Monday, July 23, 2012

The Fifth Stage

Absinthe can still be something of a mystery to Americans. After decades of finding itself on the wrong side of a misguided prohibition, the spirit finally returned to US shores and liquor stores in the 21st Century. 

Since it's return, there has been a lot of curiosity by the drinking public about what this once-taboo liquor really is. Does it really make you hallucinate? Will it make me go crazy if I drink it? Do you set it on fire to drink it? (The answer to all of these questions is no, by the way.) 

Of course the biggest question is, “What does it taste like?” The vast majority of absinthe tastes a lot like black licorice. It has a strong anise flavor with a touch of sweetness and a great deal of oomph (most absinthe is pretty high proof stuff). While the curiosity may take a hold of everyone, the taste of absinthe doesn't necessarily grip them quite as readily. 

This black licorice flavor and high alcohol content can frighten many a drinker away from the famed favorite spirit of artists and bohemians from the 19th Century. It is the job of the bartender to create drinks that highlight and expose the good and approachable parts of the spirit, while somewhat masking the less favorable elements. The best way to do that is often through a great, well-balanced cocktail.

The Fifth Stage
1 oz Pernod Absinthe
1 oz Lime Juice
1 oz Pineapple Juice
2 tsp Housemade Orgeat
2 slices of cucumber

Shake all with ice and double-strain over ice into a Double Old Fashioned Glass. Garnish with a cucumber slice.

320 Main's head bartender, Dave Castillo may have found that perfect balance for introducing people to absinthe. In his Fifth Stage cocktail, Dave brings together the anise flavor of the absinthe and subdues it with tart lime and sweet pineapple. The drink is rounded out with the depth of the housemade orgeat and accented perfectly with the cucumber slices that are pulverized in the tin with the drink.

You'll be hard-pressed to find a better drink to relax with under the hot sun – or the dim lights of the bar at night.


Matt “RumDood” Robold is a bartender at 320 Main and, in his spare runs, where he writes about rum, rum cocktails, and rum history.

Friday, July 20, 2012

320 Main Employee Spotlight: Dave Castillo

Dave Castillo is the kind of guy who can speak without even talking (to quote a line from Middle Brother's "Blood & Guts.")  His quiet cool demeanor is not that of a shy person, but of a person who's seen and experienced more of life than most because he decided to sit back and listen. That's because Dave is a thinker. A student of life. He's a sponge to new knowledge and information, whenever and wherever he is. Which is why it's not much of a surprise that he is a manager at the 320 Main bar, where knowledge and the preservation and furtherance of craft cocktails are prized highest; or that he and 320 Main owners, Jason & Rebecca, are such close friends outside of work. Meet 320 Main Bar Manager, Dave Castillo and listen up, you might learn something.

Q: How long have you worked at 320 Main?
Dave: For a little over two years.

Q: Are you from Seal Beach? How'd you end up here and why do you love it?
Dave: I am not from Seal Beach. I grew up moving around a lot. Once I got out on my own, I moved to Downtown Fullerton and lived there for seventeen years. I moved to Seal Beach about a year ago. I love the ocean, I feel drawn to it, like Hemmingway, so living so close to it is great. I also love the small-town feel of Seal Beach.

Q: Two words that best describe you? 
Dave: Curious. Devoted.

Q: How did you meet Jason Schiffer?
Dave: I met Jason when he was working at The Continental in Fullerton. We got to know each other and had a whole lot in common; we’re the same age, had both been in the business for a long time, had both been tending bar for about the same amount of years, had a lot of the same goals and general outlook on things so we became buddies pretty quickly. Jason and Becca are two of my closest, dearest friends.

Q: What's your background in wine and spirits?
Dave: I’ve been into food, wine, and drinks for a long time. Being able to pair things - like a dish with a great wine - has been something of a hobby of mine for probably twelve years. Then in 2008 I did the schooling and became a Sommelier. I got to study under Michael Jordan who, at the time was only the 96th Master Sommelier in the United States; incredibly knowledgeable and passionate. Then about a year and a half ago I took a course called BarSmarts which basically mirrored the sommelier program only this time it revolved entirely around spirits, distillation, and classic cocktails.

Q: You're a bit of a cook yourself too. How'd you pick it up and what's your specialty?

Dave: That’s true, I’ve been cooking for over twenty years. I started out cooking because I had to. My mother used to work evenings and sometimes the graveyard shift. I had younger brothers and a sister who needed dinner. Later I would cook and people seemed to enjoy it which always feels good and inspired me to learn more. I also worked with a chef, Claudio Marchesan for about five years, who I would have to say taught me the most about cooking. He was incredibly talented and quite a heavy hitter; he helped start up Prego and Il Fornaio, also owned I think five places of his own. He’s up in San Francisco now. I guess because of him I’d say my specialty is Italian dishes.

