Peter Does The Americas - Correspondent Peter's latest road trip.
Part 1 - Getting to America
Part 2 - Tequila Night....in Houston
Part 5 - Everybody's Waiting for the Weekend
Part 6 - Beaver’s Ice House and the Big Easy!
Part 7 - Return to Tequila
Part 8 - Bogata Day 1
Part 9 - Tea and Beer in Bogotá
Part 1 - Getting to America
I’ve got a lot of catching up to do with Dipsophilia, I know. However, I find that being proactive about procrastinating is probably one of my most developed traits, so, might as well play to your strengths, say I.
Thus, rather than catching up, I’ll try to tread water. I’ll catch up later on.
At this moment, I am in Houston, Texas, that great tribute to property development, having been founded as a real estate enterprise in its origins.
Houston has grown up (“matured” may be a better word) quite a bit over the last 20 years. And it’s gotten a lot bigger. Mind you, both comments go for me as well. The city has a number of restaurants that have something more to offer than just the tex-mex and steaks of the 80’s, and I’m intending to have some fun with this.
Mind you, I still intend to eat a lot of tex-mex and steaks, too, while I’m spending someone else’s money.
Let’s start this yesterday, with a quick recap of what’s going on with KLM’s business class offerings. (I’m on record as disagreeing with the linearity of time…I just can’t remember if that’s now, before, or later).
January 21, somewhere over the Eastern Hemisphere
I’m sadly not in a full recliner. I don’t know if it would make any difference, as I only sleep until I wake up, and then I’m in the purgatory of non-REM that we fill with in-flight movies and books.
With some limitations, I gave this flight over to wines. KLM has been trying to improve their offerings, giving the menu a more Dutch emphasis. I won’t say this is a bad thing, as it does make for a more interesting flight when you think of it as an extended tasting session.
First up was the Piper-Heidsiek Rose Sauvage. Given the rules on the serving of alcohol, I’d had to wait an interminably long time to get around to this. I’d like to comment upon the colour, which would have been the pink of freshly frothing blood, but the cabin lights were too dark, and I only kept the head light on for a moment to get a quick look. I appreciated the bubbles by brail: even and of a medium size. The presentation was very fresh, and quite dry. 30 months aging behind it. This would be a great wine for almost any dish, I’d think game, in particular, could go well, as the dryness would counter any greasiness I’d bring up in the braise. Unfortunately, for swigging in business class over a 24 hour period, I could foresee some serious headaches and cotton mouth, so I limited myself to the one glass.
I’d caution anyone taking my notes too seriously. Wines tasted in a pressurized cabin under the ravages of air conditioning are often at their worst. Mind you, if they still taste okay, maybe there’s something going for them.
Now, I’d been blathering something about the Dutch and wines. These are not two concepts that you would generally put together. But, if the Thai can make wine, then there’s no reason the Dutch can’t, too.
While the Netherlands has some 183 wine estates, only about twenty of these are actually “in the business”. The rest of them are in the hobby market, so it’s a bit of a push to publish them as “estates” per se. The bulk of the wines they showcase are more a matter of Dutch involvement in the production, as opposed to le terroir itself.
I tried der Kleine Schorrer, from Zeeland- Schouwen Douiveland Blanc Rivaner. This was a 2006 Pinot Blanc. They’ve had this one in production from 2001, and it’s not a bad drink. It comes over very soft, and full of fruit. There’s a bit of a tang to it. My one complaint is intangible (at least for an uneducated sod like myself) and that’s that it left me feeling a bit empty in the mouth. A good back yard afternoon wine, and I could see this being a fine thing to have with some faux-Thai style seafood in a backyard summer setting.
From here I switched to a red, the Mmmmm, Monastrel de Castano, 2005, from Yecla, Spain, just over to the west from Alicante. I was actually too embarrassed to try and ask for this by name from the cheerfully blonde stewardess seeing to my needs. I just pointed and said “M?”. It’s not a bad wine, though. A little rough, but there’s a time and a place for that. It came across as an aggressive grape juice, a bit harsh on you, but you. There’s a mustiness in the dry, cloying feeling around the sides of your tongue, and you feel a bit of iron tang in there. There’s a lot of black fruit in this, and a hint of smoked something or other. This is a wine for getting into fights. I quite enjoyed it.
I’d tried two wines while killing an hour in the lounge in Schiphol. First a Chateaux Rives-Blanques Limoux 2006. Very full on the mouth, with a linger on the front roof. Perhaps a bit of pepper.
Following that I tried the Los Linguas Carmenere 2005 from Chile. I drank this while reading the Financial Times coverage of Fischers’ death. Not a bad wine for breakfast. It chews well, and there’s a nice bit of tannin in it, but not so much that I’m disconcerted.
The FT also carried a nice piece on Johnny Walker, leading up to Burns’ Night (totally independent of Diageo’s marketing budget, I am assured). It covered the history of the walking man – from the 1820’s origin as a greengrocer’s side product in the 1820’s up to the modern 1990’s releases of Blue, Green, and Gold. The author, Andrew Jefford, does service to the betterment of man in comparing the Johnny Walker products with other blends, and in general Johnny (who started life as Old Highland Whiskey) does very well. There’s a thought! Could there be a future in a video game that pits Johnny Walker against Chivas Regal, the two arch rivals of the blended whiskey industry?
There’s another thought! Try and say Diageo (the corporation that owns Johnny Walker) with a Glaswegian accent.
Anyways, enough of lounges. Let’s get back on board and on track. No, wait, this isn’t a train. While we can accept blended whiskeys, mixed metaphors are another matter.
Back up top on a Boeing, I opened with a sparkling wine. I was surprised, as I’d expected the Rose Sauvage as the champagne of the flight, but what they had as an opener was a good Spanish Cavas. Okay, they’re a third the cost of French champagnes, but they’re very pleasant, and I can drink them for quite some time.
I had a second.
Then I turned my attention back to my mission, and asked for the Salentein Chardonnay 2006 Reserve from Mendoza, Argentina. This is a Dutchman’s estate - Mijndert Pon – and was something I’d been looking forward to after my last few flirtations with Argentinians, the Malbec in particular. That’s a wonderful red, one that sends me looking for meat every time I get my nose in a glass, and so I wanted to see how the white would compare.
It compared well, with a full palate of fruits, sweetness (honey?), and the background of the oak barrels it had been aged in. There was a bit more to this than the standard Chardonnays, and in this case it was a good thing. Maybe later I’ll rant on the Chardonnays. Common in flavour and approach, a benchmark perhaps, but often so lacking in individuality. But I like them.
I live a tormented life, I know.
Dinner was a thigh of pheasant, which I was quite pleased with. I considered the Rose Sauvage, but then went back to the Chilean, the Camenere Gran Reserva 2005 that I’d tried in the lounge.
The Camenere often gets mistaken for a Merlot, and the flavour and approach was what I wanted with the heavy stew that they put to the bird flesh. The Camenere worked well with the fat in this dish, and I was content to have another glass of this.
For dessert I passed on the port, a 2000 Taylor’s, in favour of the Chaeau de la Peyrade, Muscat de Frontignan, from the depths of Languedoc. This was a fairly light dessert wine, nicely coaxing the edges of the chocolate in the tarte that had drawn my attention from the trolley.
