Sep
01
2014

September 1, 2014

“If your project has real substance, ultimately the money will follow you… There is a German proverb: ‘Der Teufel scheisst immer auf den grössten Haufen’ ['The Devil always sh--s on the biggest heap']. So start heaping and have faith. Every time you make a film you should be prepared to descend into Hell and wrestle it from the claws of the Devil himself. Prepare yourself: there is never a day without a sucker punch. At the same time, be pragmatic and learn how to develop an understanding of when to abandon an idea. Follow your dreams no matter what, but reconsider if they can’t be realized in certain situations.” – German Filmmaker Werner Herzog

Breathtaking

Breathtaking sunset (with no filter) at Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Taste of Sonoma

I hope you all had a lovely Labor Day weekend… this weekend I experienced Taste of Sonoma for the first time, part of Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, including Friday night at Francis Ford Coppola Winery with the stunning sunset above. Saturday was full of winning tastes from over 200 wineries and 70 restaurants and food outlets on the grounds of MacMurray Ranch. In the meantime, here’s almost 20 new articles on what’s happening in food and drink from SF to NY.

This issue:

Top TastesMy Top Food Articles, September 1-15: 12 of my latest Zagat articles on new restaurants, underrated spots, weekend escapes and noteworthy events.
ImbiberMy Top Drink Articles, September 1-15: 5 of my latest Zagat articles on a Sonoma-grown cider, top 5 beer cocktails now and new cocktail menus at Ramen Shop and The Commissary.
Imbiber5 Under-the-Radar New Spirits to Try: 5 new standouts, from gin to mezcal, Scotch to rye whiskey.
Wandering TravelerMy 8 Best Cocktails in NYC 2014: My best cocktails from this year’s return visits.

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 |
Sep
01
2014

Top Tastes

Broccoli and cheese re-imagined at The Tradesman in the Mission

Broccoli and cheese re-imagined at The Tradesman in the Mission

My Top Food Articles: August 16-31

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

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

Essay/Opinion Piece

Changing Tastes: You Can Learn to Eat (Even Like) Everything with Commentary from Harold McGee

New Bay Area Openings

Spanish-Californian Gem in the Presido: Traci Des Jardins’ THE COMMISSARY

Killer peanut butter cheddar burgers and other better-than-average bar food gems at THE TRADESMAN

Bruleed lobster pretzel rolls and other seafood gems at JACK’S OYSTER BAR & FISH HOUSE in Oakland

Early Tastes at Spanish Newcomer in the Castro, BESO

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

Underrated & Established Spots

The Results of our 1st National BEST BURGER SURVEY – and my round-up of HONORABLE MENTIONS

WHERE TO EAT NEAR BART: My 10-stop guide, station-by-station

Secretly Awesome: GOOD LUCK DIM SUM in the Inner Richmond for best dim sum takeout

My Top 4 VEGETARIAN BURGERS

South Bay

Day Trip: What to Eat & Drink in LOS GATOS – my 4 favorite spots

Events

The 6 Best Things I ate & drank at OUTSIDE LANDS 2014

FacebookShare
Sep
01
2014

Imbiber

Ramen Shop beauties, like this rye and beer cocktail

Ramen Shop beauties, like this rye, cherry and beer cocktail

My Top Drink Articles: August 16-31

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my numerous articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just 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.

Cocktails/Spirits

The TOP 5 BEER COCKTAILS to Drink Now, from SF to Oakland and Napa

The NEW COCKTAIL MENU at OAKLAND’s RAMEN SHOP

WINE & COCKTAIL Highlights at THE COMMISSARY in the Presidio

Cider

DEVOTO ORCHARDS CIDER from family-run apple orchards in SEBASTOPOL

FacebookShare
Written by in: Imbiber | Tags: ,
Sep
01
2014

Wandering Traveler

Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos, in all its magical color

New York: My 8 Top NY Cocktails of 2014

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Golden Caddilac

Golden Caddilac

Working on a video project this Spring for Tastemade, I was asked to hand-select food and drink destinations to include in a Top 100 round-up of NY spots. This meant I was able to return to a number of my older favorites, like Amor y Amargo (my favorite amaro bar where, this visit, I enjoyed their iced coffee weekend brunch cocktail menu), Raines Law Room, Mayahuel, Cienfuegos, Brandy Library, and Saxon + Parole and The Daily, which I get into further below. Great cocktails and spirits were had at each of these locations. Of course, I packed in some newer spots, too.

Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos

Sadly, the Golden Cadillac closed after my visit, though it hadn’t been open too long. I appreciated the cheeky fun of the bar’s improved 70s cocktails, like a Golden Cadillac mixing Galliano, coconut cream, creme de cacao and orange bitters, or a Disco Daiquiri using almond milk instead of coconut milk (not to mention seeing great bartenders behind the bar, like Mathew Resler formerly of Empellon and Lulu Martinez, formerly of also-closed Painkiller. The East Village space will reopen as Boilermaker next month, involving none other than SF’s Erick Castro, who opened Rickhouse and the highly-lauded Polite Provisions in San Diego.

In the meantime, here were my 8 best cocktails in NYC this year (past years here) and a commentary on a couple other newer cocktails bars.

ZZ Clam Bar's gorgeous vintage glassware

ZZ Clam Bar’s gorgeous vintage glassware

1. SAXON + PAROLE, NoHo

Masa Urushido

Masa Urushido

Saxon + Parole has been one of my favorite NY bars for years since Naren Young used to oversee the program. It remains so in its current days under the able hands of Masa Urushido, a gracious bar manager who came from some of Tokyo’s top bars to NYC in 2008.

Raisin & Rum

Rum & Raisin

His seasonal cocktails can be stunners. This spring, I was wowed by a Spring Daiquiri ($14) combining Cana Brava rum, sugar snap peas, a house lemon-thyme cordial, lemon and tarragon salt. Topped with fresh pea pods, it tastes blissfully of crisp peas, backed with rum’s spice and sweetness, perked up with thyme and lemon. Another standout on the creamy end of the spectrum is Rum & Raisin ($14), a blend of Appleton Reserve rum, Greek yogurt, vanilla, cinnamon and Perrier to cut the lushness with a bit of effervescence.

Spring Daiquiri

Spring Daiquiri

The Daily-Virginia Miller

“Nacho” Jimenez

2. THE DAILY, Nolita

One of the great bar managers over the couple hundred NYC cocktail bars I’ve been to over the years is Ignacio “Nacho” Jimenez, a gracious bartender at The Daily, who crafts lovely drinks in an urban respite of a seductive space featuring straightforward, daily changing cocktails and bites. There’s one cocktail daily in each category, like bottled, “on the rocks” and aperitif. Returning this visit, a standout was a bottled La Perla for two ($26), served in a Daily flask, a tequila, pear, sherry recipe from SF local, Jacques Bezuidenhout.

3. MOTHER’S RUIN, Nolita

Mother's Ruin's carrot gin slushie

Mother’s Ruin’s carrot gin slushie

Mother’s Ruin is a bartender/industry favorite and one of the good-time hangouts where you’re greeted with a smile, elevated slushie and beer cocktails, and particularly during the day, a laid back, restorative vibe. Recently, Rabbit Done Died was bracing slushie from their slushie machine mixing gin, carrot, lemon, cucumber and bitters, reminiscent of a Pimm’s Cup but icier and bolder. Fun was also had with a tequila and Cholula hot sauce cocktail with a can of Tecate beer.

The Daily's bottled cocktails for two, La Perla

The Daily’s bottled cocktails for two, La Perla

4. ZZ CLAM BAR, Greenwich Village

Produce lining ZZ's bar

Produce lining ZZ’s bar

ZZ Clam Bar, a 12-seat, reservations-only seafood and cocktail bar is an intimate oasis in The Village that sings of island breezes and upscale Tiki culture circa 1940s with its romantic setting, soundtrack of lounge, exotica and other musical treats. Sounds like my dream spot, right? In many ways it is. Opened Summer 2013 by Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone of neighboring Carbone, it is, like that red sauce Italian haven, vastly overpriced. It can easily cost a few hundred dollars here for dinner and cocktails, the latter of which are $20 each (more on the food here).

