind it; if it's going to work, people have to know that it's special. We've always been partial to Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, but we hope we'll never be so snobby as to turn down a glass or three of Moët or Mumm or Perrier-Jouët or their ilk. You don't break out a magnum of champagne to celebrate connoisseurship. You do it to celebrate the joy that comes from having friends to walk beside you on your crooked path through this world.
Published in Esquire By: DAVID WONDRICH.
Photo Credit: Tim Graham
Josh Ozersky was hungry. He looked like a man who could put it away. And put it away he did, for his own satisfaction, sure. But also for yours.
Because Josh Ozersky lived to chow and tell. He was hungry for whiskey and argument (always a good pairing); hungry for validation of his work, which he received but probably distrusted (writers are like that); hungry for camaraderie and song. And, of course, just plain hungry, for the new-school and the old, the salty and fatty, the crispy on the outside and juicy in the middle—especially if it once possessed four hooves and a tail. But deeper than his need to ingest great cooking was his hunger to share his discoveries and to soak in the pleasure of affirmation from his audience. In that sense, Josh possessed a drive like that of great chefs, equal parts generosity and need for applause—not just for praise but also for surety that the rest of us tasted his discoveries and understood.
Josh chose most of the restaurants herein and devoured as many of their delights as he could, just in time to exhaust the Best New Restaurants travel budget, but not in time, sadly, to write the stories. Every death is untimely, but Josh's was especially so, happening as it did when he was just forty-seven in the early hours of May 4, 2015, the very day he was supposed to cheer on his favorite chefs at the James Beard Awards in Chicago. So a team of Esquire pros and great new voices from all over the country, including Beard Award winners John Birdsall and John DeVore, picked up the fork and finished the job.
No tribute could be more fitting, because we are as blown away by these restaurants and the cultural shifts they represent as Josh was. There is something of a New Food Order emerging—the rules, like the complexion of the country itself, are changing.
The restaurant of the year, Shaya, serves Israeli cuisine—in, of all places, New Orleans. And if you doubt that pita and tabbouleh could merit such an accolade, consider that their elevation comes at the hand of a chef, Alon Shaya, who has cooked for NoLa revolutionary John Besh since his first of (now) twelve restaurants began transforming that former time-capsule culture of Commander's Palace and Brennan's. And if that's not enough, imagine sinking your teeth into a pomegranate-lacquered lamb shank, blackened and glistening from hours at the roast.
There is a restaurant that basically serves only birds. A restaurant on a bleak block in Harlem that no sooner saw success than it was shut down by a ridiculous rent increase. Yet somehow it managed to reopen ten months later, bringing its beacon to a different careworn stretch of the city.
In more restaurants than ever, Latin Americans are not just rocking the line but also running the show, with confidence and style. Witness Ray Garcia: I went to his L.A. joint Broken Spanish in its ninth week, before it even had a sign out front. He takes familiar flavors and formats from the Mexican playbook and brilliantly interweaves them with surprises like black garlic and foie-gras butter.
Perhaps most important is that after a decade of tatt-sleeved male chefs whose primary concern was building empires rather than flavors, we are entering a new era of collaboration and cooperation that focuses more on cooking and less on big-swinging solo-artist brand development. Chefs who use the pronoun we when describing their creative process, like husband-and-wife chef-owners Nicole Krasinski and Stuart Brioza, of the Progress in San Francisco. These are craftspeople with their chests unpuffed and their heads down over their pots, developing loyal teams of homegrown cooks just as surely as they develop killer dishes—and upending the bro culture of the American kitchen.
If only Josh could have seen this through. The last memory anybody seems to have of him belongs to John Currence, a friend and the chef at City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi. Having decamped from the Beards' annual Chefs' Night Out cocktail party in search of Jim Beam, the two, along with Charleston chef-kings Jason Stanhope and Mike Lata, found their way to a basement karaoke dive. "Nobody was singing, so Josh just started devouring the microphone and dragging people onstage." Among the selections: the duet "Islands in the Stream," with Stanhope. "It was really one of the most joyful things to watch."
Because for food, for whiskey, for one more song, Josh Ozersky was hungry. You're hungry. I'm hungry. Let's eat.
THE BEST NEW RESTAURANTS IN AMERICA 2015 LIST
Shaya, New Orleans
The Progress, San Francisco
Muscadine, Portland, Oregon
The Grey, Savannah
Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen, Morristown, New Jersey
B.S. Taqueria and Broken Spanish, Los Angeles
Dolo Restaurant and Bar, Chicago
The Duck Inn, Chicago
Little Park, New York
Shuko, New York
Santina, New York
Mountain Bird, New York
-Published in November '15 Esquire
It's the moment of truth. Your phone lies facedown on the polished mahogany, the relaxed pulse of the music blends with the sounds of a couple dozen voices engaged in pleasant conversation, the lights shining through the ranks of whiskey bottles behind the bar enfold you in an amber glow, your companion is amusing–or even, perhaps, charming–and the cocktail you've just taken the last sip of was cold and strong and necessary, and you can feel it reaching into each individual capillary in your body, soothing each individual nerve. The bartender stands in front of oyu, her eyebrow raised. What will it be?