By this point I was feeling quite cheerful, and so decided to call the tastings to a halt and switch to water. The stewardess seemed somewhat relieved at this. I was considering a return to ports, but held myself to a repeat of the rose sauvage with breakfast.
I did have to drive into town, after all.
Next – The Big H
I have a love-hate relationship with Houston.
I love to hate it.
This is, of course, unfair. And every time I actually find myself back here, I find myself liking the place.
Okay, as usual I got lost coming in from the airport. I always end up missing the turn and wind up in the Aldine area, admiring the double wides. As a note, there are a number of comfortable mobile homes available for you, now, with attractive financing plans.
That confusion doesn’t usually last too long, though, and I was soon enough on a toll road heading south.
Where I wanted to go was near the Galleria. This has been our common launching point for the last several years. Besides the work factor, the location has the benefit of easy access to the dining to be had both outside and inside the 610 Loop.
I’d be drinking (and dining) with Dan for the first few nights, as he was going to be out on business for the latter part of my time in the city, which is a pity, as Dan is excellently on top of what’s going on in dining here. For the first night, after he took me on a tour of the West side of the inner loop, we decided to go traditional, and opted for a Mexican restaurant, Hugo’s.
Note that this was a Mex-Mex, not Tex-Mex, place. The emphasis here isn’t on plates of fajitas (which I quite enjoy, too) but on stews, scallops (that’s me), goat cooked in banana leaves (that was Dan), and really pleasant surprises like fried grasshoppers taken on green tortillas with guacamole and chili sauce (and that was obviously me). Any time I can get crispy critters, I’m a happy camper.
But, we’re not here to talk about food. You want to know what we were drinking,
As one expects of Dan, the drinks menu here is excellent. If I have any complaint, it was in the small font they used to get everything on their menu. But our waiter graciously loaned me a penlight (they must get a lot of requests for this) and I was able to be suitably impressed at their selection of tequilas, mescals, and cocktails.
I know, I know, most of us from up North associate tequila with slurpee-style cocktails with lots of salt on the rim. And that’s not a bad thing (although some of us who’ve woken up in the bushes may disagree), but good tequilas, appreciated on their own for that agaves sap earthiness they bring up, have become quite fashionable down south, to the point that agave is actually getting in short supply in Mexico while the farmers struggle to keep up with the demand for well-distilled products.
But don’t get the idea that tequila-chic is only a recent thing. I have extremely fond memories of a bottle of Sauza’s Tres Generaciones that Yoonhi brought back for me from her summer in Mexico back in the mid-80s. “This is what we like to drink” her hosting family told her, “the other stuff we send North.”
Under the white tequilas they carried a dozen (white, or silver, isn’t oaked and stays as clear as when it dripped out of the copper tubing). These ranged in price from the $6.25 Jimador Blanco, to the Don Eduardo Blanco at $10.
Beneath that on the menu they had the Reposados, which are allowed to rest for up to a year in casks, the wood taking the edge off of the white liquor. There were another dozen of these, with El Jimador and Cuervo Tradicional on the less expensive side at $6.25 again, while the upper reaches now streteched to Cabo Wabo and Gran Centenario at $9, and beyond that to Casta “Worm Bottle” at $14.75 a shot.
And beneath this stood my favourites, the anejos, aged for a year on upwards, mellower than a cognac with the individuality of an Armagnac. These are what you want with cigars around the fireplace while you wonder what the peasants are up to in the fields. Viudo de Romero at a reasonable $6.50 was the first of the dozen (I see a pattern here), and this went through my old favourite the Sauza Tres Generaciones at $7.25 and their Commeritivio and an 1800 Anejo at $7.50, all the way up to Cuervo Reserva de la Familia at $16.50, the Don Julio 1492 at $17.50, and El Tesoro Paradisio at a respectable $20.
After the tequilas, they covered the Mescal Agaves. Worm in the bottle, this is what I’d grown up thinking of as tequila. Tequila is, technically, distilled from a ferment of the blue Agave from the region around Tequila (and there have been some bitter feuds between the Mexicans and the US over this, as the US brands don’t want to be reliant on a limited supply zone for the cheap material they tanker in to rebottle and brand in the States). Mescal makes use of the other varieties of the cactus (there are around 400 of them) and (generally) relies on an earth baked mash of the agaves that’s fermented. These can be really cheap, but have developed their own quality over the last few years.
The liquor has its own character, with more smoke and earthiness. Long ago I gave up thinking of it as the lesser brother to Tequila, and more like the extremely interesting younger sister (still legal age!). I didn’t get around to drinking any of the four on offer, but they look worth going back for; Dos Gusanos $5.75 through a Del Maguey “Minero” $9.50.
What a great drinks menu this was! They were also offering “flights” of tequilas or Mescals, to give you a chance to taste and compare.
While I was reading this over, I’d gone with a cocktail choice to get me started. The two “specials” from the bar were a pomegranate marguerita that was in its last day (the poms now going out of stock), and a blueberry mojito that they were doing for grins. Dan gave that a try, and I slowly worked my blood alcohol level back up into the safe range.
The marguerita was pleasant; the pomegranate gave over its characteristic taste, while you could smell and taste the distinction of the tequila in there. Dan’s mojito was eminently drinkable, the blueberries giving a good sweetness.
Plus, these drinks were obviously good for our health, mine with its anti-oxidants, and Dan’s with the fabled brain-increasing power of the blueberries (if you read my stuff on Korea, we mentioned in there how blueberries are the new wonder drug of the Asians).
With the marguerita done, I tried a Paloma on the waiter’s recommendation. This is a light, fizzy grapefruit soda enlivened with salt and – in this case – some white tequila. Very clear, and not bad as a palate cleanser between bites of grasshoppers, avocados, wonderfully black, pasty beans, and marinated cactus, all livening up the goat and scallops that Dan and I were working over.
Dinner over, Dan gave the flourless chocolate and date dessert a seeing to. I sniped at the Mexican vanilla ice cream and made a note that I should buy some of the vanilla pods to take home, while I attempted to retain consciousness while sipping on a tube of Herraduro anejo which came accompanied with a matching tube of very tomato gazpacho-like sangrita. Dan was busy slapping the table in happiness over his dessert.
Service was good. Attentive, but not to the point where you felt you were being drooled over. The staff were busy getting the covers out hot to the tables, but were always happy to talk over things and explain the backgrounds of the dishes, so I’d give them full marks.
The building, which I should also give points to, was very well done. I believe it’s a restoration of one of the older buildings on lower Westheimer. Tall, tall ceilings, and windows to go with them, looking out on the rainy drizzle of a quiet Monday night Westheimer. Good sound, the buzz you like to hear in a place, rather than the clink and clank that too often comes from tiled floors.
Now, one of the things I did notice on their menu was a brunch on Sundays specializing in the regional dishes of Mexico. That could be the opportunity to check out the flights of tequila and mescal that I’d been eyeing.
I haven’t touched on the wine list, as I didn’t touch on the wine list, my capacity for reading and asking questions was being severely challenged as I could feel my eyelids slowly drooping. Dan got me back in one piece and into the hotel, and I avoided the tequila-bushes experience for another night.
It was another day waking up in a different bed. A cold bed, as I’d forgotten to switch the a/c to heat. I’ll just hope that this burns off more calories.
