If you are one of the great majority of New Orleanians who never, or very seldom, travel outside of the confines of the Southshore of Lake Pontchartrain, then you are probably unaware.
Yes, we know that our cuisine is unmatched anywhere else on the planet. That’s not to say other areas do not have fine food, or impressive preparation techniques, or access to ingredients indigenous to their area, but here, we bring together history, culture, knowledge and appreciation to create dishes – both grand and downscale – that just about every time you have them in front of you, they ring your chimes.
What makes our tradition of great flavors coming together so incredible is that we are able to compare what we have versus what is found in other places. Oh sure, in other locations around America, there are pockets of excellence. And I usually venture out while on a trip to at least one restaurant with one or two dishes that perk me up and gain my admiration.
And before we go much further here, I am not bragging or trying to be haughty here. I talk to a lot of visitors to our town and I have the good fortune to do a lot of traveling all over the country each year. No matter who I run into or where I am, in general, folks point to our town as the "best of the best" when it comes to great dining.
But there is one area, closely allied to dining, that you may not realize we are also among the leaders of the craft, and that is mixology. New Orleans, overall, has the best darn bartenders you will ever enjoy. The added bonus is that the vast majority of them are very nice people – talented and nice. That sums up the way New Orleans approaches this subject.
It is, however, their devotion to the tricky business of mixing cocktails where they excel. When you ask for a drink in a New Orleans watering hole, you are more likely than not to get something quite special. The results in your glass are balanced, with all the ingredients playing a role, and all combining for your appreciation. The bitter does not overwhelm the sweet. The alcohol does not “stick out.” The fresh maintains that desired quality.
Our gang behind the stick truly “gets it.” They have a respect for classics, and in technical or product areas where trouble sometimes lurks, they smooth over the rough edges. Bartenders often try their hand at creating their own expressions. And here is where the devil likes to hang out. In many other cities, which shall remain nameless, a grasp of the classics, like a Sazerac or a Ramos Gin Fizz, is completely absent. In those unholy places, a bartender creating a “drink of the month,” is a recipe for expensive disaster.
That same love of tradition and culture as we demand in our cuisine is respected in our cocktails by the people making them. Just mention to a New Orleans bartender what you like, and I am willing to wager a good sum of money that you will soon enjoy an excellent response to your desires. I am not blowing smoke here. Believe me, in all of my frequent travels, I am always happy to return home and finally get a good drink.
Let’s move into the wine realm while we are slinging remarks. Eater, that national and local-edition arbiter of all things restaurant, recently published an article – penned by a sommelier – that addressed the topic of corked wine, how to recognize it, and what to do about it should it end up in your glass.
My recent experiences are that the presence of corked wine in the marketplace has plummeted. Better grades of cork, treated fully, and the rise of alternative stoppers in wine bottles all add up to fewer incidents of wines that are corked.
By the way, the term “corked wine” is a specific condition in a wine. It is caused by the presence of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, better known as TCA. This unhappy condition occurs when fungi breaking down after attempts to kill the organism in the purification process, either in the cork or the barrel. It leaves behind quite a repugnant odor. And that odor penetrates the wine. A wet dog or wet cardboard smell then is present in the wine, never to be eliminated.
Other situations can also cause a wine to lose its luster, such as oxidation, heat, and light. The wine reacts differently in each situation but we tend to lump them all together and call the wine “corked.”
But here is the real deal: today’s wines are, for the most part, meant to be enjoyed young. They are produced to be fresh, full of fruit, and balanced. When a wine does not meet those criteria and instead becomes off-putting, flabby, lacking in brightness, you need to consider replacing it. This can be tricky in a restaurant. Which is the main reason I suggest that people stick with what they know when they are in a restaurant.
A reason for returning a bottle of wine is not because you don’t like the taste or the bouquet. That may be the trademark of that particular wine and it may be something with which you don’t have familiarity.
If a wine truly exhibits undesirable qualities because it is flawed or damaged, then you have every right to ask for a new bottle. However, be certain you are rejecting the wine for a flaw or defect, and not because you simply don’t like it. Restaurants and wineries want you to have a pleasant experience. It is not a restaurant’s responsibility to tolerate your wine education shortcomings.
Read Happy Hour here on MyNewOrleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at www.wgso.com. Also check out Last Call, Tim’s photo feature every month in New Orleans Magazine.