Apr
15
2014

April 15, 2014

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Guam cuisine at Prubechu

Guam cuisine at Prubechu

Recently back from Seattle, I then headed immediately to New York to work on a Top 100 Bites & Drinks in Manhattan project via one minute videos with Tastemade (best viewed via phone app). Also, here are my new articles at 7×7 Magazine and Zagat, the latter featured in Imbiber below.

This issue:

A re-imagined Appletini from Claire Sprouse at The Square in my Zagat spring cocktail article

Re-imagined Appletini at The Square in my Zagat spring cocktail article

The LatestYou Haven’t Had Thai Like This: Painstaking recipes and ingredients with Thai-influenced cocktails at the best new Thai restaurant in town.
Imbiber10 Best Spring Cocktails: My 10 photo slideshow/article for Zagat on the top spring cocktails in SF.
The LatestGuam Island Breezes: Gourmet Chamorro (Guamanian) food and a 5 course tasting menu steal.
Imbiber7 Washington Craft Spirits You Should Know: Standouts after trying dozens of new small batch spirits hitting Washington state.

As your personal concierge who tells it like a good friend would, I also create personalized itineraries: trips, meals, explorations (under “Services“).

Virginia

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**Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Virginia Miller**

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Written by in: Intro Letter |
Apr
15
2014

The Latest

Pretty Wings

Pretty Hot Wings

You Haven’t Had Thai Like This

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

KIN KHAO, Union Square (55 Cyril Magnin St. at the corner of Ellis and Mason in Parc 55 Hotel, 415-362-7456)

Blue Flower Limeade ($5) or as Kathoey Collins (Ladyboy Collins): Akvinta Vodka, Chareau liqueur, lime, blue flowers

Blue Flower Limeade ($5) or with booze as Kathoey Collins (Ladyboy Collins), mixing Akvinta Vodka, Chareau liqueur, lime, blue flowers

Back in 1998-1999 I spent two months in Thailand – and another in Vietnam – working in orphanages and traveling around both countries. Needless to say, it was a life-altering three months, particularly during a far less touristy time in Southeast Asia. For a mere dollar or two, I ate amazing meals – and was stretched by experiencing a lot of rough conditions and indefinable “food”, bugs and animal parts included.

THE best Thai sausage

THE best Thai sausage

Rarely am I faced with some of the more fascinating elements of taste experienced in remote parts of Thailand… long before I started taking notes and photos of all my meals. While there is plenty of authentic Thai food in the US (minus the dumbed-down heat), the majority of restaurants stick to a similar menu. In LA, I can experience proper Thai heat from the second menu at Jitlada. At famed Pok Pok in Portland (now also NY), I find flavors I hadn’t experienced since 1999, creatively wrought, and also a proper use of stinky durian in dessert.

One half of Kin Khao's dining room

One half of Kin Khao’s dining room

Enter Kin Khao, a new restaurant that belongs in the genre of exceptional Thai. First, there’s cooked-from-scratch curries (most restaurants do not go through this painstaking process) and exploring oft-ignored aspects of Thai cuisine. Proprietor Pim Techamuanvivit, author of The Foodie Handbook, and the popular blog, Chez Pim, hails from Bangkok. She is seriously dedicated to sourcing the best ingredients, even including a run down to LA every week to get a very specific brand of palm sugar for dishes and cocktails, one she can’t find anywhere else.

f

Yum Kai Dao

Chef Michael Gaines (who formerly worked at Pim’s partner, David Kinch’s two Michelin-starred restaurant, Manresa) oversees Pim’s kitchen and family recipes, sending out one memorable dish after another. Oh, those curries. Massaman Nong Lai ($26) showcases a bone-in beef shank braised in Massaman curry paste and coconut milk with burnt shallots and potatoes, decadently accented by orange oil.

Crab Sen Chan ($17) local Dungeness crab meat and rice noodles wok-charred together in a zingy Chantaburi sauce made from crab fat

Crab Sen Chan ($17): local Dungeness crab meat and rice noodles wok-charred together in a zingy Chantaburi sauce made with crab fat

An off menu classic Daiquiri, created by Bon Vivants' Chad Arnholt, made with that irresistible palm sugar, resulting in an earthy, lush, tart-sweet cocktail

An off-menu classic Daiquiri, created by Bon Vivants’ Chad Arnholt, made with that irresistible palm sugar, resulting in an earthy, lush, tart-sweet cocktail – one of my favorite drinks here

If this savory curry hadn’t made impact enough, the 15 or more ingredients in Khun Yai’s green curry ($22) result in a show-stopper. Lush with coconut milk, Thai Apple eggplants, Thai basil and tender, pristine rabbit three ways – loin, saddle, and tender, herb-laden meatballs – it’s enough to make you want to give up on mediocre curries everywhere. Though expensive, the portion is plenty for two to share. I’ve brought home leftovers after every visit. Both curries taste amazing the next morning, stir-fried with eggs and rice.

