Bar Review: Bistango, Irvine, CA

Bistango Bar Small

I recently found myself at Bistango, a well reviewed Orange County Restaurant serving “New American” cuisine.  It has earned ratings of 4.3 on Yelp, 4.4 on both Open Table and Facebook, and 24 on Zagat.  Sadly I have only had a limited selection of the food, but what I had was excellent.

The best way I can describe the decor here is “Modern Neutral”.   It is open, airy, clean, and crisp.  There are contemporary artist’s works decorating the walls which are a mix of oranges, reds, and browns.  Sort of a southwest “earthy” scheme.  It is not exciting, but not boring; not avant-garde, but certainly not stale. Overall very comfortable, relaxed, and inviting.

The bar is just to the right as you enter, clearly inviting one to sit and enjoy a beverage of your choice.  They have a live entertainment in the evenings and there’s a small dance floor which did get some use.  There is also an outside patio if you prefer your meal or drink in the open air.

Of course, my choice is a Martini which at Bistango are really very good.  Mine was ample, nicely prepared, shaken just enough so that the drink was very well chilled but not overly diluted, and served promptly, efficiently, and cheerfully.  If you’re not interested in a Martini, the bar overall is well stocked with a nice selection of ports, whiskeys, spirits, and cognacs.

I do have to point out that on my most recent visit I did have the unfortunate experience that the stem had not been chilled in any manor … not refrigerated and no effort made to chill it with ice and water prior to pouring the drink.  I hope this was a simple oversight because on my previous visits the stems were properly prechilled.

Overall I would highly recommend Bistango and I certainly intend to return.  It is also just a few blocks away from John Wayne International Airport which brings one to think it would be a nice stop for a ‘just landed’ or ‘Bon Voyage’ Martini.

For a final grade I give Bistango one stem:  Martini Glass Upright

For Gin selection Bistango gets an A-.  They have a very nice selection with several different styles of Gin including a couple unusual choices.  Tru Organic specifically comes to mind, though I didn’t get a chance to sample it.  Choices this day were:  Bluecoat, Hendricks’, Botanist Islay, Ford’s, Sloane’s, Tru Organic, Bombay, Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Beefeater, No. 3 London, Nolet’s.

If you’re curious about the nightly entertainment or the menus, you can find them here: www.bistango.com

If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe.  If not, please post a comment telling us how and why you disagree.

*****   Rating Definitions   ****

Happy World Gin Day

World Gin Day 2016

It’s finally here, World Gin Day!  I hope you all celebrate with a Martini.  But if not, then a Gin & Tonic will do.  Whichever you choose, enjoy safely.

June 11 is World Gin Day!!

World Gin Day Slide

Saturday June 11 is World Gin Day this year!   That is just 10 days from now!    😉  Celebrate with a G&T or a Martini!  Or even straight!

I hope to do another round of Gin Tastings, similar to last years.  IF anyone has a gin they’d like tested & tasted, please let me know by commenting on this post.

If you want to check out last year’s World Gin Day tastings, you can find it here:  World Gin Day Sampling Results & Opinions

VJOP Gin??? Absolutely!!

SipsmithVJOP

While at my favorite watering hole recently, I noticed that they had a ‘new’ Gin on the shelf:  Sipsmith VJOP.  I thought I would have a go and I’m very glad I did.  This Gin is excellent!

So what does VJOP mean?  Well, I’ll break it down starting with “VJ” or Very Junipery!  Emphasis on VERY.   There are other flavors that surround and compliment the Juniper, but there’s no mistaking what the headliner is here.

With so many craft Gins popping up these days it seems that often the Juniper gets lost as Gin distillers rush to add more exotic and unusual flavors to their Gins.  I can just picture the distiller looking over his/her most recent creation, checking off the ingredients . “Yes, there’s the pomegranate, the cinnamon, the radish, the bat’s wing, the newt’s eye, …. what is missing?  OH!  Right this is supposed to be gin!”   Then he/she gets one juniper berry and throws it in the 100 gallon vat.

