Vicky’s Class of 2016 December 29, 2016Posted by Alex Sawit in Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit
December 29, 2016
So…why did I procrastinate about posting this blog’s annual write-up on the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show?
As Cyrano friends know, it’s a cherished tradition at Cyrano Wine Shop to screen the VSFS for you folks immediately after the U.S. broadcast (always downloaded after the morning Philippine time, allowing us to screen it later in the evening). This year, the build-up to the latest running of the show was scintillating: first time ever to be hosted in the city of Paris…chosen venue was the magnificent Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées with its vaulted glass ceiling…more than 50 models walking the runway…a power-packed line-up of musical performers in Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, the Weeknd…
A view of Paris from the river Seine.
All set at the Grand Palais.
Yet after screening the show earlier this month, something didn’t feel right to me.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy watching it, especially the opening segment. Playing to an elaborate Oriental theme, the world’s greatest lingerie spectacle kicked off with a sultry entrance by a dragon-coiled Elsa Hosk, immediately followed by an exquisite East Asian princess impression by Taylor Hill…and not far behind were Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, the two most gorgeous rookies on last year’s show, both looking more at ease this year. And so on and so on…
Later on, Lady Gaga gave a standout vocal performances. Bruno Mars killed it with songs from his latest album 24k Magic. The Weeknd…uh, he sang with a different haircut from that deranged pineapple hairdo he sported on the show last year…yeesh. Plus, there were lots more VS models in between. And then the show was over.
So it begins. Here she comes…
First out is that devastating dragon lady, Elsa.
Next up is one hot princess in Taylor.
The wild backdrop makes it tough to see her wings but Kendall is a stunner.
Gigi is back…kaboom! And so on and so on…
So…why do I feel let down by Vicky’s Class of 2016? Simple. Here’s the list of my favorites who were not included in this year’s show:
* Erin Heatherton (quit after the 2013 show)
* Doutzen Kroes (quit after the 2014 show)
* Karlie Kloss (quit after the 2014 show)
* Candice Swanepoel (mandatory leave due to new VS maternity policy)
* Behati Prinsloo (mandatory leave due to new VS maternity policy)
* Jac Jagaciak (still not known why this Polish hottie was dropped
from the show, even though it wasn’t long ago that VS was touting
her as one of its rising stars)
I know that all of this is just a business at the end of the day. On the one hand, VS is ultimately out to protect its brand and it sometimes plays hardball. On the other hand, the girls eventually have to weigh whether the prestige of being a VS supermodel is worth the relatively low pay, the disruptive, widely dispersed time commitments, and the constant pressures they are put under by VS bosses. I know all of that…and I’m tired. I’m tired of VS making us invest of ourselves as an audience, making us look forward to seeing our favorites on the show only to be disappointed by yet another year of absentees.
Ay, what a nuisance the management at VS is turning into. Yeah, I’m still gonna watch the show. Yeah, I’m still gonna enjoy all the eye candy. But the bosses at VS better not keep doing this.
Did I mention that Lady Gaga and the Weeknd preceded the finale?
Thank you, Bruno Mars. Show’s over.
One last thing: the video editing of this year’s show was rushed and the quality of the telecast suffered for it.
In past years, the video production company was given about two weeks to properly edit the show for TV broadcast. This year, however, the bosses at VS had the show recorded on November 30, then aired on December 5, meaning the editors were forced to finish the job within five days. The drop in quality was obvious in the final video, as camera transitions from one model to the next frequently did not go smoothly enough and at times felt uncomfortably abrupt to the viewer’s eye. We viewers want to sip and savor these gorgeous visuals, but the parade of VS models came and went like a busy schedule that couldn’t afford to stop and smell the flowers (by the way, as good a vocalist as she is, it didn’t help that Lady Gaga kept competing for attention with the girls, often crowding them out of their spots as they tried to nail their poses at the end of the runway). Are you listening, you big bosses at Victoria’s Secret?
Okay. I’m done venting. Next up in a few months: The Victoria’s Secret Swim Special. Woo-hoo!
