geek bar

[by john, mike, naveen, david, aviv, and te]

get a couple drinks in any of us and soon we'll be fervidly discussing science or cocktails, and often both. science (science!) tells us why we like the tastes we do, how to make them better, and how to predict what you'll like next time. bold claims get bolder with each sip until we know that we (we!) can do those things better. yeah, we assert, we could totally open a bar, and apply science to make it amazing. psh, nevermind the economy and all those entrepreneurial hazards...science works.

thankfully, we always sober up, and none of us has quit his day job yet. good ideas have distilled out, though. here are the initial (feasible) ones; feel free to add your own.

overall: open, not too dark, led lighting, no kitschy beakers or lab coats
  • back-lit plates of glass along the walls for scrawling equations
  • bunsen burner mood lighting
  • graph paper napkins
  • low-key plasma screens showing real-time drink trending, and possibly kubrick or bergman flicks (or nova documentaries)
  • polarized microscopy posters
  • flash cards with tips/conversation starters for shy geeks seeking to chat up their attractive bar-neighbors
  • bookshelf of textbooks
  • overly simple web site hides the contact info and menu in the html comments
overall: lots of bartender interaction, backed with powerful statistical methods; restrained use of lab gadgets; precisely made classics and science-enhanced originals
  • menu formatted in LaTeX
  • touchscreen at tables with machine learning software to suggest drinks
  • discreet use of liquid nitrogen when suitable
  • vortex mixers
  • titrated absinthe cocktails
  • pipettes for busy nights
  • geeky original drink names: 'feshbach resonance', 'mcmc', 'sag a*', 'mixture of gaussians'
  • cocktail shakers with built-in thermometers and timers
  • endothermic glassware (an r&d project for now...)
  • pH meter for analyzing individual citrus fruits
  • bartenders speak perturbative field theory ('i'll have a next-leading order manhattan.')

makes me dizzy just theorizing about it...


september budget

[by john]

it's getting to be the same old story, but i managed another month under budget. to get more fine-grained about it, though, i spent roughly $90 on schmancy cocktails, $45 on wine and beer to bring to friends' parties, $30 on a new bottle, and $15 at the beer-after-work sort of places.

huh, that's a 6:3:2:1 ratio; is that a common one for drinks? some people swear by a 2:1:1 spirit:citrus:syrup portioning for sours, or a 4:3:2:1 weak:strong:sweet:sour for punches, so perhaps. well, not really. after looking through my recipes, the 6:3:2:1 really isn't in vogue. i did find one drink, however, from a weekly blogger think (drink?) tank:

1 1/2 gin
3/4 green chartreuse
1/2 orgeat
1/4 carpano antica
1 dash angostura

(call the tiny portion of bitters extra tips or something, if you want to be strict about it.) what kismet, though - it uses carpano antica vermouth, the bottle i just got. unfortunately, this one goes down in the average column, despite looking so tasty on paper. too sharp and too sweet, i'm afraid.

at least my spending was in tasty proportion...

review: trina's starlite lounge

[by john]

trina's, the newest neighborhood joint, opened to wildly enthusiastic glittering reviews and hype. justifiably so. i went with mike and others this past wednesday and thoroughly enjoyed myself. it was a perfect night to soak up the place's charm - no weekend crowd to wrestle with, and plenty of time to talk to trina herself (on vermouth, pie, tattoos...), who was holding down the second bar.

their menu really typifies the place. a page for cocktails and beers, a page for food, and nothing taken too seriously. the drinks are free-poured, so none of the poindexterism or reverence you'll find at drink. the bemusing, coma-inducing choices for eats included hot dogs (plus a daily kind at market price), gravy fries, mac & cheese with ritz crackers, and chicken and waffles. $9 tax-included cocktails and $5 corn dogs were fairly easy on my budget, so i was happy.

now, reviewers will tell you that the best thing about trina's is the southern diner atmosphere, or that it's part of a southern food resurgence, or that it's opening when everybody else is closing. but i think they're missing the greatest part: the cheap drunk food. not since devouring a fried kimchi dog at pdt in new york have i had the perfect greasy complement to my drink. bone marrow doesn't really cut it at craigie or eastern standard, and drink's food menu is just offensive - expensive, tiny portions. in the end, trina's drinks are above average, but i'll be going back for the pepperoni rolls.


Visual thinking for gastrophysicists

[by Naveen]

After spending too much time last week sitting through PowerPoint presentations, staring at math equations, and reading technical papers, I decided on a trio of visualizations for this post:

I. Insatiable curiosity is a desirable trait for a scientist, but can lead to problems in everyday life. Mundane tasks expand to fill valuable time as I ponder what brand of toothpaste or breakfast cereal (or granola or museli) to buy in the store. The psychologist Barry Schwartz has written extensively about the Paradox of Choice (see his TED Talk here), which prompted the idea for this table:

II. Since taking a class at the Harvard Business School this semester, I am more frequently brainstorming for business ideas. Here is one that I had a while ago for a customized mini-muffin bar. It would have the personalized, "just-in-time" feel of a good cocktail bar, since batter could be quickly mixed and baked within minutes. Multi-grain muffins could appeal to the more health-conscious crowd, seasonal ingredients could attract locavores, and decadent chocolate options could draw people from the cupcake demographic. This idea seems full of potential, but I know enough about opening a restaurant (i.e. don't do it), that I'll stick with grad school for now.

III. After outings to several of the numerous beverage establishments in Boston, I see potential for numerous synergistic restaurant co-localizations that capitalize on the modified palate after a night of imbibing. Many types of global cuisine can be tailored for this particular market, as illustrated below. I know it's far from comprehensive or accurate, but I hope it gets people thinking. As diners explore more cuisines, I think that we could see an expanding definition of what is considered "drunk food." I could go for some South African food after my next cocktail adventure, or perhaps just make peanut butter-Fluff-banana sandwiches back at home.