Oct
15
2014

Top Tastes

Tunisian pastries at Bistro L'Aviateur

Tunisian pastries at Bistro L’Aviateur

My Top Food Articles: October 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my many articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to some coverage highlights here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

New Bay Area Openings

First Look: THE HALL with 6 food and drink vendors in one food hall Mid-Market

All-day dream cafe, LES CLOS, opens from Saison sommelier Mark Bright, serving impeccable French food & wines

MARLOWE reopens in the former Coco500 space, now with cocktails

BISTRO L’AVIATEUR opens in the Mission with French-Tunsion charm

MONK’s KETTLE REOPENS with sidewalk seating and new draft system

MINI-CREAM PUFFS at new CHOUX BAKERY in Lower Haight

Every Friday: 25 NEW RESTAURANTS TO TRY IN THE BAY AREA

Divine garlic Parmesan knots with fermented tomato butter at new BR+Table cocktail paired chef's table at Burritt Room + Tavern

Divine garlic Parmesan knots with fermented tomato butter at new BR+Table cocktail paired chef’s table at Burritt Room + Tavern

Underrated & Established Spots

CHARLIE PALMER’s BURRITT ROOM + TAVERN: New Chef’s Table with cocktail pairings

OAKLAND’s HOMESTEAD, one year in

10 Great DISHES NOW at Top-Rated ZAGAT Restaurants

BOXING ROOM’s new Sunday jazz brunch

SECRETLY AWESOME: Dive bar lunch at BOX KITCHEN in a SoMa alley

PATHOS, Berkeley’s Greek dining, wine and cocktail destination

Best Thing We Ate: Avocado dish at AVELINE

10 HOTTEST NEW SF Restaurants Now

FacebookShare
Written by in: Top Tastes |
Oct
15
2014

Imbiber

Burritt Room + Tavern's Chameleon on the new fall menu

Burritt Room + Tavern’s Chameleon on the new fall menu

My Top Drink Articles: October 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my numerous articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to some of this coverage here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

Wine

All-day dream cafe, LES CLOS, opens from Saison sommelier Mark Bright, serving impeccable French food & wines

Cocktails

CHARLIE PALMER’s BURRITT ROOM + TAVERN: New Chef’s Table with cocktail pairings

MARLOWE reopens in the former Coco500 space, now with cocktails

ALTA’s new cocktail & food pairing menu, new fall cocktails, house root beer and house made spirits

PATHOS, Berkeley’s Greek dining, wine and cocktail destination

Best Thing We Drank: New Fall Cocktails at BURRITT ROOM + TAVERN

Beer

MONK’s KETTLE REOPENS with sidewalk seating and new draft system

SF CRAFT BEER Festival

Alta's Conquistador on the fall menu

Alta’s Conquistador on the fall menu

FacebookShare
Written by in: Imbiber | Tags: , ,
Oct
15
2014

Wandering Traveler

The great Canlis - head to the lounge for jazz and Scotch with a view

The great Canlis – head to the lounge for jazz and Scotch with a view

Where to Drink in SEATTLE

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller

Overlooking Canlis lounge & dining room from the stairwell leading to private dining rooms upstairs

Overlooking Canlis lounge & dining room from the stairwell leading to private dining rooms upstairs – but be aware: the cocktails run around $18

Though I’ve visited a number of times over the past 15 years, it’s 3 visits to Seattle within a 7 month period that had me up-to-date on restaurant and cocktail/bar newcomers as well as caught up on some classics I always meant to visit (hello, Canlis!)

Though many visits later, I don’t find myself having that “soul connection” I can feel so intensely with my favorite places around the world, I have dear friends who live here and have, over time, experienced more of the gems in many neighborhoods of the city. Last time, I covered Seattle food — now it’s favorite cocktails and bars.

_________________________

Artusi aperitifs

Artusi aperitifs

Being required to serve food at all bars, most bars are restaurants and some great cocktails can be found at restaurants (like a couple I covered last issue, Barnacle and The Whale Wins). I’ve also had good cocktails, if not as noteworthy at my top choices outlined below, at Artusi, an Italian aperitivo bar and restaurant where an off-menu request resulted in a delightfully bitter-refreshing cocktail of Amaro Sibilla, Broker’s Gin, lemon, soda and Nardini’s Aqua di Cedro citrus liqueur with Italian bites.

Spur cocktails can be hit-and-miss with some, like an ambitious combination of tomato, honeydew, strawberry syrup, Rhum J.M., lemon and house dandelion tincture, sounding more interesting than it tasted. Still, there is a well-curated, smaller spirits collection at the intimate bar.

Clever Bottle

Clever Bottle

Odd (and high) fellow patrons rather ruined the vibe at Clever Bottle late night (which seems a general problem in Belltown), but the staff and cocktails are otherwise pleasing, particularly a house dark fruit peppercorn shrub ($9), bracing with rye whiskey, rosemary and peppercorn. Early hours might bring a better vibe?

Triumph Bar's Big Ciao

Triumph Bar’s Big Ciao

A place that still felt like it was finding itself when I visited in April (it is now one year old) is the restaurant Triumph Bar, in the shadow of the Space Needle. Heavy on Italian wines, charcuterie and cheeses and gastropub fare, Triumph’s cocktails show promise, with subtle culinary and molecular touches, as with Big Ciao ($11), mixing gin, Green Chartreuse and lemon, garnished with poached apple and washed with olive oil. I’ve had some brilliant olive oil-washed cocktails, like Alligator Alley on Trick Dog’s menu when it first opened, that were better integrated where there was a welcome, creamy texture from the olive oil. This one was not quite there — but it was close. Other drinks that showed promise were Runoff ($12), a bracing mix of mezcal, Cynar, beer syrup, egg white and lemon, and a gratifying Rye Witch ($12) of rye whiskey, Strega and carbonated sherry (love that aspect!)

