HEAVEN’S DOG, 1148 Mission Street (between 7th & 8th Streets), 415-863-6008
Heaven’s Dog has been a haven for superb cocktails since it opened, with excellent bartenders like Erik Ellestad (Savoy Stomp) and pre-Prohibition era cocktails ($10 each) from Charles H. Baker’s The Gentleman’s Companion (aka Jigger, Beaker & Glass). The bar still serves Baker classics, and with new bar manager Trevor Easter on board, receives a fresh infusion while keeping to its roots. Easter came from some of our cities best bars (like 15 Romolo and Wilson & Wilson inside Bourbon & Branch), and used to trek up from San Diego where he lived prior to SF for cocktails at Heaven’s Dog by bar director Erik Adkins.
Technique-driven is Easter’s mantra, generally keeping to ingredients used 100 years ago. One house made item that I’d recommend highly, though it is only occasionally on the menu (should be back by May), is Erik Adkins’ gin-based Pimm’s recipe. It makes a beautiful Pimm’s Cup, one of my favorites here, bright with cucumber and lemon. I was delighted with Easter’s off-menu twist on a low alcohol Americano, a Salted Americano with a couple drops of saline solution added to open it up and offer a brilliant layer of saltiness amidst sweet bitterness.
Oaxacan Firing Squad is based on the Mexican Firing Squad cocktail in Charles Baker’s book, using Del Maguey Mezcal Vida alongside tequila instead of merely tequila as the original does. Lime, Small Hands excellent grenadine and Angostura bitters round out this refresher.
Elks Own is a classic from 1901, prepared beautifully here with a late bottled 2006 vintage Quinta De La Rosa Porta. Don’t let the soft pink color fool you. It’s robust with Rittenhouse Rye, bright with lemon, silky with sugar and egg whites. The tart, tannic berry of the port gives the cocktail a lush, sexy texture while remaining refreshing.
An off-menu twist on the Brooklyn cocktail, Wall Street (originally served at Rickhouse) is another luxuriant pleaser using Old Bardstown bourbon instead of rye whiskey, Punt e Mes vermouth, Luxardo maraschino, winter bitters (house made allspice and mole bitters) and Della Christina Nocino walnut liqueur instead of Amer Picon, adding a nutty layer.
There are a couple Easter creations on the menu (Chantilly Lace: Plymouth gin, lime, Small Hands Pineapple Gum, apricot brandy, bitters, mint; and Yankee Clipper: Beefeater gin, Carpano Antica, Luxardo Maraschino, Bitter Truth orange bitters, Duplais Absinthe Verte), but the menu sticks mostly to classics. The bartenders know their classics so feel comfortable opting for Freedom from Choice and let them create something for you.
For those who find their warm shumai dumplings and spicy wontons expensive compared to cheap Sunset or Richmond district dim sum, both are $6 during happy hour (Monday-Friday, 5-6:30pm).
A SMOOTH TEQUILA LINE
Tequila Avión has gained a sort of cult status from a (unsolicited) mention in the show Entourage, but I’m glad to say this tequila holds enough quality to stand on its own. Produced in the Jalisco Highlands, in the town of Jesus Maria at the highest elevation of any tequila producer (7000 feet), brings a naturally higher sugar content to the agave plants. Their process is to roast the agave plants at very low temperatures and let them cool naturally which retains more juices and makes the plants less fibrous when crushed.
In meeting with Tequila Avión’s lovely president, Jenna Fagnan, I learned that they use 60% more agave to make a bottle of Avión than the average tequila. It’s intriguing to note that they went to the town itself to find their distiller: Alejandro Lopez is a young distiller from a fifth generation family of agave farmers and distillers right there in Jesus Maria.
Launched only a year and a half ago, Avión is now available in 48 states and Canada. Growing rapidly, Fagnan says, “We’ll grow as fast as the quality allows us to,” emphasizing that they won’t be taking shortcuts to meet the demand. Though in a joint venture with behemoth spirits company Pernod Ricard, Fagnan says they retain full control over production and the recipes they began with.
All three are smooth, elegant, flavorful expressions, and generally affordable – even the anejo is reasonably priced around $50. As is typical, I like the blanco and reposado best, the blanco bright and silky, the reposado subtle with spice and toast. The anejo (aged 2 years in light char bourbon barrels) is not much darker than the reposado, a natural color vs. having any color added. It manages to retain herbaceous, agave properties alongside barrel notes of vanilla and caramel. The blanco just won Best in Show-Unaged White Spirit and Best Silver Tequila in last week’s SF World Spirits Competition.