Wednesday, July 25, 2012

No. 220: Southern California's Zombieland

For me, there are few cocktails as fascinating as a zombie. Asides from being deceptively potent nature, it's got an interesting past, quite a few different recipes, and ominious warnings, with many bars explicitly noting they serve a two-zombie maximum per customer. There are a few variations on the origin of that cap, often relating to a guy who had a few and caused all sorts of mayhem and mishaps, from simply blacking out for the night to starting a raucous bar brawl to causing a traffic catastrophe while drunk-driving.

Regardless, zombies are definitely making an invasion in Southern California. Once limited to the confines of Tiki-themed places (Trader Vic's, Don the Beachcomber, Tiki-Ti) or rum-focused establishments (Cana, La Descarga, Sunny Spot), I've seen them surfaced in quite a few unexpected places. 

Naturally, I consider it a blogger duty to put a damper to this assault. So here's a roundup of a few surprise spots where you might spot a zombie... so be prepared to run (and drink!)

DOWNTOWN IN A SCHOOL!!!! (@ Public School 612*)

Zombies @ Public School 612
Ok, granted -- this was from a one-time event (Tiki 101, part of their '101' series of events where they educate on assorted libations, with a drink-paired multi-course meal to boot) but I was told the zombie may be making a comeback on their summer menu so keep your fingers crossed!

Asides from the Tiki totem cups (which attendees get to keep at the end of the night, by the way) this zombie variation stood out in that it used papaya puree to give it that tropical flair (in addition to pineapple juice.) While I usually don't care for its slightly musky smell, it did add an interesting note here. That aside, this zombie is one of the boozier-tasting ones I've tried, with the rums front & center.

But what I loved even more than the zombie itself is the creativity in the food presented in this class . . .

Spam Two Ways
We had spam two ways (a traditional musubi, and a not-so-traditional kimchi slider)

Ahi in a Coconut Shell
Tuna-mango poke served in a coconut

Zombie w Loco Moco
And, paired with the zombie & my favorite of the night, a mushroom gravy loco moco with the egg poached, breaded in panko then fried! And just like the zombie itself, I hope some of these items get rotated onto the 612 menu.

But... just in case it does not make a reappearance anytime soon, the 101 classes do provide recipe cards of everything they make, so here's the one for their zombie.

Zombie Recipe
Yes, I know papaya puree is hard to come by (PS612 made their own!) and I would probably swap it out for something more readily available, like mango nectar/juice.


The zombie here is also served in a tiki themed glass (but this one's not for taking home,) and it intrigued me because it definitely stands out for this restaurant and especially its cocktail menu, where most other drinks have some sort of Middle Eastern / Mediterranean touches.

Johnny's Zombie
And alas, as unique looking as it was on the cocktail menu and in the themed cup, it didn't exactly wow me. Not that it's bad, but my thoughts were "I taste rum & I taste juices" and that's pretty much it. It suffices for a tropically drink (say, by a poolside hotel or a coastal bar) but lacks that extra oompf.

On the other hand, my zombie expedition did lead me to try some other drinks and bites that are much more impressive...
The Wanderer
Such as the The Wanderer, a tequila based cocktail with rosewater, a triple-play of hibiscus (in the syrup, flavored whipped cream and hibiscus-lavender bitters) and topped with sumac. And that final ingredient really made this something special, its tartness complements that of the hibiscus, but it also provided a kind of woodsy, kind of earthy note that balanced the flowery aromas and sweet flavor profile of this drink.
Sweetbread Shashouka
And this drink overall paired extremely well with the sweetbread shashouka, a comforting, spiced tomato stew with crunchy chunks of sweetbread, toasted pita strips, creamy yogurt and runny egg. The whipped cream worked nicely with the richer egg, sweetbread & yogurt while the tart & light portion of the drink cuts into that richness and complements the tomato the same time.

I also loved the subsequent Jam Fizz featuring bergamot jam and their housemade black lemon+ginger bitters. So while I am not particular fan of this zombie, I'm thankful that it led to me this gem of a place--which I look forward to returning again.

PASADENA IN THE DAYTIME!!!! (@ 1886 Bar / Raymond Restaurant*)
GourmetPigs w Zombie
NOOO, Gourmet Pigs!!!!!!

And it's the first time I ever saw zombie featured as a brunch cocktail. For me, it was a welcomed change of pace from the bloody marys, mimosas and bellinis. 
1886 / Raymond Zombie
Even though the cocktail is known to be potent, this zombie made for a surprisingly great daytime drink. It's light and cooling thanks to the crushed ice, has a wonderful fruity-boozy flavor profile from a nice balance of rums, juices and syrups (three rums, demarara & passionfruit syrup; lemon, lime & pineapple juices), and amazing aromas from the sprig of fresh mint and sprinkling of sweet spices on top.
Savory Cheddar Cakes
Equally lovely is their recently-revamped brunch menu, and I particularly enjoyed my stack of cheddar & herb griddle cakes layered with spinach, mushrooms, smoked ham and topped with a poached egg. It's indulgent and delicate at the same time; I simply loved how the fluffy, mildly-savory pancakes offsets the stronger flavors and textures of the other components, making for a midday dish that satisfies without really weighing down (in guilt, and possibly on the scales.)

320 Main Zombie
Ok, so it's Rumdood tending the bar so it's not a huge leap that a zombie would surface here (though, you might want to avoid ordering this when the bar's swarmed, as Rumdood calls it a P.I.T.A. drink to make.) And of course, I wouldn't expect anything short of Zombie purism from him . . .
Zombie Shaking
. . . down to the shaking duration that he timed on his smartphone (one minute, to be exact.) After seeing the recipe and witnessing his pours with all sorts of odd ratios & measurements, I can see why he considers it a PITA.

Like the Raymond version, I love its balance and complexity of aromas and flavors. There's fruitiness without being too tart or sweet, some spicy-bitterness but not overboard with it, and a pleasant, cleverly-cloaked backdrop of rum. And while I might not consider it worthwhile to make my own zombie with this recipe (All the ingredients I have to buy/make! All the dirty jiggers I'd have to wash afterwards! All that arm workout!) it was definitely worth the wait at 320 Main.
Animal Flatbread
And to wash it down, their special-of-the-day Animal Flatbread, which really tasted like the deconstructed version of the In-n-Out burger. Like the Tiki 101 food items, I hope this makes a comeback (or better yet, find a permanent place) on their menu soon.
Last but not least, this zombie expedition also allowed me to buy Bananawonder a Bridey Mai Tai!

And so, there you have it -- four very different zombie experiences in four atypical locations, but all with relatively happy endings. Which is more than I can say for most zombie apocalypse films. 

*Disclosure: Public School 612 & Raymond tastings were from hosted events

Public School 612
612 South Flower Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 623-1172

401 North La Cienega Boulevard 
West Hollywood, CA 90048
(310) 657-4103

The Raymond / 1886 Bar
1250 South Fair Oaks Avenue 
Pasadena, CA 91105
(626) 441-3136

320 Main
320 Main Street 
Seal Beach, CA 90740
(562) 799-6246


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