Radiator's striking barrel bar

Radiator’s striking barrel bar

Radiator Whiskey is my top Pike Place Market bar choice — and they also serve strong food (playful offal dishes like cornflake-crusted chicken livers). Their strength is a robust whisk(e)y collection alongside good cocktails like a Renegade ($10), a blend of Buffalo Trace bourbon, Del Maguey Mezcal Vida, Yellow Chartreuse, Angostura and orange bitters. I loved a cocktail special, a tart, subtly bitter Aperol Rhubarb Smash ($10) of Buffalo Trace bourbon, mint, Aperol, lemon, rhubarb bitters.

Gorgeous: Bastille

Gorgeous: Bastille

A notable Ballard duo? Bastille charms, hidden in the back of popular Stoneburner. It’s a massive, romantic, brick-walled space, made even more romantic with live jazz sets (Django-esque, gypsy jazz on my recent visit) under sparkling chandeliers. The drinks aren’t amazing but they are well-crafted, like a Skiff Club ($10), combining gin, grapefruit cordial, rhubarb amaro, lemon, ginger and truffle salt — I wish the rhubarb and salt would have been apparent.

The Gerald

The Gerald

The Gerald is memorable for its mid-century, 1960’s look and blonde wood walls. Cocktails are ambitious and utilize small batch spirits, even if they don’t always quite work, as with a Draper Point ($10), imitating elements of Pennsylvania’s Root, a root beer/sarsaparilla liquor: bourbon, black tea, sweet vermouth, Root, apricot liqueur, Angostura bitters, orange peel and nutmeg. The drink neither tasted like Root or root beer, lacking had a distinct flavor profile. Still, I appreciate the vision behind it. A stronger cocktail was Don’t Stop the Bete ($11), using Sidetrack Distillery’s excellent Bete liquor (an earthy beet liquor I wrote about months back), mixing it with Krogstad Aquavit, simple syrup, lime, cucumber and dill for a still somewhat muddled but ultimately vegetal, bright drink.

Sun Liquor's beautiful bar at the distillery (see below)

Sun Liquor’s beautiful bar at the distillery (see below)

My Top 12

LIBERTY BAR, Capitol Hill

Liberty's back bar

Liberty’s back bar

I’ll just say it: Liberty Bar is the bar I’d rather be at any day than Canon (see below). The vibe is chill, there’s sushi and a rock star-esque hidden back room (like a green room), and the spirits collection is in the hundreds with one of the most extensive selections of Japanese whisky, American whiskey and mezcal you’ll find in Washington, thanks to owner Andrew Friedman.

Point of No Return cocktail

Point of No Return cocktail

Most importantly, one won’t find attitude in this laid back spot for excellent spirits and wonderfully affordable cocktails. On occasion, cocktails can wow, as with Keith Waldbauer’s Point Of No Return ($9). Gin, Chartreuse, absinthe and lime juice are poured over a mini-rosemary wreath in a glass and set on fire, releasing rosemary aromatics. The drink is herbaceous, almost alive with fresh, green life. Friedman’s Seattle Sour ($10) is a playful duo of bourbon, lemon juice, Stumptown Coffee Liqueur, and egg white, topped with beer foam and served with a shot of beer. It goes down all too easy.

ROCCO’S, Belltown

Rocco's

Rocco’s

Don’t let the casual vibe with (quite good) pizza by the slice under a pressed tin ceiling fool you. Rocco’s serves some seriously great cocktails, thanks to bar manager Leroy Thomas, who knows his regulars and gives everyone a hearty welcome. Visiting bars around the world, I find Thomas one of the great Seattle bartenders: he knows his spirits and cocktails, runs his bar without pretension, setting a fun tone for his customers.

Build

Build-your-own-cocktail

Rocco’s spirits and beer selection are top notch and Thomas’ cocktails ($9-12) shine, often with classic, 3-4 ingredient simplicity and perfection, like a mix of Underberg, Buffalo Trace bourbon, Cardamaro and Zucca aperitif. I particularly like Thomas’ build-your-own cocktail ($12), exquisitely served on a silver tray with shrub, spirit and soda to mix to your preference. House shrubs are bracing (thank you, vinegar) and delicious. Combinations might include a strawberry shrub with blanco tequila or a cherry coffee shrub with Courvoisier Cognac.

ESSEX, Phinney Ridge

Cocktailing at Essex

Cocktailing at Essex

Tucked away on a quiet, suburban-like street next door to pizza favorite Delancey is its sister bar, Essex, a real respite of a cocktail haven with soothing setting, friendly bartenders, a ’90s hip hip soundtrack some late nights and a mix of creative cocktails (generally $10) that aren’t fussy and often shine on the bitter side.

Cozy Essex

Cozy Essex

Bar manager Niah Bystrom serves beauties like Pink Drink 0n tap mixing Lillet, Cocchi Rosso, Dolin Blanc vermouth, spiced brine and — a pleasing surprise — a splash of Gruner Veltliner wine. Beer cocktails are also well done, like Little Rascal, mixing Espolon blanco, Burg’s Extra-Special Orange (a house citrus liqueur – read about it here), Campari, lemon and Avery White Rascal beer.

In the “off menu test,” which I often try after sampling a range from the menu, Bystrom did not disappoint — and won points with the Cash song reference — in Boy Named Suze, a bracing blend of bourbon, Cocchi Rosa, barrel-aged gin and Suze. Another standout was Dennis the Menace, a mix of rye whiskey, Del Maguey Mezcal Vida, lime and soft touch of watermelon puree, balanced by an IPA beer reduction.

Back Door at Roxy's (see below)

Back Door at Roxy’s (see below)

ZIG ZAG CAFE, Downtown

The great Zig Zag

The great Zig Zag

The great Zig Zag. Though legendary Seattle bartender Murray Stenson may no longer tend there (now at The Elysian Bar), the low key bar with a touch of jazz era elegance has no shortage of great bartenders and an impeccable spirits collection.

The cocktails are solid but that’s not so much the point here. At Zig Zag it’s the vibe, the classy, warm welcome and the spirits knowledge of the bartenders that draws me back.

