Bookalokal Home Bartending Class

This year has been the year of appreciating a good craft cocktail. The lady got me a bar set for my birthday and we purchased and have been working on stock a bar cart. Simply putting together the pieces does not guarantee that tasty drinks will result, however. My first few tries for drinks with more than 3 ingredients were… well, not the best. I eventually got the hang of it, and successfully made a decent mojito (the secret was a decent muddler), but I knew I could use some help. Most bartending classes in this city are really f’in expensive. I’ve looked into them, I’ve thought about it… but I never did anything about it.

But then, I learned about Bookalokal from this post on DC Minute. I have really been into rum lately, so Tiki drinks have been my jam this summer. But I poked around a bit more and saw that Marshall also offered a home bartending class. Sold! I suggested some dates, we went back and forth through the Bookalokal concierge, and settled on a date about a month away. We paid up our $50 per person (which also covered a set of basic bar tools that you get to keep), and we were on our way to learning how to make delicious beverages.

 

I mostly took the class to learn exactly how to use the tools that I already owned. I know there’s a reason for stirring vs. shaking, a method for shaking, even a way to keep the Boston Shaker (that’s the type of shaker with two tumblers, rather than the one the the lid) sealed while you’re shaking. I was correct, there is a method, and Marshall taught it to us! I’ve also had trouble with muddling in the past (I know, ridiculous huh?) Well, it turns out that the flavor sacks in mint are on the outside of the leaf, so it doesn’t need to be muddled to pieces. Brilliant. We learned all about the tools that he was giving us, as well as other tools that might be useful. Strainers, muddlers, jiggers, stirring spoons, juicers, citrus tools, ice shavers, ice bags, etc.

With basic mixing and shaking skills came an awesome dose of cocktail history. Like the fact that the name “cocktail” was actually the name of a drink that included spirit, sugar, bitters, and water. What does that make you think of? An Old Fashioned! Well, the name Old Fashioned came from a time when cocktails were evolving, but in order to get an actual cocktail at a bar, it would have to be ordered as a “cocktail, the old fashioned way” Hence, Old Fashioned.

Once we had the lay of the land, the drink-making began! We started with a shaken drink, the Classic Daiquiri. None of that frozen mix business. Just rum, simple syrup, and lime juice in 3-2-1 ratios. Measure the ingredients into your shaker, starting with the least expensive, fill the shaker with ice, shake vigorously for a slow 10-count, and then strain into your glass (double-strain if you’d like as there are  tiny ice crystals in the drink if you don’t. I didn’t. I love ice), and enjoy. I had never actually had this beverage, but it was friggin’ fantastic. And so easy! I’ll definitely be making that one at home.

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Next up was the classic Martini, as it’s meant to be made, with gin and vermouth. I’ll admit, I’ve always been sort of afraid of vermouth, just because I’ve never liked the martini and had never bothered to try it on its own. Well, vermouth is actually very tasty! But it’s like wine, and it goes bad very quickly. So, if a bar doesn’t know what they’re doing- there’s a chance their vermouth is bad. I’m glad I’ve never bought a bottle of it. I didn’t know that and we probably never would have used it in time.

So, for the martini, we started with a 1-1 ratio of (I used sweet) vermouth to gin. Fill the mixing container with ice, and stir for a 20-count, strain, and garnish with lemon peel. I’m not usually one for drinking beverages so strong, but it was actually really excellent. I wish I had used more like 2/3rds vermouth and 1/3rd gin, but I still enjoyed my drink!

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For the third and final drink, Marshall showed off for us. He made us whatever we requested! Well, I originally wanted a Suffering Bastard, but he didn’t have any ginger beer. So, I just asked him to make me any Tiki drink of his choosing. He chose a classic Mai Tai for me. And it was incredible and it made me wish I had orgeat syrup at home so I could make my own.

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The lady requested an Old Fashioned. He changed it up a little bit by adding coffee bitters. It was also delicious and really made me want to increase our bitter selection.

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Speaking of bitters, he had an incredible collection of his own. It’s too bad they’re so pricey!

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The class was so fun, educational, and just a little bit different than the other sort of stuff we usually get into on weekends. I only wish our apt wasn’t so tiny so I could host a pizza-making class or something! So, I’m thinking the Tiki class next? Maybe Whiskey 101? How about Intro to Bitters?? I can’t decide!