Q: Favorite dish on the menu? 
Dave: Hmmm… That’s tough, there are so many great things. I think the dish I eat the most would be the Salmon. Incredible flavor. But if I had to choose, I guess it would have to be our Pork chop. It is hands down the best one I’ve ever had.

Q: What's your poison? 
Dave: Ooh, that’s tough one. I’ll be honest, I mix it up a lot and there’s not a lot I don’t like. There are things that influence what I’m in the mood for - like the weather. It’s hot now so something refreshing like a Chartreuse Swizzle is well in order. However, my favorite cocktail of all time is a good Old Fashioned. If you have one that’s properly made there’s nothing better. And we make a proper one, if I do say so myself.

Q: Best thing about 320 Main? 
Dave: I love that it is such a small place and that the people who work here generally care for and enjoy each other. I think that when people come in it shows and they can feel it. It makes for an even nicer environment and better all-around experience.

Q: Secret to surviving a busy Friday night behind the bar?
Dave: Keeping your head; it might get crazy for a while but remembering that it’s only for a while goes a long way. That and doing your best to constantly multitask will get you through it.

Q: Tell us a little about your creation the 5th Stage. Where did the inspiration for that come from? 
Dave: I tasted a punch that our friend Gabbi Dion made with absinthe a few months back and was blown away! It was fresh and bright - it was delicious. After that I wanted to do something along the same lines. It came to me one night lying in bed, call it inspiration. Then I tried it out the next day, and something that almost never happens when creating a new drink, something that almost never happens at all, occurred. I nailed it on the first try. I named it after the last - and only positive - stage from a model for loss or grieving by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross that was written in the seventies; because the absinthe I originally used was called Kubler. Cool thing is, as it turns out “The 5th Stage” is just a catchy name.

Q: What are you listening to these days?
Dave: Guess you heard I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to music. I’m always listening to music, and my taste is across the board. I’ve been really into Northern Soul lately: Dee Dee Sharp, Travis Biggs, Donnie and Joe Emerson. Their song “Baby” I listened to over and over for like three days. But the stuff I’ve been really into is some new, up and coming artists; “The Alabama Shakes,” Michael Kiwanuka, Nick Waterhouse, he’s this like 23 year old guy form Huntington Beach that’s recording great music that sounds like it was made 60 years ago! Awesome stuff. King Krule is one of my favorites too. He's 15, 16 years old maybe - and making great music.

Q: As a person who knows food and cocktails, what sets 320 Main's menu apart from the rest?
Dave: I think what sets it apart is that it’s creative, inspired, and first and foremost adventurous. Anyone can make a meatloaf but are they going to have the wheels to glaze it with Sriracha and put it on a Portuguese bun? Not to mention try to serve you something like a cocktail with whisky and Dijon mustard in it among other things? None that I know of.

Q: When you're not slinging cocktails at 320 Main what are you doing? (hobbies)
Dave: Oh man, I have so many. We already talked about the music thing which is good because I would have placed it at the top of the list. I used to sing in a band, and seeing a live show is one of my favorite things of all time. The cooking thing is way up there too. What else? I love to read. I also write. I’m an artist. Riding my motorcycle or almost anything outside. I love being active. I’m a huge movie guy; seeing them at the theater or at home. Cooking. Almost anything I can do to be creative. That’s why I love the whole craft-cocktail scene, it’s just another outlet. And of course hanging out with friends, they’re the most important people in the world to me.

Q: Any pets? 
Dave: Not these days, but I am a bit of a plant geek and the few that I have any more keep me somewhat busy. I have a roommate that sheds all over the apartment!

Q: What days can we find you at 320 Main?
Dave: It’s pretty hard not to find me there. The one day I usually don’t go in is Sunday.

Other things about Dave:
• I am a car guy; I’ve had some cool ones, a 75 Bus, a 65 Falcon, I was restoring a 51 Dodge Wayfarer, but my ex-wife put a stop to that. 
• I don’t have cable but when I go to my girlfriend’s house I love Mythbusters and Cashcab. Those are my favorites. We started watching Breaking Bad a few months ago and that’s awesome! 
• I lived in Buenos Aires for a month once and went to Chile a couple times, plus Mendoza for a few days while there. I would like to go back to South America. Aside from that, I hope to keep learning. About what? Everything.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Seal Beach Summer Concert Series & Brown Bag BBQ

Wednesday, July11th kicks off Seal Beach's Summer Concerts at the Pier. Every summer these entertaining bands draw a great crowd down to Main Street and all the families have a fun time watching the show from the beachside spot!

320 Main will be offering our “Brown Bag BBQ” every Wednesday night- a Half Rack of our Barbecue Ribs with a side of Sriracha coleslaw, a chocolate chip cookie and a soda for only $12. This special is available during the concert series for take-out only.