Romantic & intimate: ZZ Clam Bar

Romantic & intimate: ZZ Clam Bar

ZZ’s sole bartender didn’t seem interested in engaging or explaining the cocktails we tried, despite the fact that we have many friends in common as he came from SF and The Alembic (where he used to work and where I bartended for a few months – I did not present any of this information but should not have had to to receive quality service). Even a bit of genuine engagement would have made the difference between a mediocre and a fantastic experience commensurate with merely 12 diners and fine dining price tag. Thankfully, service was warm from our waiter, which should be imperative from all staff given the cost.

It’s hard to say $300+ is worth it for a non-fine dining experience where portions are tiny, although in making reservations, one could request a couple seats against the wall and go just for drinks and a bite or two. At the same time, ZZ is such a one-of-a-kind spot that imparts romance in its size and decor, worth experiencing if you can afford it and desire something different, as those of us do who dine and drink at hundreds of places each year around the world. While we’ve seen seafood crudo and raw fish menus before, ZZ’s interpretation is imaginative and the cocktails maintain tropical flair, each visually striking in gorgeous vintage glassware.

A ZZ cocktail of pear, white rum, Fino sherry and green tea

A ZZ cocktail of pear, white rum, Fino sherry and green tea

I tasted six cocktails, intrigued by combinations like Plymouth gin, creamy with pistachio and honey, tart with kumquat, or a Reposado Tequila-based concoction mixed with squash, thyme and allspice. I crave this type of creative, culinary experimentation in cocktails. While some worked better than others, I truly appreciate drinks with a vision beyond the usual. Kudos also for an anejo tequila cocktail implementing butter, pineapple and ras al hanout spices, and another with crème de menthe, apple brandy, mandarin orange and mole bitters.

5. BETONY, Midtown West

Betony's lush interior

Betony’s lush interior

Betony is an upscale Midtown restaurant that comes with a price tag as high as its gorgeously chic décor would suggest. Cocktails run $15-17 but are elegantly made with the type of sophistication that one might expect from an Eleven Madison Park alum, namely GM Eamon Rockey. Betony is known for their lovely, regularly changing Milk Punch ($17 – read more about this in Robert Simonson’s NY Times article published around the time of my visit).

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel

Their Milk Punch during my visit had a Del Maguey Vida Mezcal base, combined with a Moroccan spearmint, cocoa nib tea and lemon. Another impressive drink was Coco Chanel, inspired by Chanel No. 5 and made in collaboration with a master perfumer across the street. Though the drink seems to have evolved (note this earlier iteration in Town & Country), when I had it Rockey combined Cocchi Americano, lemon oleo saccharum, a dry French rosé wine and a spritz of rose water. The master perfumier created a mixture that included bergamot, roses, jasmine and citrus, which was rubbed on the garnish of mint leaves for enhanced aromatics.

My take on two newer bars:

2nd FLOOR on CLINTON, Lower East Side

2nd Ave's chilled out space

2nd Ave’s chilled out space

I took to 2nd Floor on Clinton immediately for its truly removed, mellow vibe hidden upstairs in a Lower East Side space filled with mismatched couches and a lived-in, Victorian living room feel. The vibe reminds me of the relaxed, non-trendy “speakeasy” days of Angel’s Share back in the 90s or the early days at the original Milk & Honey. One hopes the word doesn’t get out and make the space obnoxious or impossible to get in to.

d

Blessed Thistle cocktail

Too bad the cocktails ($15) don’t quite keep up with the romantic space. Despite how intriguing they sound, the cocktails I tried from “mixologists” Ektoras Binikos and Sarah Miller seemed to lack focus coming across “muddled” or confused, with no distinct flavor, like the Mistral (Martin Miller’s gin, Averna, verjus, sage and yuzu), or Blessed Thistle, a combination of Michter’s Sour Mash, Cardamaro, honey liqueur, lemon, Meyer lemon zest, Dutch’s colonial and cardamom bitters.

NITECAP, Lower East Side

Nitecap

Nitecap

David Kaplan and Alex Day are big names in the cocktail world, opening NYC’s Death & Company and more recently Honeycut in Los Angeles. They opened their intimate basement bar Nitecap just a couple weeks before I was in NYC in April so I caught it in early weeks. With brick walls and plum leather banquettes, the dim space is seductive and appealing. I just missed head bartender Natasha David, but tasted a few cocktails on their playfully-designed menu. They were pleasant though soft cocktails where the alcohol was almost barely a whisper (making some drinks feel more for the spirits novice) and service was aloof and unengaged, making it less fun than Portland’s Pepe Le Moko, which also opened this spring in Portland, with a similar basement vibe and look but is decidedly more fun. Kudos, however, for Nitecap’s late night, early ‘90s hip hop soundtrack.