 

 

 

 

Coco Sala (Penn Quarter)

Coco Sala has been on my radar for a number of years. The lady LOVES chocolate (maybe more than she loves me), so a chocolate-themed restaurant is right down her alley. We finally got the chance to go when her aunt and uncle were in a town a few weeks ago. Her uncle works in the area but splits his time between here and PA. They have an apt in the city and sometimes her aunt comes down too. So when they’re both in town, we love getting dinner with them. They’re just as into exploring new restaurants and eating good food as we are.

This time, we suggested Coco Sala and a couple other places to them. They chose Coco Sala. We got to Penn Quarter straight after work and a couple of hours before dinner. We took that opportunity to explore the Portrait Gallery. It’s not my fave of all the museums, but I REALLY enjoyed the American Cool exhibit. And it was just nice to take in some art. We finished that up and still had time to kill, so we decided to go ahead to the restaurant and have drinks and a snack at the bar.

I ordered the Co Cojito, a chocolate mojito, and the lady had a glass of wine. We also had an order of the rosemary and parmesan fries to hold us over to our later-than-usual dinner time.

The mojito was amazing. The chocolate vodka was very subtle and was delicious with the mint, of course. But it also went surprisingly well with the lime. I could have just had those all night.

The fries were incredible, for an order of french fries. Salty, savory, slightly cheesy. And that dipping sauce, herb, chili, and garlic mayo. Yum.

We finished up at the bar and decided to go ahead and take our table. They weren’t too terribly busy, so they seated us before our full party was there. It was super dark (romantic) in the dining room, so the rest of my pictures are pretty lame. Let us charge forward.

Our companions arrived and we spent some time studying the menu. It took some time, but we all finally decided. Uncle and I both went with the Prawns and Grits (I have to admit, it was the coco nib and chive biscuit that sold me), Aunt ordered the scallops, and the lady ordered the strawberry caprese flatbread.

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The prawns and grits were pretty good. Not quite as delicious as I had hoped, it could have benefited from the salt, but not bad! The biscuit was a touch on the dry side for me, but creative. The pepper sauce on the plate beside the biscuit was tasty. Basically, just dump it all over everything. Uncle seemed to really, really enjoy this dish.

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The lady’s flatbread was very tasty. Even better than she expected it to be. She kept making comments about how the strawberries were an excellent substitution for tomatoes. Aunt also really loved her scallops. I was diagonal across the table from her and she seemed slightly unamused with my picture taking, so there’s no photo evidence.

Despite all being kind of full, we knew there was no way to get out of there without dessert, so we charged forward. These were the most difficult decisions we made.

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The lady ordered the ‘Some More Coco. The s’mores creme brûlée bit on the left was her favorite.

The sticky toffee pudding cake and ginger caramel ice cream sold me on the The Sticky Situation. The cake wasn’t as toffee-esqe as I had hoped, but that ice cream was amazing.

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Uncle had the Latin Love Affair. He seemed to enjoy it. That passion fruit bon bon sounds amazing.

Aunt had the Co Co Grown Up. The chocolate peanut butter gelato was incredible, and so was the bananas foster. The cupcake seemed like a bit of overkill, and I don’t think more than a bite or two of it was consumed. I think she definitely won for most delicious dessert. I will have to try that next time.

My entree wasn’t quite as mind-blowing as I had expected, and I think the other desserts were better choices than mine, but everyone seemed to enjoy everything. Aunt and Uncle were pleased and happy that we recommended the place. Maybe I should go back and try again?

  • Favorite thing I had: Probably the chocolate mojito or the fries we had before our other companions arrived.
  • Favorite thing she had: She really enjoyed her flatbread, really refreshing and nice. She also liked the s’mores bit of her dessert.
  • Most interesting thing I want to try next time: More of the desserts. That’s probably about the only reason we’d go back. Either that or maybe for flatbreads, with drinks and desserts.
  • How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions): If we happen to be in the neighborhood and are craving dessert. I don’t think we’d make a special trip, unless the lady’s aunt and uncle want to go back.

Cava Mezze (Barracks Row)

I’ve been hearing awesome things about Cava Mezze for a long time. I’m not usually into small plates, so Cava got bumped down on the list for a while. Since starting the blog and finding myself switching into a TRY EVERYTHING mode when out to dinner, I’ve come to appreciate small plates more. You can order a bunch of different things and everyone gets to try some. I suppose it can be annoyingly pricey to have to order 2 or 3 things to get a meal, but we had already had cheese at Sona Creamery, so a few plates were all we needed.