I kicked things off in good Southern fashion with biscuits buried under white gravy – basically flour with pepper. It’s not fancy, but it has a certain nostalgic comfort from when I was working here in my youth and would splurge once a month on a breakfast out.
The morning was a frantic rush of getting things done. I had to source a new camera, and buy some basic supplies for the next three weeks. While driving West out to Richmond, I noticed some changes from when I was here last in 2006.
Billy Blues had a big For Lease sign up in the parking lot. And the Seafood Market, that used to do the all-you-can-eat lobster meals for $39.95 has packed it in (I hope I didn’t contribute to their demise). But Sam’s Boat was still there, as was Joe’s Crab Shack – cheerful franchise operations. And the Richmond Arms still sat out there.
Maybe the Arms is my favourite. It sums up Houston, with things that are completely incongruous proudly flaunting the fact that they don’t fit in at all, never will, and don’t feel bad about it.
And, when I had taken care of my shopping, I headed back just inside the Loop, past the Luling City BBQ, and started looking for the big crawfish.
Yup, the Ragin’ Cajun was still there, all gaudy red, metal frame crawfish with claws held triumphant, and the picnic tables sitting out in front.
Inside the Cajun I bypassed the main room, where you can line up to put your order in at the kitchen and then wait for your number to get called out. Several years back they’d stapled a mess of plywood onto the side of the cinder block structure and put in a full-service section.
Yeah, I know, I’ve got fancy tastes.
And the Cajun has come a long way in keeping up with these tastes. The Mandolas, who opened this place back in ’74, have worked to keep the clientele happy. They’ve maintained the traditional menu of crawfish, gumbo, boudin, and other Louisiana specialties just the way they should be, but they’ve also been working on their drinks menu, and have some notable changes from when I first started eating here back in ’84.
First up is the beer selection. As you’d expect, there’s a couple of dozen of the usual suspects – Budweiser, Michelob, Samuel Adams – but there’s also a small selection of names I don’t recognize. Abita was there with a Turbo Dog, an Amber, and a Purple Haze. Abita is a Louisiana brewery, going back into the mid 80’s when everyone was opening a microbrew. But these guys actually held on. The amber has a rep as a good lager, the Turbo Dog is a dark, with lots of chocolate malts, and the Purple Haze is more like a Belgian framboise, the raspberries giving it it’s name.
But, I’d tried (and liked) Abita the last time I was in N.O., so I went for something different – Blue Moon.
The Blue Moon Brewing Co is out of Colorado. They haven’t been in the game as long as the Abita folks, having started up in ’95, but they’ve got a string of awards under their belts for their beers, the Belgian White, which was what I was drinking, being their premier effort.
The beer’s quite approachable. Unfiltered, but not as mouthy as some of the other wheat beers, with a relatively crisp finish. There’s some citrus in there, and they recommend (and it came served) with a wedge of orange to bring this element out into the open.
If I had one complaint about the beer, it’s that beer in the Cajun comes out by default as a long neck, wrapped in a white napkin. This beer would benefit with a proper glass pour to lift out the aromatics, but I’m just too much of a wuss to ask for a glass here.
It’s bad enough I can never pronounce boudin correctly for the Louisiana folks.
I was tempted to try and Abita after this, but I was curious about the cocktails, given that I was staring at the drinks menu. One of the things about eating crawfish, don’t think about reading, writing, or handling anything made of paper unless you intend to crumple it up and toss it after. I had a choice of reading and rereading the drinks menu, watching basketball, or eavesdropping on conversations. I went for the cocktails.
The list covered a selection of martinis, about six different marguerites, and a similar number of that Mardi Gras favourite, the Hurricane.
They do run a special on Hurricanes on Tuesday, with happy hour prices all day long for Hurricane fans. Pity I won’t be back on a Tuesday, although maybe that’s a good thing. But what I fond a little odd was that, with this great American plethora of choices, there was only one entry for Bloody Mary – the Cajun Bloody Mary.
I asked the waitress what the difference was, and was pleased to hear that they were infusing a vodka in-house with onions, bell peppers, and other items, and then mixing this with tomato juice, Tabasco, olive juice, Worcester sauce, and some other stuff.
Given that the heat was rising to a steady burn from the crawfish (they grow on you), I decided to give one a try. It was good. You could pick up the different flavours that had gone into the infusion, and I was getting really excited about trying this in a martini. When I start getting really excited like that, it’s usually a good idea to get going home. I did have to drive, after all.
Once I’d finished lunch, I set about the next bit of business – popping into the liquor store next door and picking up some tequila for the room.
The Herrandero anejo I’d had last night had reminded me that life was too short not to be spending it enjoying good things. The liquor store here has always had a good selection, and they endeared themselves to us a few years back when we were in town on business by asking us if we wanted some ice to go with the whiskey and cokes we were buying. They seemed to think we were just going to be drinking it in the parking lot. I guess we make a certain impression at times.
Anyways, I looked over the selection of tequilas on offer. It was mainly the mid-range, the $40 to $55 a 750 cl range. I’d gotten all sentimental over the Tres Generaciones, so I figured I’d go back to it as my “writing in the room” quaff. Smooth, no hard edges at all, and a distinctive flavour that’s so far different from what we used to drink when we were kids.
Pardon me while I pour another splash.
I also picked up an oversized can of Modelo beer especial. Modelo is the group that produces Corona. I was interested in this, as I’d had a lot of good Mexican beers in my time (okay, I’ve had a lot of beers in my time, period), but this was disappointing, being rather lackluster on the palate, not something that I’d seek out preferentially. Mind you, I wouldn’t turn one down on a hot day, but there are plenty of better things out there to be drinking.
As a side note, I see that Modelo is now the #3 beer importer into the US. I suspect that’s carried on the strength of Corona.
Before I knew it, the afternoon was almost gone (funny how that happens). I met Dan at his place, and we discussed the salient symbolism contained in Japanese monster movies. Yes, we were drinking again. This time it was Frangelica with vodka, shaken, not stirred.
This went over well enough that we stuck with vodka through dinner. We swapped out the Frangelico, though, for a splash of Grand Marnier, the waiters at Café le Jadeite bringing the shakers out to the table to do mariachi accompaniements (and this in an over-the-top restaurant with bigger than life-terra cotta warriors and battle chariots).
The food was good, with a memorable ginger oyster dish that tasted very much like sweetbreads (“why not just order sweetbreads, then?”) and a spectacular flambéed quail. But that’s food, so I’ll save the descriptions, and photos, of that for the egullet piece.
And, with that I ended up back home, and in bed at a sensible hour.
It was a working day coming up. Don’t you hate that?
It’s now January 24, 2008, and it’s been a couple of days since the last entry. I know that the world is waiting on the edge of its collective seat to find out what I’ve been drinking.
Sorry to keep you waiting.
Being a working day, I did affect some restraint in my habits. I skipped on breakfast, and made do with three pots of coffee in the room. Lunch, taken in the cafeteria of our offices here in Houston, was a sad affair, made more so by the soda fountain ice tea, sweetened up beyond recognition of its roots.
You see, I actually like Southern style ice tea, made by putting tea bags and water in a glass jar outside in the sun. Something about it just brings back cheerful memories, like going to see one of my friends in Bellaire in the old days, and checking out the neighbour’s living room furniture all moved out onto the front lawn.
