April 21, 2008

The Weary Epicurean—April 22, 2008

It is, at last, that time of year when the leaves turn green, the sleeves grow short, and the beer is served with lemon: springtime. How better to toast the season than with a frosty yard of ale?

Unfortunately, Hyde Park is rather lacking when it comes to good spring bars. No, our places of alcohol consumption tend to be dark and warm, built like bomb shelters with friendly shadows. In spring, one must retreat to one’s porch for sunny, afternoon drinking, or maybe brown-bag it on the quadrangles or at the Point.

The recent surge in popularity of the “India pale ale”–style of beer has greatly increased the quality of outdoor drinking, be it on your porch or behind the Reg. These heavy-hitting varieties, such as Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA (the apricot flavor is best), often weigh in at a solid nine percent alcohol by volume. Yet they taste deceptively cool, clear, and fruity. The Pub has a good selection, as do both Kimbark and Binny’s. While we’re on the subject of beer, it’s worth mentioning that Maravilla’s Mexican Restaurant has a good selection of the most popular Mexican-style light lagers, which they will deliver if you ask nicely.

Belgian pale ales, like the ubiquitous Blue Moon, are the best beer for a barbecue, served with orange. The sweet and mellow flavors are a good counterpoint to spicy foods—and all good barbecue should feature some very heavy spice here and there. Or you can make a pitcher of Shandy—either of half beer, half lemonade, or half beer, half ginger ale—which is quite delicious.

I have recently been converted to the Church of Clos du Bois, that most delicious of the modestly priced, mass-marketed California wines. I believe every college mini-fridge should have at least one bottle of their Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio stuck in its door-shelf, chilling happily with crisp melon freshness. Try a bottle, and you will buy a case.

We should delve, at this point, into the land of the summer mixed drinks, though frankly, I’m so disappointed by the typical collegiate sugar-water-liquor combinations that I’d almost rather not bother. Rum and mint do go well together, but enough already with all of these mojito-istas, mashing away with their “cocktail pestles” in order to “bruise the leaves” properly. And as for the famed Mint Julep, don’t you honestly prefer good bourbon plain, on the rocks, with maybe just a splash of water? Let’s all agree to bring back the plain old margarita of our childhood, mixed so strong that it’s still brown without all that crap stuck on the rim. Or just drink an Old Fashioned, if you want to muddle something.

But I suppose if you must go out for a cold cocktail in Hyde Park, Chant is probably the place to do it. I had something semi-memorable to drink there that I believe had ginger beer in it. For heaven’s sake, though, don’t order any food there. Really, I’m loathe to bring them up, since the food is so atrocious—you’re better off just chewing on your hand. But they do have decent cocktails. In Chinatown there is a small restaurant called Emperor’s Choice that secretly serves a Mai Tai so strong it’s probably illegal—and they’re only $3 a piece, not $7. Plus, their pot stickers are decent. Or just have a delicious meal at the little Three Happiness and wash it down with a lovely Tsingtao.

I made up a little ‘house drink’ last summer, which I feel I have a right to mention, since it’s just as good as anything they’ll think up at Chant. It’s a couple of shots of gin with a little splash of club soda, a squirt of lime, a couple of mint leaves, and half a handful of diced mango, served on crushed ice. The idea is to sip it until all you’ve got left is minty mango slush, and then to eat that. It’s very cute if you serve it in water glasses with a little maraschino cherry.

My Muscovite roommate has his own method of drinking, which is also worth a try. It is a style that is admirably free of pretense, but one which does require at least one drinking partner. First, you obtain a small bottle of cold vodka and two shot glosses. Next, you find something to agree about. Then you toast each other. This process is repeated until the bottle is empty. Works spring, summer, fall, and winter.