As soon as we sat down there was a basket of warm pita bread with harissa, olive oil, and kalamata olives also plopped onto our table. What an amazing start! We decided to start with drinks. The lady went for a glass of white wine from the greek section of the wine menu and I went for a cocktail. Unfortunately the cocktail menu isn’t on the website and I neglected to get a picture of it, so I don’t recall what it was called. But it was pretty!

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I do remember that it had jalapeño in some manner. It was tasty, but you could taste the green of the jalapeño and it needed something to balance that out.

As far as food, we went with the tzatziki, the falafel fritters, the chicken souvlaki, and the spicy lamb meatballs. I really loved that they brought everything out as it was ready, so it felt like we were eating progressively. We’d be wrapping up one thing and the next would show up, except for the tzatziki, but we just dipped everything in that.  Each thing was even better than the next.

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The tzatziki was the thickest I’ve ever had, but so flavorful. It went with everything we ordered. It was so good, we obviously forgot to take a pic before we dug in.

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The falafel balls were crispy on the outside and very moist on the inside, with whole chickpeas. The hummus and sauce served with them were also a perfect complement.

 

The souvlaki was flavorful and the chicken was cooked perfectly. It actually inspired me to make chicken kabobs for dinner earlier this week.

 

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The lamb kabobs were just the right amount of spicy and super flavorful. I’m all about some lamb recently. And really want to attempt to make my own lamb kabobs/ kefta soon. It’s just SO GOOD.

Everything about Cava Mezze totally lived up to everything I had been hearing. The food had those classic greek flavors, but even more flavorful and delicious than average. It’s rare that we have an experience where everything is amazing, but that was definitely the case here. I’m just sorry it took us so long to get there for the first time!

  • Favorite thing I had: The pita, the tzatziki, the spicy lamb kabobs.
  • Favorite thing she had: She liked that the falafel had whole chickpeas. She also really liked the tzatziki and her wine was better than she expected. Apparently greek wine has a reputation for not being that great? Everything else greek is amazing, I don’t buy it!
  • Most interesting thing I want to try next time: More of the cocktails! The mini gyros sounded interesting. The spanakotpita, the saganaki just for show. I will also definitely be hollerin’ at brunch soon.
  • How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions): I hope to get this one into a monthly/ every couple of months rotation. I will definitely be making an effort to get back for brunch as soon as possible.
  • Places to go afterward (what’s nearby): Anywhere on Barracks Row! We walked past Ted’s Bulletin and saw some really incredible looking desserts.


 

Compass Rose (14th Street NW)

 

The opening of Compass Rose was well-hyped on social media and other foodie outlets. As soon as all the positive reviews started rolling in, I had to add it to our ever-growing list. I got a look at the menu and it got bumped to the short list. We found ourselves with a free Friday this past weekend and tossed some ideas around. They all sounded good, but nothing got me excited. While on my way further south on 14th St. to one of the places we had decided on, I passed Compass Rose and finally got excited. I texted the lady, changed the plans, and headed over to grab a seat.

Since she wasn’t there yet, they wouldn’t seat me, so I posted up at the bar. My first impression of the space was that it was very cozy. Big plush bar stools and the blue tones used on the walls were very relaxing. The brick, tin, and warm wood layered very nicely. Had I not still felt icky from the cold I was fighting, I would have wanted to just sit there all evening.

While I waited for the lady, I started with a drink. Unfortunately, I didn’t flip the menu over, so I missed the cocktail menu- but I started with the sangria since it was on happy hour. Not too bad! I usually prefer my sangria bubbly, but the green apples and strawberries made up for it. I got a picture, but it was blurry. The lighting at the bar was pretty dim.

When the lady arrived, we decided to just stay at the bar. We started with an order of the fry bread and 3 dips.

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All 3 dips were tasty. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what each of them were, but I preferred the orange one. The chips were sort of like pita chips. It was a perfect little starter. We needed a second order of the chips to finish up the dips.

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For entrees, after much deliberation, I decided to go with the very first thing that caught my eye on the menu, the lamb kefta. Guys, the aroma that wafted across my face as they set this dish down in front of me was worth ordering it alone.

The lady went with the El Lomito sandwich. Which was really quite large.