But this stuff, coming out of that machine, was just, well….. industrial. So, I needed something to cheer me up for dinner. Oceanaire sounded like the trick.
This is a place that Dan wanted to get to. He’d had a good meal here before, and wanted to give it another shot.
The Oceanaire Seafood Room is part of a chain out of Minneapolis. Okay, that probably doesn’t sound right, but it’s an interesting approach. They have buyers out there who’ll get them fresh, interesting fish, and then get it air freighted back to the restaurants right away. This allows them to find some really interesting stuff that a sole restaurant (sorry for the seafood pun) can’t pull off.
The location is ensured to give them a solid clientele through lunch, as they’re attached to the Galleria (which also meant I could walk there through a Vancouver-like Scotch mist). Inside, it’s sleek, 1930/1940 lines, the cursive signs for “restroom” fitting in with the ocean liner lines of the room and the white linen aprons of the wait staff.
I inquired, and found they did have Hendrik’s gin available, so I called for a martini from the beautiful bar.
The oysters at the bar also looked good (freshly flown in, you know) and I ordered a half a dozen chosen at random to go with the gin martini I was just sipping at. The oysters were very good. I hate to sound like a nationalist, but the PEI ones were probably my favourites – Malpaque, Summerside, and the Conway Cup – but the other three – Blue Point from New York, and Wellfleet and Marionport from Massachusetts – were good too.
When Dan and his wife arrived, they ordered what is becoming their standard – Belvedere vodka with a splash of Grand Marnier, shaken tableside and poured out into chilled martini glasses.
The martini isn’t discussed much as dinner company, but I should say here that we were all quite happy working through the early part of the meal with our respective spirits. I find gin or vodka works well with shellfish in particular. Of course, that may just be me wearing off the residual effects of a soju holiday in Korea.
For my main, a baked monkfish in a cream sauce, I switched to a Macrostic Chardonnay, 2006, from the Sonoma Coast. A fair bit of fruit in this, and with some individuality to rise above the masses of standardized chardonnays.
It was, as I said, a working day, with another the day after, so we had a limited time of it, and were back home early.
When I woke up in the morning, the tequila bottle seemed mysteriously lightened in content. I think it may be the maids.
Dinner this evening was a delight. As I’d mentioned, there was a Belgian Café across the street from Hugo’s, where I’d dined on the 21st. A good rec from egullet sent me back there, and I was entranced not only by the relative calm of the place, but also by the selection of Belgian beers available.
In bottles they offered:
And, of greatest interest to myself, on tap they had:
I ordered a Maredsous, a dark beer, to go with the moules escargot I had for a starter. It came out dark and with a fine head, one that clung to the glass as I pulled down the liquid. It’s a full taste, but not so much so that it cloys, which would not do with the butter and garlic in the mussels.
I was having steak frites (with mayonnaise, of course) for dinner, so I switched over to a Cotes du Rhone (Shiraz) to give me something to get through the Roquefort sauce I had with the steak.
I guess I’m just used to the Australians. While this was a fine thing to drink and observe the street, it didn’t have the edge that I was looking for to go with the meat. Not that that slowed me down from enjoying the steak, pan roasted with parsley, and just bleeding in the very middle.
I avoided dessert and further drinks, as I was driving myself around. A downside to Houston is that there are so many fine places to explore for drinking, but you have to drive to get there, and if you drive, you don’t drink.
It’s a conundrum.
The answer, of course, is to make a friend drive you. But that doesn’t always work out. So, I headed back West. Being a tourist, there were some sites I wanted to visit.
Central Market, for instance.
What a beautiful food store. Endless counters of prepared items, plenty of fresh produce (and stunning mushrooms), seafood, meat, sausages, and a stunning bakery.
And then there’s the beer and wine section. It goes on and on and on.
I couldn’t help myself. Even with dinner behind me, I had to get a bomber bottle of Small 417 Batch Extra Hopped IPA, a 6 pack of St. Arnold’s Elissa IPA, some honey mesquite smoked ham, and a French cheese (St. Marcellin) so runny it came in a tub and I have to pour it out on the black Russian loaf I bought.
However, I must admit that I made a mistake. The Small 417 Batch, from Breckinridge in Colorado, is too far over on the hops (“It said extra hopped, you idiot!”). Still, the flavour was somehow wrong, and it even managed to induce a sneezing fit in me.
And the ham, is, well, wet. It is also, depressingly “fat free” a claim I missed when buying it. What’s the point of pork if it’s fat free? The fat is the good part!
However, the St. Arnold, the bread, and the cheese have made for a fine breakfast this rainy Friday morning here in Houston, so it’s not a total loss.
Back to drinking. Sorry for the hiatus, but events have gotten a bit ahead of me.
Still, I’ll do my best to make up for things while I kill 6 hours here at George Bush International Airport in Houston, waiting on the Calgary flight.
When last we drank (in this column), we’d covered the first three nights of the trip, which took us through the 24th.
On the 25th, I found myself once again working far too late for a man of my advancing age. Given the quality of food on hand during the working hours, I’d been saving my appetite for the evening, hoping for a treat.
Home, showered, and a beer in hand, a treat still sounded good. But an extended drive did not, so I checked the restaurants on my to-do list.
Tony’s was there, and when I phoned they had no problem taking a singleton early in the evening. Plus, they were only a few blocks away, at the Greenway Plaza (the area I used to live in). This happy confluence couldn’t be ignored (I was hungry), so I was off.
I dressed in black (as the old Tony’s was always considered gangster-chic) and took the Mustang over.
As a note, the 6 banger Mustang isn’t a bad car. It has the sort of “hurled rock” approach to driving where you point it in a straight line, put your foot down, and watch the fuel gauge dive. But, I’d learned years past that acceleration is a requirement for the freeways here, particularly for the entrance. This need offset its rather poor handling, but I could live with that.
The sound track for City of Ghosts playing (a great film – Matt Dillon, Gerard Depardieu, James Caan, and that dorky old guy who panhandled me on Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh) I pulled up to the new Tony’s and passed the keys to the valet.
It was pretty quiet when I entered. I should’ve taken a moment or two to check out the attached bar, which, form a glance, had that look where you could lurk with a drink for quite some time. But I was hungry. It was the main room for me, back to the wall. Big, open space, with big, open art to fill it up. Autumn colours, which did help to open the place up. Still, it was a big room with only about ten covers in there.
They had Hendriks, they had a couple of the Dutch, Sapphire, and the other usual suspects. A pretty good selection. Good enough that I immediately went for the Hendrik’s. I warmed to this place quickly. They don’t push a menu on a man with a martini. You’re left to enjoy your short drink before the chill drops off (shaken at the table to ensure the temperature).
I enjoyed it.
After a civilized pause I received the menu, and reviewed my choices from the standard list, and from the daily specials. A fair enough selection of fish, but a great selection of meat, and I’d done enough seafood already. I’ll leave the food details for egullet. Leave it said I was going to start with their foie gras, which one of my best and most decadent friends had recommended here, and the Akaushi wagyu, something they’d only been carrying for the last few months.
