Table Talk: Tips to Stock a Bar Cart
Plus, throwing a luncheon for friends and creating a nontraditional holiday menu
Ann Gerhart and Michael Sokolove use their bar cart for easy entertaining.
Cocktails Made Easy
When their third and final child graduated from college a few years ago, Washington Post Senior Editor-at-Large Ann Gerhart and her husband, author Michael Sokolove, bought themselves a graduation gift: a bar cart for their Bethesda living room. Gerhart loves to whip up cocktails there for friends, especially around the holidays, the way a chef turns out dinner from what’s on hand in the fridge.
Gerhart is a gin fan; she considers it the best spirit base for cocktails. (Gin and green Chartreuse is a particular favorite.) She’s also besotted with amaros, Italian herb-based liqueurs usually sipped as digestifs, and various bitters for dashes of flavor. She constantly adds to the cart. “One quickly learns that the stocking and replenishing costs a lot more than the cart,” she says. “It’s not an inexpensive hobby.”
Ann’s Party Tips
>> Offer two specialty cocktails. “Not everyone likes gin. Bourbon is a good choice for winter.”
>> Make cocktails with easy-to-remember formulas, such as a Negroni (equal parts
gin, red vermouth and Campari).
>> Choose cocktails you can mix ahead of time and just pour over ice, such as Gerhart’s version of a Left-Hand.
>> Add new, interesting spirits and bitters to your cart. Gerhart particularly loves Giffard brand liqueurs in flavors such as pink grapefruit and macerated blackberry and raspberry.
>> For a light glass of holiday cheer, serve Côté Mas Crémant De Limoux sparkling wine with a splash of Giffard Mûroise du Val de Loire (a mixed-berry liqueur) or crème de cassis and a squeeze of lemon.
>> Specialty liqueurs can be hard to find in Montgomery County’s Department of Liquor Control stores. Two of Gerhart’s trusted sources are in D.C.: Ace Beverage (3301 New Mexico Ave. NW, 202-966-4444, www.acebevdc.com) and Irving Wine & Spirits (3100 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, 202-462-4222, www.irvingwineandspirits.com).
The No-Office Office Luncheon
At holiday time 10 years ago, Nycci Nellis got together with three friends who worked from home and created the “office party for people without offices.” Nellis chronicles the D.C. area’s restaurant and bar scene on her website, thelistareyouonit.com, and on Foodie and the Beast, the Federal News Radio show she co-hosts with her husband, David. Fast-forward to 2016: A dozen or so food-world friends attend the luncheon. (I’ve been part of the fun since 2009.)
Participants take turns hosting, with that person responsible for the meal. Each guest brings a bottle of Champagne. Per tradition, founding member Amanda McClements, owner of D.C.’s Salt & Sundry home furnishing boutiques, creates a custom cocktail.
“We leave our diets at the door,” says Nellis, who mixes shortcuts with old favorites when it’s her turn to host at her Kensington home.
(Above: Nycci Nellis adds drama to a buffet luncheon by displaying dishes at varying heights. Her favorite dishes include multigrain salad, shaved Brussels sprout salad and roasted chicken.)
Nycci’s Party Tips
>> Start with snacks in the living room. “I believe in abundance,” says Nellis, who places a large spread on her living room coffee table. Use store-bought nibbles to make life easier, such as roasted nuts, Marcona almonds, dried fruits, assorted olives, charcuterie, cheeses, spreads and lots of breads and crackers.
>> Use pre-chopped or precooked ingredients where you can, such as chopped onions, celery and carrots or peeled hard-boiled eggs.
>> Set the buffet table using pedestals and crates underneath ruched tablecloths or fabric swaths to display dishes at varying heights. “It makes the table so much more dramatic,” Nellis says.
>> Use tried-and-true recipes that you’ve turned into “signature” items. Baked brie in phyllo with apricot rosemary chutney, for example, is a crowd-pleaser Nellis has been making for years from a 1996 Bon Appétit recipe. Her other holiday favorites include a caviar “torte” rich with cream cheese and sour cream (Gourmet, September 1994) and buttermilk-brined roasted chicken atop a bed of greens and croutons (Bon Appétit, April 2013).
Left to right: Cookbook author Domenica Marchetti, Washington Post Deputy Managing Editor Scott Vance and Sally Swift gather in Swift’s Silver Spring home for an Indian-inspired meal.
A Splendid Supper Party
For Sally Swift, the co-creator and managing producer of American Public Media’s The Splendid Table, and husband Michael Franz, a political science professor at Loyola University Maryland and editor of Wine Review Online, holiday dinner parties at their Silver Spring home are about the unexpected. “There’s such emphasis on traditional American food at this time of year that we like to switch it up,” Swift says. That means serving foods primarily from other parts of the world.
Swift’s favorite dishes are ones that come together quickly just before guests arrive (all the prep work having been done in advance) or ones that improve when made a day or two ahead and reheated, such as stews. Among them:
>> Larb gai, a Thai ground-chicken salad with fish sauce, lime juice, chili peppers, red onions, scallions, cilantro, toasted rice powder and chopped roasted peanuts served on a big platter with lettuce cups and lots of mint. “It’s inexpensive, fresh, bright and totally light,” Swift says.
>> Chinese braises of beef or lamb with soy sauce, ginger, sherry, garlic, star anise and red chilies. Swift calls the entrée “a celebratory dish perfect for the winter.”
>> All-tapas dinners “that would absolutely include Spanish frittata and Romesco sauce [made with roasted red peppers and almonds].”
>> A big pot of mussels steamed with white wine, garlic and lots of thyme, and maybe a splash of cream, or with coconut milk, fish sauce, chopped green chilies and plenty of cilantro. And lots of baguettes for sopping it all up.