There’s plenty to love beyond curries. Mushroom Hor Mok ($10) is a fluffy, cool curry mousse served in a jar, made of both wild and cultivated mushrooms, scooped up with crisp rice cakes. Pretty Hot Wings ($7) don’t approach the divine fish sauce wings at the aforementioned Pok Pok in Portland and NY, but they are juicy, marinated in Nam Pla fish sauce and garlic marinade, glazed tamarind and Sriracha. Yum Kai Dao ($7) is an unusual “salad” of deep fried duck egg, delightfully contrasted by runny yolk, the crunch of peanuts, shallots, mint, cilantro and cucumber, dotted with dollops of chilli jam.

Mushroom mousse

Mushroom Hor Mok

Sai Ua+Namprik Noom ($15), a grilled house-made Northern Thai pork sausage, is the best version I’ve ever had, including in Thailand. The sausage nearly pops with flavor, contrasted by pork cracklings and spicy pepper relish. Saeng-wah salad ($16) is an unusual play on texture. Though called a wild gulf prawn “ceviche”, it’s plump prawns over crispy catfish crumbled up, dotted with lemongrass, ginger and bird’s eye chilli. While it starts to feel like too much raw shrimp half way through, it’s a memorable play in contrasts.

Thus far, there’s one dessert. Black rice pudding ($8) is blessedly not sweet on its own, but is served with a variety of condiments: toasted rice, coconut cream, and that divine palm sugar melted like caramel, all stirred to taste preference in the warm black rice. It recalls my Thailand days where dessert, if it happened at all, was rarely ever sweet, but often comforting. This also makes a lovely leftover breakfast.

Black bean dessert

Black rice pudding

With warm service and what already promises to be the most exciting Thai food in SF, only the clean white walls and slightly generic-looking setting in the Wyndham Parc 55 Hotel (enter through hotel doors at the corner of Mason and Ellis) feels as if it’s not keeping up.

Though Kin Khao is still working out opening kinks, this is the Thai restaurant I’ve been waiting for.

Khao Mun Gai ($16) chicken fat rice, ginger-poached chicken, Pim’s secret sauce, served with cup of intense chicken consommé

Khao Mun Gai ($16): chicken fat rice, ginger-poached chicken, served with cup of intense chicken consommé

That dreamy coconut palm sugar

That dreamy coconut palm sugar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most vacation-like drink on the menu: Hua Hin Beach, a blend of Pampero dark rum, coconut cream, lime, salt, kaffir lime, and, yes, a splash of beer (in this case, stout)

The most vacation-like drink on the menu: Hua Hin Beach, a blend of Pampero dark rum, coconut cream, lime, salt, kaffir lime, and, yes, a splash of stout beer

BON VIVANTS’ COCKTAILS

With a cocktail menu ($12 each) crafted by San Francisco cocktail/design dream team, The Bon Vivants – most specifically by the talented Scott Baird – there was no way it wasn’t going to be good. Just as important, they’ve hired bartenders who can properly execute, like the talented Keli Rivers and Rhachel Shaw. In my initial three visits, I tried every cocktail on the menu – and a couple off menu – most of them refreshing, lovely accompaniments with the food.

Sao Thai (Thai Girl) on right: Ocho blanco tequila, house banana cordial, lime cinnamon Rasa Umami on left: Hidalgo Oloroso sherry, Black Grouse Scotch, house turmeric lime cordial, white pepper

Sao Thai aka Thai Girl (R): Ocho blanco tequila, house banana cordial, lime cinnamon;
Rasa Umami (L): Hidalgo Oloroso sherry, Black Grouse Scotch, house turmeric lime cordial, white pepper

Kafe Mao (drunken coffee – R): Pierde Almas mezcal, Combier cassis, coffee, cream; Tom Yum (L): Tanqueray gin, Imbue vermouth, lime, galangal, lemongrass, Abbots bitters

Samunprai Julep (Thai herb julep): Dickel whiskey, Mandarine Napoleon, Thai herbs, palm sugar, tea

Samunprai Julep (Thai herb julep): Dickel whiskey, Mandarine Napoleon, Thai herbs, palm sugar, tea

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Apr
15
2014

Imbiber

Roka Akor

At Roka Akor: Drunken Monk (L) with slice of grilled Asian pear, adding toasty notes to an otherwise bright blend of winter-spiced pear shochu, green Chartreuse, fresh orange and lemon

Article & photos by Virginia Miller

Here’s my April 10th photo slideshow and article on 10 best spring cocktails in San Francisco for Zagat: www.zagat.com/b/san-francisco/10-best-spring-cocktails-in-san-francisco#1.