[ To read last year’s post about the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, go to Vicky’s Class of 2015 ]
Cyrano Reloaded…in Alabang! December 21, 2016Posted by Alex Sawit in Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit
December 21, 2016
Before I tell you about our newly opened store branch…
I apologize to all Cyrano friends who have been waiting for news about the new Makati location of the wine shop. I’d been building up your anticipation since last year, even teasing you with a photo-rendered visual of the spot in Salcedo Village that we were supposedly relocating to (based on our handshake agreement with the prospective landlord). It was all set…then it blew up.
Our prospective landlord, who for months had been assuring us that moving into the new spot would be “easy” and that this was a sure thing, suddenly admitted that he didn’t have enough votes to persuade the newly-elected board of his building to lease the spot to us at this time. No, he wasn’t kidding. The admission was so unbelievable, so bizarre given all the reassurances we had received, that the bad news slammed into us like an absurd Hollywood story gimmick after you’d been suckered into wasting your time watching it…Sharknado!!!
Ugh…regrettably, our plans for Makati will just have to wait until that situation changes (or we find a different venue).
In the meantime, and without further ado, allow me to present Cyrano Wine Shop in Alabang.
Size? It’s almost the same size as the old Cyrano. You’ll be delighted to know that we stayed true to the original spirit of a small, cozy hangout for wine lovers. It doesn’t have the eccentric, trapezoid-like layout that was a unique feature of its predecessor in Makati, but the Alabang branch is just as intimate, albeit expressed with more simplicity and practicality.
Location? It’s in the lower ground floor (what the wine person in me likes to refer to as the “cellar level”) of a village community mall, which sits admiringly across the road from a gorgeous new church, with residential communities to the left and right, the most notable of which being the villages of Alabang Hills and Hillsborough (the church is clad in rustic brick, topped with an eye-catching, golden-like dome that lends an Eastern European look to this religious structure; the architecture is most beautiful in the late afternoon light, when the dome glows in the setting sun and the brick facade turns radiant red). In addition, the upper floors of the mall offer a reasonably panoramic view of Laguna lake down the road, great for watching a full moon as it begins to rise above the ridges of land just beyond the water’s edge (by the way, this is how I watched the November “Super Moon”).
Neighbors? I’m glad to say that there are a lot of welcoming folks here, with the locals being generally more laid back than in Makati (a lot of our Alabang customers feel at home visiting the shop dressed in shorts, which I find makes for a more casual, convivial atmosphere for appreciating wine). We officially opened only last November 12, so the locals are still in the happy process of getting to know us better (and the feedback has been very good, with lots of folks commending our wine selection).
Do I miss the old place? Honestly, no, I don’t. It’s enough for me to say that I learned a lot from the original venue and that I’m going to keep applying the lessons of that experience in moving forward (well, okay, I wish we still had that plant box outside the doorway, which is where we all loved having wine picnics on the grass using that famous picnic blanket of ours).
What I really miss are the happy folks from the old neighborhood. It’s fun getting to befriend all the new neighbors, but they can’t replace the people who’ve been with us through thick and thin. I’m proud that during our time together in the original location, we were able to build a community of wine heroes and heroines. We became a family. I look forward to this family of ours meeting up every once in a while, here in your new Alabang getaway.
Yeah, it’s good to be back after a six month absence…although if you think about it, we never really went away. We were just reloading. Cheers!
Facing Facebook November 2, 2016Posted by Alex Sawit in Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit
November 2, 2016
Yeah, yeah, yeah…it finally happened.
As most Cyrano friends know, I’d been telling you for years that Facebook was not my cup of tea, being the kind of writer that I am. FB just isn’t the sort of venue that appeals to the sense of rhythm that I have when it comes to writing about the things I like to write about.
“Alex,” folks would excitedly ask me in person. “Please send me a friend request on Facebook!”
“Facebook?” I would say to burst their bubbles. “I’ve heard of Facebook. I’ve also heard of Twitter. I’ve even heard of Instagram…”
But after years of repeatedly making it clear to all Cyrano friends that I would NEVER be pressured by you into getting on Facebook…well, the day you’ve long been waiting for has arrived. Here I am. Yuck.
Here is the barrage of FB responses that arrived from Cyrano friends after you folks got notifications that I had signed up.