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Everything about the lamb was perfect. The meat was so flavorful and juicy. The tahini dipping sauce was a perfect complement, and side grain salad was so delicious, I would order that on its own. Oh man, that picture is making me salivate all over again.

The lady’s sandwich was also delightful. Juicy meat, every bite as flavorful as the next. it was too much for her to finish, and even though I was also full, I kept sneaking bites of it.

Everything was so delicious and the service was nice and laid back. I know it will be a couple of weeks before we can get back, but Compass Rose is the first thing that comes to mind to recommend when people are asking what we’ve had and loved recently.

  • Favorite thing I had: The Lamb Kefta caught my eye on my first glance at the menu, courted me, and did not disappoint.
  • Favorite thing she had:  Her El Lomito sandwich. It was so flavorful.
  • Most interesting thing I want to try next time: Basically everything else on the menu. The mussels sounded tasty. The papusas! I’ve heard that the Khachapuri is amazing. The Bhel Puri Chaat was another one of my considerations. Basically, I’d like to try everything on the menu, thanks. I also ordered my drink before I even saw the cocktail menu, sooo, I gotta get back to that too.
  • How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions): This is the kind of place I want to take people to! There’s so much other stuff on 14th street, but I think we’ll try to get back soon.
  • Places to go afterward (what’s nearby): We decided to also try Red Light. We discussed The Gibson or 2Birds1Stone. All are within a couple of blocks.

A Bar (West End)

When I heard about a new bar between the West End and Georgetown, I was immediately interested. Then I saw some pictures of their outdoor patio area, I cleared my schedule. When I heard about pitchers of punch, I was on my way! A Bar is located basically between Georgetown and Foggy Bottom, on Pennsylvania Ave in the Avenue Suites hotel. It’s an old condo building that has been very nicely updated and turned into a suites hotel.

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When we walked in, my first impression was that it was sleek and modern and I was drawn to it and wanted to spend time there. We tried to sit outside, but it was a bit steamy for me, so we moved inside to a couple of loungers. The staff was happy to accommodate. I want to go back in the fall and sit around the fire pit outside.

Normally on Thursdays, they have the grill fired up and are serving up hamburgers and hot dogs. There was a threat of rain all evening on the particular night we were there. Maybe next time!

We had to start with a pitcher, of course. Out of the 3 options,  we decided on the Wild One- Grey Goose Pear, Lemoncello, and ginger ale. It tasted like the most refreshing lemonade ever. Just enough tartness with the bonus of some bubbles from the ginger ale! The lady and I had no problem taking care of the GIANT pitcher between the 2 of us. And it’s only $15! It’s an awesome deal.

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For food we we decided to split the Fennel Sausage flat bread and the Caprese salad.

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The flatbread was crispy, and the sausage was flavorful and juicy, and the peppers were a touch sweet. The salad was nice and refreshing. They were a perfect combo together.

We were still a little hungry, so we decided to also try the Brie and Raspberry Phyllo puffs. We downed them so quickly! They were also balanced perfectly. A little bit of crunch, a little bit of salt, a little bit of sweet. Yum!

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We contemplated getting a second pitcher, but between the 2 of us, that would have been WAY too much for a school night. Next time, I’m bringing a group and getting multiple pitchers! 

The space is modern but still comfortable, the service was top notch and friendly, the drinks excellent, and the food was very tasty. It’s definitely a must try next time you find yourself at the Trader Joe’s in West End or anywhere near Foggy Bottom at all.

  • Favorite thing I had: The flatbread and the phyllo puffs tied for most delicious. Both very balanced and tasty.
  • Favorite thing she had:  The flatbread. The sausage and sweet peppers were really nice together.
  • Most interesting thing I want to try next time: The other pitchers! The Sirloin skewers, a cheese board. And I HAVE to delve into the cocktail list.
  • How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions): I have to try to get a work happy hour going here soon. Maybe within the next couple of weeks? Those pitchers of punch are perfect for a group outing like that.

Rustik Tavern (Bloomingdale)

The lady and I were looking for a place to grab dinner after the Old Fashioned Happy Hour with Robert Simonson at Southern Efficiency last week. We were looking for affordable-ish. We’ve been putting a big dent in the options around 7th and 9th, so we widened our search area to Bloomingdale. The lady mentioned Rustik Tavern, I checked the menu, and we were on our way!

