Thursday, August 25, 2016

Surviving a One Star Restaurant - Part One: How I Was Roped In

Not so bad eh? Well, that's essentially the entire menu.
Oh, and this is a close up view. And it's been photoshopped.
It's been a long time since I updated my blog. But allow me to confess dear reader, I have been gathering a lot of material for coming updates. It is with this promise that I make my triumphant return to the blog space here at The Bottle Opener. And of course as the title of the article promises, I am going to give a full expose of my recent work at a restaurant featuring the coveted title of "One Star Restaurant."

So without further ado:

Part One: How I Was Roped In

This was a variation of the 17 dollar seafood
salad you see pictured above, that me and one
of the kitchen staff came up with in an attempt
to bring up the quality of food in the restaurant.
Despite being the exact same salad, but with
better presentation, and a better dressing, it was
not accepted by the owners.
I have a confession to make. I was originally going to call this series of articles "How I Survived Working at the Worst Restaurant in Vancouver". The hyperbole seemed to fit the case study in question, however, I decided against it. The reasons have to do with me not wanting to feed my bitterness and resentment after such a long and futile experience. Despite such bitterness, I don't want to make it unnecessarily difficult for the people at the restaurant (and we know I'll be name dropping them in due time). And ultimately I feel like focusing on the one star restaurant aspect really drives home the feeling that 'if people could rate it any lower than one on Yelp, they would'. Yes, the Yelp reviewers are like the proverbial minimum wage employers, who we all know would pay people even less if there were no rules keeping them from doing so. That is exactly the case with a restaurant that has a one star rating. On the other hand, to call it the worst restaurant in Vancouver... I mean, it's the worst that I know about, however, I have integrity! I do not know for certain that this is the worst restaurant in this fine city, and furthermore, there's the possibility that my bitterness is making it worse for me than everyone else; although, I would point to evidence on Yelp to prove otherwise. Said evidence does however return us to the question of how many stars a restaurant deserves.

With all of this negative rhetoric being spewed from my general existence, the question of how I even got involved might also be posed. It's a simple question with a complicated answer on the one hand, and a complicated question with an easy answer on the other. The short of it is, I didn't like where I was when I got offered the job, and this job seemed to offer all of the things I had been working towards. I had a few good meetings with the hiring manager before the restaurant had opened and it seemed promising enough that I ignored all of the cues that showed up in the coming weeks before the grand opening.

As for the long answer, that will be the subject of the entirety of these articles from herein out. 

As soon as I started to interact with the person who this restaurant was the brainchild of, I realized this restaurant was not going to be a hit, to say the least. I had at least hoped that the cocktail menu I'd make would help drive business, and that it would be my chance to shine. Everyone at the restaurant realized the potential of the cocktail menu I put together. 

Everyone except the owner and his wife. 

The Smoked Hawaiian. I made this
drink completely at the request of the owner
for sweeter and more colorful drinks.
I'm actually happy with how it turned out,
but it was a complete waste of my
Every trendy drink I presented them, they would show me photos of drinks from Red Robin, or tell me it needs to be sweeter. I would be told to order alcohol for making shots because "shots are popular" - only for people to never order shots, because predictably, people don't want to do Red Dragons at dinner time. I would be told to buy expensive wine for the owner's friends because they would criticize all the wine for being under 100 dollars - so I ordered the expensive wines, only to have several boxes of them collecting dust. I would be told to put the owner's friends wine on the menu, only to have customers tell me it was disgusting.

What I had hoped for was to have the opportunity to put together an edgy cocktail menu for an up and coming Chinese Fusion restaurant. What I got was 7 months of disaster control. There was no fusion. The promises were not lived up to. And the food was ultimately, beyond terrible.

This is how everything is served.
Pay attention to the lack of plates.

The problem is, that instead of following trends and presenting an edgy Chinese Fusion restaurant - something that on paper would be extremely successful - they wanted to dictate what should be popular, and haphazardly copy ideas from other tacky restaurants, without giving those in the restaurant who actually have talent an opportunity to shine. The theory behind the restaurant is Chinese fusion. The reality is that this is what you get when somebody without a clue wants to create a restaurant from the ground up in his image. The results of this experiment: mountains of garlic and spicy peppers on everything, a table with greasy brown food lying on top of brown paper and brown cutting boards (there is a redeeming color variation with some of the boards - green from the mold), and of course all of the terrible food comes with a monumentally high price tag. Imagine the worst possible meal, with a two hundred dollar bill at the end of it. Welcome to my former job!