Not this VJOP!  I believe that on the receiving dock at Sipsmith you’ll find someone dragging in a whole Juniper tree; berry, bark, stem, and pins.  They just throw it in the vat and then toss a couple of other flavors in to smooth out the Juniper.

So if you’re like me and enjoy that pine forest scent and flavor of Juniper, this is a Gin you have to try.  Personally I had it as a very dry Martini but I really think it will be great as a G&T with the Juniper complimenting the tonic.  I’ll be trying that soon.

Oh, the OP?  Over Proof!  As in 57.7 ABV!  A couple of VJOP Martinis and you’d better have a designated driver available.  Or Uber it.  This is one potent Gin.

Expanded List of Botanical Elements

juniper-berry-2

I received an comment from a newer reader complimenting me on my page “Botanical Elements of Gin“.  Then she asked if I knew of a resource for ingredients in specific gins.  I don’t have such a resource but it got me thinking.

So I started doing some very exhausting and time consuming research and came up with a few examples.  (Ok, I picked up a few bottles and read the ingredients.)

In any case, I’ve listed the ingredients in several popular gins in the same page noted above.  If you haven’t checked it out in the past, follow the link above and take a look.  Here’s an example of what you’ll find:

Bombay Sapphire:  Juniper Berries, Lemon Peel, Coriander, Angelica, Orris, Grains of Paradise, Cubeb Berries, Cassia Bark, Almonds, & Liquorice.
Bombay Sapphire East adds Lemongrass & Black Pepper to the above list.

 

The Perfect Martini Process, V1.0

Since this blog has existed I’ve advocated and supported the concept that your Perfect Martini is just that, yours.  My Perfect Martini is mine.  And the two may not be identical.   What is important is that we find that which works for each of us.

Having said that, I thought it time to share what I believe works best for me.  Interestingly over the course of the last year researching for this blog and writing about Martinis and Martini preparation my taste has ‘evolved’.  My preference has moved a bit drier and I’m garnishing with a twist much more often.  Lime if available.

Anyway, here is my process.  Note that I say ‘process’, not recipe.  The recipe is pretty simple:  3 ounces of chilled Bombay Sapphire Gin, a capful of Vermouth, and a twist.  But it is the process of putting that together that really makes the Perfect Martini.

The process starts with advanced preparation.  Put the bottle of Gin and your Martini stem in the freezer and the vermouth in the refrigerator.   IF you use a massive shaker, that should go in the freezer too.  This should be done well before you need to prepare the Martini.  (I just leave my gin in the freezer and vermouth in the fridge permanently.)

Then make the twist.  I always prepare the twist before the martini so that the martini doesn’t wait, and get warm, if I make the twist at the end of the process.  No, the twist will not wilt or dry out in the 90 seconds you make the Martini…. it will be just fine waiting for its grand entry at the end of the process.   This goes for olives, if you prefer them…. spear them before the martini.

Finally we start making the Martini proper.  Fill the shaker with about a cup of cold ice.   (See Cold Ice Please! for comments and description of “Cold Ice”).  Take the cap off the Vermouth bottle, fill it with Vermouth and put that in the shaker with the cold ice.  Swirl or shake the Vermouth and ice briefly and then drain the Vermouth.  Keep the ice, of course.

Next put 3 ounces of Bombay Sapphire Gin into the shaker.  (That’s 6 tablespoons or a 3/8 cup if you don’t have a jigger.)  Shake the shaker vigorously for about 10 seconds.   10 seconds is all you need to chill the liquid, any more and your just working your biceps, triceps, and delts.

Now, quickly remove the Martini stem from the freezer and pour the Martini from the shaker into the Stem.  Take the twist and lightly run the rind around the edge of the stem, squeeze a bit of the oils into the liquid, and drop it gently into the Martini.

Finally take the Martini out to the porch, sit comfortable, look at the sunset over the beach, and enjoy the Perfect Martini.

 

A Brief History of Martini

The history of the martini is a murky one.  As one might guess with many alcoholic concoctions through time, things weren’t always written down.  This appears to be the case with the Martini.

