How to be a great giver

“The weather outside is frightful, but inside it is so delightful,” goes the old Christmas song. But ask anyone who works inside the week leading up to Christmas and they will tell you that sentiment isn’t true. The day of giving is preceded by the week of getting. Literally.

In the restaurant business there are busy days and then there are busy days. This week falls into the latter, not because there are more people but because those people have an edge. And when panic ramps up the frantic, all sorts of bizarre things happen.

In order to help, I humbly make the following recommendations, all designed to take that edge off.

• Anyone who reads this column regularly knows how I feel about premium vodka. If one absolutely insists on buying it then one should be educated on why he is buying it. And bartender extraordinaire Tony Abou-Ganim, aka the “Modern Mixologist,” is the one to do that. His new book, “Vodka Distilled, the Modern Mixologist on Vodka and Vodka Cocktails” ($22.95) will tell you all that you need to know.

All bartenders have an opinion, but as bartenders go Tony certainly has the chops to back it up: Harry Denton’s Starlight Room in San Francisco, Mario Batali’s Po in Manhattan and the Bellagio in Vegas are just a few of his former haunts. He’s also a nice guy and a regular visitor to Marin, too.

For more information, go to

• For those in a whinier, err, wine-ier, mood, might I suggest the limited release Tognetti Los Carneros 2013 chardonnay. The Tognetti family has been growing grapes in the Carneros region (just five miles northeast of the Marin border) since 1964, nearly 20 years before the region became a recognized and highly respected AVA. Since 2010 the family has made several wines of which the chardonnays are simply sublime. High in acid, with ripe delicious fruit and a rich mouthfeel from just enough malolactic fermentation to give it structure, this wine is drinkable right now, but unlike many other California chardonnays, also has the oomph to age. It ain’t no butterball, and it ain’t available at Costco, but trust me — yum, yum, yum.

Tognetti Family wines are available at the winery and at better wine retail outlets locally for $55. Go to

• Everything has become so proprietary these days. Every month or two a new corkscrew comes out that doesn’t improve at all on the on the trusty old waiter’s friend; all they do is incorporate some new patented technology that usually doesn’t work. Serrated blades, special lever action, you name it. Sometimes newer is not better.

A few years ago I featured a product in my holiday list and today it still knows no equal. Made by Cork Pops in Novato, the original Cork Pops Wine Opener is still the best wine opener for stubborn corks that I have ever used. A burst of compressed gas is inserted via a needle through the cork “popping” the cork out whole. Genius! Time and time again I have easily removed disintegrating 20-year-old corks with this product. The Cork Pops is especially good for cellared wines or for vintage port, or when you just don’t feel like messing around.

Cork Pops wine openers are now available almost anywhere wine is sold for $15 to $25. Go to

• Again, my feelings on premium vodka are really clear, but when it comes to flavored premium vodka, there is one clear standout for me — Hangar One’s Buddha’s Hand is fantastic.

Buddha’s’ hand is a type of citrus also known as the citron. The fruit looks like a bunch of lemon rinded carrots, gnarled like a hand, a Buddha’s hand to be exact. The flavor is perfumier and less bitter than your standard lemon, and when steeped in vodka what could be better? Go James Bond one further and forget the twist, because it’s already in there!

Hangar One was recently purchased by Proximo Spirits (from St. George Spirits) but don’t fret, it is still made in Alameda (100 feet from St. Georges’ old military hangar, in yet another hangar, ironically of which neither one is Hangar 1). New distiller Caley Shoemaker, formerly of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, is virtually a one-woman show keeping all the best of the brand intact but upgrading the packaging and production.

Hangar One Buddha’s Hand is available at most local retail outlets and at better bars everywhere. You know, Buddha has a birthday, too! $25 to $35. Go to

So there you have it, my suggestions for a happy holiday. Remember, never drink and drive.