A re-imagined Appletini from Claire Sprouse at The Square in my Zagat spring cocktail article

A re-imagined Appletini from Claire Sprouse at The Square

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Apr
15
2014

The Latest

Keleguen: lemon-cooked chicken, scallions, sesame seeds on coconut flatbread (tityas)

GUAM ISLAND BREEZES

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

PRUBECHU, 2487 Mission St. between 24th & 25th, 415-952-3654

Revamped interior

Merely open two and a half months, Prubechu – meaning “you’re welcome” – is easily the tasting menu steal in the city. For merely $40, it’s an imaginative five courses touched with fine dining flair in an uber-casual setting. A

s the city’s only Chamorro (Guamanian) restaurant, the island breezes of Guam first come in the form of a warm welcome from Chef Shawn Naputi and business partner Shawn Camacho (fellow Shawn and Guam native). Music envelops the still humble but completely revamped space in a warm glow that reminds me more than a little of Hawaii. The musical style evokes slack key guitar, ukulele lullabies and other sounds akin to – but different than – traditional Hawaiian music.

Amuse bouche of Somerset, WA, oysters in kiwi “mignonette” and coconut vinegar fermented to a 90 proof spirit called binakle tuba, the typical “moonshine” of Guam

Pulling from his grandmother’s recipes and the high-quality/low-price tasting menu concept modeled after Naputi’s days cooking with Chef Manny Torres Gimenez in the space’s former restaurant, Roxy’s Café (Gimenez is now down the street at The Palace), Prubechu also offers an a la carte menu ($3-16).

Changing house pickles ($3) might include eggs, cauliflower, kohlrabi, turmeric daikon, kimchee

Changing house pickles might include eggs, cauliflower, kohlrabi, daikon, kimchee

Sous vide egg, asparagus, smoked asparagus puree, achiote powder-dusted rice crackers

It’s hard to decide what I love more: the tasting menu or the a la carte offerings, the former more delicate and exciting, the latter, heartier and gratifying. Best to go more than once as you’ll want to try it all – and as soon as you wait a couple weeks, it will change again. As I’ve not been lucky enough (yet) to visit Guam, it helps to get an education on its comforting, flavorful cuisine here.

Escabeche – fish poached in citrus/rice wine vinegar – with confit baby octopus, eggplant, okra

From the a la carte menu, keleguan ($12) is mounds of shredded, lemon-cooked chicken mixed with green onions and coconut on two coconut flatbreads that look like mini-tortillas. In fact, they’re called tityas, a name derived from a Guam attempt at pronouncing the Spanish “tortillas”, given such influences on the island’s cuisine.

Another a la carte offering is tinatak ($14): tender, handmade capellini noodles, tossed with ground, sugar snap peas and okra in a lemon coconut milk sauce. It’s sheer, home-style comfort, sliding down easy with a bottle of Ballast Point Sculpin IPA ($6). Ubiquitous pickled items ($3) are a pleasurable palate cleanser, changing often but can include pickled eggs, cauliflower, kohlrabi, daikon, and a delectable house kimchee.

Chalikilis: toasted rice porridge, achiote, dried-seared-applewood smoked pork jerky (tinino katne) – like BBQ ribs rubbed only in salt, pepper and garlic – pork belly, boquerones, enoki mushrooms, sous vide quail egg, sugar snap peas

Atlantic salmon, pickled sea beans, avocado, orange, sesame seeds

Atlantic salmon, pickled sea beans, avocado, orange, sesame seeds

The five course tasting menu ($40) begins with an amuse bouche of an oyster from Somerset, Washington, bright in kiwi “mignonette” with a liquid base of coconut vinegar fermented to 90 proof, based off a spirit (the typical “moonshine” of Guam) called binakle tuba.

Counter seating

Counter seating

Sashimi-style Atlantic salmon is a pristine first course, mingling with pickled sea beans, avocado orange segments, and sesame seeds. A sous vide-cooked egg runs seductively over crunchy asparagus and achiote powder-dusted rice crackers in smoked asparagus puree. Creamy yolk, smoky notes, and fresh green crunch results in a dreamy Spring veggie dish.

Braised oxtail kadu (stew) in coconut soy vinegar broth, smoked potatoes, mung bean noodles, carrots, pea tendrils

Braised oxtail kadu (stew) in coconut soy vinegar broth, smoked potatoes, mung bean noodles, carrots, pea tendrils

Escabeche (spelled eskabeche in Guam) is slightly crispy fish poached in citrus, partnered with tender baby octopus, vibrant in rice wine vinegar. I immediately craved more of that octopus. The dish is rounded out by bits of eggplant, okra, sunflower sprouts and marinated onions.

Chalikilis is a toasted, achiote-laced rice porridge that would make an empowering breakfast. Pork belly, enoki mushrooms, a sous vide quail egg and slippery-fresh boquerones (anchovies) add intrigue to the porridge, but I found myself doing a double-take (or taste) with tinino katne, a chunk of dried, applewood-smoked pork jerky rubbed in salt, pepper and garlic, delightfully reminiscent of southern BBQ/dry pork ribs. The dish is even better with heat: a side of blissfully spicy denanche hot pepper sauce, made in house, and a staple condiment in Guam.