BA BAR, Central District

Ba Bar

Ba Bar

Ba Bar‘s cool, modern Vietnamese vibe and artwork glows late into night (the bar is open until 2 or 4 am, depending on the night), a laid back yet hip backdrop to creative cocktails sometimes with Asian touches. Try the beautiful Cherry Rose & Apple Blossom ($10), a tart-refreshing combination of Tieton Cherry Apple Cider, Aperol, BroVo Spirits Rose Geranium Liqueur, lime and egg white.

SUN LIQUOR, Capitol Hill

Grain sourced for distilling at Sun

Organic wheat sourced for distilling at Sun

Sun Liquor has two bars, the lounge and the bar and distillery. I’m all about their mid-century decor and design aesthetic. And having the distillery in-house is a huge win at the Pike Street location.

Sun Liquor's copper pot still

Sun Liquor’s copper pot still

I spent a lovely afternoon with Head Distiller Erik Chapman walking through his distilling process and future plans for the expanding Sun Liquor businesses. While Sun is known around WA for their gin, I much prefer their rum, which has an unexpected rhum agricole funk and liveliness with a dry sherry finish from sherry casks. Their barrel-aged rum uses 100% cane juice, fermented for ten days before being distilled twice in their lovely copper pot still, then aged in American oak and French oak sherry casks for 2 years.

Hand-cranked cardamom goes into orange bitters

Hand-cranked cardamom goes into orange bitters

Another surprise is Chapman’s aromatic orange bitters. With an unmalted, non GMO organic wheat base, the bitters taste intensely of orange blossom, fresh and bright, with a touch of juniper, coriander, cardamom.

At the bar, drinks are simple but well done, like The Artemisia ($9), an ideal aperitif of Dolin Genepy des Alpes, Salers Aperitif, lemon peel, Sun’s aromatic orange bitters and a splash of Zardetto champagne.

RUMBA, Capitol Hill

Rumba

Rumba

When it comes to rum, blessedly colorful Rumba bar and dining room (though I found the food mediocre) is Seattle’s rum bar of choice, featuring over 250 rums available in themed flights ($13-21) from my beloved rhum agricole to “spice”.

Cocktails stick to classic, 3-4 ingredient perfection (never too sweet), using impeccable ingredients, as in the case of Scarr Power ($10), featuring the great Smith & Cross rum simply mixed with nutmeg syrup and lime. Daiquiri du Bresil ($10) is another pleaser with great Banks 5 rum, Gifford’s Creme de Banana liqueur and lime. As an agricole girl, I go straight for a classic Ti Punch ($9-11) mixing a choice of agricole rhum with cane syrup and lime. Each transports to a tropical island.

NEEDLE & THREAD, Capitol Hill

Needle & Thread

Intimate Needle & Thread

Upstairs from the ever popular Tavern Law, I find less attitude than downstairs, despite the exclusivity at the sexy den known as Needle & Thread. Bartenders custom craft cocktails that are sometimes from the downstairs menu. One visit, I was particularly impressed with cocktails from bartender Tim Nguyen, including a drink he won an Averna cocktail competition with, A Whole New World (yes, an Aladdin song reference): Averna, lemon, jasmine-infused Old Overholt Rye Whiskey and honey simple syrup.

N&T's romantic setting

N&T’s romantic setting

Another standout drink of Nguyen’s from the Tavern Law menu was All Bets Are Off ($13), an herbaceous-bitter-sweet mix of rye whiskey, Genepy, Cocchi Americano, Cynar artichoke liqueur and peach bitters. Likewise, I enjoyed bartender Amanda Reed’s Honey Badger ($12), a bourbon-based drink subtly sweet with Giffard’s banana liqueur, spiced with Becherovka, balanced by dry vermouth and lemon.

Leon Baham’s Dusky Hummingbird ($15) also delighted, a bright-meets-smoke blend of mezcal, lychee liqueur and lime with an absinthe rinse. An off-menu bartender’s choice standout? A pink-dry-herbaceous blend of Genepy, Campari and lime made effervescent with Prosecco.

ROB ROY, Belltown

Rob Roy cocktails & animal foot lamp

Rob Roy cocktails & animal foot lamp

Though Rob Roy was one of the early bars on the cocktail renaissance map in Seattle, thanks to the talented Anu Apte, my recommendation comes with a caveat. Visiting on different nights during various times of year, the crowd — namely on a Friday night — can be downright creepy (think girls laughing about date rape that they audibly claim happens after encounters at this bar). Such a crowd almost turned me off forever to this bar and I only returned with industry friends from other cities who felt they had to go. On a mellow weeknight it was a different vibe entirely.

Rob Roy has consistently crafted some of Seattle’s best creative cocktails and the staff are quite friendly and knowledgeable, ready to chat when not mobbed by an absolutely awful Belltown party/pick-up crowd. Classic Rob Roy/Apte drinks like a Saffron Sandalwood Sour ($12), a soft but distinctive mix of gin, lemon, lime, saffron sharbat, Angostura bitters and egg whites, put this bar on the map.

WITNESS, Capitol Hill

A twist on a Toronto cocktail

A twist on a Toronto cocktail

I was there on Witness‘ opening night last year and back again this year. With its old country church decor — including quotes from historic preachers like Jonathan Edwards lining the back hall leading to the bathroom — immediately charmed me about this place. Serving the likes of Dixie Poutine ($8) laden with bacon gravy and pimento cheese, or savory-sweet cherry onion fritters ($6), I was hooked since opening night.

Witness church-themed decor

Witness church-themed decor

Cocktails are likewise a good time, whether dreamy dessert Root Down ($9), mixing Fernet Branca, iced chicory coffee and condensed milk, or simple drinks using local spirits, like Soul Tonic ($8) featuring Seattle’s Big or Sun Liquor (see above) gin with tonic and house aromatic lime cordial. The Jonathan Edwards ($12) tributes the preacher with a listed ingredient as “Wrath!” (referring to his legendary “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon). The drink combines Angostura bitters, Cognac, Cointreau, lemon, sugar and egg whites. An off menu pleaser from my last visit one mellow afternoon was a Divine Intervention (aka bartenders choice – $8-12), a twist on a Toronto cocktail: bourbon, lemon, Cherry Heering, spritz of Pacifique absinthe.