Like in eGullet, where I can’t help but write about drinking, I have to say some things here about food. Wagyu is something I’ve been dreaming about since last I had it in 2006 in Singapore (then it had been sourced from Australia, where breeders are now licensed to market the meat as wagyu). There’re places as well that have the bloodlines and the papers to market wagyu in Texas and Alberta, and so, given the opportunity and someone else’s money, this is something I needed to have.
Hell, I’d been willing to spend my own money on this. Let’s get back to the drinking.
They’ve a good sommelier here. If I had his card handy, I’d give him more credit (I need to dig that up and put it in a later posting). A good man, he can either drive the menu to the wine, or pick the wines for the menu. In my case, the menu was the primary, and so we worked things out.
The first question was one of origin. As I’m partial to the Aussies I get at the WGF, he went for the New World, Oz in particular. We decided on a 2002 late harvest Lillypilly Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon. This was to match the foie which they were doing as a roast, sweet wines like this working very well with the fat liver (the duck’s, not mine). Plus, as with that notorious meal at The Square in London, a good sweet wine like this can be pushed back and taken with cheeses and dessert later on.
For the Wagyu, we had a very good wine. Henry’s Drive Pillar Box Red, 2005, a cab/shiraz/merlot blend from Australia. This had a great nose, a little hot on the alcohol, and went just right with the meat. But the meat was only part of it. Where it excelled was with the mac and cheese I had as a side with the meat. This had been heavily truffled with black truffles, and all it took was the slightest touch of Henry’s to pull the truffles out and fill your head with that earthiness they have.
That’s where a wine excels, for me. I can sip at a good wine, but I take the Italian viewpoint that the wine should be a complement to the meal, (and a compliment). The Chinese would refer to the ying and yang of it, but there wine needs some more work before we start bringing them into the picture (Note: if a wine says “Great Wall” on the lable, then run!).
For dessert, a tiramasu. As Yoonhi says, it’s the mark of a good restaurant to be able to pull this off.
And they did. I pulled the sauvignon blanc/semillon back for the tiramasu, and my life was complete.
My only complaint during this meal was that they kept on trying to take away my martini before I’d finished the olives. I know that the purpose of the olive, like the lemon rind or cocktail olives is to impart a bit of oil to the martini, but I grew up in a culture that considered the stuffed olive the epitomy of fine dining, and I wasn’t going to late anyone take away my prize.
But they were good about this, and placated me with two blue cheese-stuffed olives after the meat, presented impaled upon toothpicks over a tumbler of ice.
I forgave them. I’m the forgiving sort.
January 26 was another bad day at work, topped off with a meal of cold chicken fried steak under congealed Southern gravy.
In some ways, it was a thing of beauty. But you have to be in the right mind-set to appreciate that. Sort of like watching the baby alien first protrude from a human ribcage.
But, there I go, talking food again. A bad day calls for a good evening.
I’d tried to get to Reef, but they were full, and couldn’t squeeze a lone seat in until after nine. I consulted my short list, and opted for something different.
Or, rather, Beaver’s Ice House. Just calling it Beaver’s seems a name more appropriate to a lumberyard or a strip club. This is a new venture by Monica Pope, who’s made a success of T’afia, and who’s got the farmer’s market thing going on her grounds. But that’s by the by (or some such cute phrase). I was more interested in Beaver’s for the drink.
There’d been some talk about the cocktails on eGullet before the opening, and so I was looking forward to this. The place itself is, as advertised, a converted ice house. Split down the middle there’s a long hall for dining, an indent in the middle for the bar, and the rest for kitchens and toilets. The cocktail list wasn’t extensive, but it was pretty solid. I looked at it and considered my options.
My love for gin won out, of course. Dax’s Obsession – Hendrik’s gin, tamarind syrup, and orange juice. Clean, and it did well with the fried pepperoncinnis that I started with.
One of the draws here is that they make all of their own syrups on the premises, and there’s a solid assortment. I’m in the airport right now, and the menu I took is in the checked luggage, so I’ll try to give more coverage of the offerings later.
After I finished the Dax’s, I took up a Texas Lemonade. This was Citadelle gin (there I go again), Paula’s Texas lemon, lime, agave nextar, and soda. Another tall drink, and a good accompaniment to the fried starters. (I was suspicious as to how fast my drinks were draining. I suspect youngsters of having distracted me and taken the advantage).
You’ll note on the coaster that they have Tito’s Handmade Vodka. ( www.titos-vodka.com ) Check out the website and read his story. I won’t take anything away from it here, other than to say it’s good to see that background in the Earth Sciences can be put to good use. This is something I need to follow up on when (and if) I get back to Texas next time. Tito up in Austin returned (legally) to pot stills and has crafted an award winning spirit. I’d be interested in running a taste competition (or lack of) between them and the boys at Russian Standard (I do need to finish writing up Bangkok, don’t I?).
But spirits weren’t the best way to continue this evening. Not this early. Along with the cocktails, Beaver’s has, well, a stunning selection of bottled beers.
Before the long necks, let’s consider the tap. Three draws were on offer, from Texas – Fireman’s 4 Real Ale, St. Arnold’s Winter Stout, and (if I can read my notes) a Real Ale Shade Grown Kate Coffee Porter.
Now, those are a highlight, but consider what’s in glass:
- 5 ambers
- 4 pale ales
- 6 Belgians
- 4 Heffeweizen
- 2 Dark Wheat
- 3 Brown Ales
- 5 IPA
- 1 Double IPA
- 2 ESB
- 2 Porters
- 5 Stouts
- 3 Double Stouts
- 4 Barley Wine/Old Ale
- 1 Pils
- 10 Lagers
- 1 Bock
- 2 Doppelbocks
- 1 Cider
- 2 Lambics
and 13 of the usuals (Buds, Millers, etc…no accounting for taste.) My gut reaction is to go with what’s on tap.
I went with the Fireman’s Four, a very presentable ale, and good for taking the fat in the slow cooked pork chop I was having. Likewise, it stood up against the vinegar in the pulled pork that I followed the chop with.
Unfortunately, a pint only last so long, and so I had to think about something else to finish on. Coffee is always a good closer, so I went with the Real Ale coffee porter. Not too heavy, a good, drinkable pour, and the espresso that they had used in this really came through, both on the nose, and in the palate.
The place was pretty jammed by now. I’d assumed they were downtown, but this address (Decatur) was more on the Heights’ side, and the crowd seemed very local that was pouring in.
All of this had put me in the mood for some upscale socializing, so I paid the bill, thanked the staff, carefully rolled up the drinks menus, and head out for something with ambience.
(I recommend you play some Tom Waits while you read the next part)
“There you go. Get an ambience!”
That was said just as the meatpaw hand plunked a stick of burning incense into a sandpot on the bar.
I was at the Big Easy.
I love this place. It reminds me of me. Run down, filthy, tacky not just around the edges, but everywhere, and, literally, reeking of ambience. You could do a full day photo shoot in here of black and white studies of grime, rust, and failed plumbing. And the staff are a surly, self-obsessed group of tattooed bikers and what look like refugees from Katrina.
However, they are also (arguably, they love to argue) the best venue for the Blues in town, and they have one of the finest walls of taps for beer that you’re going to see. 22 different beers up there on the wall, all crying out their need for attention. My notes say Lone Star, Spaaten Munchen, Blue Moon, Shiner Bock, Ace, Bass, Harp, Guinness, Newcastle Brown, Stella Artois, Bud Light, Paulaner, Heffeweizen, and another nine I didn’t get down.