They have a really nice outdoor deck with tons of tables, but it was super humid and we had just walked 6 blocks. So we opted to sit inside. We settled in and decided on some drinks. I opted for the Texas Pear (Tito’s vodka, pear puree, mint syrup, and lime juice) and she went with the Blood Orange Old Fashioned.

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Mine was nice and light. It was less pear-flavored than I expected, but still good. It was definitely strong! Which I don’t mind so much, because I love Tito’s.

Hers was really amazing. A little on the acidic side, but I really loved it. The blood orange puree tamed the whiskey, which was perfect for me! I was afraid she didn’t like it from her first reaction the took a second to taste all the flavors and then deemed it good.

We noticed that they had some pretty good Happy Hour specials, so we decided on a starter. We went with the roasted cauliflower with prosciutto and sumac.

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The prosciutto was a perfect complement to the cauliflower, which was cooked just right- still plenty of crunch. I thought that the dish could have benefited from some sort of sauce though. It was still tasty, and relatively healthy! Yeeeah, vegetables.

For our entrees, I had already decided exactly what I was going to get when I looked at the menu earlier in the day- the Fresh Pita with Lamb. I’m never going to say no to a combination of pita, lamb, and tzatziki.

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It was INCREDIBLE. The pita was delicious, the lamb was nice and tender, cooked with potatoes and topped with onions, and the tzatiki was flavorful. It came with 3 pita triangles. I was full after 2 little wraps, but powered through the third one because it was just so good. Yum.

The lady decided on The Pep Pep pizza. Lamb, mozzarella, tomato sauce, roasted peppers, green Anaheim peppers, marjoram.

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She said it was a little spicy, but she really enjoyed it. And enjoyed it again as leftovers for dinner the next night. And it sure was pretty.

Overall, not too bad! It wasn’t perfect, but that lamb alone would bring me back.

  • Favorite thing I had: The lamb with pita. Her Blood Orange Old Fashioned was REALLY tasty too.
  • Favorite thing she had:  The Pep Pep pizza. She said it was a little spicy, but she enjoyed it a lot.
  • Most interesting thing I want to try next time: It’s a small menu, and I didn’t have any qualms making a decision. I might want to try one of the other pizzas and go for their brunch.  I DID have a hard time deciding between cocktails, so I could go back for a drink.
  • How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions): If we end up in the neighborhood and can’t get into Red Hen or Boundary Stone, we’d go here. Not sure I’d make a special trip. But I could be wrong… that lamb was REALLY good.
  • Places to go afterward (what’s nearby): Go grab a drink at Boundary Stone!

El Rey (U St NW)

I love me some tacos. They’re the perfect cheap eat. Combine that with margaritas and outdoor seating on a perfect warm and sunny Friday afternoon and you have an ideal situation.We were looking for a cheap dinner before we dropped the big dollars on fancy bevs at Dram & Grain and El Rey fit the bill. IMG_2722 The lady and I met there after I had a particularly long work day, so she found me there at a table in the back, frozen margarita already in hand.  The building is made out of shipping containers with a retractable roof. It was a perfect sunny 70’s day, so they had the roof open and the sun was shining in. IMG_0185 The margarita was surprisingly strong for a frozen one. It was an excellent way to start the weekend. It was fun to watch how many bottles of tequila they poured into the frozen machine. It’s no wonder it tasted strong… IMG_0186 I ordered the fish taco, the skirt steak, and the al pastor on flour tortillas. I had had a big lunch, and wasn’t particularly hungry, but I shoveled them in pretty quickly. They were really good. IMG_0187 The lady had a carne asada and the adobo chicken. I was too wrapped up in my own and didn’t even think to try the chicken, but it looked good as well. Two were perfect for her and 3 for me. It was the perfect dinner choice for us and we got out of there for $26 in under an hour. Can’t beat that!

  • Favorite thing I had: The carne asada taco, although they were all really good. A little small, but good.
  • Most interesting thing I want to try next time: The cocktail menu looked good. So did the chips and guacamole.
  • What makes this place stand out: It’s made out of shipping containers! I mean, it didn’t feel like anything really special from the inside, but it was cool. And I want a house with a retractable roof.
  • How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions): Any time I’m on that side of town and need a tasty, cheap meal. I imagine we’ll get there about once per month or so.
  • Places to go afterward (what’s nearby): Nellie’s is right across the street. The Brixton is close by. Had we not had reservations that we had to get over to AdMo for, we probably would have gone to Mockingbird Hill or Southern Efficiency.