Dec
15
2014

December 15, 2014

“[The first drink of the day} marks the end of the working day when you put worldly cares to one side and embrace good cheer and company. It is when the soul opens and we are seized by the need to chat. We are liberated… The first drink also has a physically restorative effect. I find I can spend all day complaining about being tired, listless, lacking in energy, desperate for sleep. Then at six, in the pub or at home, with a pint of foaming nut-brown ale before me instead of a computer screen, I will suddenly perk up… And with one drink, the wage slaves of the day are transformed into thinking, feeling, laughing, independent human beings. We are our own masters once more.” – How to Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson

Faith & Flower in LA (see Wandering Traveler)

Faith & Flower in LA (see Wandering Traveler)

Christmas and the new year are fast approaching. I wish a beautiful season for each of you, knowing it is a tough time for missing those we love, just as it is a time to be reunited with them. I am very much looking forward to visiting both my families (including in-laws) this season in varying parts of the country. In the meantime, Happy New Year to each of you!

Here is my first article on my recent Asia travels: my top 10 Hong Kong cocktail bars (many of them new) at Food Republic.

This issue:

Seed+Salt vegan, a Marina newcomer

Seed+Salt vegan, a Marina newcomer

Top TastesMy Food Articles, December 1-15: 14 of my current Zagat articles on new restaurants, vegetarian and vegan menus, pizza newcomers and year-in-review coverage.
Imbiber My Drink Articles, December 1-15:  of my current Zagat articles on two new beer bars, cocktails in Napa & SF and a sherry list.
Wandering TravelerLos Angeles Cocktails: The best — and the worst — in cocktails from my recent return to LA.
Imbiber5 Wine Picks for December: 5 wines I’m drinking (and liking) now, by the bottle and on restaurant menus.

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:
Zagat
Food Republic
Liquor.com
Editor, Distiller Magazine
SF Bay Guardian Critic (Weekly Column: 2009-2013)
Spoonwiz
Freelance:
The Times London, Eater, PureWow, Drink Me Magazine, Citysearch, NBC’s The Feast, Blackboard Eats, Tasting Table, Grubstreet, Where Magazine

www.facebook.com/ThePerfectSpothttps://twitter.com/ThePerfectSpotwww.linkedin.com/pub/virginia-miller/2/295/33a/

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

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Written by in: Intro Letter |
Dec
15
2014

Top Tastes

Game Restaurant, new on Nob Hill in the legendary Masa's space

Game Restaurant, new on Nob Hill in the legendary Masa’s space

My Top Food Articles: December 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.

Special Features & Year-in-Review

Interview with the owners of Kokkari, SF’s #1 Zagat-rated restaurant

Bay Area Holiday Dining Survival Guide

SF’s 5 Hottest Dining Neighborhoods of 2014

2014 Bay Area Food & Drink Trends

New SF Openings

$10 Lunch: healthy and packed with flavor – lunch at the new Picnic on Third in SoMa

5 things to try at the Marina’s new Seed + Salt – all of it vegan and gluten free

3 things to eat at the new Game (in the historic Masa’s space) on Nob Hill

Ideal neighborhood market Bom Dia opens in Noe Valley

Hottest new pizza openings of the year

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

Picnic on Third - new, healthy, gratifying in SoMa

Picnic on Third – new, healthy, gratifying in SoMa

Underrated & Established Spots

4 things to know about the new chef and menu at Gitane

RN74 from a vegetarian perspective – an array of creative new vegetarian dishes

Oliveto’s innovative new sound system addresses noisy dining

Wine Country

Napa Valley newcomer: what to love at Archetype in St. Helena

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Dec
15
2014

Imbiber

Cocktails at Archetype in St. Helena (Napa Valley)

Cocktails at Archetype in St. Helena (Napa Valley)

My Top Drink Articles: December 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.