BARRIO, Capitol Hill

Emerald City Daiquiri at Barrio

Emerald City Daiquiri at Barrio

Multiple visits and Barrio has done me right on the tequila and mezcal front each time I drop in and sit at its huge, wrap-around bar. Though in Washington one typically does not find the vast range of agave spirits California bars have long had access to (due to liquor law differences and, of course, California’s long-dominant Mexican population and proximity to Mexico), Barrio is one of the strongest agave spirits selections I’ve found in Seattle — with plenty of whiskey besides.

Friendly staff bring out bowls of guacamole and pour housed aged spirits like a woody and warm Aha Toro Anejo aged in Woodinville rye barrels for 6 months. I like the hint of heat behind Death in the Rio Grande ($10), which comes from a ghost chile-infused reposado tequila, lime, grapefruit, Campari and agave nectar. Though it’s not a rum bar, I love their Emerald City Daiquiri ($11), showcasing neighboring Sun Liquor’s (above) silver rum, Genepy, sugar and lime.

HAZELWOOD, Ballard

Hazelwood

Hazelwood

With two floors oozing intimate quirk and romance, Hazelwood is my kind of hangout. There are merely four stools at the tiny bar, while upstairs couches are the other seating options under crystal chandelier and mounted animal skulls and horns.

Bartenders tend to be friendly, able to craft something interesting from the small but thoughtful spirits collection.

The striking bar at Back Door at Roxy's

The striking bar at Back Door at Roxy’s

Dives & Quirky Spots

Hattie's Hat

Hattie’s Hat

In the Fremont district of Seattle, Back Door at Roxy’s has drawn me back a couple of times, not so much for the solid (if at times slightly too boozy-sweet) drinks, but for the unique atmosphere. The exterior belies a flashy interior that borders on gaudy kitsch and retro elegance simultaneously. It exemplifies a sort of Rat Pack Vegas swagger though entirely laid back.

On the dive bar front, Hattie’s Hat is a heartwarming kind of dive — certainly not for high quality drinks (think kitschy, like a smoked salmon Mary using smoked salmon vodka), but for its atmosphere, musty with vintage paintings and hearty platters of fried chicken and egg scrambles. The tunes (which can often be ’80s pop and rock classics) are just right and the booths spacious, ideal with a group of friends.

Not So Much

Quirky-elegant Back Door at Roxy's

Quirky-elegant Back Door at Roxy’s

I won’t win any friends giving anything other than glowing praise for Canon, considered by Seattle-ites and many “in the industry” a temple to spirits and cocktails, winning numerous awards and on “best bar” lists everywhere.

The most notable aspect is its famed 1000+ spirits collection, which is excellent… but honesty compels me. It’s not the spirits collection, listed on an iPad (as is common for wine lists at fine dining restaurants in many cities). The spirits selection (and the fantastic whiskies in the bathroom!) is a delight for any spirits aficionado. Nor is it the cocktails, which, though overpriced, can be memorable, like Milk ‘n Cookies ($16), which when I first tried it in February before it was on the menu was a mix of Bols Genever, dark chocolate, Averna, black tea and egg cream with a mint rinse. Returning to Canon in April, I noticed it was on the menu combining Cognac, Ardbeg, chocolate, milk and Angostura bitters with a Fernet Branca rinse.

Canon's impressive spirits selection

Canon’s impressive spirits selection

The detractor each visit is the service. Unlike some of the great cocktail and spirits temples around the globe, the attitude here feels more about the “look at me, I work here” variety with a bit of disdain towards the customer rather than a warm, unpretentious air that makes bars with impeccable knowledge and collections truly great.

Oddly enough, each time I’ve been in (and I have not wanted to return but every industry visitor to Seattle feels they must check it out), it has been with key drink industry figures — master distillers, bar managers, spirits writers and the like, from around the world — and yet service has still been cautiously friendly at best, generally aloof and “too cool” for its patrons, no matter how knowledgeable they are, as a rule.

There are many places to find well-crafted drinks and solid spirits selections in this city alone — and globally there are countless bars with profound spirits collections and truly warm service. Frankly, though you will doubtless hear the opposite from everyone else, there are many better bars in Seattle and I would recommend saving your time (and money) and going elsewhere.

FacebookShare
Written by in: Wandering Traveler | Tags:
Oct
15
2014

Imbiber

Whiskyfest 2014 – 8 Top Tastes

Article by Virginia Miller; photos from brand websites

It was another great year of whiskey, whisky and beyond (Cognac, gin, beer, etc.) at WhiskyFest San Francisco on October 3rd at the SF Marriott Marquis  – a massive whisk(e)y tasting event featuring distillers and brand ambassadors from around the world, held only in SF, NY and Chicago annually.

Charbay Release III

Charbay Release III

This year, here were my top 8 tastes, mostly from new releases.

1. Charbay Whiskey Release III from the Pilsner Collection
Marko Karakasevic has done it again with his stunning, complex Release III whiskey, in keeping with Release I and II, longtime favorites and game-changing American whiskies for me years ago. It is another (pricey) rarity — as is his incredible aged sipping rum, out later this fall.

2. Bowmore 23 year
Bowmore 15 year Darkest has long been one of my favorite Islay (read: peaty, smoky) whiskies, gorgeous in its balance and sophistication. The 23 year Bowmore keeps right in line with the distillery’s excellent line of Scotch, this one aged 23 years and finished in port butts for 6 months.

Octomore 6.1

Octomore 6.1

3. Wild Turkey Diamond
Though released in August, this special whiskey just arrived in San Francisco post-Whiskyfest, with only 11,000 cases worldwide. The man, the legend, Jimmy Russell, was at Whiskyfest SF again this year with his son and master distiller Eddie, who poured this special anniversary whiskey for us. It is a blend of 13 to 16 year old whiskeys from hand-selected barrels chosen by Eddie. It’s elegant, bright with fruit, subtly sweet, with caramel bourbon notes and gentle spice. It’s a beauty and a special tribute to Jimmy’s decades of distilling.

