BURRITT ROOM, Downtown/Union Square
417 Stockton Street (near Sutter), 415-400-0500
I’ve covered many a Burritt Room cocktail creation since it opened with Kevin Diedrich at the helm (now bar manager at Jasper’s Corner Tap). Under new Burritt bar manager Joel Baker, I likewise expected approachable elegance, which Baker exhibited in his recipes since early days at Bourbon and Branch. It’s no surprise that in sampling all cocktails ($10 each) on his new menu, there’s not one slouch.
One really can’t go wrong on this menu (which will change roughly every couple months), but I will attempt to narrow down highlights. Japanese whisky fans should thrill to the Kurosawa Cocktail: Yamazaki 12 year whisky, Dry Sack 15 year Oloroso sherry, and Aperol combine over a perfect, large ice cube, waves of raisin richness issuing from the sherry. Balance reigns and Japanese whisky is given a proper showcase.
Lucia Bose may be the most accessible cocktail I’ve yet had featuring genever. Campari gives structure, while strawberry gomme syrup, lemon and still rosé wine give the rosy pink cocktail refreshing layers. Single Village Crusta, being true to its designation as a crusta, is rimmed in sugar, the sweet contrasted with creamy smoke of Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal, rounded out by maraschino and orange liqueurs, lemon, Angostura bitters.
The herbaceous notes of Grass Roots make it another top pick. Beefeater gin, Amaro Montenegro and sweet vermouth offer subtle sweet notes, lime and rosemary lift it to a verdant, refreshing whole.
Desmond Dekker pays homage to Tiki drinks with Jamaican rum, Punt e Mes vermouth, allspice dram, demerara sugar, grapefruit, lime and grapefruit bitters. Though brightly sweet, the tart of grapefruit (even a tinge of bitter pith), give it complexity without alienating those wanting juicy and refreshing.
If you haven’t returned to Burritt Room in awhile, now would be a good time to do so. With news of Charlie Palmer taking over Burritt’s massive backroom for an upcoming restaurant, it seems Burritt will soon have a culinary partner to match its fine drinks.
AZIZA, Outer Richmond
5800 Geary Blvd. (at 22nd Ave.), 415-752-2222
I’ve said it before and am saying it again: Aziza has one of our city’s underrated bar programs. Run by Farnoush Deylamian with bar directors, Brian Galli, Christopher Longoria and Jordan Edwards, Aziza’s cocktail menu ($10 each) is grouped by spirit (from pisco to brandy), with ingredients listed rather than cocktail names and descriptions.
In the past, I’ve taken to the simple brightness of the gin cocktail with celery and sage. Recently, I’ve sampled eight more cocktails, each intriguing, and with as many incredible cocktail bars as I visit around the world, Aziza’s are unique to what one finds even at produce-driven bars anywhere.
Laphroaig and peat smoke play with such a gentle hand alongside Concord grape and elderflower that it is palatable to the non-Islay/peaty Scotch drinker (I had a few with me and they took to it). Red bell pepper shines with rye, given a mischievous bitter finish from Bonal and Cocchi Americano. Though a whiskey cocktail, it works as a pre-dinner aperitif.
Actual aperitifs charm, from calvados (French apple brandy) green with sugar snap peas and bitter orange, to cognac enlivened by fig and proscecco. Possibly my favorite is a blanco tequila (listed under the “agave” section) that could easily be too garden-heavy with wild arugula and turmeric root. Rather, it is earthy, green and bright.
If you have not explored Aziza’s notable cocktail menu paired with the best creative Moroccan food in our city, you might want to set a date.
STARLIGHT ROOM, Downtown/Union Square
450Powell Street between Post and Sutter, 415-395-8595
The revamped Harry Denton’s Starlight Room finally morphed into what I wished it would be: an elegant, velvet-couch lined lounge with a view over our fair city… which also happens to serve excellent artisan cocktails. As I wrote about in my preview of the bar menu before they re-opened, the win of bar manager Joel Teitelbaum’s multi-paged cocktail menu is that it appeals to the cocktail geek and the casual drinker alike. Exotic ingredients come in approachable presentations with a little something for everyone.
I sampled some new drinks on the just-released winter menu, taking to these two:
Winter Flip ($12): cinnamon-infused Quebranta single vineyard Encanto pisco is mixed with calvados (French apple brandy) and apple juice, for a brisk fall apple body balanced by earthy quebranta grape notes. Lemon juice rounds it out, whole egg makes it ridiculously light and frothy. So smooth, this one goes down all too easy.
Pitch Black Amsterdam ($12): Torres 10 yr brandy and Bols Genever set an earthy, sweet tone, Root liqueur gives it a decidedly root beer bent, while a splash of Frangelico hazelnut liqueur and Angostura bitters tie it together. The clincher is a bruleed vanilla foam on top. Yes, your bartender torches it in full view. A toasted marshmallow aroma greets you first, followed by a wintery liquid, robust yet smooth.
JASPER’S CORNER TAP, Downtown/Union Square
401 Taylor Street at O’Farrell, 415-775-7979
One of my regular watering holes since it opened this summer, Jasper’s Corner Tap just gained the bar talent of Enrique Sanchez (formerly of La Mar), on board its already all-star bartender line-up. They also have a few noteworthy winter cocktails on their latest menu.
I’ve sampled a good eight of the new additions, taking to the Orchard Malt Mule ($13), ginger beer brightening Glen Grant single malt and Belle de Brillet (a cognac pear liqueur), finished with apple cider, lemon, and allspice-infused honey. It’s a Scotch refresher artfully garnished with pear slices.
I’m also taken with the Great Pumpkin Fizz ($9): rum and Velvet Falernum get some fall love with maple pumpkin butter, lemon, cream, Fee Old Fashion Bitters. Vanilla and clove shine while egg white creates a soft texture.
There’s ever a friendly pour and bartender waiting when I arrive at Jasper’s.