These would have been the sort of cues that would have kept me from applying to this job at all in the first place. Sadly, I can't even blame the person who hired me; she also had the wool pulled over her eyes and was gone from there much earlier than I was.

Thus concludes part one! Stay tuned for the next update; Part Two - Liquor Laws Were Definitely Broken.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

5 Drinks to Replace Caesars as Canada's Cocktail

It's no secret that I think Caesars are over rated. While I can appreciate Caesars during a certain time and place (read: hangovers), I believe that they should be relegated to one particular day of the week (Sundays). I've said it before and I'll say it again; Canadian cocktail culture needs an overhaul. Caesars are by and large the only cocktail that an average Canadian knows (you can guess my opinion about whether hi-balls  or Screwdrivers should be included as cocktails....) So I've put together a short list of cocktails to replace the Caesar as Canada's cocktail.

5. The Toronto

How many Toronto's does it take to run the country?
Just one.
Why it would work: If San Francisco can develop a hard on for Fernet, so can Canada. It's really the perfect cocktail for this list. It calls for rye, which is Canada's way of distilling whisky, and which once put Canada on the map for quality alcohol production. It's named after Canada's largest city, which many identify as the cultural hub of Canada. It would add a well needed level of class and worldliness to Canadian culture; we need to nix the country bumkin identity and move on up in the world.

Why it wouldn't work: To be honest, I would love to give this cocktail the number one spot. Sadly, most Canadians don't like to feel connected with Toronto. Canadians are jealous of Toronto. I know us non Torontonians hate to admit it, but Toronto is better than us, because they either don't know of don't care about everyone's extreme hatred of their city. It all stems from the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs are the most popular hockey team in the NHL, and Canadians have nothing better to complain about than one way hockey rivalries.

 4. The Manhattan
You might recognize this cocktail from the old mustached
grandpa that comes customary with each order.
Why it would work: Canadians love the big apple almost as much as they don't love the big smoke. Seriously, this cocktail could do it for almost all the same reasons as the Toronto. It's made with rye, it's classy, and it's named after a city everyone loves. Better yet, it's not as esoteric as the Toronto, so whether the bartenders knows what it is or not, the ingredients should at least be available in most bars.

Why it wouldn't work: The most important thing to know about Canadian heritage is that our national identity is built around the concept of not being American. We may love New York, and love to drink Manhattans, but by default we hate to be thought of as Americans. And what's more American than America's largest city?! Well, I suppose the flag, or white house, but you can't drink those....

3. Dark 'N Stormy

Possibly the best thing you can do with alcohol free ginger beer,
is add rum to it!
Why it would work: Even though rye is our historical claim, there's a whole part of the country who drinks only rum and beer. Atlantic Canada is where I was born and raised, and it's a well known fact that Easterners like their rum. It also wouldn't be that hard to switch to, given the fact that hi-balls are already so prominent a thing in bars here.

Why it wouldn't work: Okay, so the point of the list is to add more sophistication to our drinking culture. The last thing Canadians need is another go to hi-ball. And aside from that, no one wants to be associated with quirky Easterners. The maritimes is the butt hole of Canada,and no Newfies are weird. Look at their rum! It's even got a weird name.... Screech!

2. Irish Coffee

Note: This is not a double double. It's all Irish baby!
Why it would work: Canadians love their coffee. Think about it. You can easily sneak some Irish whiskey into your double double from Tim Hortons each day, then go about your day with a light buzz and caffeine high. It would fuel a whole new generation of alcohol dependency, and at the same time stand in the face of the Anglo world's stupid ban of drinking alcohol in public.

Why it wouldn't work: Too many people use the drive through at Tim Hortons. Need I say more?

1. The Sidecar
(This drink is fantastic)
Why it would work: This one would be a huge play out of left field. First of all, it's fucking fantastic, just like Canada. Secondly, it has some shady French history behind it, just like Canada. And aside from all that, it has the class and pizzazz that I so desperately crave. I would have absolutely no problem with *people who opted for Sidecars all the time instead of Caesars.

Why it wouldn't work: Anglo Canadians by and large would never accept something so French. And that's pretty much what it comes down to.

Honorable Mention

Vanilla Porter and Canadian Rye makes a pretty damn good Boilermaker.
Over the years I've discovered that one of the ways to make terrible Canadian lagers and terrible Canadian whiskies work is to mix them together. It's simple, like so many Canadianisms,  and it doesn't fall victim to the cocktails above, which would never be accepted because of the intolerance of Anglo Canadians, to French Canadians. French Canadians to Anglo Canadians. Non Torontonians to Torontonians. And Canadians to Americans. Unfortunately, it's not a cocktail.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

13 Over Rated Cocktails

People seemed to enjoy my last article like this, where I dissed popuoar cocktails, and wrote in a cynical and pretentious voice. Not being one to disappoint the 'fans' (rather, being out of activity for awhile and needing to bolster my readership...) I present to you my newest article regarding popular drinks that are over rated!