Here is a schedule of this years lineup:
July 11th - Sgt Pepper
July 18th - Urban Dread
July 25th - Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real
August 1st - The King Salmon Band
August 8th - Robby Armstrong
August 15th - Walking Phoenixes
August 22nd - Elm Street Band
August 29th - L.A.vation - A Tribute to U2

Hu Hu Halakahiki

320 Main's Hu Hu Halakahiki

Tiki drinks are those lovely, tropical libations that make us think of the South Pacific and lying around on a beach – keeping cool while being cool.

Tiki has been with us for quite some time. Roughly stated, it was first created as a movement by Don The Beachcomber in the 1930s, improved upon by Trader Vic Bergeron, and then quickly spread across the US and – eventually – the world like wildfire as everyone bought flowered shirts and Tiki Torches for their home barbecues. Kitschy and fun, Tiki was accessible and helped Americans forget about things like the Cold War or even just having to drive to work on Mondays.

As all good things do, Tiki's heyday came to an end somewhere in the 1960s or 1970s as vodka pushed out the rum-soaked concoctions to make way for stark, simple, and significantly less flavorful beverages. Many Tiki palaces shuttered their windows and chained their doors. Others, like the Tiki Ti in Hollywood and the Mai Kai in Fort Lauderdale, managed to persevere through much bleaker times for faux polynesian faire.

At the turn of the 21st Century the new-found interest classic cocktails from the 19th Century started to change the way a lot of bartenders and bar attenders thought about drinks. People became very serious about their drinks and they began to return to forgotten ingredients like rye whiskey and mezcal. Still, Tiki languished as “that foofoo stuff with umbrellas and too much grenadine.”

Thanks to the efforts of cocktail historians like Jeff “Beachbum” Berry (yes, Cocktail Historian, there's a job your guidance counselor never told you about), Tiki began the slow trek back to prominence. Cocktail nerds were looking for the new old thing that no one was doing and there was a general sense that some silliness and fun might not be bad for the cocktail world. Soon, Tiki started to make its comeback, taking center stage in some of the world's best bars, like Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco.

320 Main is no Tiki bar – but that doesn't mean that we don't like to have a little fun here and there. Drawing inspiration from the Tiki drinks of yore and making the ideas our own, we crafted the Hu Hu Halakahiki.

Hu Hu Halakahiki
1.5 oz Jalapeño-infused Tequila
.5 oz Mezcal
.75 oz Lime Juice
1 oz Pineapple Shrubb*

Shake with crushed ice and pour into a chilled Old Fashioned Glass. Garnish with jalapeño and candied pineapple.

Keeping in line with Tiki traditions, this drink has a Polynesian name. The name actually means “Angry Pineapple,” which with the spicy notes from the jalapeño anyone will agree is a very apt name.

Our pineapple shrubb is made by muddling pineapples, lime peels, and sugar and then combining the mixture with apple cider vinegar. The shrubb gives the drink a tangy, sweet, pineapply (that's a word, right?) taste to combat the heat from the infused tequila – though sometimes you'll want to fight the flames by having a second Hu Hu Halakahiki with some Baby-back Ribs.

Matt “RumDood” Robold is a bartender at 320 Main and, in his spare runs, where he writes about rum, rum cocktails, and rum history.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Baby-Back Ribs

Baby-back ribs. The mere mention of these delectable treats is enough to get many a mouth to water as thoughts of slow-cooked, succulent pork ribs dance about.

Baby-back ribs are a cut of pork ribs from the loin. They are actually named “baby-back” ribs because of their size – you aren’t eating baby Piglet. Depending on the butcher, the ribs will be cut on a rack of about 10-13 ribs, running from the shorter 3-inch ribs to the longer 6-inch bone at the other end.

via Full Custom Gospel BBQ

The preparation of baby-back ribs varies by region and is debated with a ferocity nearing that normally reserved for political or religious debate. The ribs can be slow-cooked, barbecued, smoked, braised, or even boiled, and you’ll find a cult-like following for each. In the US there tends to be great debate between Chicago style baby-backs and St. Louis style baby-back ribs.

At 320 Main, our baby-back ribs fall into the St. Louis side of the debate. The ribs are slow-cooked before being covered in our homemade barbecue sauce. When I inquired with the kitchen staff about how we make our sauce for the ribs I was rebuffed with “it’s a secret.” After much cajoling I was able to determine that the sauce, created by our head Chef James Wilschke, is concocted using more than 50 ingredients, including curry powder to give the sauce a rich, unique taste.

We serve the ribs over a bed of creamed corn that has been spiked with spices like smoked paprika and a side of lightly sautéed broccolini. Add a smoky and spicy cocktail like the Hu Hu Hala-Kahiki, made with tequila, mescal, and our homemade pineapple shrubb, and you’ve got a combination that’s guaranteed to have you coming back for more.

Matt “RumDood” Robold is a bartender at 320 Main and, in his spare runs, where he writes about rum, rum cocktails, and rum history.