"I'm Old-Fashioned." I always get a kick out of hearing Chet Baker sing that song. Chet Baker old-fashioned? Drunk and loaded on Heroin? Anyway, he sings it very nicely. Miles was always jealous of Chet because he sounded a lot like Miles. Thought that Chet was copying him. I think it is rather like this: Chet absorbed some of Miles but he had his own style. They were just similar kind of players. Miles never tried to sing, however. Now that is something to think about.
Stopped by Enrico's last Friday. Thomas "The Knack" Waugh was in command at the bar. The last time he tried a new drink on me he had been dreaming about the Negroni the night before (Bush, Butts, Bombs, Blood). This time he had been reading up on the Old-Fashioned. He asked me if I would like to try one.
Thomas doesn't mince his words:
"People are not making an Old-Fashioned the way it's supposed to be made. Everyone has their preferences but there's definitely no soda water in an Old-Fashioned."
"Are people actually doing that?" I asked, tying to sound a little outraged.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "That's kind of what you would get at any other regular bar."
"Yuk!" I thought but didn't say it. "kuYuk."
Now before we go too far here, lets just state the ingredients
for an Old-Fashioned. Per the Reverend Gary Regan (Bartender's
The drink begins by muddling the bitters and the water with the sugar cube. Does not have to be exactly like that but that is the general formula.
Now what I learned from Thomas is that there are things to avoid about this drink and some nice substitutions that can be made. For instance, most bartenders take the wedge of an orange and muddle it with a maraschino cheery.
"That's the first big mistake," says Thomas.
What you want is the oil from the skin and the flavor of the orange but not the juice of the orange. The solution is to muddle a slice of the peel, about the size of a quarter, with some pith.
A second abomination is an overly sweet Old-Fashioned. I can speak from personal experience on this. Too much sweetness and an Old-Fashioned is sickly. It makes you feel like calling the doctor. Thomas avoids that nicely in his version by using raw rock candy, which is not overly sweet and adds nice flavor.
Finally hear this: Don't use just any bitters. Use orange bitters, preferably Gary Regan's. "It's amazing," says Thomas. "It's ten times more bitter than any other bitters you can get ahold of."
Brandied cherries are a nice substitute for regular maraschino,
and a bar spoon of cherry liquor adds an extra layer of flavor to
this drink. It's still old-fashioned, but it won't bore you to death.
Ever hear Frank Sinatra sing A Lovely Way to Spend
an Evening? (can't think of anything I'd rather
do ... a casual stroll through a garden ... humming
our favorite tune ...). Sinatra and that song don't mix.
And now I'm feeling not so old-fashioned. In fact I'm
I have been prowling through Chinatown restaurants with Yan Yan. We are connected by way of her late mother.
We have been developing a technique to find the best restaurants. It is fairly simple but you have to abide by it. You walk in, eyeball the place intensely, hold up your nose, wrinkle it, smell like a cat, taking in all aromas, glance around like someone planning to rob the bank, then quickly leave if there is anything, anything whatsoever, you don't like about it. Once you learn this technique you rarely get stuck. There is always a host or hostess who is trying to get you to a table. You must be firm and resist this.
"Thanks so much," you say. "We come back later." But of course you don't.
Also, if you see no bar, you must always ask if they serve beer or wine. Some don't. For me food and drink are inseparable. No drink, no eat.
"Come back when bar is open."
"What bar?" asks the hostess.
But now you are gone.
Another indicator to watch is the number of Chinese diners. If there is a long line, the food is guaranteed to be not only fresh but good.
Now when we do find a place and are seated, we talk of many things, fools and kings, even school lunches. Yan Yan is entitled to the free lunch. It is not gourmet food but would be welcomed by anyone who was starving. Sometimes, however, the free lunch is baffling.
"Friday we have the toast cheese sandwich. They forget toast it."
"Not so good?" I ask.
"I think better warm." She looks thoughtful.
"But some people have nothing to eat," she says. "Teacher remind us."
"And nothing to drink," I say.
She looks a little sad for those who have nothing to eat.
In China, high school was not so much fun for her. No school lunch at all.
"You have 15 minutes. Bring a little vegetable from home."
Things are better here.
We are at Hunan Home on Jackson Street. We have privately just awarded Hunan Home a Best-of-Chinatown award, though the restaurant does not know it. A plate of sizzling prawns arrives. The waiter warns us to wait. (Right: plate of sizzling eel & shredded pork.)
Yan Yan is taking American literature at Balboa High. They are reading books that I read years ago. Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, Huckleberry Finn ...
She likes Huckleberry Finn but says it is better in Chinese. There are words and phrases that she does not understand in English. I wonder how it sounds in Chinese. She has a copy. I tell her I want to hear it in Chinese. I wonder what Mark Twain would think hearing it in Chinese.
I tell her how Mark Twain used to be a newspaper man in San Francisco, just a few blocks away from where we are eating. Back then, I say, people used to read something in the paper they did not like and they went in and shot the writer. So Twain kept a revolver on his desk pointed toward the door. She is amused.
She is poking at the shredded jellyfish, something I'm just beginning to like. I'm sure the English translation is great.
The jelly-like fish,
"You don't like?" she asks.
"Don't like? Are you kidding?" I say.
"I think you don't like."
"I'm getting used to it," I say.
"Chinese people like very much," she says.
"Well, you see, I used to go swimming with this stuff and ..."
In time I will probably like it. Right now it it is a little cold and slimy.
Now a plate of chow mein arrives with thick tasty noodles. I shovel some onto my plate and slurp them up with the seafood and vegetables. No getting used to. I never went swimming with these guys, never floated down the Mississippi with them. Noodles have always been my friends, on shore and off.
I'm getting used to all kinds
of new things, and themORthey're to me ...