There are a number of popular cocktails that pop up fairly often for those of us working the wood. Some of us have gotten a handle for making drinks we can't stand, or making drinks that we know just aren't that good; but boy howdy are they sure popular! This list is an examination of some of those cocktails.

13. Margarita

Mexican Bulldogs are kind of cool though...
I'm putting our favorite tequila cocktail at the bottom of this list because they actually aren't all THAT bad. At the same time, however, they also aren't all that good. I can't knock people who like them too badly because there aren't all that many tequila cocktails in the lime light (pun intended), and tequila is a pretty hard thing to get into. Considering how bad the low priced products are and how hard it is for a lot of people to get past their initial experience of taking shots and immediately washing the taste away with a bite of lime and a lick of salt, most people just don't know what to do with tequila. That said, in my opinion the only thing to do with a good tequila is to drink it straight and neat. As for a bad tequila... well, make margaritas I suppose.

12. Dirty Martini
A proper Martini. Black and White...
err, no olive juice.

For all of the known world, Martinis are a passion of pleasure. Except for those whom they aren't. For those dregs, there are Dirty Martinis. You may recognize this rare breed of slack jawed yokles by their familiar statement that "the olive juice is the best part!" Oh, how they couldn't be more mistaken. The olive juice is so not the best part of a good Martini, that it in fact is not part of a good Martini at all! Think about it. Do you consume anything else labeled as 'dirty'? Dirty cottage cheese, for example? Or perhaps you're more in the mood for a dirty Big Mac. Or maybe a dirty Bratwurst is more up your.... alley?

11. Frozen Bellini

That's me, apparently bowing at my adoring customers.
Here in Vancouver, where the frozen bellini was imagined years ago by a young Milestones restaurant, frozen bellinis are the only bellinis. During my tenure at Milestones, I had many a first time bellini consumer order their first bellini and say something along the lines of "This is great! It tastes like a Slurpee with alcohol!" That alone should be enough to persuade people of its cheesiness. Nevertheless it somehow became super popular and is now available at every casual fine dining experience in Canada (I don't know if that's true, but knowing the tastes of my countrymen it would not surprise me). Oh and don't forget the monkey toy that goes on top! Christ...

Hey! I have an idea! Let's add coke to everything!
10. Anything and Coke

I've ranted extensively about high balls in the past, and of course I'm doing it again! If you call them Cuba Libre or Fernet con Coca, you can probably get away with it, otherwise, high balls are just a crying shame. The moment you add that coke to the spirits, it is now a complete was of good alcohol. While I can appreciate that most people can't palate alcohol, adding an obscene amount of high calorie carbonated syrup water isn't the solution!

9. Screwdriver

The sane world calls them vodka and orange juice. Those of us who got left behind call it the Screwdriver. It's the de facto go to cocktail that people who don't know any cocktails always turn to. There's nothing special about them, and it basically just tastes like bad orange juice. I think we all need to ask ourselves, if it didn't get you drunk, would you put anything that tastes like that in your mouth? Maybe I'm crazy for thinking they taste as bad as they do, or maybe I'm biased for some other reason, but in my humble opinion.... Screwdrivers are garbage! Next!

This golden piece of awesome is the yuppiest drink
on the planet.
8. Old Fashioned

Being that I quite like the Old Fashioned, this will either come across as hypocritical, or show that I'm just as willing to criticize my own tastes. While quite delicious, the Old Fashioned has become the centerpiece of hipsters, or people trying to broadcast to the world how sophisticated and trendy they are. Yes, both sophisticated and trendy at the same time! Who'd have thunk? If you're friends with "The Old Fashioned Guy", then you've probably seen him push the classic on everybody and anybody he drinks with. As for "The Old Fashioned Lady", there's nothing wrong with her. Keep doing what you're doing Old Fashioned Lady.

Presentation is bang on, though.
7. Strawberry Daiquiri

Of course this drink is much more detestable in its blended form, although it does taste good, that is besides the point. Ultimately, and similarly to the Bellini, you can't tell that this is an adult drink. There are a number of virgin drinks out there for alcohol haters. Slurpees. Bubble teas. Even Shirley Temples. But leave the rum out of it for the love of all that is good and holy!