Special Features & Year-in-Review

Bay Area Holiday Dining Survival Guide

2014 Bay Area Food & Drink Trends

Cocktails

RN74 from a vegetarian perspective – an array of creative new vegetarian dishes

Beer

Visiting the new Brewcade (beer with vintage arcade games) and Tap 415 in the Westfield Centre

Wine & Sherry Lists

4 things to know about the new chef and menu at Gitane

Wine Country

Napa Valley newcomer: what to love at Archetype in St. Helena

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Dec
15
2014

Wandering Traveler

Faith & Flower -

Faith & Flower – sipping a Harry Winston

The Best (& Less Than) LA Cocktails 2014

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Melrose Umbrella Co.

Melrose Umbrella Co.

A few weeks ago, I returned to LA (past years of recommends here), a region where I spent 12 years of my life and still have family — where I used to frequent music venues and continue to dig into its endless (vastly spread out) food enclaves.

Drink research is easier to manage. For a city that has vastly improved in terms of quality cocktails in recent years, it’s still not exactly overflowing with dream drink destinations as many of my favorite cities in the world are. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of standouts, but I find it pretty easy to keep up on the notable newcomers each year.

Sassafras in Hollywood

Sassafras in Hollywood

Let’s get the not-so-stellar out of the way. My recent returns have yielded a number of spots that fall into underwhelming or decent — and sometimes even bad — categories. Sassafras in Hollywood charms with live Dixieland-meets-soul bands playing from a balcony overlooking a bar that is decidedly Disney-ified New Orleans under a sprawling faux oak tree with interior walls painted to look like an old Southern mansion. Enter this “house” and linger over a drink on vintage furniture. The cocktails are fine – of the simple ginger beer or soda or basic classics kind – but they have definitely improved from what they were when they first opened. The place is more about the kitsch and invigorating-but-deafening live music, although beware: you won’t be able to speak a word to your friends right next to you when bands are playing.

Melrose Umbrella Co.

Melrose Umbrella Co.

Melrose Umbrella Company, open since January in Fairfax, is absolutely beautiful. They win big points in my book for being decidedly chill and not obnoxious, even on a weekend, which can be hard to come by in LA. Unfortunately, drinks can be unbalanced as with a far too sour (and you’re talking to the queen of sour who can’t stand too-sweet cocktails) Romance Without Pressure ($14), a mix of Oxley gin, passion fruit, cucumber and grapefruit — a hint of simple syrup would have let the flavors sing instead of the whole thing coming of as puckeringly sour and flat. Twig & Berries ($12) fared much better in terms of balance, however, with a vibrant garden mix of muddled red grapes, red and orange bell pepper and lemon with Dos Armadillo Reposado Tequila, perked up with little heat from Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur.

The Commissary at the Line Hotel

The Commissary at the Line Hotel

Worst service award goes to The Commissary, upstairs from Roy Choi’s new POT restaurant at the Line Hotel (more on POT in my next LA dining article). I was eager to see what Matthew Biancaniello, who created the menu, has been up to since the 2011 days when he first impressed me as one of LA’s real standout bartenders at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, realizing it wouldn’t be the same without him behind the bar (he’s been doing these intriguing pop-ups). Though the garden atrium setting next to the pool on the Line Hotel rooftop could be seen as “magical” from some angles, the experience is also a bit odd, while serving cocktails in plastic tubs (to take poolside) is not merely odd but annoying.

Cocktails in a plastic tub at The Commissary

Cocktails in a plastic tub at The Commissary

Far worse were female bartenders who acted disinterested to downright rude with the women among us yet fake-friendly with the men.

The cocktails ($13)? They tended towards herbaceous and garden-fresh as one would expect with Biancello recipes (like passion fruit and Calisaya liqueur in a White Fir), but in the case of a Gin & Juice, it was frustrating to pay $12 for basic well gin (City of London) mixed with one juice in a plastic tub, even if earthy-fresh beet juice and gin is tasty. With literally no other components – and without being a more complex gin like St. George Terroir or the like — it felt like a case of one of those little-effort cocktails that costs the same as labor-intensive cocktails.