I order a pint of the Newcastle. That wall of taps looks like something reminiscent of a horror movie.
Meanwhile, there’s a black dog chained to a post licking at spilt beer on the concrete floor.
The ceiling is a scabby, leprous collection of tiles that look scabby and diseased, ready to come down on us.
The toilet is broken and cracked porcelain. Puddles of what you hope is water on the floor, and a smell that rivals some of the rougher bars in Nairobi.
Yeah, get an ambience.
The bartenders are an impromptu lot. Some are supposed to be here, some who are supposed to be here aren’t, and others who aren’t are.
Deal with it.
The incense in front of the big Buddha behind the bar covers some of the smells. I keep waiting for the threadbare faded purple curtain on the stage to be parted and to see Rod Serling come out from behind at some point with a cigarette.
The dog puts its nose up a lady’s skirt. She turns and says “Well, hi!” with a smile.
I’ve always like this place. Always will.
Sunday. And the Lord said, rest. I slept in. It was good.
Didn’t sleep in too much, though, as I had a brunch to be at.
Hugo’s had been my first hit on arrival, and I’d been intrigued both by their brunch, and by their offers to do flights of tequila.
Now, the three guys on my bottle of Sauza’s Tres Generaciones had been growing to be boon companions, and we’d had quite a few nightcap discussions over the last few days. I like that anejo, but I appreciate that I can get stuck in a rut.
I also appreciate that it’s not a good idea to spend too much time alone. You start talking to guys on tequila bottles.
It was good to be back here in the light. I could read the menu now. I was here in part for the tequila, and in part for the food, an excellent selection of regional Mexican specialties. The sort of things you aren’t going to find in a lot of the other places. And in part, I was here to see my friends, a couple that I hadn’t had a chance to catch up with for several years.
Food. Drink. Friends. Good combo.
But my friends were running a little late. I started without them, taking a Prubeba al Lechero. This was strong Oaxaca coffee with steamed milk, a good retort to the ghosts who were still whispering in my ears from the night before. You could call it a Latino Latte, but it had tones for me more of coffee taken along the Mekong. Sweet, thick, the coffee twined about the fat in the milk.
I was feeling quite a bit more human after this.
That meant it was time for a cocktail.
While my friend opted for a traditional Bloody Mary breakfast, I chose a Gran Reposado Rita – a marguerita prepared with Hussong’s Reposado, some Grand Marnier for sweetness and citrus notes, syrup, and and fresh lime. I enjoyed this, the reposado giving a different flavour to the straight clear tequilas. I took my time over this, and watched the staff scurrying about getting the setup finished for the brunch.
I take the attitude that brunch should be enjoyed over an extended period of time. This is counter to what I often see of people piling up their plates in one grand assault. From years of training at the Four Seasons in Bangkok, I now look upon brunch not as a meal, but an extended performance.
Hugo’s (with only one flaw) is a good place to enjoy such a performance. The flaw, as such, is that the live music, on the wine balcony above, tends to overwhelm friendly conversation. I know that there’s the need to cover the entire room, but the sound was just a bit too obtrusive.
Only a minor point, and if I had dined alone, I’d have paid no attention to it.
The food selection was excellent, and kept fresh. I would go for four or five items in small measure, and then return to the table to chat. I also took advantage of the light to better reflect upon the menu. Or, rather, the drinks menu. Their cocktail menu is much about mimosas, sangrias, the iconic bloody Mary, mojitos, and polomas (of which I talked earlier). Absolved by the lechar, and fortified with the marguerita, I was ready to consider the tequilas. I asked for a flight of anejo, and with this came the companion of comfort, the sangrito.
I’ve been lucky enough to come into possession of a copy of Kingsley Amis’ On Drink. Let me read you what the Don of Drinking has to say with regards to La Tequila Con Sangrita (page 40).
“You will find it a splendid pick-me-up, and throw-me-down, and jump-on-me. Strongly disrecommended for mornings after.”
At the time, I did not yet have the book in my possession.
The three I took were anejos. 1800, Gran Centenario, and Don Julio. Of these, I liked the Gran Centenario the most, but it was a question of subtle differences. This was not like tasting whiskey, with the levels of peat standing out. Here it was more a nuance, a bit more smoothness on the Gran than the 1800, but all three were perfectly approachable. The good side of this is that I can return, happy, to my three amigos, and not worry that I’m missing too much at this stage in my palate’s life (or lingering death, as the case may be).
I wasn’t expecting this.
I’d expected the chaos of the third world. Having watched way too many movies set on the southern shores I was expecting steamy jungles, burros, crumbling edifices (edifii?), tin pot colonels with bad accents, and beautiful women.
What I found instead was a sophisticated urban culture that got my attention in a very favourable way.
Okay, the women still fit into both pictures.
Bogota has a bad rep, we all know that. News that I would have to be down here had people showing appropriate concern, and myself wondering if they made a kevlar belly plate big enough for me. Of course, I always wanted fore-arm greaves.
Instead, we find the major cities – Bogota and Cartagena at least – relatively well secured, with the only real threat that of pick-pockets. We did have security attached to us, but that’s a “just in case” sort of thing, with corporate insurance issues tied about the fringes.
Our work had us pretty much locked down to operations out of the Radisson Hotel in the north of town – Susaquen proper – a town consumed by Bogota some 50 years back. The hotel was nice enough, but, architecturally, could’ve been anywhere.
Still, our first bit of drinking was in the lounge the night we arrived. I started with Club Columbia, the main beer of the country. It was lightly hopped and a bit on the malty side, coming across soft on the palate. Not an aggressive beer, but easy enough to drink cold.
One of the fellows ordered an Aguila, but this was a Light, and not something I was interested in. I heard one of our local agents (a very pleasant young woman) refer to it as “a lady’s beer”.
One of our crowd called for a brandy – Gran Duque de Alba, an import, but tasty enough. And someone else takes a glass of cabernet sauvignon. I perk up at this. I’m a fan of the Chileans and the Argentinians, but I’ve never heard of Columbian wines.
For a reason, I’m afraid. The soil and weather conditions, while good for a lot of interesting things, don’t do much for grapes. Pity. But you can’t have everything.
Our next day we got to try some of the “other things”.
Juices, for one. We were drinking feijoa juice during our work hours, and there was a lulu juice, too. No, they did not stick the 1960’s female singer headfirst into a juicer (although that’s an interesting image) but rather they use a citrus fruit that looked all the world to me like a tomato masquerading as an orange. Or would it be better to say an orange trying to be a tomato? Whatever, it was tangy, and good. And the coffee. Heck, this was just hotel-lobby industrial style coffee, but it was good. Juan and his trusty burro, Conchita, had been picking the right beans. (More on coffee as we go).
The other treat, which I took to in the afternoon, was aromatica. This is a hot drink made of fruits and herbs. The one we took this first day was packed with strawberries, but I’ve been told that there are probably as many variations of aromatica in the country as there are families.
Dinner took us away from the hotel, thankfully. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the Radisson. In many respects it is one of the nicer hotels I’ve used on business. But I look forward, in most cases, to seeing what the culture has to offer, and the big hotel chains just lack something for me. I know, I know. This is a blind spot for me, and one am working diligently to try to rectify (with the help of the Four Seasons in Bangkok), but for now, I feel I need to be out and about.