Saxon + Parole cocktails

Saxon + Parole cocktails

FacebookShare
Written by in: Wandering Traveler | Tags: ,
Sep
01
2014

Imbiber

5 New Under-the-Radar Spirits to Try

Article by Virginia Miller

Many spirits cross my desk or are tasted at countless bars or distilleries I visit in any given month… here are 5 international spirits — from gin to mezcal, Scotch to rye whiskey — that have stood out in recent months.

CALEDONIA SPIRITS’ BARR HILL GIN ($35)

Barr HillThomas Hardie (a distiller I was privileged to meet recently on his trek out West) runs a farm in Vermont where he produces Barr Hill Gin and Vodka, made from local organic honey and grains, both recently gaining distribution in California. Growing up as a lifelong farmer, Hardie has been beekeeping with his family since he was 12 and started doing so commercially by age 20. His raw honey is exquisite and is the fermented base — with corn grain — for his products. Rather than sweetness, the honey imparts a subtle freshness to both products, the creamy-grassy gin is happily juniper-forward.

They are working on beer-distilled whiskies to be released over the coming months: the 1st release is 5 months aged corn whiskey made of 80% corn, 20% rye and barley. I also hope to try Barr Hill Reserve Tom Cat, essentially an Old Tom-style gin distilled with juniper and honey.

Where to Buy: At K&L and Wine Warehouse

HIGHLAND PARK’s DARK ORIGINS ($79.99)

HP Dark OriginsOut this fall, one of my all-time favorite Scotch houses, Highland Park (the 18 year is the quintessential Highland Scotch) is just releasing Dark Origins, a non-chill filtered single malt (ABV 46.8%) that ups the sherry cask quotient compared to the classic Highland Park 12 year Scotch. All that sherry wood means spice and chocolate notes, but I also appreciate its nuanced nutty, softly smoky aspects.

MARCA NEGRA MEZCAL

Marca Negra Mezcals are distilled in the mountains of Oaxaca, near the village of San Luis del Rio, with a horse pulling a stone wheel to crush the roasted agave plants pre-fermentation. This is a process I was privileged to see in my journeys around Oaxaca (along with witnessing ancient clay pot distillation first hand, an almost dead art in most spirit categories).

Marca Negra MezcalThough I wish I could visit Marca Negra’s distillers directly, I’ve enjoyed tasting 4 of their mezcal releases, from a semi-sweet, floral and white pepper-inflected Ensamble Mezcal Marca Negra, to the herbaceous, sweet and smoky Dobadán Mezcal Marca Negra.

But my favorites are the elegant Tobalá Mezcal Marca Negra, with its vegetal, tropical notes undergirded by smoke (only 1250 bottles), and the smoky, woody spice of the dry Espadín Mezcal Marca Negra, both Double Gold and Gold medal winners (respectively) in the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. They are both beauties and welcome new mezcal options.

GLENGLASSAUGH ($64.99-79.99)

Anchor Distilling recently began importing Glenglassaugh Scotch from a Speyside distillery dating back to 1875, bought in 2013 by Billy Walker and BenRiach Whisky Company. They just imported 5 single malts, including a 30 ($500) and 40 year ($3000) Scotch, from barrels ranging from 1963-1986.

On the more affordable end, three releases cover a range of Scotch tastes: Revival ($64.99, 46% ABV) is the first single malt from the reborn Glenglassaugh, aged in red wine, bourbon and Oloroso sherry barrels, the softest, sweetest and roundest of the three. Evolution ($79.99, 50% ABV), matured in first-fill George Dickel Tennessee whiskey barrels, and Torfa ($74.99, 50% ABV), the Norse word for peat, both exhibit a progressive peatiness, Evolution being soft with smoke and spice and the Torfa surprisingly peaty for a Speyside whisky.