4. Bruichladdich’s Octomore 6.1
The Octomore releases are always fascinating each year, if not a push to the extremes of peat. This year’s Octomore 6.1 surprised me. I taste each edition annually and found this one more balanced than in years past. There’s a subtlety to the 6.1 that undergirds all that peat. A standout I’d like to revisit.

tullibardine-25yo5. Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy
Named after the master distiller at New Midleton, a beautiful distillery I visited in 2011 (home to production of Jameson, Redbreast, Green and Yellow Spot and numerous Irish whiskies), Barry Crockett Legacy is a limited release each year since 2011 and this year was a lovely edition, showing off the nuances of Irish whiskey with notes of bright peach contrasting with whispers of hay, citrus and toffee.

6. Tullibardine 25 year
This malt-forward Scotch line tends to be pretty soft across the board but each iteration gains complexity aged in different casks and wine barrels (like the interesting Sauternes-aged Scotch). Tullibardine 25 year is aged in ex-Jim Beam and Heaven Hill barrels, then in Burgundy Pinot Noir casks, finished in Pedro Ximenez (PX) and Oloroso sherry casks for 18 months. Those layers unfold as one sips, from sherry spice to vanilla and caramel notes of the bourbon casks.

7. 40 Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve
We don’t get enough of the better Canadian whiskies imported, it’s true. So it’s nice when we do and Forty Creek is one such producer, thanks to winemaker-distiller John Hall. 40 Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve is double barrel aged, with vanilla, nutty notes and a long finish, while the new Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve exhibits rye spice but is smooth and rounded from the wine barrels it is aged in.

8. BenRiach Authenticus 25 year
This rare BenRiach 25 year release is subtly peated, sweet and herbaceous, soft yet fascinating, a fine member of an underrated Scotch line.

FacebookShare
Written by in: Imbiber | Tags:
Oct
01
2014

October 1, 2014

“Faith comes and goes. It rises and falls like the tides of an invisible ocean. If it is presumptuous to think that faith will stay with you forever, it is just as presumptuous to think that unbelief will.”
― Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor 

Hakkasan's new fall menu (see "Top Tastes")

Hakkasan’s new fall menu (see “Top Tastes”)

In a matter of days, I leave for Hong Kong (thinking of the locals daily as they bravely and peacefully protest for democracy) and Japan, a trip that has taken an immense amount of work to plan and is a long-held dream come true. I spent 3 life-changing months in Southeast Asia over a decade ago working in orphanages and traveling around to multiple regions but have yet to be in more than an airport in Japan. It’s an 11th anniversary celebration for myself and the Renaissance Man and will result in some forthcoming articles — stay tuned.

In other publications, here’s my recent articles at Blackboard Eats on top dishes to eat now (I wrote the second half of the list) and 6 top cocktails now (the entire article is mine). Also, my latest at Liquor.com.

This issue:
New cocktails at La Urbana (see "Imbiber")

New cocktails at La Urbana (see “Imbiber”)

Top TastesMy Food Articles, September 16-30: 13 of my latest Zagat articles on new restaurants, hot brunch and sushi spots, notable food events and classes and more.
ImbiberMy Drink Articles, September 16-30: 9 of my latest Zagat articles on new cocktail menus from SF to Oakland, Whiskyfest and Oktoberfest recommends, an unexpected tequila/mezcal haven in a strip mall in Sonoma County, and elevated cocktails at the new 49ers stadium.
Wandering TravelerWhere to Eat in Seattle: Dozens of places later, the good, the bad and the mediocre, after 3 visits to Seattle within 7 months.
ImbiberFacundo Rum Collection: A unique collection of 4 rare rums released in only 4 US cities.

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

Virginia

CLICKABLE LINKS to Social Media & Articles:

Twitter
Facebook

Liquor.com
Zagat
7×7 Magazine
Spoonwiz
Pinterest

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

FacebookShare
Written by in: Intro Letter |
Oct
01
2014

Top Tastes

Lazy Bear: the view from the upstairs lounge overlooking the main dining room

Lazy Bear: the view from the upstairs lounge overlooking the main dining room

My Top Food Articles: September 16-30

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my many articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to some coverage highlights here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

New Bay Area Openings

First Look at sold out, ticketing-only LAZY BEAR, a cult pop-up turned restaurant

First Look inside the newly-renovated QUINCE

HECHO opens in the Castro with Mexican-American food (with a Tex Mex slant) & tequila/mezcal cocktails

Every Friday: 25 NEW RESTAURANTS TO TRY IN THE BAY AREA

Underrated & Established Spots

10 Hottest SF & Oakland BRUNCH SPOTS now

Authentic Oaxacan dishes at AGAVE MEXICAN in HEALDSBURG

7 Hottest SUSHI RESTAURANTS now in the Bay Area

Top dishes on HAKKASAN’s new fall menu

Best Thing We Ate: RICH TABLE’s raw halibut with bone marrow “puree”

Events

MICHAEL MINA’s Tailgate Parties and new Bourbon Steak & Pub at the 49er’s LEVI STADIUM

What’s new at OFF THE GRID’s TWILIGHT at the PRESIDIO – sunset by Golden Gate Bridge with cabana rentals and fire pits

SOBA NOODLE & PASTA Workshops in SF and Healdsburg (Sonoma County)

SCHROEDER’S OKTOBERFEST Events

FacebookShare
Written by in: Top Tastes |
Oct
01
2014

Imbiber

New cocktails at La Urbana in celebration of their 1 year anniversary

New cocktails at La Urbana in celebration of their 1 year anniversary

My Top Drink Articles: September 16-30

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my numerous articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to some of this coverage here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

Whisk(e)y

Seminars not to miss and legendary whisk(e)y figures at this year’s WHISKYFEST on October 3