Salted coconut ice cream topped with toasted coconut and crumbled macadamia nuts, based on a Guam coconut treat cooked down with brown sugar

Salted coconut ice cream topped with toasted coconut and crumbled macadamia nuts, based on a Guam coconut treat cooked down with brown sugar

The last savory course: fall-apart, braised oxtail kadu, a stew in coconut soy vinegar broth, punctuated with smoked potatoes, mung bean noodles, carrots, pea tendrils. The oxtail shines, rich yet not heavy. From my limited experience, a common thread in Chamorro cuisine seems to be flavor-rich sauces, broths, and plenty of vinegar, adding complexity to seemingly simple dishes like porridge or stew.

Dessert is inspired by a popular kids treat in Guam where coconut is cooked down with brown sugar. Chef Naputi crafts salted coconut ice cream marked by toasted coconut and crumbled macadamia nuts.

Refreshing island breezes, flavors, music and farewells send me off into a warm, Spring evening, eager to return.

Tinatak ($14) handmade capellini noodles, ground chuck/beef, sugar snap peas, okra, lemon, beans?, coconut milk sauce

Tinatak: handmade capellini noodles, ground chuck, sugar snap peas, okra, lemon, coconut milk sauce

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Written by in: The Latest |
Apr
15
2014

Imbiber

Westland First Peated-Virginia Miller

7 Washington Craft Spirits You Should Know

Article and Photos (unless otherwise noted) by Virginia Miller

Three Seattle visits in the past seven months centered around craft distillery and cocktail bar research means a few spirits have stood out among the dozens I’ve tasted from Washington state, most launched in recent years. Here are my top seven from the glut of craft distillers hitting the Washington market:

BroVo SPIRITS’ AMARO PROJECT

(photo source: brovospirits.com)

(photo source: brovospirits.com)

With “Lady & Mac Made Liquor” stated on each bottle, BroVo Spirits is an intriguing line of 17 amari (Italian herbal/bitter liqueurs) and counting, made by distiller/owner Mhairi Voelsgen and distiller Mac Kenney in collaboration with hand-selected bartenders from Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago, with Atlanta soon to be released. No two amaro are alike, varying dramatically with each bartender’s recipe, ranging from spiced to floral, complex to crowd-pleasing.

Of the 11 BroVo amari I’ve tasted, I find #11 from Jon Christiansen in Seattle to be the most classic in the Italian amaro sense: balanced, bitter, herbal and sweet. He uses damiana, marigold, grapefruit peel and vanilla bean in his well-rounded amaro. One of Chicago’s best bartenders, Mike Ryan, created the #14 recipe, a unique blend that includes chocolate, sarsaparilla, cinnamon and thyme notes. The San Francisco range is broad and refined: Amanda Womack’s (of Cask) delicate, floral # 8, Suzanne Miller’s (of Novela) Indian spiced beauty # 10, or Will Popko’s (of Hard Water) aromatic pineapple sage #9.

BETE from SIDETRACK DISTILLERY

(photo source: sidetrackdistillery.com)

(photo source: sidetrackdistillery.com)

A spirit that impresses me with every sip is the uncategorizable Bete from Sidetrack Distillery in Kent, WA. The spirit is distilled from sugar beets and like the great beet cocktails I’ve had over the years, it’s vegetal, earthy, while simultaneously light and bright.

Figuring out ways to use it in cocktails may seem initially daunting, but messing around at home, I find it plays beautifully with lime, lemon and other citrus, as well as vegetables like celery. A fascinating product, never has the essence of beets quite been captured like this.

WESTLAND DISTILLERY WHISKIES

Westland-Virginia MillerIn Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood, Westland‘s 13,000 sq. ft. distillery has been getting a lot of attention – for the dramatic space, yes – but most notably for the whiskies, which are easily among the stronger American whiskey releases in awhile.

It’s tough to choose a favorite, whether Deacon Seat Whiskey or their peated whiskies. American Single Malt Whiskey is made from a pale malt base grown in Washington, redolent of chocolate, caramel and coconut. First Peated American Single Malt Whiskey is a vatting of two separate new make spirits, the first a smoky mash of peated malt, the second is the WA pale malt which balances the peat with dried fruit and bright, spiced notes, the blend spending time in ex-Bourbon and Sherry casks.

EvenStar SHOCHU from SODO SPIRITS DISTILLERY

EvenStar Shochu-Virginia MillerOpened in 2009 as the first craft distillery license in Seattle proper, Sodo Spirits Distillery’s EvenStar Shochu at first glance sounds gimmicky: flavored shochu, starting with rosemary, their first product released in 2011. But one can actually taste the barley base in the shochu itself. Though a clean spirit, it is not flavorless. Eastern Washington-grown barley shines, and they use Koji mold spores from Japan, with no sugar or flavorings added. Whether rosemary, ginger or mint shochus, all are made with fresh macerated herbs and roots, so subtle as to be but a whisper. Chili shochu particularly stood out for its barley backbone and fresh, bright chili flavor.

