Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Hurricane mixes take bar patrons by storm

So you're going to need a hurricane sometime today, right? It is Fat Tuesday, after all. The place to go is Covington's Chez Nora with a chaser at Cock and Bull.

At least that's the verdict of judges who sampled hurricanes - a blind tasting - whipped up by nine MainStrasse bartenders in the eighth annual hurricane contest at Chez Nora.

Patti Gilliece, Nora's chef, took first place with 31 out of a possible 40 points, nosing out Bull owner and sometime bartender Craig Johnson, who finished with 30 and wondered about "hanging chads."

The judges conscientiously sipped all nine - honest. Samples were small but sips got bigger as the night wore on.

Gilliece wasn't there to enjoy her victory - "resting up for the weekend," she said - but admitted later, "I'd share the recipe, but I just threw stuff in and hoped.

"What I did was empty half-bottles that had been sitting around here for six months. I know I used light, dark, spiced and coconut rum, pineapple, orange and cranberry juice, 7-Up and orange sherbet. Peach schnapps, too.

"Proportions? Anybody's guess. I just kept tasting until it didn't taste like Kool-Aid."

After the judging, Nora's patrons - mostly there to hear Ricky Nye on piano - voted the people's choice award to Strauss House.

No French: OK, brace yourself: Jeff Ruby's in a snit about

France's lack of support for U.S. policies in Iraq and he's hitting back.

"I've kicked France out of all five of my restaurants. All the French wines, all the bottled French waters, everything. If France won't stand with us, I'll do this as a nonviolent protest to send a message that says somebody out here is waving an American flag."

How loud a message? "I can't say for sure, but I think with five restaurants, I'm the largest consumer of French wines in town. I spend over $1 million a year on it. If every restaurant in the country did this, it would send one hell of a message."

Some are. According to a wire reports published last week, it's happening in a handful of cities right now.

And yeah, Ruby knows it's going to cost him money because of inventory that distributors won't take back. "What the hell," he says, "if they won't take it back, I'll have a garage sale. If France comes around, the wines will come back."

Artsy note: Well, here's a chance you don't get every day: An autographed self-portrait from Peter Frampton. And not just any self-portrait: He did it with help from Michael Wilson, the city's top rock 'n' roll photographer with dozens of album covers to his credit.

Occasion is the second annual Brushes with Greatness, a do where local celeb types (Janeen Coyle and Chris O'Brien, Judge Sylvia Hendon, Thane Maynard) team with professional artists and make art.

The art is then auctioned at a gala with proceeds going to the American Diabetes Association Southwest Ohio Chapter.

Frampton teamed with Wilson in the latter's Court Street studio. "It's very traditional and very good, actually museum quality," Wilson says. "Peter was a good student and easy to work with. He isn't sure of his schedule, but he's going to try to be there for the auction."

The portrait is being kept under wraps until it's unveiled at the party, March 15 at the Westin; 759-9330 for info.

E-mail jknippenberg@enquirer.com

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