Still, the history of the martini can easily be traced back to the late nineteenth century, when it was first listed in bar-tending manuals.  For example, the Martinez cocktail is referenced in the 1887 Bartender manual by Jerry Thomas, of the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco.  The “Martinez” is also detailed in an 1884 cocktail book by O.H. Byron, as “a Manhattan in which gin is substituted for whiskey.”

There are also a few historical references points from which we can at least set some boundaries.  Gin itself goes back to the 17th Century Holland, though ‘modern’ Gin started a bit later.  Gordon’s produced its first version of London Dry Gin in 1769 and Beefeater came along in 1862.  An Italian vermouth maker, Martini & Rossi, started marketing its product under the brand name Martini in 1863.

Still the exact location and date of the invention of the “Martini” is a bit confusing.  There appear to be 3 1/2 main conflicting story lines.  The first, and the half, is that the Martini originated in California.  The second that it originated in New York.  And finally that it was a marketing ploy.

The town of Martinez, CA, advertises itself as the birthplace of the Martini so we’ll start there.  It suggests that the drink in fact originated in a prominent bar in Martinez, where it was known as a “Martinez Special.” There it was served to a celebrating gold miner on his way to San Francisco, who, after enjoying the drink so much, delivered the recipe to San Francisco when he had to instruct a local bartender on how to make it.  That bartender is allegedly the “Professor” Jerry Thomas.

During the late 19th century Thomas was renowned around the US for his innovative bar-tending work, flashy techniques, and man-about-town demeanor.  He claims to have invented the cocktail himself while at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco.  He contended that it was for a gold minor on his way across the bay to Martinez and beyond to the California gold fields.  Thomas therefore named it in honor of this traveler.

Whichever of these may be true, or not, none-the-less Thomas is noteworthy for publishing the first seminal cocktail manual, The Bar-Tenders Guide. The aforementioned 1887 edition included the Martinez cocktail.  The recipe was:  a dash of bitters, two dashes of maraschino (a cherry liquor), a wineglass of vermouth (most likely sweet vermouth), a pony of Old Tom gin (a sweetened gin) and a quarter slice of lemon!

However that is nowhere near today’s gin and vermouth definition of a Martini.  So does that count as the invention of THE Martini?  Or just a predecessor?

Another interesting note about the California stories is the reference to the gold miner.  The California gold rush started in 1848 with the first ‘rush’ of incoming minors in 1849.  Hence the name ’49ers’ for the San Francisco American Football team.  The Gold Rush peaked in the early 1850s and was pretty much done by the late 1850s.  If these stories are to be believed that puts the date of invention firmly in the 1850-55 range.

Another theory promoted by some cocktail historians is that the Martini first appeared at the New York City’s Knickerbocker Hotel.  This hotel was, in the early 20th century, manned by bartender Martini di Arma di Taggia.  He claimed to invent the drink before World War I.   The story goes, he served a drink, a favorite of John D. Rockefeller, that blended London dry gin, Noilly Prat Vermouth, and orange bitters.

This is certainly a more Martini-like concoction and its likely, though  impossible to verify, that he named it after himself.  Its also very possible that di Arma di Taggia knew of the Martinez of California, perhaps from some returning Gold Miner?  Or even had acquired a copy of Thomas’ Bartender manual.   So its quite possible that both the West Coast and East Coast theories are, in fact, part of the natural evolution of the Martini.

Finally, some believe that the martini was named after the Martini and Rossi vermouth.  This seems to be an obvious source – customers ordering a gin and vermouth concoction at a bar would simply ask for a “gin and Martini.”   Given how simply drinks were labelled in the 19th centuries, it’s plausible that this got shortened over time to ‘Martini’.  Martini & Rossi, as part of their branding or marketing, would certainly have encouraged this transition.  This would be true even if the company didn’t invent the “Gin & Martini”.

Ultimately no one will know for certain who, when, or where the Martini came to be.  Personally I adhere to the gradual evolution idea.  Somewhere in California a Martinez was created.  Over time the drink evolved to the Martini, likely with a New York push which added a modern ‘cosmopolitan’ flair and aura.  And mostly certainly encouraged by Martini and Rossi.