Photography by Karina Ramirez
Everything in the holiday season is sorcery fueled by generosity, and to drink to the season, let’s drink a generously mixed cocktail, the Hard 8 ($12) from Vanguard Lounge. With bottles tilting in the bartender’s hands the world seems to come together in one mixing glass, because, in this drink, your classic Moscow Mule recipe finds its vodka replaced with something from a warmer latitude, Flor de Cana rum, since Christmas in Vegas is sunlit. And still even more comfort must be wrought for this drink: coat its glass in Pernod, an anise liqueur cradling the ginger beer’s bubbles as they swim up. A sip may gently numb the tongue as anise is known to do, or maybe that’s just some chipped ice touching the tongue. Either way, it’s obvious just looking at the frost gathering on the copper mug, rising and ebbing on the sides, this drink is filled with possibilities, like the holiday season.
Kalua Pig and Cabbage
It amazes me that even with the summer well behind us, it’s in the holidays that the warmest parts of our souls come out of hiding. Ancient joys float around this time of year like clouds and find their cozy homes above dinner tables, and all this warmth, all this sizzling mirth, needs some tinder, some food, but not the robotic choices (sweet hams and store-bought pies of dubious preparation). Now’s not the time for culinary boredom. We need our tongues to lead us to celebration. They lead us to somewhere far away, where warmth and celebration seem like all that separates us from the beginning of time. We’re led to Hawaii, but Hawaii in Las Vegas, feasting on Aloha Specialty’s Kalua Pig and Cabbage ($10.25). Resting on a snow-white bed of rice is slow-smoked pork that falls apart as easily as ice shearing from a glacier, and it’s with that same monumental weight that this dish attacks the tongue—instant smokiness, and you surrender yourself to the meat’s mysterious world: traditional cookeries, underground ovens, dancing, and of course oily pork spiraling into a mélange of rice and crunchy cabbage leaves. If all of that rich flavor is somehow too intense, there’s a way to relax. Served alongside the enormous plate of meat and rice and cabbage is just about the world’s smallest serving of mac and cheese, but it’s just enough to offer the stomach a chilly reprieve. Then it’s back to the pig feast! Back to the loved ones and great food that make this season.