Cocktails

2 new OAKLAND COCKTAIL destinations, from Tiki-meets-Africa to an art deco Uptown hangout

New cocktails to celebrate LA URBANA’s one year anniversary

Top cocktails on HAKKASAN’s new fall menu

Mezcal and tequila collection & cocktails at AGAVE MEXICAN in a HEALDSBURG strip mall

Not your average football drinks: COCKTAILS at the 49er’s new LEVI STADIUM

Trendspotting: refreshing FLIP COCKTAILS

HECHO opens in the Castro with Mexican-American food (with a Tex Mex slant) & tequila/mezcal cocktails

Beer

SCHROEDER’S OKTOBERFEST Events

FacebookShare
Written by in: Imbiber | Tags:
Oct
01
2014

Wandering Traveler

Seattle view out to the mountains

Seattle hotel view out to the mountains

Where to Eat in SEATTLE

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller

Mamnoon's dining room (see below)

Mamnoon’s dining room (see below)

Though I’ve visited a number of times over the past 15 years, 3 visits to Seattle within a recent 7 month period has me up-to-date on restaurant and cocktail/bar newcomers as well as caught up on some classics I always meant to visit (hello, Canlis!)

Though many visits later, I don’t find myself having that “soul connection” I can feel so intensely with my favorite places around the world, I have dear friends who live here and have, over time, experienced more of the gems in many neighborhoods of the city.

This time around, we’ll talk food, next time, cocktails and bars.

Seattle Favorites

BARNACLE, Ballard

Intimate Barnacle - one bar with one table in the back

Intimate Barnacle – one bar with one table in the back

In my many visits to Seattle, there have been countless restaurants that have been disappointing. Many are overrated or some are just not memorable in the scheme of restaurants nationally and internationally.

But there is a quartet of restaurants from Renee Erickson that have been consistently amazing, three of them taking up my top Seattle recommends (the fourth is Boat Street Cafe). I visited each of Erickson’s restaurants with low expectations and every time have come away impressed and delighted, finding each to be “quintessential Pacific Northwest cuisine,” or what one hopes that term would exemplify. Wherever you live, I highly recommend Erickson’s just released (on 9/30) book, A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus, a striking tome to the seasons and the style of cooking his restaurants showcase.

Barnacle amaro cocktails

Barnacle amaro cocktails

None more so than Barnacle, the newest of his restaurants which had just opened during my February visit. Sitting at one long counter in an intimate space hidden upstairs across the hall from the Walrus and the Carpenter (see below), Barnacle is an intimate seafood lover’s treasure serving a short chalkboard menu of daily changing small plates, all seafood focused, and ideak parings of Italian amaro in simple but well-executed cocktails.

Sardines in Calabrian chiles & slivers of butter

Sardines in Calabrian chiles & slivers of butter

Think the likes of whisper-thin octopus terrine ($10), drizzled in luxurious Ligurian olive oil and lemon, or spanking-fresh sardines ($8), perked up by Calabrian chiles and thick slivers of butter (shockingly fantastic when mixed together), served with Saltine crackers.

Pair these with a bracingly bitter-refreshing Chinato cocktail ($10), mixing one of my favorites, the ultra-bitter Amaro Sibilla with Italian Chinotto soda. End the night with a Calabrian cafe ($10), an Amaro CioCiaro-based coffee cocktail laden with cream and chocolate bitters.

THE WHALE WINS, Fremont

The Whale Wins

The Whale Wins

The airy, white space of Whale Wins calls out to me at lunch, and an idyllic lunch it makes, when it’s easier to get a table due to no reservations. A big hit from Renee Erickson, it’s another restaurant where seafood shines — like plump Matiz sardines on toast ($10), slathered with curried tomato paste, shaved fennel and olive oil. But  vegetables likewise star. Possibly my favorite dish here? A decadent toasted broccoli ($12) — yes, decadent. Doused in pine nut dressing, ricotta salata and olive oil, the greens are redolent of orange, what broccoli might taste like if it were dessert.

Cocktails at Whale Wins

Cocktails at Whale Wins

Cocktails ($10) are also strong here, with balanced beauties like the Resucitador, a blend of mezcal, orgeat, Cocchi Americano, lemon and Pernod for an absinthe perk, or a Normandy Old Fashioned showing off Calvados apple brandy with black tea syrup and Old Fashioned bitters. Happily, crisp Austrian and French wines dominate on the wine list.

WALRUS & THE CARPENTER, Ballard

Walrus & the Carpenter chandelier

Walrus & the Carpenter chandelier

Opening before the other two aforementioned Erickson restaurants, Walrus and the Carpenter has been a destination Seattle restaurant for years. And with good reason. Though the no reservations policy is maddening anywhere (many of us who care the most don’t have hours to wait for a seat anywhere, especially, when marathon-ing multiple meals a day), a seat at the wrap-around counter at Walrus is another pleasure of a journey through Pacific Northwest seafood, with plenty of oysters  — I tried Flapjack Point oysters from Eld Inlet, Boomstick & Sea Cow from Hammersly Inlet.

Grilled sardines ($12) walnuts, parsley, shallot

Grilled sardines ($12) walnuts, parsley, shallot

Perfect white anchovies ($10) taste brighter with beets and orange, while giant Weathervane scallops are luxurious raw as tartare ($14), vivid with grapefruit puree, vanilla oil and basil.

Cocktails didn’t exactly wow but they were solid and work with the food, a better option of the 6 I tasted being The Scottish Breakfast ($10), a blend of Scotch, Caol Ila marmalade, Nardini and cider.

Il Corvo's

Il Corvo’s almond green pesto percatelli

IL CORVO, Pioneer Square

Tables marked with the restaurant name

Tables marked with the restaurant name

Lines form early for this small, weekday lunch-only Seattle favorite, Il Corvo, where the offerings are three daily changing pastas (generally around $9) and some antipasti options as well as vermouths on ice. Word has long been out about this classic which nails what it does with simple perfection. I wondered if the spot would be worth the lines and got there just before opening at 11am. It is one of Seattle’s unique gems that doesn’t mimic greats in another cities but stands alone as a destination pasta stop. Pictured above is a dreamy almond green pesto percatelli pasta.