As I’ve written up the food side in the egullet thread (www.egullet.org and search for my clever pseudonym, “Peter Green”) I won’t dwell on what Harry Sasson has done for dining in Bogota. But I will say that, in his restaurant at the T - Harry’s Wok and Satay Bar – they can mix a good martini. I called a Bombay Sapphire, shaken, straight up, two olives. The martini came chill and frosty (although not shaken at the table, as per the Houston fashion), and I set to while it was still cold.
Next to me, the neighbors were having lychee martinis, nice, a little on the sweet side for me, but I can see why this has proven a popular opener, being a regular item here, and picking up popularity in the North.
With the food I was delighted to find that they carried the Terrazos de los Andes, a wine I’d had solo in Bangkok, and one that cried out for meat as soon as I got my nose (and mouth) closed on it. Now I was blessed to have the wine and the opportunity for carnivorous activity. I ordered the 600 gm veal steak, and was in Heaven.
The Terrazos makes a fine Malbec, an excellent wine with meats (as you’ve gathered from the above). This is a subsidiary of Chandon Argentina, which in turn was a subsidiary of Moet & Chandon. Chandon Argentina focused on sparklings (which went over very well in Buenos Aries) and Tarrazos was set up to deal with varietals.
I’ve got to get to Argentina at some point soon.
After dinner I took an armagnac, but I won’t dwell on that. It was good, with the character I look for in an armagnac as opposed to the ultra-blending of cognacs (there I go, dwelling again), but it was primarily here as an accompaniment to the tinto I was enjoying, the espresso. I took this with a glass of water.
What can be a nicer way to end a meal than with a digestif, an espresso brimming over with the fresh oils of good coffee, and a bit of water to refresh you for each following sip, sip, and wash. I’d hoped to join the other half of our team. They had gone to a nearby micro-brewery – Colon, I believe – where they’d had a Red that they all enjoyed and stuck to for the evening. Damn them! How am I supposed to cover all this so fecund ground if they’re not going to do their part?
But, unfortunately, they’d already headed back home for the night, intent on a good evening’s sleep prior to work in the morning.
I believe they may not take this as seriously as I do.
A great part of town, though. It begged for us to spend more time here. We passed café and bar and café pouring the beautiful people out onto the streets. Every place we saw was jammed with people having a good time – cocktails, beer, wine, and shots of something I shall spend more time on later.
And, with our entourage being heavily weighted with our local agents, every five or ten paces saw us stopping to pass civilities with people, as everyone seemed to know each other.Not a bad start.
The second day of Bogota brought us a new delight.
Coca leaf tea! A unique pick-me-up, which is, indeed, not a bad method for addressing jetlag.
The only thing is, the dangly bit on the end of the teabag keeps on getting stuck in my nose.
Sorry. I couldn’t leave that line alone……..Sorry again.
We also had a different version of aromatica on hand today, this one prepared with more herbs and less fruit, with a blend of aloe and mint leaves (and other stuff I couldn’t make out).
It just brought a smile to my face to see these pots of really, really refreshing hot drinks out here in the modern business center lobby we’d taken over, packed out like a Korean granny’s medicinal cure, and just taken for granted as part of the scenery.
But let’s get away from work.
We had dinner set up for 80 Sillas in Susaquen, or rather the plaza of Susaquen, the old part of the town that had been consumed by Bogota decades earlier in a sprawl alongside the mountainside to the North.
A few of us had been let slip off our leash for the evening, given that it’s a prosperous and safe part of town, and allowed to walk ahead to the restaurant. Even with a stop in one of the malls (at which point I took the time to check out what a Columbian food court looks like) we were still well over half an hour in advance of our reservations (and the rest of the herd).
So, given that we were in a charming open garden in front of the church, with a plethora of cheerfully busy cafes and bars swarming with people in the twilight hour, there is hardly a doubt as to what our reaction was?
Bogota Beer Company!
This was located right on the corner by the left hand side of God (okay, the church). It was an old building, with a lively verandah on one side that we vainly searched for seating. Failing that, we headed inside to a comfortably cramped series of rooms, lots of wood, and red brick.
And there’s a web site, with pictures of the place we were drinking in, and with more details on their beers and history – in Spanish. Here’s the link
They’ve been in the micro-brew (or “artisan beers”) trade since 1996, a little after when Harry Sasson started reviving things in downtown.
Oh, and by the way, they have pubs in Usaquen, Andino, Avenue 19, Park 93, Calle 85, and Rosales, so whichever good looking part of Bogota you find yourself in, you won’t be too far away from a decent pour.
Anyways, business was good enough here in Usaquen that we had to work ourselves all the way to the back to the bar, but this had its own benefits.
The bar was exremely comfortable, in the gemutlichheit sense of the word.
First off, I was impressed by the Growlers. The locals are more than welcome to have their jug filled up for takeaway. And then there were the mugs. At first we thought that these were for sale, and wondered about inquiring as to the cost. But then one was taken away, given a quick fresh water rinse, and filled up with ale. As they filled it up we saw it had a name on it.
There’s something comforting about having your own mug on line at your local pub.
Of course, this put us into a buying frenzy. So, obviously we started paying a lot of attention the shirts the waitresses were wearing.
That’s the only reason, honest!
Black (my favourite lack of colour), and adorned with a red ad for cigarettes on the left sleeve. Obviously the rest of the world’s anti-smoking laws haven’t made it here yet.
Of course, all of this is just background noise. You want to know about the beers.
I’m a screw up.
I only had one beer. But it was good. What I had was the Usaquen Stout (well, you are what you drink). This was a beautiful, full stout, with a head as smooth and satiny as Guinness, but without the harsher tones of Guinness.
Now, some may claim that its those harsher tones that gives Guinness its full character, and I’d not necessarily detract from their views. I simply raise the matter here to isolate the smoother flavour, with more coffee notes, that this stout offered.
Of course, to really appreciate the fine notes in a stout, like psilocybin, you’d have to bring the material up for review, but those days are (for the greater part) passed from my life.
The other lads were about their Monserrate Roja’s, a good Irish red, but insipid to the extreme compared to my manly pint. But the boys had started on reds the night before at Colon, and were staying with what they enjoyed.
It was a great sadness that we didn’t have more time. About four pints more worth of time. In addition to the Roja and the Stout, the also offered a Candelaria Clasica Ale, a Chapinero Porter, and a Chia Weiss. Just four more pints and I could’ve done a proper review. But, we didn’t want to cause our hosts alarm, and our not showing up for dinner would have caused some concerns. I did consider picking up the four pack sampler (they were missing the porter from the pack, but how do you do a 5pack?) for off-sales, and then thought better about it, given the new (draconian) rules on carrying fluids on planes (what other use do aircraft have than to transfer booze from place to place?).
You can spot the four back up there on the bar behind the Red Irish (which would be a great name for a band).
I cursed after. We’d left at what seemed the right time, and met our comrades just as they entered the square, but, with the time they spent on a group picture I could’ve well done at least three halves.
It was a small note at this time that the statue (bust) of a dead white guy in the park was not covered in pigeon dung. This may be the first time I’ve seen such a thing.