Alex is it really you?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s me…our Cyrano manager insisted that I get on Facebook…grrr…hate this Facebook thing. But it’s for the good of the wine shop.
You’re on Facebook?!?! xD xD xD
Ugh, yes…I’m now on FB. Yuck, yuck, yuck. My biz consultant forced me to get an account so I can better promote Cyrano. I guess it’s justified…
Wow. You’re on Facebook. O_O
Alex: Ugh…don’t rub it in…I was required by my biz consultant to open an account with this social media provider…
OMG! YOU ARE HERE! 🙂
Yes…I am finally here on this ubiquitous social media provider, not by choice but due to pressure from my business consultant. I miss the old days, boohoo-hoo…
Finally getting social media savvy huh? Facebook and now Viber! Wow!
Ugh, please don’t call me social media savvy…it gives me a headache just being on this thing. Wait. What do you mean I’m on Viber? I’m on Viber? Who put me on Viber???
Ah, whaddaya know…it turns out the shop’s manager put me on something called Viber. How the heck do I use that? Hahaha…
For the record, I decided to get on FB after an internal discussion at the wine shop made it obvious that I needed to manage Cyrano’s presence on social media. As the saying goes, if you want something different to happen, you have to do something different. With your favorite neighborhood wine shop getting ready for its official re-launch this November in a new place (we’re in the cellar level of Madison Galeries in the Alabang area, located amongst the cool residential communities of Alabang Hills and Hillsborough villages), embracing Facebook was easily the sensible thing to do.
“Welcome to FB hehe,” was the teasing message I got from my cousin, Charlene, who was one of the first responders on my new Facebook page.
Sigh. There’s no turning back.
The End is the Beginning… May 19, 2016Posted by Alex Sawit in Happenings at the Shop.
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Guest post written by Gail Sotelo
Reposted from 2shotsandapint.com
May 18, 2016
“Here I sit halfway to somewhere, thinking about
what’s in front of me and what I left behind.”
Mr. Big, Goin’ Where the Wind Blows
…is not the end 😉
This song, perhaps, sums up the melancholy I felt when we hung out one last time in Cyrano’s old location.
I know I’m breaking one of my old rules by talking about an establishment instead of the drinks, but I think I’ve covered that in a previous entry.
It’s just that I realized, as I looked at all the old familiar faces of the bar’s regulars, that no other place has been such a part of my “wine life” than Cyrano.
Just to give readers an idea on how the place is to regulars like myself, think Cheers… Everybody literally knows your name.
I started going to Cyrano in the middle of 2008, when I was working for a wine company. My then landlord and I decided to hang out, and since his office was in Legaspi Village, he took me to Cyrano.
It was then that I met Cyrano’s resident snarky bartender, Alex, who introduced me to the art of wine. See, I knew a little bit about wine before I met Alex, but he was instrumental in changing my perspective. I would have never perceived wine as a lifestyle without him. To this day, I owe coming up with the conclusion that wine involves gastronomy, culture, geography, and science to him.
Since then, Alex has become such a part of our lives; we even got him to attend our wedding (in his Wallace and Grommet tie).
Here are other things I will never forget from the ultimate neighborhood wine bar:
• Imogen Heap – I’ve never heard of Imogen Heap before I started hanging out in Cyrano… Alex’s sister was playing it during one of my visits around October/November 2008. Heap’s album Speak for Yourself was still in my head when I met Chad in December 2008, so I will always equate Imogen with good memories (Alex, since then, has disallowed Imogen Heap to be played in the bar).
• Wine Books – One of the proprietors loaned me a wine encyclopedia when I started to study wine. Unfortunately, the books (along with about 75% of my stuff) were damaged by “Ondoy” in 2009. The books, however, started me on the path of collecting wine literature (admittedly one of my favorite guilty pleasures).
• Appreciation for Live Music – We got to watch Nino Alejandro and Lee Grane in Cyrano as they got really famous. It was also great to hear one of our friends, Aia De Leon, play in Cyrano’s “smoking lounge” (which is where Curator is now).
• Victoria’s Secret – I theoretically knew about Victoria’s Secret’s legendary fashion shows, but Alex started a tradition of watching it in Cyrano since 2012. It then became our equivalent of the Super Bowl.