And now for the 3 standout new-ish bars, 2 of them in restaurants and all 3 of them in Downtown LA, which as far as I’m concerned has become one of the very best parts of LA for food and drinks lovers:

BAR JACKALOPE inside SEVEN GRAND

Bar Jackalope

Bar Jackalope

After my recent mind-blowing travels around Japan, I more than appreciate the concept and inspiration behind Bar Jackalope, opened in January and hidden in the back of Seven Grand (one of the first better cocktail bars that opened in 2007 after years of hunting for quality cocktail spots in LA – it’s way too mobbed for me to bother going any more but it was one of the early signs of change in LA. It’s also home to over 400 whiskies, among LA’s largest).

Bypass the noise of Seven Grand (although you’ll still hear its live bands through the wall in Bar Jackalope) and ring the back doorbell in the hallway. Despite the speakeasy nature of such a set up, Jackalope is not pretentious and the intimate bar is blessedly mellow and chill, like the great (and often tiny) Japanese bars. In fact, what the doorbell and regulation does is exactly what it needs to do, which is keep the space intimate and relaxed.

Bar Jackalope's cozy few tables

Bar Jackalope’s cozy few tables

One key difference from countless incredible bars in Japan is certainly the whisk(e)y selection, although it is still a broad and in-depth selection, covering all whisk(e)y categories from American to Scotch. But as those of us who have traveled around Japan know, the bottles available behind so many of the best bars in Japan are unreal, rare and shockingly affordable — bottles we would never see elsewhere or if we did, would be at a huge premium for a taste. So for those of us who “have tasted it all” or have extensive whisk(e)y selections at home, it can be disappointing to pay a lot for a dram that is not that rare.

View from my LA loft rooftop (thanks, AirBnB)

View from my LA loft rooftop (thanks, AirBnB)

But the plus is that Jackalope’s attentive staff are very helpful with recommendations, there are options by smaller pours, allowing people to create flights or taste a few — and there is a cigar porch, another very welcome aspect. Besides whiskies, there are three basic cocktails only: The Highball, which is ubiquitous everywhere in Japan (and served beautifully here), an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan.

All black leather, dark woods, mounted jackalope heads and candlelight, this place is wins high marks for seeking to bring a touch of Japan to the US.

FAITH & FLOWER

Faith & Flower cocktails

Faith & Flower cocktails

Coastal Luxury Management (CLM) — the group behind Los Angeles Food & Wine, Pebble Beach Food & Wine and my Monterey favorite, Restaurant 1833 — opened Faith & Flower this Spring. It’s one of the more striking dining rooms in LA (a city with plenty of striking dining rooms): lush with greens, leather booths, velvet, crystal chandeliers, feather fans and, as at 1833 in Monterey, absinthe and amaro carts.

F&F's bar

F&F’s bar

Chef Michael Hung came from San Francisco’s La Folie and Michael Lay moved from bar manager at 1833 to oversee the program here. His cocktails ($10-14) are a key draw at Faith & Flower and some of the most refined in LA, whether a perfect English Milk Punch (Jerry Thomas’ 1862 recipe, utilizing the fantastic Smith & Cross rum, among other spirits, for added funk and complexity) or a classic Adonis cocktail from Harry Craddock’s 1933 recipe, layered with Fino sherry, Royal Combier orange liqueur, house orange bitters, angelica root tincture and subtly bitter, aromatic Bigalette China-China Amer.

F&F's

F&F menus arrive in specially designed books & vintage books

The Harry Winston cocktail is a favorite and one of the best showcases for Japanese blended whiskey I’ve tasted in a cocktail in any city (including Tokyo and Kyoto!). Nikka 12 year Japanese whisky is combined with King’s Ginger liqueur, kuro sato (an Okinawan black sugar) and house teapot bitters (various herbs and spices), garnished with a flamed orange twist. It’s bracing and elegant, bold and balanced.

While you can savor the drinks over lunch or dinner in F&F’s gorgeous dining room, there is a separate bar area that is first come, first served along the long, inviting bar housing an excellent and wide-ranging spirits selection.

