Trick Dog's new zodiac sign menu

Trick Dog’s new zodiac sign menu


Photos and article by Virginia Miller

TRICK DOG, 3010 20th Street at Florida, 415-471-2999


Aquarius is vibrant & bracing for a vodka cocktail, using Absolut vodka, Combier Rose, with a hint of bitter from Aperol – but it’s the generous dose of lime that makes it

The Bon Vivants’ (Josh Harris, Scott Baird, Jason Henton) Trick Dog has been the hottest bar opening in San Francisco of 2013, and one of the big openings of the year anywhere in the cocktail world.

Though it certainly made my “best of” list of 2013, the constant stream of crowds make it a tough place to visit as often as I’d like. Thank God for the 3pm opening hour, particularly this week of January 8th, the day the team launched their new menu.

Trick Dog menus are an event not merely because there are new cocktails to taste, but because each menu is art concept and themed exploration in one. It started with their striking Pantone color wheel, fanning out featuring color-toned cocktails. Months later, they went on to an elaborate, big book of LP sleeves, each filled with a record listing a song-titled cocktail.

My favorite: Libra, lively, light, savory, brilliant with Tequila Ocho Plato Blanco, tangerine, dill, lime, egg white and a dusting of matcha green tea powder

My initial favorite: the lively, light, bright, savory Libra with Tequila Ocho Plato Blanco, tangerine, dill, lime, egg white and a dusting of matcha green tea powder

Coasters offer meet-up opportunities to exchange phone #s

Coasters offer cheeky meet-up opportunities

2014 ushers in a Zodiac wheel that when turned to one’s “sign”, uncovers drinks themed by sign, many with blessed savory components, covering a range of spirits.

One day in to the launch, I tasted through eight of the twelve “signs.” All worked: only a couple left me longing to taste more of the flavors listed, a couple surprised, and most delighted.

Via photos, here are highlights and observations on the 8 cocktails tasted…

Though I loved the boozy, smoky-clean Scotch hit (from Black Grouse & Ardbeg 10 yr) of the Cancer cocktail, what I really wished I could have tasted was the listed peanuts, sage and salted pineapple - they seemed lost on the palate even as the drink unfolded a bit as the giant ice cube slowly diluted... the peanuts seem to add more of a texture than a flavor as all is overwhelmed by peat

Though I loved the boozy, smoky-clean Scotch hit (from Black Grouse & Ardbeg 10 yr Scotches) of the Cancer cocktail, what I really wished I could have tasted were the peanuts, sage and salted pineapple – sounded like my dream cocktail but those elements seemed lost amid all the peat, even as the drink unfolds once a giant ice cube slowly dilutes… the peanuts add more of a texture than a flavor

A beaut: the vegetal, ultra-fresh carrot taste of the Taurus: Beefeater Gin, Dolin Blanc, carrot, miso and coriander served up

My second favorite cocktail: the vegetal, ultra-fresh carrot taste of the Taurus, mixing Beefeater Gin, Dolin Blanc, carrot, miso (brillaint!), coriander

Capricorn goes robust with a lush, bitter undercurrent from Cynar mixed with Fighting Cock bourbon, Dubbonet, Orange Curacao, cacao and rosemary

Capricorn goes robust with a lush, bitter undercurrent from Cynar mixed with Fighting Cock bourbon, Dubbonet, Orange Curacao, cacao, rosemary

Circling the entire wheel

Circling the entire wheel

The condensed milk with Leblon Cachaca texture of the Leo is a beaut, though the one flavor coming through is guava - as pleasant as that is (& as easy as this goes down), I wanted to taste more of the Stout Beer & Mandarine Napoleon Cognac undergirding the drink

The condensed milk texture of the Leblon Cachaca-based Leo is a beaut, though the one flavor coming through is guava – as lovely as that is (& oh-so-easy to drink), I hoped to taste more of the Stout Beer & Mandarine Napoleon Cognac

The Gemini is an ideal aperitif: two amari, Amaro Lucano & Amaro Montenegro, give structure, while Noilly Pratt dry vermouth & Cava add lightness & bubbles, sour orange & sesame the intrigue

The Gemini is an ideal aperitif: two amari – Amaro Lucano & Amaro Montenegro – give the drink structure & body, while Noilly Pratt dry vermouth & Cava add lightness & bubbles; it’s sour orange & sesame that add intrigue



Oh, Virgo: a little Tanqueray Malacca Gin structured with manzanilla sherry & kiwi soda

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A Tiki nod, with balanced vinegar, Saint Elmo's Fire: Denizen white rum, Amaro Averna, pineapple, coconut vinegar, allspice, lime


Photos and article by Virginia Miller

TRICK DOG, 3010 20th Street at Florida, 415-471-2999, open 3pm-2am daily (brunch coming soon)

Gypsy Tan: Rittenhouse 100 rye, Mandarine Napoléon orange liqueur, Fernet Branca, ginger, lemon, Erdinger Weissbier, nutmeg

The Bon Vivants (Josh Harris, Scott Baird, Jason Henton) need little introduction in the drink world, from humanitarian work with their Pig & Punch events (they’re featured in the Jan./Feb. 2013 issue of Imbibe magazine) to their unforgettable Bon Vivants’ parties.