• Eurovision – It’s so campy, it’s good. As with Victoria’s Secret, Alex held “public screenings” in the bar for a couple of years.
• Anthony Bourdain – People reading this blog know about my “hero worship” of Bourdain for his no-nonsense take on food, drink, people, culture, and travel. I actually discovered him during one of Alex’s “film showing” evenings… I remember the first episode I ever saw: It was No Reservations in Naples (still one of my all time favorites).
• Cyrano’s Grassy Patch – People have smoked there, passed out drunk on it (and were woken up by the barangay police in the morning), thrown up on it, and even brought dogs there (yep, Schrumpf was there!).
• The Glassware – Here’s a bit of trivia: Alex gets so anal about his glasses that he refuses to use them without extensively wiping off the watermarks. I can honestly say that he has some of the cleanest glassware in Makati.
• The Back of the Bar – I felt so at home that I actually served drinks on occasion, and even helped myself to the wines in the refrigerator when Alex got too busy (before they hired Fiona, Alex’s equally catty bartender).
• The PEOPLE – The moment guests walk in the door, they get introduced to everyone. I’ve met a German wino with a penchant for sweet wines, a woman who loaned me her glass with “Bitch” engraved on it (because it totally suited me), law students studying for the bar exams (yes, over wine), runners, musicians, comedians, businessmen, radio personalities, and Mr. S (a Japanese regular who, unfortunately, drowned earlier this year, RIP).
Old regulars marveling at how much our lives have changed made Cyrano’s last night in Legaspi Village particularly sentimental. We realized we don’t hang out until 4am anymore, we don’t drink like fish the way we used to, and we’re in bed by 12 midnight… Totally titos and titas of Manila.
To further drive home our age, we decided to play power ballads of the 90s (which is the reason why Mr. Big is stuck in my head). After all, is there a better way to end an era than with lots of food, wine, friends, and belting out songs we grew up to?
Much as we titos and titas will miss the old place, we are also very excited to see it re-open in a different location: Cordova Building along Valero street in Salcedo Village. This should happen in a couple of months, so hey… We are totally looking forward to that. 😉
Honest Food for Real Wine Drinkers May 12, 2016Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit
May 12, 2016
A simple charcuterie platter of paté, rillettes, saucisson, and chorizo…yum!!!
In preparation for Cyrano’s move to its new location, I’ve been freely listening to the suggestions of different friends who are culinary professionals, asking for ideas on how best to update our food menu.
One chef friend, Ian Padilla, who trained in France at the famed Taillevent restaurant, eventually got around to saying that in spirit Cyrano reminded him of a famous wine bar in Paris called Le Baron Rouge (“The Red Baron”). It’s a tiny wine bar (about the same size as Cyrano) that has been described as a “blue collar bar” that doesn’t have time for pretentious wine snobs.
Photo originally posted at wineterroirs.com.
Interestingly, their original menu was famously simple: cheese boards and charcuterie platters (check the top picture of a typical charcuterie combo of paté/terrine, rillettes, saucisson, and chorizo), plus fresh oysters on the shell on weekends. That was it.
My friend Ian says it was only when foreign tourists started crowding the place all the time and ignorantly asking for “other stuff” that the Baron expanded the menu to accommodate their untrained palates. At Le Baron Rouge, the original food concept was to keep things authentic and simple, nothing fussy or fancy, and it worked.
Photo originally posted at wineterroirs.com.
“This is the kind of place I like,” e-mailed my business partner and Cyrano friend Joco, after seeing the e-mail reference I sent him about Le Baron Rouge and recognizing the similarities. As every Cyrano friend already knows, we’ve never had a kitchen, yet we still managed behind the bar counter to cook tasty treats for you to enjoy with your wine. And we’ve always kept our menu simple.
“Yeah, my thoughts too,” I e-mailed in reply. “It was Ian who pointed this place to me, because Baron Rouge doesn’t even have a real kitchen, just a bar set-up. Their charcuterie platters don’t require cooking, but these are their signature menu items that customers love. It’s old school and simple, yet a lot of customers in our new location have never been introduced to this fun style of eating while drinking.”
Photo originally posted at wineterroirs.com.