Once the photo op was done we were off to 80 Sillas, a very stylish cevicheria with a great selection of ceviching styles. Basically an approach of mix and match – choose your fish and choose your style, and they’ll take it from there. The restaurant itself looked marvelous, not showing any of the effects of the grenade that was tossed in here shortly after it had opened years back.
With this a was taking a chardonnay – damned if I can remember which one. I was more concerned with the ceviche, the octopus salad, and the parchment wrapped fish.
But I’m just that way. (for the food side of this day, go to
This does far better credit to 80 Sillas, which I would recommend to anyone, especially if someone else is paying)
How do you explain this place? You’ve been to Andre’s, or you haven’t.
If you have been there, you know. Just mentioning it to someone from Bogota gets a smile and a sudden straightening up of the shoulders, as if their body is trained to party on the mere mention of the word. When I asked about it in Houston while buying a camera it completely changed the demeanor of the fellow who, until then, was advising me on the fine dining to be had in the Zona Rosa and Park 93. When I mentioned it to one of the people on my staff (a very serious young man) he suddenly picked up a smile and a glint in his eyes that said he was ready to go.
We’d lucked into our dinner at Andre’s. Originally we’d been told that it wasn’t open, that our days just didn’t work. This made a sort of sense, as the vast rambling expanse of the place concentrates upon the weekends for its business. But, a day in, and this turned out not to be the case. With a Thursday night available, we could do a dinner there. All it took was an executive decision on our part to change the plans.
So, after our last day of work we hosed off, changed into our party duds, and set off in two shifts for Chia, a village some 40 minutes drive outside of town. (Two shifts as the bulk of our support staff was still hard at work finishing off the paperwork and clearing the space, while we “talent” were quite content to skive off).
The 45 minute drive gave us a very brief look at life outside of the narrow confines we’d traveled in so far. All fairly modern, nothing of particular character, and then we came across a bridge where the Spanish had beaten the Indians a few hundred years ago, and then there were open, wooden restaurants selling meat, meat, and more meat. The sun had set, before we left, so there were the signs lit up of “carnes” and “parilla” and cases of Club Columbia waiting to go into the freezers…..
My interest was perking up. I’d already mentioned I’d felt I needed to stay longer, and this wasn’t making me feel better about leaving.
Andre’s, though, put the rustic draw of the other places to shame. The entrance lit up the place, with more than enough electricity to power a small Cambodian village. There were a couple of enamel cows to greet us at the entrance, and we spilled past our bovine greeters to parade through the turnstiles of this tribute to the Americas.
And that’s a part of what it is. Andre had traveled the length of the continents, gathers “stuff” as he went. At some point, about 25 years ago or so (I never had an exact answer) Andre’s Carne de Res began as a shanty, a shanty filled with the décor of Andre’s trips. Then another shack was nailed on, and then another, and another, each filled with the eye candy of travel, and decorated in a manner reminiscent of Thai temples, with bits of broken pottery imbedded in everything to give that glazed, shiny look you normally get in your eyes on a good night.
We wound as a conga line through the place, passing bar station after bar station, and endless benches that stretched on and on. It was early, perhaps only around 8, so we were some of the first in. We had a table reserved by the main dance floor (and there were a few others), and we arrived to find a small marching band of carnival outfitted staff raising the noise level.
We began with Club Columbia. This was more of a reflex action than anything else. The beers bought us time to consider our next moves. Food we left in the hands of our hosts, but the drinks would take some thinking through.
Beyond Club C, there was also a dark, German-style beer on tap, and one of our lot had the good sense to order a couple of liters of that to keep him occupied.
We were assailed early on by a man dressed in a priest’s cassock and white powder, who belaboured us (in Spanish) with the toll to be paid for our wicked ways. Personally, I do not look for such elements in my boozing, but perhaps such reflection leads to greater enjoyment? We would see.
But I was looking for something more festive. I asked Lena, our primary handler who was ostensibly keeping us out of trouble, what would be considered the trademark cocktail here.
“Why, a mojito, of course.”
So, a mojito it was to be. (see Jackie’s August Drink of the Month here - http://www.dipsophilia.com/august_2007.htm#Top%20of%20Page - on Dipsophilia for more details)
In Houston, if you recall, my friend Dan had taken a Blueberry mojito, a civilized affair in a nicely presented glass, the mint muddled in with the berries to give a different feel to the sugars that went with the rum. The drink is Cuban in nature, and considered a trademark cocktail of that interesting bastion of marathon speechmaking quite urbane.
I wasn’t urban, anymore.
What I received here was a hollowed-out coconut shell. Loads of mint. And a serious amount of alcohol in there.
This was fine by me.
It started off with a straw, but I quickly came to terms with the fact that it was irrelevant. This was a drink to hoist in one hand, pretensions of King Louis from the Jungle Book (Disney version) flashing before my eyes.
Meanwhile, as I furiously scribbled down my notes on the beef tenderloin packed in salt, wrapped in a cloth, and then tossed in the fire to cook to a perfect zombie rigor mortis grey, but so tender and perfect in the middle……where was I again?
Oh, yeah. Drinking! The first mojito was good enough to justify a second. That, likewise, disappeared soon enough, with the aid of the little tatatas. These are better than bar nuts, glistening from the hot oil, and lightly salted.
I had another mojito.
The crowd was up dancing, and I would break from writing to get in some video footage for blackmail purposes. We’d kept the cameras out at the table (a mistake some said), but the administration at Andre’s has a wise idea, which is that the waiter comes by with a lock up bag for all of the jackets, purses, and everything else at the table. You may not keep the crease in your blazer, but you do know you’ll get it back at the end of the night.
I was growing jaded with my mojito, and so chose to try something different. What they brought was a mango slushee-style marguerita. It was alright, but lacked the clarity of the mojito (which would be a great name for a story…okay, I’m using it. For the sake of posterity, I would like to give credit for this burst of creativity to Beck’s, maker of fine German beers).
This was a fine evening. Food and drink just kept on coming. Tenderloins sizzling on the plate, more potatoes, blood sausage, beers, and aguardiente.
Have I mentioned Aguardiente yet?
Aguardiente is the South American equivalent of soju. Around 30%, although it can get as high as 45%. But, if it’s only 30%, it doesn’t matter if you drink a couple of gallons, right?
The Columbians generally take their aguardiente in shots, and we were doing a fine job of toasting each other, and getting toasted. The night devolved into a fine evening of drinking, eating, conga lines, and more drinking.
But all good things come to an end. Like our health and sanity. Before long (around 3 a.m.) it was time to think about leaving.
Okay, it was about time we did some thinking, period. We were responsible business people with work to accomplish.
Andre’s is responsible about things, too. As we filed out through the turnstiles at 3 a.m. they removed the hospital bracelets from our wrists. These were attached to us so that they could make certain we took the stuff we’d bought (and get our lock-up bags). On the driving side, or rather the not-able-to-drive side, they’ve got a bunch of beds available for those who need to have a little lie-down; there’s soup for the really drunk, just to get some rehydration started; and there are drivers to get you and your vehicle back home to Bogota proper if you’re really badly off.
How come I ended up with a bowl of the soup? (I’ve got the little aluminum ladle in the kitchen here).
Note: for those curious about the food, the details can be found at egullet through the following link: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=112384&view=findpost&p=1533278