HERITAGE DISTILLING CO.’s CASK CLUB GIN

Heritage Barrel Aged Gin-Virginia MillerHeritage Distilling Co.’s Cask Club offers members-only special releases: their Distillers Reserve 4 year gin stands out in the over-hyped barrel aged gin category. At a boozy cask strength (62.5% ABV), it’s a unique beauty that tastes like Christmas, treacle/syrup and spice, with a long, dry finish. While I’m not as big a fan of their regular gin release, this aged version boasts a memorable profile, a truly unique barrel aged gin.

SOUND SPIRITS’ AQUAVIT & OLD TOM GIN

Sound Spirits-Virginia MillerSound Spirits‘ Ebb + Flow Gin is a balanced gin, emphasizing both herbal and citrus notes. I enjoy this gin but am even more taken with Sound Spirits Aquavit, strong on the traditional caraway, dill, coriander, fennel, anise notes, all singing together in harmony. Likewise, their Old Tom Gin is exceptional in this category of 18th century-style gin, redolent of citrus/orange and cardamom tempered by a floral presence. While many aquavit and Old Tom gins I’ve tasted blend together (or can be downright bad), Sound stands out in both categories.

SAN JUAN ISLAND DISTILLERY’s MADRONE BRANDY

Madrone Brandy-Virginia MillerSuzy and Hawk Pingree, the husband/wife team behind San Juan Island Distillery, are an inspiring couple. In their 60′s, they’ve changed careers, pursuing a passion for Calvados/brandy and cider on San Juan Island where Hawk produces cider and Suzy distills a range of spirits from ingredients foraged on the island. Most of their spirits are available to purchase at the distillery only, so it’s all about experiencing the island’s resources in its natural setting.

I particularly enjoyed their madrone brandy ($85 at the distillery), made from blackberries, madrone bark and blossoms sourced on the island. It’s complex, an elegant brandy tinged with subtle bitter and spices.

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Apr
01
2014

April 1, 2014

“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.”
― Annie Dillard, The Living

Spain's Ribeira Sacra wine region (see Wandering Traveler)

Spain’s Ribeira Sacra wine region (see Wandering Traveler)

This issue finds me in Seattle, moderating a panel on Women in Distilling at ADI’s Craft Spirits Conference, attended by over 1000 industry folk, with a gala dinner last night announcing craft spirits medal winners from the judging I was part of in February (also held in Seattle). In writing news: I’ve helped write Zagat guides, but I just wrote my first article and slide show for Zagat on a fantastic new spot, Trou Normand.

This issue:

The new Lolo (see The Latest)

The new Lolo (see The Latest)

The Latest3 Reasons To Check Out the New Lolo: One of the Mission’s long underrated gems gets a new home and new life.
ImbiberWhy You Should Hunt Down Real Schnaps: Drink lovers are missing out on the real deal. Exploring exciting producers in Austria, plus where to find quality schnaps & cocktails in the US.
Wandering TravelerThe Spain You’ve Never Met: Exploring the brilliant seafood and drink of Spain’s northwest Galicia, a region that feels as much like Ireland as Spain.
ImbiberWhite Spring: Alsace varietals (and more) in Mendocino County – and a few other Alsace-influenced wines from the West Coast.
Around the BayCarmel Weekend: A romantic hotel in the center of town with a Michelin-starred restaurant.
ImbiberImbiber: St. George Spirits lovely new Nola coffee liqueur.

As your personal concierge who tells it like a good friend would, I also create personalized itineraries: trips, meals, explorations (under “Services“).

Virginia
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Spoonwiz Restaurant Reviews & Travel Articles
Liquor.com Contributor Page
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**Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Virginia Miller**

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Written by in: Intro Letter |
Apr
01
2014

The Latest

Lolo's new space is as unique as its last

Lolo’s new space is as unique as its last

3 Reasons To Check Out the New Loló

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

LOLO, Mission (974 Valencia Street, between 20th & 21st, 415-643-5656)

Enter Lolo

Entering Lolo

Loló, with its whimsical, colorful decor and unusual interpretations of Mexican food, has been one of my underrated dining favorites since it opened six years ago. In all honesty, I miss the two-roomed intimacy of its original 22nd Street location. But since they moved just a couple blocks to their new Valencia space (formerly Lot 7), opening February 3rd, business has picked up as they’re more centered in Mission. The gains are a more open, sunny (and also noisier) space, a liquor license allowing for cocktails and agave spirits, and lunch hours Friday and Saturday.

Pancko-crusted avocado tacos

Panko-crusted avocado tacos

Panko shrimp tacos on jicama

Panko shrimp tacos on jicama

1. Loló’s Three Inventive Tacos: Co-Owner and Executive Chef Jorge Martínez has smartly kept the original restaurant’s best dishes intact – and they tend to revolve around reinvented tacos. Taco Tropical ($9) was always the most inventive. Think a thin sheet of jicama acting as a tortilla, panko-fried shrimp, pineapple relish and a healthy dose of aioli. It’s light, creamy, crunchy, and Loló’s most inventive bite.