“Also,” I continued. “When the place gets too crowded and customers have to stay outside, notice that they stack plastic crates and top them with serving trays to make a makeshift high table. And they get away with the look because they’re “Parisians”. I wonder if we’d be able to get away with doing that…haha!”
“I think we can,” Joco e-mailed back with a smiley face.
Thumbs up. More than that, I look forward to getting away with keeping it nice and simple at our new place – just tweaking our menu with more of the honest, uncomplicated food that always gives comfort to real wine drinkers (aka Cyrano friends).
Parable of the Starfish March 28, 2016Posted by Alex Sawit in Stuff in General.
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By Alex Sawit
March 28, 2016
Perhaps you’ve already heard the Parable of the Starfish.
It’s a parable that I tell from time to time at Cyrano whenever the occasion of wine and friendship allows. It is a story that says what I believe about life, making it a story that I wish for all true friends of our little neighborhood wine shop to believe in too. As we say at Cyrano, we don’t have customers. We just have friends. And we like to make a difference in their lives, one friend at a time.
I first encountered this story a long time ago. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to tell it properly. Just yesterday, I read a different version of it on the web, and it is such a poor version that it squanders the power of the parable’s message. So I will re-tell the parable here and be as faithful as possible to the story that I remember.
[ SPOILER ALERT – The moral is that you should do what is good because it is good; you do what you can, then you let it go. Thus, even if you can’t make a difference for everyone, you can still choose to make a difference for anyone. ]
A man was walking on the beach.
It was a sunny day but just the day before, the beach had been battered by a freak storm. As the man kept walking on his path, he was confronted by the constant sight of marine debris strewn in front of him, all of which had been violently churned up by the raging winds and waves. What struck the man was the realization that most of the debris was actually made of hundreds upon hundreds of starfishes, which littered the length of the beach. Having been carried far away from the water by the storm, these starfishes were now stranded, doomed to perish under the blazing sun.
It was then that the man noticed that in the distance ahead, a stranger was busy at work along the seashore. As the man continued walking, his every step drawing him closer, he observed the stranger going back and forth from the beach into the shallow water, each time returning to the shallows with something in his hands. Eventually the man arrived there and he walked up to the stranger to ask what was happening.
“I’m returning the starfishes to the water,” said the stranger politely as he picked up yet another stranded starfish. “Otherwise, they’ll be dead in a few hours.”
The man was astonished by the stranger’s answer. “But there are hundreds of them,” said the man to the stranger. “Maybe thousands.”
“I know,” said the stranger as he carried the starfish with him towards the water.
“But there’s no way you can save them all,” said the man with resignation. “Even at best, you can only save a few of them. How can what you’re doing possibly make a difference?”
The stranger simply stood in the shallows, displaying the starfish in the palm of his hand as he gave his reply.
“It makes a difference to this one,” said the stranger before placing it safely beneath the tide.
Neighborhood Jewel February 28, 2016Posted by Alex Sawit in Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit
February 28, 2016
Cyrano’s new location? Nah, this was one of our design references, illustrating
how steel shipping containers can be used as the basis for elegant architecture.
But scratch the shipping containers. We’re building a jewel box instead.
I once heard the great architect I.M. Pei say in an interview that architecture is the purest form of art there is (before I proceed, I need to say that I am not a fan of that colossal, view-hogging glass pyramid of his at the Louvre, which Pei recycled from an old design that was disapproved from a previous project but which he stubbornly stayed infatuated with; I am, however, a fan of his brilliant space plan for the same museum, a masterstroke that connected all the main buildings via a central underground access point, transforming the Louvre’s expansive and previously deserted main court into a bustling haven for both Parisians and tourists).
Pei’s belief was that unlike a masterpiece painted on canvass or sculpted in stone, a building naturally derives its aesthetics from the beauty of its functionality. Paintings and sculptures aren’t meant to be practical; they can be made as frivolously, as ostentatiously, as pretentiously as the artist desires. Not so with a building. No matter how pretty it is, if the structure doesn’t physically work – if it’s a permanent inferno even with the air-conditioning at full blast or if the leaking roof regularly floods the floor like a tsunami or if the whole thing collapses under its own weight on the day it’s finished – then it’s a dumb design.
