Thursday, March 31, 2011

No. 191: A "Square Meal" Bloody Mary @ The Californian (Huntington Beach)

Bloody Mary may be a quintessential daytime cocktail but it's pretty rare for me to order this hair of the dog to go with my brunch. Unlike the simpler-to-make mimosas and bellinis, there are so many components and variations to this drink, which means so much can go wrong. And I've had my share of bloodies that are too alcoholic / tart / salty / spicy / astringent or some combination thereof.

Hyatt Resort @ Huntington Beach
But can I build a better one myself? That's exactly what I'm about to find out @ The Californian at Hyatt Regency Resort at Huntington Beach, where I was invited to partake in a Bloody Mary mixoff against blogger Marian the Foodie & Teri from Great Taste Magazine, using the vast spread of components from their DIY Bloody Mary spread and with the hotel's management & the Californian's chef judging. Yikes!

Despite my wariness about ordering Bloody Marys, I'm rather inspired by drink's many variations, and the many ways you can switch up the recipe. One version I'm particularly enamored with is Alberta Straub of Cocktails on the Fly, whose bloody mary involves her own custom veggie juice-based mix, pepper-infused vodka and even spiced rimming salt to make a complete 'liquid meal'
Square Meal Bloody Mary
Taking a page from that concept, I decided to create a 'Square Meal' Bloody Mary covering all the food categories, using approximately

2 ounces of vodka
8 ounces of their house spicy bloody mary mix
salt (half-rimmed)
juice of half a lemon, plus an extra wedge
a stalk of celery
4 fresh basil leaves
2-3 blue cheese-stuffed olives
4-5 dashes of Tabasco Habanero sauce
1/2 teaspoon of fresh horseradish
and, to cover the meat category, a slice of bacon!
Bloody Marys
And while it didn't take home the prize tonight (Marian got that honor with her "Asian Spice Bloody Mary",) I was pretty pleased with my creation, which has a nice kick balanced with citrusy & vegetal notes and a slight tinge of smokiness, and it's nice to nibble on the skewer of bacon or cheesy olive as I sipped along.

But the best part is that when you brunch here @ The Californian, you can get endless DIY Bloody Marys (or Champagne... or Mimosas) with your buffet for $38/person and for the designated driver in your group, the delectable buffet itself is $23. And considering the dozens of ingredients you can throw in there, plus over 20 hot sauces for you to experiment with, you'll be mighty thankful to have that DD along...
View from Hyatt Resort
... not to mention a fantastic view of Huntington Beach to mellow the rest of your day away (incidentally, Hyatt is the only hotel in Huntington Beach with a pedestrian bridge going over & across the PCH, so you can easily get to the beach for a lovely stroll, skate, bike ride, dip or surf!)

The Californian @ The Hyatt Regency
21500 Pacific Coast Highway
Huntington Beach, CA
(714) 845-4776

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Have It My Way . . .

Balsamic Egg
My vegetarian "Balsamic Egg" @ Melisse, with balsamic caramelized onions instead of the usual caviar

Why am I not surprised that a little twitter debate about foodservice turn into something like this?
Might as well take this straight into Godwin territory since I've been pondering on the idea of "(food) Nazis" for awhile and their "my way or the highway" idea of serving dishes, sooner giving potential patrons the boot rather than swap or omit an ingredient. And the diners who love them . . . are they devout believers in the chef's unwavering culinary vision? Or masochist flocks of sheep idly following whereever the sheperd leads them?

Like my views on most other things, I'm in shades of gray for this matter. Even when I was working in the foodservice biz, I don't subscribe to the "customer is always right" mindset (esp. when I was @ a coffee bar and people kept expecting me to make drinks just like S***bucks... a standard macchiato is not a mostly-milk and caramel-ladened beverage! RAWR! But I digress...) But on the other end of the spectrum, the notion of unilaterally refusing all spec requests just feels wrong--especially for an industry based on the idea of hospitality (rather than hostility.)

I'm not one who typically make special requests when I dine out (the vegetarian egg on top was a standard @ Melisse's meatless tasting menu,) but it just irks me to have that option taken away (something akin to how pro-choicers aren't actively seeking abortions.) And people who love (food) Nazis typically reply "if you can't deal with having it the chef's way, then don't go" and honestly, I'm disinclined to head to those places. But I just feel sad for all the first-time patrons who, not having done a little homework beforehand, get bluntly rebuked and then are saddled with ordering something less-than-ideal for them or having to find another place to eat at.

I get it took considerable R&D for the chef to create their dishes to be enjoyed as is and that spec. requests at the very least throws an annoying wrench into the cadence of things. I also get the "trust me" concept and have a certain admiration for a chef's ballsiness in doing that, but I also see trust as a two way street. Just like how diners are trusting the restaurant staff to prepare something delicious, why can't the staff occasionally trust a customer's deviant personal taste and honor their request to have something subsituted/taken out? Especially when it's something as simple as holding the pickle on the burger or for the dressing come on the side--and not as absurd as ordering a BLT but swap the bacon out for --- (yes, another WTF? order I'd gotten while working @ a sandwich/salad joint.)

There are varying degrees of appropriateness for switches and scraps, I'm not for catering to a picky eater's every whim, but not universally denying all requests either.

Despite pulling out racist card, Midtown Lunch does make an interesting analogy between chefs and artists . . .
. . . to which I rebut
because operating a restaurant is more akin to a live performance - with different & everchanging audience, vibe, etc. - and not just a one-off recording of a song or molding of a sculpture.

But at the end of the day, it is what it is -- given the great diversity of food scene here in LA, there's something to cater to every whim (or lack thereof.) Truly finicky diners who can't stop customizing everything they order can go to the likes of the have-it-your-way establishments, and (food) Nazis will still have their fanbases who are willing take it however it's dished out. And while I don't often dine @ places falling in either extreme of that spectrum, I'm definitely a lot more cautious before checking out places falling in the latter.

AND--having said all that, curious to see how everyone feels about the (food) Nazi phenomenon . . .


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