Gold Digger cocktail

Gold Digger cocktail

Another longtime Loló fave is the tuna tacon ($10). On a traditional flour tortilla, long, rectangular, seared albacore tuna is perked up by shellfish aioli, lush avocado and roasted tomatillo sauce. On the vegetarian tip, panko avocado tacos ($9) complete this trinity of creative taco goodness. Also on a flour tortilla, melted Oaxacan cheese, caramelized onions and Anaheim peppers underlie panko-fried avocado. It’s another play in textures, vibrant with flavor.

Of the new dishes, mostly inspired by the Mexican state of Jalisco, a few are a bit of a let down, like goopy Mexiterranean cheese fondue ($9), a thick mesh of Oaxacan cheese, tomatoes, cilantro and oregano, or rather slippery huitlacoche (corn fungus) requeson cheese-stuffed wonton raviolis ($13) swimming in basil and arugula sauce. But other dishes gratify, like mezcal-soaked BBQ beef pulled short rib, tender and shredded over gorditas/corn cakes ($9).

Tuna tacon

Tuna tacon

Vibrant decor

Vibrant decor

2. The decor is still a knockout: Executive chef Jorge Martinez, his wife Lorena Zertuche (who designed the new and the original restaurant) and GM Juan Carlos Ruelas have taken over the new space with the same playful, gutsy design of the original Loló. There’s a salvaged car door wall, origami boats, cowboy boots enclosed in circles, flower baskets and, near the bathrooms, lively rooster wallpaper.

3. And then there’s the addition of cocktails & spirits: Cocktails ($11) are a welcome addition to what was already lively sangria and wines at the original location. Don’t miss out on a shot of sweetly spicy ancho chile liqueur from Gualillo, Mexico, as a digestif post-meal. Bar Managers David Gallardo and Leon Vasquez naturally go heavy on agave spirits mezcal. The nine-seat “agave bar” features a rotating flight of mezcals and tequilas (three one-ounce tastings for $10-12).

Rooster wall by the bathroom

Rooster wall by the bathroom

My favorite of all the initial cocktails is easily the Benito, served up. Mezcal mingles with herbaceous Yellow Chartreuse, lemon verbena and Aveze (Gentian liqueur), with understated heat and a subtle bitter backbone. It’s a beauty.

The crisp, clean Gold Digger would be my next choice. Also served up and featuring mezcal and Yellow Chartreuse, it plays like a twist on a clean martini, supported by tonic syrup and grapefruit bitters. There’s twists on a Moscow Mule, the Mezcal Mule, featuring mezcal and tequila, with a splash of pomegranate molasses and Angostura bitters, and a generous dose of ginger beer over crushed ice, or a drink inspired by the ubiquitous Paloma (the common cocktail in Mexico): Gin Dove uses gin instead of tequila, mixed with Campari, grapefruit soda and a little salt.

Tequila and sangrita shots

Tequila and sangrita shots

Flower wall

Flower wall

Gorditas

Short rib gorditas

 

Benito cocktail

Benito cocktail

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Apr
01
2014

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Drinking schnaps cocktails at Trocadero Club, San Francisco

Drinking schnaps cocktails at Trocadero Club, San Francisco

Why You Should Hunt Down REAL SCHNAPS

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Hochstrasser schnaps at Sporer, Salzburg

Hochstrasser schnaps at Sporer, Salzburg

Whatever association you have with the word Schnapps, or Schnaps, as it is known in Germanic countries (the word means “swallow”), it likely isn’t good. Sour apple, pucker, fruit flavors… you might think of cheap, sugary liqueurs in unnatural colors. But this, my friends, is not real schnaps.

In Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and the French region of Alsace, schnaps, edelbrande or brand (as in brandy), is another thing entirely. The French term is eaux de vie, among my favorite spirits categories and the supreme example of distilled fruits. A classic fruit eau de vie/schnaps will never be too sweet or cloying, but rather fresh, sometimes clean or lush. Production is involved, requireing tons of fruit to produce a mere bottle. The fruit is macerated, fermented, and distilled, typically in a grain liquor base, sometimes a liqueur with sugar added, other times a clear spirit.

McMenamins Pear Brandy (photo source: www.mcmenamins.com)

McMenamins Pear Brandy (photo source: www.mcmenamins.com)

One of the most classic eaux de vie, and my favorite strain, is pear, typically made from Williams pears (the same as Bartlett), aka Poire Williams. I judge American eaux de vie producers by their pear, and the best producers make a crisp version, tart with the taste of fresh pear skin, sometimes floral. In the US, I love the pear brandies/eaux de vie (and plenty of other eaux de vie) from St. George, Clear Creek (which, after decades as an independent distillery, was just sold to a larger spirits corporation so I would keep an eye out for changes in quality), Old World Spirits, McMenamins, and Stone Barn Brandyworks. While decidedly American, these are fine examples of quality eaux de vie.