Making it functional in a way that is beautiful is where the art is.
That’s why I love the work that our architect, Tisha de Borja, is doing for the new location of Cyrano. She understands the beauty of having a “Big Idea”.
“I want to do a glass box in the middle of the plant box,” said the text message I recently received from Tisha. “Scrap the container. A jewel box.”
This was surprising news. Scrap the container-based structure? For weeks, Tisha had been planning a new design for the wine shop based on the proposal of building it with shipping containers, which we all agreed would make for a cost-effective solution. But although the news was unexpected, I wasn’t alarmed.
I texted back, telling our architect that if in her judgement this was the way forward, then so be it. But out of curiosity, I cheerfully asked what made her decide to abandon using containers.
“Don’t laugh…,” she texted, “a dream!”
“I’ve done about 6 iterations with the container,” she continued texting, “and it just didn’t seem right. Then I added a glass portion, which was almost right, but not quite. At that point, I was ready to just accept it already. But last night, I realized that you guys talk about Cyrano in a very specific way, like it is this precious neighborhood jewel. And then it hit me – it should just be all glass.”
I understood what she was saying. It turned out that, as much as we all fell in love in the beginning with the idea of using ready-made shipping containers, these cheap and versatile steel structures had now become their own worst enemy due to the limited footprint of the new location. They were getting in each other’s way and after six different configurations, it just wasn’t working.
But no problem, because our awesome architect came up with a new idea that was just as functional and much more beautiful. A jewel box? What a wonderful concept, I told her. Plus, it was nice to hear our original Cyrano friend, Tisha, expressing an honest, artistic understanding of Cyrano as a precious gem of the community (although she isn’t our first neighbor to come to that conclusion; that honor goes to our neighbor Waise Azimi, who gladly tells people that Cyrano is a neighborhood “treasure”). It further reassured me that we got the right architect for the job.
I also told her that it was a good sign that her Big Idea came from a dream, because I too believe in the power of dreams.
“Haha…well,” she clarified, “not exactly a dream…but that just before sleep state when it turns out, I do my best thinking!”
Good thinking anyway, Tisha. A jewel box it is.
Appealing February 13, 2016Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit
February 13, 2016
Unlike Ueno’s version at The Curator, the standard Negroni is made with equal
parts of gin, vermouth rosso and Campari, garnished with an orange peel.
This is too good not to mention.
Some nights ago, I slid open the dark wooden door at the back of Cyrano and crossed into The Curator, the cocktail bar that recently featured Japanese legend Hidetsugu Ueno as its celebrity bartender. As I often do when interacting with their staff (our two bars coordinate for a lot of shared needs that happen during the course of an evening, from tap water to extra chairs for additional guests), I paid them a visit behind the counter, where they are shielded from customer view by thick, black curtains.
“Faye,” I asked their pretty, olive-complexioned bartender and cashier, “do you remember how many lemon peels Ueno put in his Black Negroni?”
Faye, together with her fellow bartenders, had previously discussed with me their surprise about how Ueno chose to use lemon to make his version of the classic Negroni cocktail, which is typically garnished with an orange peel. She promptly answered my question in earshot of Vito, her fellow bartender and Curator’s resident pop balladeer at closing time, who was over by the sink washing dishes.
“Sir,” Faye replied, “Ueno used one lemon peel per drink.”
“Just one? Are you sure he used only one?”
“Yes, sir, just one.”
“So when you make a Negroni now, you also use only one peel?”
“Are you sure you don’t want to use six?”
“Huh? But sir…,” she asked, her pretty features suddenly looking perplexed. “Why naman are we going to use six?
“So that way, you have six apeel.”
We all cracked up, including Vito all the way over at the sink, with Faye doubling over in mock embarrassment.
Yeah, haha, I’ve always wanted to say that.
An Educated Taste for Drink January 31, 2016Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit
January 31, 2016
The maestro of mixology, Hidetsugu Ueno, at his Bar High Five in Tokyo.
Truth: all drinkers drink, but not equally. The great British drinks writer Michael Jackson (in my opinion, the most eloquent whisky writer who ever lived) used to say that any drinker who claims to possess a cultivated palate ought to drink first and foremost for the taste of it. “In the end, there are only two kinds of drinker,” he wrote. “The discriminating and the indiscriminate.”
