From mid-May to mid-June, here are the standout cocktails and new menus I’ve been tasting around the Bay Area.
1 & 2. Lazy Bear’s Stalk Market & Young Blood
Ticketed-only Lazy Bear is one of the most exciting restaurant openings of the past year, reaching its one year anniversary this September.
It’s exciting to see how its cocktail menu has evolved under the direction of bar manager Nicolas Torres. I wish everyone could taste his refined, inventive cocktails in more ways than just via ticketed dinners but for now, this is the way to try his striking drinks.
After just tasting through all 8 cocktails ($12-15) on his brand new menu, it’s tough calling out one favorite, from the Old Tom gin and snap pea pop of Oh Snap! to the dry sherry backbone of a lovely Quinine Cobbler. But if I must, these two especially made an impression:
– Stalk Market ($12): Ford’s Gin, dry vermouth and Fino sherry mingle beautifully with a house chamomile and pink peppercorn tincture, rhubarb pickling juice and celery. It tastes of farmers market goodness with boozy elegance and structure.
– Young Blood ($13): A twist on a Trinidad Sour, Young Blood showcases the best of that cocktail. A heavy dose of Angostura bitters, which Torres ages in house casks, forms the base of the cocktail, mixed with Wray & Nephew overproof rum, orgeat (almond & rose or orange flower water syrup), lemon and egg whites. It’s spiced, smooth and robust.
3. Cockscomb’s Negrowler
A memorable Negroni Week dinner on June 2nd at Cockscomb meant stellar dishes influenced by the great Negroni cocktail from chef Chris Cosentino. It also meant the debut of the Negrowler, a growler/32oz jug filled with essentially a beer Negroni. On draft, Campari and Anchor Steam beer mingle beautifully in one refreshing, fantastic beer cocktail.
4. Saison’s Genever Cherry Cocktail
Bar manager Anthony Keels took over the bar at 3 Michelin-starred Saison after Chase White left (whose cocktails I covered early last year). During a recent visit, I tried some gorgeous on-menu cocktails but was especially taken with a cocktail that may soon be on the menu. Heels winningly combines Bols Genever, lemon and absinthe rinse and cherries three-ways: Cherry Heering, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur and fresh cherries with a bit of egg white. It’s tart, floral, subtle and herbaceous.
5. Forgery’s El Vampiro
Jacques Bezuidenhout just opened Forgery this May with with Ken Luciano and Plumpjack Group (run by Hilary and Gavin Newsom), serving elegant cocktails in a relaxed setting alongside quality beers, wines and sherries in SoMa at what already promises to be a food & drink industry hangout. Read more in my Liquor.com interview with Jacques and Forgery feature.
There are a number of initial cocktail standouts in a menu that will continue to change, some of the highlights being vodka drinks (I know), like The Cadiz, which is cumin-infused Ketel One Vodka and Manzanilla sherry with a subtle touch of passion fruit and honey, served over crushed ice. The cumin unfolds with each sip, offering savory-sweet contrast.
But my initial favorite may be El Vampiro, which sets off smoky Fidencio Unico Mezcal and dry Manzanilla sherry with a touch of Giffard Crème de Cassis (blackcurrant liqueur). Intriguing berry notes are balanced by a whisper of salt and acid phosphate.
6. Gaspar Brasserie’s Judgette
At its one-year anniversary, Gaspar Brasserie has brought on lead bartender John Codd (former bar manager at the now-closed Coachman) to craft a deep menu of 50 brandy cocktails ($12 each) in all categories of the grape-based spirit, from Cognac to Armagnac, Calvados to pisco, eau de vie to grappa. The Cognac Room upstairs is lined with sipping brandies, while you can savor cocktails in the downstairs bar as well. Starting with signature cocktails, the menu moves on to rare and beloved classics — many from London’s legendary The Savoy Cocktail Book — grouped by brandy style. Read more about the brand new menu and cocktail offerings in my Zagat feature here.)
An initial favorite is an under-the-radar cocktail classic, the Judgette, a beauty of cognac, gin, pear and lime with a whisper of absinthe to add herbal intrigue. It goes down all too easy.
7. Alexander’s Steakhouse’s Godzilla’s Bite
Though an $18 cocktail is big city-pricey, that’s because Godzilla’s Bite ($18) at Alexander’s Steakhouse SF uses WhistlePig 10 year rye whiskey. Bar manager Justin Goo’s cocktail pulls from Asian influences in keeping with the food menu at the steakhouse combing the rye with yellow and green chartreuse, fresh shiso leaves and chamomile tincture for a robust, savory, herb-laden drink pleasingly marked by black lava salt.
8. Belga’s Beer Cocktail # 2
Belga opened in May as a new, destination-worthy temple to beer with hearty-yet-refined Belgian, French and German food and strong cocktails. There’s a range of standouts (more details on beers, dishes and cocktails in my Zagat feature on Belga’s opening), including an emphasis on Cognac and Armagnac cocktails.
Beer cocktails also shine. Try Beer Cocktail # 2, combining aged Denizen rum and HenHouse’s superb saison beer (from Petaluma), allspice liqueur, ginger and kumquats, with a smattering of fresh shaved nutmeg on top. Think Tiki meets beer cocktail in a drink that allows the subtle funkiness of the rum to ground this tart refresher.