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Plat du Jour: Tuesday June 19, 2012: Nashville, Barbeque Chicken and Speakeasies

Bourbon & Branch

It’s the heart of June, which means it’s prime time to head to the grill for cooking dinner tonight. Coming up today for this week’s Tuesday’s Project: barbequed chicken with a jerk marinade bolstered by too many jalapenos to count. Fortunately the overnight marinade allows the jalapenos to not be as potent as this many of them have the potential of.

But, speaking of barbeque chicken, one of the age old questions for grilling it whether to use breast meat or thigh meat. Breast meat is more likely to dry out due to its thickness. On the contrary when grilled to the right temperature, it can be as tender as beef cheeks. Thigh meat is the inverse. Being more compact and less dense, there is a higher probability for success. With a marinade such as the jerk seasoning used in today’s project, the more compact the meat, the more likely each bite will be infused with a higher quantity of marinade.

It’s entirely up to choice in the end. I generally do half skin on thighs and half boneless, skinless chicken breasts. It’s totally up to the grillmaster and if guests fear the skin. Remember, the skin is a protective layer for the meat, becoming a terrific crispy shield. Today, Serious Eats produced an excellent how to on grilling boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Meanwhile, The New York Times now proclaims Nashville as one of the nation’s culinary hotspots. It has been years since I last visited Nashville. In those days, the Mediterranean hotspot Zola was the place to be, Loveless Cafe, Rotier’s, and Ellison Place were high up on the list for tourists to sample down home, country cooking, and expense account diners visited The Wild Boar. A lot has changed since. The classics remain, but Zola and The Wild Boar are no longer with us. The likes of The Cat Bird Seat and Margot Cafe have indeed changed that city’s dining landscape, much like Iris for Memphis or Bluestem in Kansas City, and Niche in St. Louis. Nashville already is world class for music. You can’t ask for much more than a world class dining scene for before or after those concerts.

Speaking of Nashville’s hot dining scene, here is a comparison article from Bon Appetit‘s Andrew Knowlton in February 2012. You’ll find some familiar names in there.

Finishing this end of spring Tuesday afternoon with two beverage trends that certainly receive a thumbs up from this bistro. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Jon Bonné recently penned an important piece about the end (finally) of the speakeasy trend. The problem with speakeasies is exactly what Bonné mentions:

“Bars have typically avoided the inherent elitism of dining. That even extended into the New Cocktail Era, which had its brief neo-speakeasy flirtation but then returned to the more basic prospect of making really good drinks.”

The entrance to PDT, New York

Speakeasies were at first a neat concept simply because of the concept. Then, the likes of Milk & Honey and Bourbon & Branch among many started creating innovative, worthwhile cocktails in these seductive settings. They were experiences with superb drinks. Soon, everything grew out of control, much like pork belly and food trucks. Drinks became the main casualty, not surprisingly given that speakeasies are dark after all.

The other casualty was the fact that bars are meant to be spur of the moment spots, whether for a major celebration after work, or a late night intimate date, or just going somewhere where everybody knows your name. Nobody wants to plan to be at this bar at this time precisely. Bar sessions are far less predictable time-wise compared to restaurants too. Not everyone knows if they want to linger over several drinks (reservation is for only 90 minutes…) or if they want to just have a quick beer, in which case the stools at the bar would be better.

Let’s have bars be democratic. Private clubs can function as the reservations for tables bars. The other request for bars, which could be interpreted as pro-reservations, but shouldn’t be. Think of this concept as like a no-reservations bistro. Once you’re full, you’re full. Nobody should be drinking thoughtful, $14 cocktails with somebody else’s elbow in their back, while squeezing into a lost corner by the bathroom. The cocktails don’t deserve that.

If you’re not up for a new take on the Manhattan this afternoon, then I always recommend the creamy, alluring notes of sherry. Eric Asimov of The New York Times visited the source and reports back about the high quality small production sherry in Spain. Like its fellow apertif companions, sherry always hits the perfect transition notes of winding down from the day and powering up for the evening. Understanding the complexities of the different sherries can be as daunting as learning about the subtleties of terroir. I prefer Amontillado on its own, while the dry, almond focused Oloroso is preferred for cooking or mixing in cocktails like a cobbler. Then there is Pedro Ximenez, a sweet, dark sherry that can either remind you of syrup for pancakes or the most robust, luxurious dessert wine on the market.

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