Faith & Flower's dining room

Faith & Flower’s dining room

BESTIA

Bestia's bar

Bestia’s bar

Bestia has been at the top of every kind of restaurant list since it opened in 2012 and is still one of the hardest reservations to secure in town. Despite almost deafening noise when the place is full, I found the bar (first come, first served, though I’d recommend getting there before they open) not overwhelmingly loud, with the full menu available.

Bestia — from chef Ori Menashe (former chef de cuisine at the wonderful Angelini Osteria), his pastry chef wife Genvieve Gergis and restaurateur Bill Chait — succeeds on all fronts in what can easily be a tired category: modern Italian. The food and the wine list (thanks to wine director Maxwell Leer) are all impeccable and I found not a misstep anywhere (note: the wine list has a section just for Riesling, God bless ‘em. There is also a strong list of whites from my favorites like Croatia, Slovenia, Loire Valley, Austria, Hungary, as well as reds from Italy, France, Spain. I loved a dry 2013 Falkenstein Spatlese — $16 a glass — from Mosel, Germany).

Bestia cocktails

Bestia cocktails

Likewise, service is attentive and servers are far more knowledgeable than many an LA hotspot. Though I am used to servers who know their wines and cuisine (and are often sommelier level) here at home, that is not the average server in a destination Los Angeles restaurant. Here, the staff know their food and drink. The bar staff are crafting impeccable cocktails created by LA bar great Julian Cox. Thankfully, execution follows suit and the many drinks I tasted have that all-important sense of balance — and are delicious. In fact, I was most impressed by these cocktails over most LA offerings namely because of a sense of harmony and sophistication.

A twist on a classic Toronto

A twist on a classic Toronto

Our adept bartender served us off-menu twists on a Toronto cocktail and and one of my all time favorite cocktails for nearly a decade, an Old Pal (bartender’s choice drinks are $13).

On menu (Cox’s recipes), I was impressed with the refreshing yet complex layers of Buena Alli ($14), mixing blanco tequila, espadin mezcal, lemon, quince jam, orgeat, bergamot bitters and seltzer. The Vermonster ($14) was another elegant standout, served up, martini-esque with Barr Hill gin, Dolin Blanc vermouth, Strega, orange bitters and a fig leaf as garnish. If only Bestia wasn’t so hard to get into, this would be one of my top LA hangouts for food and drink.

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Dec
15
2014

Imbiber

5 Wine Picks for December

Article by Virginia Miller

Many wines cross my desk or are tasted at numerous restaurants and bars I visit almost night… For December, here are 5 wines that stood out in the last 4 weeks, whether by the bottle or tasted at a local restaurant/bar.

1. 2012 Margalleau Vouvray Sec Chenin Blanc ($16)
Recently at Gitane, I fell for the mineral, citrus notes of a layered 2012 Margalleau Vouvray Sec Chenin Blanc from Vouvray, France ($11 glass, $32 carafe, $44 bottle). It averages around $16 retail.

2. 2012 Jean-Marc Brocard Chardonnay from Chablis ($20)
During a recent return to French wine mecca RN74, I savored more excellent white and red Burgundy by the glass, one of my favorite wine regions in the world. My favorite of a number of half pours was the balanced acidity and yellow orchard fruit of a 2012 Jean-Marc Brocard Chardonnay from Chablis, France (I do so love Chablis). For purchase at K&L Wines.

Photo Source: riccicurbastro.it

Photo Source: riccicurbastro.it

3. 2009 RicciCurbastro Franciacorta Saten Brut ($35)
This Italian sparkling wine from Italy’s Lombardy region is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, delivering a bright burst of acidity with unexpected notes of vanilla lavender, baked apple and toasted almond. This wine is a refreshingly affordable alternative to Champagne. For purchase at Binny’s.

4. 2012 m2 Wines Tormenta Tempranillo ($22)
From a 24-year-old vineyard on the east side of Lodi, comes this unexpectedly balanced, pleasing Tempranillo. The medium-bodied red is dark and lush, balanced by acidity. Purchase via m2’s website.