6. Caesar
Blegh... Boring. Find a new national drink, Canada!
One of the few "you have to know" cocktails in order to bartend in Canada. This is Canada's cocktail. I'll also admit, that despite being so high on the list, I do not find Caesars to be absolutely detestable. That being said, there is a proper time and place for a caesar, and that time or place is not any time, all the time. It's not a party drink, it's not a dinner drink, it's not any other type of drink than a refreshing hangover drink to have with your hangover meal. Okay okay, sometimes.... SOMETIMES they aren't too bad on a hot day, but this goes back to the point that they're not an any time drink, and if you have more than one you're going to smell like Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. And furthermore, it grinds my gears when people call it a bloody, or spicy caesar. They're all spicy, and they aren't the same as a Bloody Mary!

5. Pina Colada

A little bit of cinnamon can brighten up a Pina Colada.
I've got two Pina Cola.... no I don't! No Pina Coladas for you! Okay, so this should not come as a surprise to anyone who's been reading this list. Pina Coladas, and anything like a Pina Colada is not my cup of tea. Coconut syrup, really? I have two far better tiki drinks to steer you towards. Painkillers and Mai Tais. Seriously, you can still get your tiki on without the gross syrup. Painkillers are basically a Pina Colada's grown up brother. And neither drink ever makes sense blended. And by the way, if you hadn't noticed, blended drinks are not my thing.

Actually, this one isn't even that popular.
I strongly dislike it though!
4. Sex on the Beach

It basically tastes like candy, and aside from the vodka it basically is just candy. If drinking candy is
your thing, that's fine. The Tipsy Bartender has an audience of millions because of cocktails made out of candy, after all. Personally, I think it's gross. It's just another of those cocktails that scream "grooooow up!" And seriously, Sex on the Beach? What about the name fits the flavor profile? Almost any cocktail would be more fitting of the name. "Oh let's go to the beach and eat fuzzy peaches!" That's basically the closest thing I can imagine this drink being named to "Sex on the Beach".

3. Holy Water

Garbage. Just total garbage. The worst part about this is, I worked in a bar where this was literally the most popular chick drink. Now-a-days, I've noticed that girls generally have much more classier taste buds than boys, and the usual stereotypes of manly drinks and womanish drinks can actually be flip flopped, to more accurately reflect the genders. Come to think of it, a lot of guys used to order these too. Things sure are different bartending in the hinterland, where everyone is white trash and drinks Sex in the City drinks, regardless of gender. Red sour puss, blue curacao and 7 up. Sounds like purple drank to me.

2. Long Island Iced Tea

Who are we trying to kid? Long Islands look like shit.
Seriously, what is even the point? Four types of clear spirits and triple sec with lime and coke. Pretty sure you could substitute the spirits with anything at this point and not tell the difference. People are so particular about this crap drink too. And of course, it's just a gimmick to sell that cheap Long Island mix that comes in a plastic bottle. But it doesn't even taste good! Is that really what you're craving? An overpriced heinz 57 mixture of alcohol with lime juice and coke? What a waste of money!

1. Spiced Rum and Coke

My hate of high balls brings this drink to the top, despite that "anything and coke" is already an entry. One time while I was gig bartending, a double spiced rum and coke came up. I made it and the guest brought it back complaining it wasn't spiced rum so I gave the rum and coke separately when I sent it back out. Half an hour later, the same fucking thing happens with the same guy! What the hell! Sadly, this is just how spiced rum dorks are, all the time. This loser was just bent out of shape because we used Sailor Jerry's, which is 10 percent higher abv, meaning he could taste the alcohol. Since its a little bit stronger, he thought it tasted too much like real rum. Pussy.
Wouldn't you much rather have a drink like this, than a spiced rum and coke?

Honorable Mention

Hot Toddy

The only reason I don't list this is because I don't even consider this to be a thing. To my understanding, a hot toddy is a loose idea of mixing citrus, tea and spirits, which just happens to be a specific drink here in Vancouver (or wherever else). If you order one here, you'll likely get a blended Scotch, red rose tea and lemon. If you order one from me, I'll probably ask you very specifically how you want it prepared. What kind of tea, for starters. And well, I'll actually assume you want Scotch, but in a better world I would not have to assume! So I guess I'll only really ask you to specify the tea, but still!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Booker's Bourbon Review

A few things about Booker's

Booker's is the highest proof product in the Jim Beam line of "small batch bourbons". It's a cask strength bourbon, which is honestly, pretty damn awesome. Make sure to add water when you're drinking, because you'll likely go into shock or something if you drink this like you would drink any other whiskey. My bottle is 62.35%. Your bottle might not necessarily be the same. That's the beauty of a small batch cask strength bourbon!