RESTAURANT ROUX, Fremont

Shrimp and grits with grilled bread

Shrimp and grits with grilled bread

Restaurant Roux is one of my Seattle favorites not so much because it transports me to New Orleans (it doesn’t) but its New Orleans-influenced, West Coast cooking has heart and it comforts, while the bustling, ever-packed space engages, particularly around a giant, square bar that surrounds the center kitchen and bar.

I savored frog legs ($12) and fried chicken gizzards ($5), crispy pig ear in Buffalo sauce ($6) and shrimp and grits ($16). In addition, cocktails are also a draw, thanks to Ian Cargill (formerly of Canon). Think Nola tributes like Battle of New Orleans ($10), mixing bourbon, anisette, orange bitters, Peychaud’s bitters and absinthe.

KEDAI MAKAN, Capitol Hill

Kedai Makan

Kedai Makan

Hipster, it is, but there are more than a few things about the walk-up window and bright red sidewalk stools at Kedai Makan that remind me of my months traveling around Southeast Asia. Apparently that was the inspiration from owners Kevin Burzell and Alysson Wilson who opened the place in 2012 after traveling around Malaysia.

Think Malay-style peanuts roasted with crispy anchovy, kaffir lime leaf and chilis, or murtabak, Malaysian roti filled with mint and spice-laced lamb with spicy dhal curry for dipping. It’s all fresh, alive with flavor and affordable, with little over $10.

REVEL, Fremont

Revel's carrot pancake

Revel’s carrot pancake

One of the hip Asian fusion spots we’ve known for years on the West Coast, Revel stands out in Seattle for its fresh, fun food and on my visit, a rousing ’90s hip hop soundtrack, especially appealing on a sunny day on the back deck.

A cumin-heavy carrot pancake is studded with pecans and roasted lemon yogurt ($10), while dumplings get creative in forms filled with pork and coconut ($9) in green curry. Larger plates also work, like Dungeness crab over seaweed noodles ($16) in a spicy red curry cooled by creme fraiche.

FUJI BAKERY, International District

Fuji Bakery pastries

Fuji Bakery pastries

Though Fuji Bakery is a bakery and thus should belong in my bakery section below, I include it here because it is one of my favorite Seattle stops (with another location in the Bellevue area of Seattle).

This humble shop is a gem of a bakery serving Asian-inspired pastries done in French (read: buttery) style. There are savory curry buns, classic French croissants and matcha azuki, which is sweet matcha dough filled with red bean paste, drizzled in sesame seeds and Italian salt.

MAMNOON, Capitol Hill

Mamnoon beet tahini dip

Mamnoon beet tahini dip

Mamnoon is a chic, Middle Eastern restaurant on Capitol Hill that doesn’t so much wow as consistently please, particularly on the small plates and on the lunch front with dips like shamndar bi tahini ($7), a vivid pink-purple dip of grated beets, yogurt, garlic and tahini paste (pictured right).  

It’s hard to resist cilantro and aleppo chili-dusted harra frites ($7) dipped in house ketchup and za’atar-spiced mayonnaise with a refreshing mint lemonade ($4). I like Mamnoon best as a stop for snacks and shared small plates rather than on the entree side.

MOMIJI, Capitol Hill

Momiji maki

Momiji maki

Dining at Momiji with food/drink industry friends from Japan certainly made it a better experience. I wouldn’t put it close to a favorite sushi meal among my global favorites but it was all-around a gratifying meal with Japanese whiskies and sake to savor alongside monkfish liver (ankimo, $10) dotted with citrus ponzu and cilantro aioli and yellowtail hamachi sashimi ($13) in garlic, jalapeno and yuzu ponzu.

View from my hotel room at the Sheraton Seattle

View from my hotel room at the Sheraton Seattle

Cheap Eats

Bahn Mi Unwrapped

Bahn Mi Unwrapped

The U-District’s (University District) Bahn Mi Unwrapped was one of my under-the-radar Seattle gems awhile back, especially as someone who spent a month in Vietnam and is surrounded by countless spots for authentic bahn mi in SF.

For $4 or less, their bahn mi is hefty and pleasing in classic pork pate and duck forms, but my top choice is their delicious catfish bahn mi with a Vietnamese iced coffee — it drew me back multiple times.

Beth's Cafe

Beth’s Cafe

Greasy spoon it is, but Beth’s Cafe, a greasy diner in Phinney Ridge since 1954, famous for their ridiculous 12-egg omelette, is a memorable stop for 3am cravings of scrambles and hash browns.

La Cocina Oaxaquena

La Cocina Oaxaquena

La Cocina Oaxaquena does not even come close to scratching the itch one has for real Oaxacan food after traveling in Oaxaca (instead, try Agave Mexican in Healdsburg, CA, La Oaxaquena in SF, or Moles La Tia in East LA), but its warm, familial welcome and affordable dishes give it some cheap eats appeal, even if the mole negro is a bit flat or essentially not as multi-dimensional as the great moles of Oaxaca are.

Although the mole negro still didn’t wow, I prefer Mezcaleria Oaxaca (I visited the quirky Queen Anne location) both for its mezcal selection and its more authentic nods to Oaxaca in its straightforward dishes.

Taylor's Shellfish oysters & more

Taylor’s Shellfish oysters & more

Though there wasn’t a standout dish during my two visits two Taylor’s Shellfish Farms, I love its plethora of fresh oysters, geoduck, clams, crab and seafood swimming in tanks, fresh for the picking all day long on Capitol Hill, best savored with a crisp rose or white wine.

Kisaku

Kisaku

In the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle, Kisaku is pretty nondescript when it comes to sushi. You won’t experience anything here you haven’t had before as a sushi lover, but its lunchtime deals work (even sashimi combos are no more than $11.95), its dated atmosphere mellow and its fish fresh. Wild sockeye salmon sashimi (pictured left) is a silky, local highlight.