5. 2012 Bokisch Vineyards Tempranillo ($23)
Another balanced offering from Lodi and Bokisch Vineyards (try their Albarino at Picnic on Third) is this medium-bodied Tempranillo, delicately smoky with blueberry, subtle tannins and leather notes and acidity.

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Dec
01
2014

December 1, 2014

“Not many years ago, it was access to information and movement that seemed our greatest luxury; nowadays it’s often freedom from information, the chance to sit still, that feels like the ultimate prize. Stillness is not just an indulgence for those with enough resources – it’s a necessity for anyone who wishes to gather less visible resources… Going nowhere … isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.”The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer

Squab tikka masala at Farmer & The Fox, St. Helena

Squab tikka masala at Farmer & The Fox, St. Helena

Hope you all had a restful Thanksgiving with those you love… I’ve been savoring a week with family in LA & Orange County, and catching up on the latest in LA.

Meanwhile, here’s what’s happening in NorCal with yet another slew of new openings:

This issue:

Crystal Jade cocktails

Crystal Jade cocktails

Top TastesMy Food Articles, November 16-30: 12 of my current Zagat articles on new restaurants, East Bay & Wine Country openings and more.
Imbiber My Drink Articles, November 16-30: 5 of my current Zagat articles on 3 new wine bars and 4 new cocktail and sherry menus in SF and Napa.
Imbiber3 Spirits Picks for November: My top new spirits releases this month: mezcal, a cacao spirit, an agave spirit and a single malt whiskey.

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:
Zagat
Food Republic
Liquor.com
Editor, Distiller Magazine
SF Bay Guardian Critic (Weekly Column: 2009-2013)
Spoonwiz
Freelance:
The Times London, Eater, PureWow, Drink Me Magazine, Citysearch, NBC’s The Feast, Blackboard Eats, Tasting Table, Grubstreet, Where Magazine

www.facebook.com/ThePerfectSpothttps://twitter.com/ThePerfectSpotwww.linkedin.com/pub/virginia-miller/2/295/33a/

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

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Written by in: Intro Letter |
Dec
01
2014

Top Tastes

Peking duck at Crystal Jade

Peking duck at Crystal Jade

My Top Food Articles: November 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 SF Openings

Hapa Ramen opens its first brick-and-mortar – with cocktails – in the Mission

Crystal Jade opens its first location outside Asia along the Embarcadero

Project Juice’s new Mission shop and first raw food menu, soon to roll out at all locations

The hottest new bakeries in SF

Pies at Ice Cream Bar & the new A Dora Pie in Berkeley

House truffles and gelato pops at Sixth Course in the Mission

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

Squab tikka masala at Farmer & The Fox, St. Helena

Squab tikka masala at Farmer & The Fox, St. Helena

Underrated & Established Spots

9 cheesiest dishes (best dishes featuring cheese) now

East Bay

Upscale British food at The Growlers’ Arms in Oakland

The US’ first cat cafe opens in Oakland

Wine Country

Just what Napa needed: La Taberna, an all day destination for Spanish food and sherry, wine, Madeira

The Farmer & the Fox in St. Helena – one of the great new Napa Valley restaurants

Brenda's Meat & Three's fried bologna pimento cheese sandwich

Brenda’s Meat & Three’s fried bologna pimento cheese sandwich

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Dec
01
2014

Imbiber

Crystal Jade cocktails

Crystal Jade cocktails

My Top Drink Articles: November 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.

Wine

3 new SF wine bars you should know

Cocktails

Hapa Ramen opens its first brick-and-mortar – with cocktails – in the Mission

Crystal Jade opens its first location outside Asia – cocktails with Embarcadero views from a spacious patio

Just what Napa needed: La Taberna, an all day destination for Spanish food and sherry, wine, Madeira

Creative cocktails in Napa Valley: The Farmer & the Fox in St. Helena

Hapa Ramen cocktails

Hapa Ramen cocktails

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