Sometimes, of course, the answer is easy: another, please, just like that one. But despite their modest size, modern cocktails are strong, and there are times when you don't want another just like that. You want to prolong the experience, but for whatever reason (and that's certainly no business of ours) you don't want to double your buzz. Fortunately, there's a simple solution, and it doesn't involve punting to champagne or beer or the like. As pleasant as those drinks are, they somehow seem like a missed opportunity when you've got an expert drink mixer standing in front of you, waiting to roll up anything you desire.
Drinkers in the 19th century were aware of this problem. Their cocktails, originally made of nothing more than straight booze with dashes of this and that, had to be. The first solution was the manhattan–one of those straight-booze cocktails but with a third or half of the fuel replaced by low-octane vermouth. But if you've ever drunk manhattans, you know that while the pleasure is great, they are no aid to sobriety whatsoever. It took another turn of the wheel to solve the problem. What if you took that manhattan and replaced the remaining spirits with sherry? Mixed thus, this Spanish wine has the texture and depth of flavor of whiskey or brandy or gin (depending on the style) but the same low proof as the vermouth.
The same solution seems to have popped up on both sides of the country simultaneously, in the early 1880s. In San Francisco, little Louis Eppinger, proprietor of a popular saloon on Halleck Street, made his version with dry vermouth and called it the Bamboo cocktail. In New York, "handsome" Joe McKone, of the famous Hoffman House, made his with sweet vermouth and called it the Adonis, after a musical.
Either way, it's a great cocktail. If you like 'em dry, a Bamboo with fino sherry and dry vermouth is as cold and dry as the Atacama Desert; if you want something bordering on the plush, an Adonis with a mellow old oloroso sherry and one of the richer sweet vermouths we're getting these days is as comforting as fleece pajamas.
Whatever you call it, the beauty of this formula is that it's easy to order in any craft-cocktail bar, even if the young Picasso behind the bar has never heard of ti. Simply ask for sherry and vermouth 50-50 with a couple dashes orange bitters and a twist, up. Not an order you could get away with at McSwiggan's, but you aren't paying 12 bucks a cocktail there, either. And if they don't have vermouth, well, you were planning on moving on anyway, or you would have that next one just like the first.
Stir well with cracked ice:
- 1 1/2 oz chilled fino or Manzanilla sherry
- 1 1/2 oz dry French vermouth
- 2 dashes orange bitters
Strain into chilled cocktail glass and twist lemon peel over the top.
Stir well with cracked ice:
- 1 1/2 oz oloroso or amontillado sherry
- 1 1/2 oz sweet Italian vermouth
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters
Strain into chilled cocktail glass and twist lemon peel over the top.
-From Esquire May '15
A classic wine region, like a classic suit is perennial, but that doesn't mean the prices don't wax and wane. Whether it's a standout vintage, oversupply, exchange rates, or simply the vagaries of fashion, some wines become a bit more of a steal than others. Here's what to drink right now.
Brunello di Montalcino
A surfeit of great vintages—nothing less than four or five stars each year, going back to 2003—means there are too many superb Brunellos around, so prices are down as retailers try to make room for the 2010 vintage now being released. The Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona 'Pianrosso Santa Caterina d'Oro' Riserva 2007 ($89) demonstrates Brunello's capacity for combining power and elegance.
Skip Moscato for Alsace's Muscat, and trade in the Pinot Grigio for Alsatian Pinot Gris; this French white-wine region hosts many fantastic varietals along with the more commonly applauded Riesling and Gewurztraminer (collectively these are known as the four "noble varieties"). Look for Grand Cru wines like the Marcel Deiss Mambourg 2009 ($75), which is a fine blend.
Over-the-top, high-alcohol (15% ABV+) Zin captured people's imaginations and wallets over a decade ago but is fading now, though producers who never strayed from a more classic (and powerful) expression of the grape are still at it. Many of the best are actually field blends with other varieties. One great example: Ravenswood's muscular Icon 2011 ($75).
This is perhaps the most underappreciated in the world ever since we abandoned Poe's alluring Amontillado (one of several kinds of sherry) in favor of Grandma's sticky-sweet version. High-quality sherry is back on the market with a vengeance, but producers are hesitant to increase prices. Try the Bodegas Fernando de Castilla Antique Amontillado NV ($55 for 500ml) to see what Poe's obsessed victim was talking about.
After chasing inflated prices in Asia and finding it a fickle market, Bordeaux producers are once again courting wine drinkers in the U.S. market. St. Emilion, one of Bordeaux's subregions, is loaded with values right now, like the just-released Chateau Troplong Mondot 2012 ($85); keep an eye out for older vintages, too.
-From Details Mag., by Jim Clark