Let’s be honest. Not everyone really cares to have an educated taste for drink. At any given bar on any given night in any given country, you won’t have trouble finding indiscriminate drinkers – the boozers if you will. Boozers are fairly easy to spot; they’re the ones who tell you that all they want is to get a “good buzz” while appearing to drink fashionably, throwing their money at whatever expensive horse piss the bartender is passing off as chic. I apologize for the unkindness, but I just want to be emphatic. Spend all you want on expensive drinks; that doesn’t make you a better drinker.
I find it more rewarding to drink at a bar with genuine people who know how to taste what they’re drinking and care about sharing that appreciation. Thankfully, I was able to enjoy such company when The Curator – that no-nonsense cocktail bar hidden by that dark sliding door at the back of Cyrano – invited the great Hidetsugu Ueno to serve as its celebrity guest bartender for one special night last December.
“I have the world’s greatest bartender in my bar!” cheered a beaming Jericson, The Curator’s founder, happy with disbelief that he was able to bring this living legend of Bar High Five in Tokyo for a gig in the Philippines.
“He wasn’t bothering to measure the drinks,” admiringly commented Poch, The Curator’s senior bartender, about their celebrated Japanese guest. “He was doing it by eye, making adjustments with each drink based on how he felt each glass needed it.”
Now, I’m not the world’s most ardent fan of cocktails. Offer me a good whisky or a nice wine and most of the time I’ll choose either of those over a mixed drink. Having said that, this doesn’t preclude me from favoring three classics: the Martini, the Manhattan, and the Negroni.
Invented by the Italians, who possess an enviable wealth of experience when it comes to making beautiful drinks, the Negroni properly made can be a sublime experience – lusciously smooth in the mouth, with a refined interplay of sweetness, richness, and sharpness over ice, making it one of the rare cocktails that can be perfect either as a casual treat over lunch on a sunny day, or as a suave gesture in the presence of evening companions. Unfortunately, local bartenders usually make this cocktail by applying a typically Pinoy sweet tooth, resulting in a syrupy slop that overwhelms the possibility of yummy subtleties. Hence, leading up to this night at The Curator, I had never previously at a local bar had a Negroni that was worth remembering.
This night, however, our celebrity Japanese bartender offered guests his version, labelled a Black Negroni, which Ueno-san crafted with intuitive proportions of Tanqueray, Carpano Antica Formula, and Fernet Branca.
“Here, try it,” said Joco, my Cyrano business partner, after he placed a glass on the counter. I took one sip and was immediately quieted. I wasn’t expecting Ueno-san’s interpretation to taste like this. Having been acclimatized to how local bartenders make the Negroni, I felt compelled to pause in silent reflection. I took another sip just to be sure about how I felt.
It was exquisite. It was perfect.
“This is an outstanding Negroni,” was all I could manage to say to Joco in that humbling moment. Joco, who is the first genuine Negroni aficionado I ever met and whose influence is the reason I acquired a liking for this classic drink, wholeheartedly agreed with my pronouncement.
“I know,” he exclaimed enthusiastically. “It’s so perfectly balanced!”
As if on cue, our mixologist hostess Tiff entered the scene and happily parked at the bar counter next to me.
“Tiff,” I told her sincerely, “that is an outstanding Negroni.”
“Yes!” she gushed with a big smile, unable to hide how awesomely she felt about it. “That’s an outstanding Negroni!”
Tiff, who is one of the co-owners of The Curator and who holds the distinction as the mixologist who made the best Martini I’ve ever had anywhere, then compared notes with me about Ueno-san’s skills.
“He used a larger than normal sized peel for the Negroni,” she said, fully aware that Ueno chose to use lemon instead of the usual orange peel to create a signature twist.
“What amazes me,” I observed, hinting at the effect of that chunky lemon peel, “is that he figured a way to keep it balanced even as the ice continues to melt. The taste gets milder and milder as the drink gets watered down, but all the flavors still meld and beautifully come through.”
If only boozers could understand this about drinking.
