Monday, March 17, 2008

For St. Patrick's Day Let's Wake Up and Smell the Coffee!

(In observance of St. Patrick's Day, I am rerunning a post which originally appeared on my blog back on October 24, 2006. Later this afternoon I am hoping to have news from the federal court hearing in Los Angeles scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on the NLRB's motion for an order immediately reinstating the eight fired News-Press reporters. In the meantime, down the hatch!)

It started when I took my daughter out to dinner for her 11th birthday. We went to Palazzio which is her favorite special occasion restaurant. Time came for dessert and the birthday girl ordered chocolate cake. I wasn't in the mood for anything sweet, but suddenly the idea popped into my head and the words popped out; "I'll have an Irish coffee." Mistake.

What the waitress brought me from the bar was nothing like what I had become accustomed to from three years of living in San Francisco. Up there every bartender in town knows how to make a real Irish coffee. Heck, they have to. The Buena Vista Cafe which is credited with perfecting the American version of the drink is a civic institution. The thing the waitress brought me at Palazzio looked more like a chocolate sundae than an Irish Coffee. Topped off with whipped cream out of a pressurized can with a nozzle all that was missing was the cherry. It got me to thinking, how hard can it be to get a decent Irish Coffee in this town? Always willing to take on the toughest assignments for my readers I set out to investigate. It proved to be harder than I thought.

Over the course of three weekends I faithfully investigated. The ground rules were, walk into the bar, sit down and order an Irish Coffee. No telling the bartender how to make it, no coaching if asked and no complaining when they inevitably got it wrong. Now, this is how it should be made; coffee, Irish Whiskey, a little bit of sugar on the bottom and topped off with cream that's carefully floated on the top to form a head. When finished, it should like like a Guinness when poured into a glass.

Chuck's Waterfront Grill's version of the drink was no better than Palazzio. Coffee and whiskey topped off with whipped cream out of a can. Disappointed I forged on. I got my hopes up when I went to Rocks on State Street. I love the small European feel of their downstairs bar. Plus, they had a great looking bartender. (I know, I'll get e-mails.) But as good as she looked, she couldn't make an Irish Coffee. First, she pulled out a wine goblet. Poured some whiskey into it then filled the rest of the glass nearly to the top with coffee. Then she asked me "would you like cream?" All I could say is "yeah," what the hell, why not? No whipped cream here though. Just half and half in a little container. And its up to me to pour it into the coffee.

This investigative reporting was starting to get expensive. I decided to cut to the chase and go to an Irish bar. So late on a Sunday afternoon I stumble into The James Joyce on lower State. There's hardly anyone else in there and the bartender looks bored as hell. But she has a lovely Irish brogue. I order the Irish coffee. Without hesitation she turns around and goes into the refrigerator and pulls out what looks like a milk shake container. She sticks the metal cup into the automatic drink stirrer and then pours the whiskey and coffee. She tops it off with the freshly stirred cream out of the metal container. It floats perfectly on top of the coffee and is cool to the lips when I take my first sip. Only one thing is missing. The sugar. Still, considering what I've been putting up with lately this is pretty damn good. So good in fact, that I order a second.

Weekend number three and I'm not yet ready to call a halt to the investigation. Nope, I decided I should try the other Irish bar in town, Dargan's. The place looks more Irish than bars in Ireland. I sit down and place my order. Within a few minutes the bartender sets it down if front of me. Its all there, the whiskey, the sugar, the coffee and the piece de resistance, the freshly whipped cream floating on top. I'm on a roll! Now, even though the sugar was left out at the James Joyce the Irish coffee was only five bucks compared to $6.50 at Dargan's. It may be Irish coffee but the Scotch in me says that the James Joyce is the winner.