The great American pioneers in brandy? Jörg Rupf, who founded St. George in 1982, brought Old World methods and precision to California from his native Germany with his brandies. Another US/California pioneer important to mention in a brandy discussion – known for his Cognac/Armagnac-quality spirits rather than for fruit brandies – is Hubert Germain-Robin, who founded Germain-Robin in 1982.

How I wish for this book to be translate to English (or better yet, I read German)

How I wish for this book to be translate to English (or better yet, wish I read German)

In Austria, there are such fantastic brands that would surely be in demand among spirits lovers in the States were we able to get our hands on them. What would it take to get more of them imported here?

I wish I spoke/read German anyway, especially while thumbing through this fantastic book, Edle Spezialitäten in Österreich, a giant, coffee table book outlining every schnaps/brandy and wine producer in Austria via photos and facts (available at Sporer in Salzburg, below). If only someone would translate this invaluable book into English.

Wall of Rochelt spirits at Culinarium in Innsbruck, Austria

Wall of Rochelt spirits at Culinarium in Innsbruck, Austria

Many schnaps made an impression this visit to Austria. One is Golles, produced in the village of Riegersburg in the region of Styria, near Hungarian and Slovenian borders. Alois Gölles distills his schnaps in copper stills, the ones I tasted boasting a rustic elegance and welcome earthiness, among the most lauded in the country.

Tyroler Single Malt Whisky

Tyroler Single Malt Whisky

Reisetbauer in Axberg, northeast of Salzburg, is a beloved, award-winning brand from Hans Reisetbauer, who leased barely 4 acres from his father’s farmland to grow fruit used strictly for schnaps. While many producers source their fruit from other parts of the country and Europe, he has direct supervision and control over fruits grown on his land. Reistebauer schnaps are clean and refined, fragrant and unique, like carrot schnaps, which reminds me of St. George’s experimental carrot brandy years back which I wish was released.

Sporer barrels, Salzburg

Sporer barrels, Salzburg

I was intrigued by and wanted to taste more Siegfried Herzog schnaps. The surprisingly refined, nutty Nusserl or hazelnut schnaps was so brilliant, I bought a bottle at Sporer in Salzburg (see below). Another Sporer win was a recommend from the shop owner: forward-thinking Hochstrasser bottles in sleek black with galaxy/space labels. They produce a range of products from zirbenz (pine liqueur) to banana liqueurs. Their fruit vakuum-destillat, or vacuum distilled, schnaps is a fascinating line. It has been explained to me as a slow-heat, slow “cook” process akin to a sous vide concept where maximum flavors are taken from fresh fruit without “overcooking”. The result, particularly with Hochstrasser’s Rote Williams Birne (red pear schnaps) is tart, clean, tasting of pear skins. I also brought home this stunner, wishing I could have transported the entire line home with me.

Rochelt (photo source: www.rochelt.com)

Rochelt (photo source: www.rochelt.com)

Rochelt is the most exciting of the many schnaps I tried and is respected – almost worshiped – in Austria. Just 15 minutes drive outside Innsbruck, Gunter Rochelt (who opened the distillery in 1989) and his son-in-law, Alexander Rainer, who now runs the business with the three Rochelt daughters, Julia, Annia and Teresa, distills a wholly different kind of schnaps. While still using fruits, from wild rowanberry to morello cherry, these are boozy, high proof schnaps, often 50% ABV or more. Bottled at cask strength and blessedly not sweet, they feel like the whisk(e)y of schnaps. Bracing and complex, I bought bottles of quince and Poire Williams, marveling at the nuance and depth of each. This is fruit liqueur from a completely fresh angle. There’s a whole wall of Rochelt for sale at Culinarium in Innsbruck (see below).

pür bierbrand (photo source: www.purspirits.com)

pür bierbrand (photo source: www.purspirits.com)

Taking an overview of the category, the range of schnaps is broad. German schnaps are often made from pears (Poire Williams or Williamsbirne), apples (often combined with pears and called Obstwasser), plums (Zwetschgenwasser), cherries (Kirschwasser), apricots (Marillenschnaps), Himbeergeist (a raspberry spirit). But non-fruit spirits are also referred to as schnaps, including popular kräuterlikör (herbal liqueurs) such as Underberg, Wurzelpeter, and the infamous Jägermeister. Bierbrand is another ubiquitous category in Germanic countries, essentially a brandy that is distilled beer. One quality brand available in the US is pür•geist bierbrand from pür spirits.

As you might suspect, we are missing out here in the states by having little access to the majority of schnaps. While I’d highly recommend traveling to Austria, I’d also love to see demand grow amongst knowledgeable industry folk (bar managers, writers, consumers, etc.) for these products, with importers and distributors working to bring more to the US. It’s time distilled fruits, nuts and the like had their day… I suspect there are many would-be fans. Consider Austria an underrated diamond in the spirits rough.