So where does it get it's name? Well, Jim Beam's grandson is named Booker Noe, and this is his small batch bourbon. Pretty cool, eh?

Booker's Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Booker's Bourbon is a pretty awesome and manly bourbon. It has a lot of burn, being at cask strength, but right out of the bottle it has strong spice notes and hints of leather. As you pour water into the glass, bringing it down to roughly 40% abv, the burn backs off a lot, and the nose brightens with baking spices, including cloves, vanilla and all spice.

Tobacco and charcoal oak peak through a corn dominated body, while baking spices from the nose continue. There is a sweetness, that tastes of dried dates, or prunes, and maple syrup.

The finish brings back the spice notes that were there throughout the tasting, along with a scotch like smoke. Also dotting the finish are citrus notes and pepper. A lot of length and complexity in the finish.


Friday, June 12, 2015

"Know Thyself"

My last article concerned classical Greek philosophy, and so, by the gods, this one will too.

Another lesson from classical Greece, with yours truly.
The words "Know Thyself" were famously inscribed on a stone that used to reside at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. They became the most well known of 147 Delphic Maxims,  believed to have been given to use by Apollo at the Oracle of Delphi. The saying was also famed in Lacedaemon (Sparta), a city state whose populace is unfairly remembered for being a country of mindless, brutish defenders of a tyrannical and xenophobic state. They're also remembered for disappearing and becoming obscure in history because of a lack of democracy and philosophy, which Athens is remembered for.

Truly, the historical losers never seem to receive justice in history. Perhaps we have a cultural desire to see the winners of history as having a similar culture to our own. But then, we hardly acknowledge the submission of Athens by Macedon and Rome; both had elements of democracy but were dynastic at the core. What did the contemporaries think of their Lacedaemonian rivals, though?

What's left of Sparta, from the time of Socrates.

"Sparti in-river-Eurotas-valley flanked-by-Taygetos-mountains"
ulrichstill - Own work. Licensed under 

CC BY-SA 2.0 de via Wikimedia Commons.
Socrates explains of a Sparta who along with Crete are the original modern philosophers of his time. Similarly, contemporaries of the time explain of a Lacedaemonian culture who educates both women and men in reading and writings. Women also are trained similarly in the strict military regimen of Spartan males. Chilon of Sparta is remembered as one of the seven sages of Greece, and was democratically elected as an ephor (a fancy Spartan word for politician) by the Lacedaemonians. Lycurgus, who is credited for transforming Sparta into one of the military superpowers of its time created a system of law and governance that valued equality, military fitness and austerity. He left his post as King of Sparta to travel the world and learn about what sort of Reforma he would need in order to craft Sparta into the society we remember it as today. He visited the Oracle of Delphi where he was said to receive answers to his questions.

One likely result of Lycurgus visiting Delphi was an appropriation of some strong worded Delphic

The temple of Apollo, at Delphi
"Columns of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, Greece"
Patar knight - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Maxims,  such as "Know thyself". Socrates lauds Spartan philosophy, which includes the use of sayings such as "Know thyself", which he likens to a bowstring which is composed of twisted up string, that are shorter and stronger than they were in their natural state. He himself refers often to the saying almost like a personal mantra, believing that he cannot know other things when he doesn't even know himself.

Being aware and thinking about quotes like this can be useful for a bartender. Aside from creating the appearance that you are the thinking man (or woman), quotes can be a good talking piece. There are a few quotes, such as this one, that stand up to the test of time, though. The reason that quotes like "Know thyself" endure for so long is that they both require a certain level of insight into yourself and the meaning of the proverb, which make them useful to anyone; not JUST bartenders.

I know that I'm a bartender....
Philosophers of antiquity believed - among other things - that the proverb meant to know your limitations and capabilities. I've said in the past to avoid promising more than you can deliver, and that goes without saying here too. Considering the quote may reveal that you are weak in areas where you need to be stronger, or that you need to readjust short term goals. Other considerations may help you be less apathetic and more understanding of people; after all, it's one desire that you can empathize better with people when you can relate to them, and perhaps a little soul searching can help with that too.

It's no wonder that the Greeks thought this maxim was so profound, because it's a veritable gold mind. You cn reap the benefits of this quote, in the form of a wealth of antiquitous wealth of self understanding. Or you can just use it because it's a cool quote, and can instigate discussion at your bar. But take heed reader, whatever the reason for your usage; take heed.... to know thyself.

Sorry folks. I had to do it.
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