Where to Buy: D&M

LOCK, STOCK & BARREL 13 Year STRAIGHT RYE WHISKEY ($140)

Lock Stock RyeOut longer than the other spirits listed here, Lock, Stock & Barrel Rye is expensive, no question. And I’ve heard some rumors of it being a blend of pre-existing whiskies, although the story behind it is that is Pennsylvania distilled from Pacific Northwest rye grain (100%) modeled after the historic styles of rye during the American Revolutionary War when it was our country’s drink of choice.

Robert Cooper (who founded St. Germain) created this 13 year-aged rye. While it is a soft one, each sip grows on you. There is minimal spice compared to some bracing ryes, notes of honeyed oak and salted caramel, but what surprises me is rosy, pink apple notes that impart a soft freshness to the rye. If you want spice and robustness, this isn’t your rye, but I appreciate its unique slant and place in the category.

Where to Buy: At D&M for $119.99

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

August 15, 2014

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.” – Louisa May Alcott

Red Hill Station in Bernal Heights (see "Top Tastes")

Red Hill Station in Bernal Heights (see “Top Tastes”)

Another full round of recommends from the continual stream of new openings (I hit them all), forgotten (or never discovered) classics and notable drinks, from Napa to the East Bay, and around Manhattan.

This issue:

Top TastesMy Top Food Articles, August 1-15: 16 of my latest Zagat articles on new restaurants, underrated spots, weekend escapes and noteworthy events.
ImbiberMy Top Drink Articles, August 1-15: 6 of my latest Zagat articles on cocktail menus, quality drinks around the Bay Area, highlights in wine and beer.
Wandering Traveler: My 10 Best Meals in NYC 2014: In one of my second homes, my best from this year’s return visits to NYC.

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 |
Aug
15
2014

Top Tastes

Urchin Bistrot Mussels-Virginia Miller

Mussels cooked escargot-style at Urchin Bistrot

My Top Food Articles: August 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my 15 articles/posts a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some coverage highlights here – you can sign up for Zagat’s weekly newsletter for highlights here and follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily.

As I have been for over a decade, I’m on the ground daily looking for early standouts at each new opening, while sharing underrated places and dishes you’ve seen me write about here at The Perfect Spot for years, and, of course, plenty of drink coverage (cocktails, wine, spirits, beer).

New Bay Area Openings

First Look: What to Eat & Drink at Modern French Bistro, URCHIN BISTROT, in the Mission

First Look at PLIN, Italian Newcomer in the Mission

Hidden New Seafood Gem in Bernal Heights: RED HILL STATION

FERRY PLAZA SEAFOOD – Reborn in North Beach

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

Underrated & Established Spots

SF’s Most Underrated Italian Food ‘Hood

$10 Lunch: DINING ON CHINESE HAKKA CUISINE in Outer Richmond

Unsung Heroes: LUCCA RAVIOLI in the Mission

Secretly Awesome: TONGA ROOM‘s bao, Spam fried rice and Tiki cocktails

Secretly Awesome: CHOLO SOY’S PERUVIAN COUNTER

HOG & ROCK‘s Late Night Korean Pop-up

NorCal

7 Top FOODIE ROAD TRIPS Around NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

Events

The 6 Best Things We Ate at OUTSIDE LANDS

The Best Things We Ate at EAT DRINK SF 2014

The LAST STREET FOOD FESTIVAL in the Mission – What to Eat

TASTE OF SONOMA Weekend Happens Pre-Labor Day

FacebookShare
Aug
15
2014

Imbiber

Urchin Bistrot Cocktail-Virginia Miller

Cocktails at Urchin Bistrot in the Mission

My Top Drink Articles: August 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my 15 articles/posts a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some of this coverage here – you can sign up for Zagat’s weekly newsletter for the Bay Area here and follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily.

Cocktails/Spirits

- First Look: What to Drink at the new URCHIN BISTROT in the Mission
- WHITECHAPEL: Martin Cate’s (of Smuggler’s Cove) New Gin Temple
- Trendspotting: FRENCH SPIRITS-CENTRIC BAR PROGRAMS
- 5 Best Things I Drank at EAT DRINK SF

Wine

3 Killer WINES TO DRINK NOW on Bay Area Menus

Beer

Take a Beer Break at BARREL HEAD BREWHOUSE

FacebookShare
Written by in: Imbiber | Tags:

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