Dresden cocktail at The Trocadero Club

Dresden cocktail at The Trocadero Club

Where to drink Schnaps in the US

In LA, you can order pours of the Golles and Reisetbauer lines at Bierbeisl, a great Austrian/German restaurant. In Sacramento, there’s a surprisingly strong selection of schnaps and Germanic liqueurs to drink neat or in cocktails at hip sausage and beer house, Lowbrau. There’s also a strong collection of Reisetbauer and a few other schnaps and Germanic liqueurs at Cafe Katja in New York‘s Lower East Side.

El Chapo

El Chapo: Nocino (Italian green walnut liqueur), Mezcal, Creme de Cacao, Lillet Blanc, lemon

Trocadero Club, a newer San Francisco bar (just opened in October 2013), one of Dennis Leary’s newest spots, is ahead of the curve in its treatment of Austrian drink. Bar Manager/Partner Eric Passetti – part of the opening team for Mamacita and Delarosa and helping to run all of Leary’s bars – envisioned a bar featuring Austrian wines and schnaps. “I’m a contrarian who likes doing things other people aren’t doing,” explains Passetti. With a grandfather and great grandfather who both owned bars in San Francisco, and having bartended for 13 years himself, he wanted to do something different with this bar, noting: “The scene is exhausted as it is.”

S

Sipping a Dresden

Unfortunately, the crowds coming to the relaxed, white-walled, high ceiling bar on a grubby Tenderloin corner, are not quite there. Austrian wines have been reduced due to demand for other wines and there are really only about four schnaps, which is in part due to inaccessibility as imports. But as Passetti knows from his own research on schnaps, instead of, “being high in sugar and low in alcohol, true schnaps are higher in alcohol, lower in sugar.” He showcases schnaps in a good half of his cocktails ($10).

The Dresden shows off the subtle hops of Bierbrand with herbaceous gin, dry Italian vermouth and Green Chartreuse, while the Baroness goes a boozy-yet-elegantly sweet and bitter direction with pur spirits Bierbrand Märzan Schnaps (distilled malted barley aged in chestnut casks), sweet Italian Amaro Nonino, Tempus Fugit’s Gran Classico, and lemon juice.

Baroness  cocktail at Trocadero Club

Baroness cocktail at Trocadero Club

Where to drink Schnaps in Austria

Sitting at the bar looking at vinyl collection

Sitting at the bar looking at vinyl collection

One of the best wine and schnaps bars in Austria (and, thus, the world?) is in Salzburg. Just a couple doors down from my wonderful apartment rental on narrow, cobblestoned-lined Steingasse street, is Fridrich. Run by Fridrich himself since 1986, I would easily call this tiny wine bar one of my favorite bars in Europe. And I’m a spirits and cocktail girl first.

Intimate perfection at Fridrich

Intimate perfection at Fridrich

Though the bar, under arched stone ceiling with glowing lighting, is intimately sexy, Fridrich almost imparts a subtle punk-rock attitude to the relaxed environs. It’s partly his expert knowledge of all things Austrian – he tasted me through the crisp, earthy notes of Nigl (pronounced nee-gel) Gelber Muskateller white wine, harvested from tiered, hillside vineyards, and likewise earthy, complex Golles schnaps. Another visit, it was a glass of lovely Stiegelman Grauburgunder Weingut, a white wine I’d loved at a restaurant in the Tyrolean-chic village of Kitzbuhel.

Entering Fridrich in Salzburg

Entering Fridrich in Salzburg

The other reason for Fridrich’s uniqueness is his impeccable musical tastes and expansive vinyl and CD collection, which he plays interchangeably like a sophisticated DJ. His top of the line sound system envelops the bar with a tapestry of sound.

There’s a wonderful woman who works with him, demure yet engaging, both of them offering recommendations, pours, humorous asides. Lou Reed died the last night we were in Salzburg. Fridrich told us the news, then put on Reed’s music. We all raised a glass, shedding a tender tear. It’s that kind of a bar.

The Renaissance Man and I were so inspired, we dreamed of opening our own tiny bar like this somewhere in the world: a place where you immediately feel like a local, where what is poured and what is played is of equal importance, where there is nothing to prove, only to relax, savor to feel at home.

Where to buy Schnaps in Austria

Culinarium, Innsbruck

Culinarium, Innsbruck

Salzburg’s schnaps/brandy shop extraordinaire is Sporer, which has been on Salzburg’s main, touristy-yet-utterly-charming shopping street, Getreidegasse, since 1903. Sporer staff are informed and passionate about schnaps and can chat about it for great lengths of time, offering samples and spot-on recommendations.

In Innsbruck, don’t miss Culinarium, a father and son-run shop that’s been around over 40 years. There’s a whole wall of nearby Rochelt (see above), and fascinating local spirits like Vir Gin, an Austrian dry gin, or Tiroler Single Malt Whisky.

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