Tsukushinbo

Tsukushinbo sashimi platter

Also on the affordable sushi front, I like Tsukushinbo in the International District, though the fish offerings are basic.

You won’t find any surprises here, just hunks of raw fish in a tiny, crowded space (there are often lines so go early for lunch or right when they open, as lines are not worth it). The sweet staff make the whole experience better.

Breakfast & Bakeries

Morsel

Morsel

Biscuits ($3.25-6.50) in the morning at Morsel in the U-District are a pleasure. From friendly staff in a tiny storefront with long lines, order buttery biscuits under the names Gravy, Cheesy (roasted garlic butter, local Beecher’s cheese curds, roasted tomato jam) or Spanish Fly (proscuitto, fried egg, manchego, arugula, mama lil’s pepper aioli). They’re all delightful and Morsel serves top notch coffee to boot.

For a bit of Parisian charm in downtown Seattle, I like Belle Epicurean. Coffee (espresso, etc.) veers old school Italian-style, while I love tarts like the Walla Walla feuillette ($6.95), which plays like a classic Alsatian tart but with local, sweet Walla Walla onions, layered with bacon, Gruyere cheese and fresh herbs.

Chaco Canyon on a snowy February day

Chaco Canyon on a snowy February day

Up Capitol Hill way, go off hours to avoid lines at grab-and-go bakery, Crumble & Flake, a gourmand’s favorite, with daily changing offerings like chocolate lavender or True North Coffee & Irish whiskey macarons. On the savory side, there might be the likes of smoked paprika cheddar croissants.

Hippie, it may be, but when in the U-District (plus two other locations), Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe offers vegetable juices and the likes of avocado toast on dense bread for breakfast, a welcome, healthy antidote when I’ve been judging/tasting spirits for days nearby.

Mighty-O Donuts — they’re organic but still gratifying sans lard. I like flavors like grasshopper, peanut butter chocolate or a tart lemon poppy seed.

Coffee

Victrola Coffee

Victrola Coffee

Thanks to my Seattle friend Rocky Yeh for numerous reliable Seattle recommendations, including Belle Epicurean and nearby, classic Seattle, top notch coffee at Cafe Fonte, one of my favorite stops for coffee in the city.

Though coffee in Seattle is a whole other subject that could call for a more in-depth exploration (as many have done before), I’m going to stick to food here. A couple other regulars for me as I stayed in various parts of the city in my last 3 trips: a Capitol Hill mainstay for over a decade is Victrola (which I much prefer to Caffe Vita up the street). Try Analog if you love espresso and cold brew.

A Mixed Bag

 — Places I Can’t Quite Recommend

La Bete

La Bete

I wanted to love La Bete. Atmosphere-wise, I do. It charms with a quirky-chic (yet relaxed) setting, cocktails in vintage glassware and friendly service. The dishes likewise sounded like an easy win but whether a plump merguez sausage or a mole verde braised beef shortrib, I found myself recalling more interesting versions in other parts of the country (same with the ok-but-not-great cocktails). The one dish that did jump out was a starter of piquillos rellenos ($12) stuffed with albacore tuna and squid ink rice in lively tomato pepper sauce.

Seafood appetizer at Miller's Guild

Salmon appetizer at Miller’s Guild

Miller’s Guild follows (a couple years later) the open fire cooking approach of places like Saison and TBD here in SF (my take on the trend in the London Times in Feb. 2014), but without the delicate, creative vision. It’s more straightforward grilling here. I wanted to love Miller’s Guild with its urban vibe that feels like a bigger city — as do the high prices for solid but not amazing food.

Miller's Guild steak

Miller’s Guild steak

Pricy steaks — whether Niman Ranch bone-in ribeye (service for two is a whopping $135), bavette, Okanagan beef, Snake River Farms Kurobuta pork chop ($32) or shell-on, wild Alaskan coon-striped prawns ($18), it doesn’t feel worth the hefty price tag. This extends to elegant-sounding cocktails ($8-13) that don’t quite sing, including what sounded fantastic but was a bit nondescript, a Remolacha ($13): Dos Armadillos Silver Tequila, Rossbacher herbal liqueur, red beet juice, lime, agave and golden beet foam. Surprisingly, house Turkish coffee ice cream ($8) to finish is the gritty (with grounds, like proper Turkish coffee), sweet standout.

Grilled fish at Staple & Fancy

Grilled fish at Staple & Fancy

In theory, Staple & Fancy, one of Ethan Stowell’s popular restaurants (housed in the same building as Walrus & the Carpenter – see above) is a notable Italian spot serving house made pastas, sardine appetizers and killer fried oysters, whole grilled fish. It is solid but far from superlative (other than those fried oysters) many dishes later. Since this rustic-gourmet Italian format has long been popular in many cities (including my own) and with my frequent travels to Italy, it fails to entice when many others work in the same category to more memorable effect.

Tanglewood's rutabaga apple beginets

Tanglewood’s rutabaga apple beginets

Tanglewood Supreme, in the removed, residential neighborhood of Magnolia, is described as a “fisherman to table” experience. I valued the warm service in the cozy space and the inventiveness of the dish concepts. Not everything worked, including rather imbalanced cocktails, but the $45 seven-course tasting menu is a steal and when it works, it works, as in the case of cinnamon-laced rutabaga apple beginets ($6) with baby kale and cranberry aioli.

Sitka & Spruce

Sitka & Spruce

The famed Sitka & Spruce has made so many top restaurant lists over the years and has been a pioneer of Pacific Northwest cuisine in Seattle for some time.

That is why I was even more disappointed in having its clean, fresh, highly seasonal food (a concept that has been a Bay Area standard longer than I’ve been alive) to find every single dish I tried, from marinated summer squash ($9/15), to wild chamomile cured salmon ($16) was surprisingly bland, understated to the point of irrelevant and not one dish was memorable.

FacebookShare
Written by in: Wandering Traveler | Tags:

Site Admin | Log out | Theme: Aeros 2.0 by TheBuckmaker.com