There were other cocktails on Ueno-san’s guest menu at The Curator, but the fact that I was able to share drinks that evening with good folks like Joco and Tiff, who understood how I felt and whom I understood in return, only made tonight’s bar experience that much more fulfilling. Without folks like these at the familial heart of any bar, a bar becomes a soul-less community.
And oh, there were plenty of boozers that night too, mindlessly downing Ueno-san’s superlative creations one after another as if they were popping pills for a fix. Whether they were just faking that they could taste the difference in Ueno’s drinks or whether they only understood the “cool factor” of being served $15 cocktails by the world’s most famous bartender, they still got the good buzz that they came for.
Sigh…ignorance is bliss.
Our Awesome Lambanog January 14, 2016Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink, Happenings at the Shop.
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By Alex Sawit
January 14, 2016
Photo originally posted by FlipTrip founder April Cuenca on Instagram.
“Lambanog tasting at Cyrano tonight!” happily announced the Instagram post of Ms. April Cuenca, founder of acclaimed Pinoy travel gateway FlipTrip, when she uploaded a photo last Saturday. “Say goodbye to rocket fuel-type lambanog. Blended lambanog from Quezon and Batangas will change how you see our awesome local alcohol!”
Believe it or not, Cyrano friends, lambanog tasting nights are now one of my favorite things at the wine shop. Yes, we now offer lambanog in a wine establishment!
Sometimes referred to as coconut “moonshine” in the Philippines, lambanog is a traditional distilled spirit of the islands, made from the sap of the coconut tree’s unopened flower pods. What makes it so rewarding to serve this at the wine shop is that we now have our very own “house lambanog”, which we ourselves crafted according to our uniquely original style. It’s even more rewarding when we get to serve it to appreciative guests who know how to taste with discerning palates, which was exactly the case at last Saturday’s exclusive tasting event for Ms. Cuenca and her artist friend, Ms. Ina Jardiolin.
I started the tasting session by explaining to my two special guests that consistency is a problem in this Pinoy cottage industry. Lambanog-making families typically resist suggestions to modernize their backyard production methods, which hinders the evolution of a better-quality product that can capture the imaginations of both local and foreign connoisseurs.
“This made me think about how scotch whisky developed in Britain as a modern consumer product,” I said while I carefully arranged bottles and glasses on the counter in front of the two young ladies, who were seated at the bar.
“In the old days, booze merchants needed a way to supply the British market with whisky of consistent quality and in large volumes. The problem was that even though whisky distilleries were plentiful in Scotland, each could only produce relatively limited quantities. The solution was for each merchant house to bottle its own “house” blend – selecting different whiskies from different Scottish regions from as many suppliers as necessary, then blending these whiskies with other grain spirits into a single product of consistent style and quality. That’s how blended scotch started, and that’s how Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s, Chivas Regal, and all the others became the successful global brands that they are today.”
“So I thought,” I continued, after pouring some lamabanog for April and Ina, “why not do the same with lambanog?”
That’s how I told my guests that Cyrano Wine Shop is the first in the market to innovate the concept of blended lambanog.
“The first one you’re tasting,” I said as the girls tried the clear spirit that I poured from the heavy, impressively square-shaped bottle, “is a blend of Quezon and Batangas lambanog, which uses a very high proportion of the Batangas variety to give the blend a beautiful, floral softness.”
“The second one,” I continued when the girls moved to the next offering, which was poured from the big, stocky, rounded-looking bottle, “has a higher proportion of Quezon lambanog, which gives the blend a more intensely flavored finish. The recipes for both blends are a trade secret, of course.”
“Ours is the kind of lambanog that deserves to be leisurely sipped and savored in a bar,” I said, concluding my presentation. “Serve it chilled and neat or with a little ice…have it as your first drink of the night or as your nightcap…make a lambanog martini…just enjoy it as you please.”
When the girls compared notes, April professed her preference for the more floral blend and Ina went for the one with a more intense finish. Regardless, the girls were visibly excited about both Cyrano blends, which they found so delicious and classy that the experience has changed the way they look at lambanog.
My gratitude to both of you, April and Ina, not only for the valuable insights you offered about our new branded product and but also for your genuine appreciation of it. And yeah, thanks for calling it awesome!