Last Sunday, I walked through the unfinished space of their long-awaited bar Trick Dog. Though it appeared there was much left to be done, in 24 short hours the bar was looking all grown up and open for business, welcoming a slew of early birds and industry folk at 3pm on January 7th.

Light & lovely Baby Turtle: Tequila Ocho reposado, Campari, grapefruit, cinnamon, lime, egg white

Trick Dog buzz is already at fever pitch. The two-level space, designed by the Bon Vivants (they recently launched The Bon Vivants Design–Build) along with Wylie Price Design, boasts thoughtful details like iron bannisters from the original Warfield and a seating area upstairs overlooking the action for those who want to sit and dine.

The space is both industrial and warm, named after the vintage trick dog piggy banks spotted around the bar.

Possibly my top drink thus far, Alligator Alley: olive oil-infused Broker’s gin, Imbue vermouth, Tempus Fugit quinquina, Green Chartreuse

At the bar

While cocktails are the Vivants’ expertise, listed on a brilliant menu resembling a Pantone paint color guide/swatch (designed by Camille Robles/Ramble & Ride), there’s food from Chef Chester Watson, like a salt cod-wrapped Scotch egg and dreamy, minty Fernet ice cream laden with toasted cacao nibs. Soon I will have worked my way through the menus but for opening day, I tasted half of the 13 Pantone color-named cocktails ($10-$12), each a winner. There’s also $8 highballs (like amaro & Moxie soda), $7 alcohol-free drinks, $35 punches to share, and $8 “Neat with a Side” options, like George Dickel #12 Tennessee whiskey with dill pickle gelée.

Behind the bar, lined with Vivants’-designed sliding bottle shelves, a tight team of bartenders is already busy attending to opening week crowds. Here are my opening day highlights and cocktails in photos.

Straw Hat: Sutton Cellars vermouth, LeCompte calvados, chestnut honey, lime, hard cider, rosemary

For dessert, Vintage Photo: Flor de Caña 7 Year rum, Trick Dog banana cordial, West Indies tincture, bitters

Written by Virginia in: Imbiber | Tags:

On the Town

Japanese whisky haven in a Warehouse District loft with Suntory

Highlights of 2012 TALES of the COCKTAIL

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Ryan Fitzgerald and team accepts for Beretta, which wins Best Cocktail Bar in America at Tales' Barroom Brawl

It was another humid, sweltering year at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, the world’s biggest cocktail event, drawing thousands of global attendees for a relentless week of tastings, seminars and parties in the great queen of the South. Any reason to be in Nola is a good one and with the city overrun with some of the world’s best bartenders, brand ambassadors, writers and distillers, it was, as usual, one long party.

Being Tales’ 10th anniversary, the parties were particularly big this year, though for me none came close to the magic of William Grant & Sons’ party in a Garden District mansion at Tales two years ago. I found myself craving such an event in the midst of cacophonous, overcrowded blowouts, urging me to slip away with like-minded folk for conversation in quieter settings. Nevertheless, the week held numerous highlights:


Enrique Sanchez of Jasper's joyfully mixes cocktails as part of the Beretta SF team

Though Tales’ awards continue to be Europe and New York-centric (evidenced by the London-dominant wins at the Spirited Awards), this year SF made a dent, only hinting at our long-established cocktail culture that has set trends rather than been a recent comer to the nationwide renaissance of the last few years.

At Thursday night’s Bar Room Brawl, bars from six US cities represented with bar teams serving special menus as brass bands (and beyond) rocked on. The winner of Best Cocktail Bar in America? Our own Beretta. Ryan Fitzgerald, Jennifer Colliau, Enrique Sanchez, and a hard-working crew of SF bartenders ecstatically accepted a giant trophy, doing us proud.

Roasting a whole pig at The Bon Vivants' Pig & Punch BBQ fundraiser

The Bon Vivants (Scott Baird, Josh Harris, Alex Straus) deservedly won The John Lermeyer Award for Good Behavior at Tales’ Spirited Awards. It was a joy watching them win the first award of the night for their humanitarian work, which gives a good name to bartenders everywhere. Besides painting over 30 New Orleans KIPP Charter School classrooms with a team of volunteers, they threw their 3rd annual Pig & Punch fundraiser for the schools Saturday in Washington Square Park. With delicious barbecue (whole hog, y’all), Don Julio and George Dickel punches, and a crowd of over 800 people, they raised over $21k (they started this merely three years ago raising $1600). Impressive growth and a shining example of how to have fun and give back at the same time.

The stage set as a pub for the Spirited Awards

With two of the four nominees for Spirited Awards‘ Best Restaurant Bar being from SF (the other was the wonderful Bar Agricole), it was a delight to see the ever-talented Erik Adkins win for The Slanted Door, with equally impressive work behind Heaven’s Dog. I wish for more US bars to be awarded – and for nominees to be more current as Tales seems to often nominate places that were great or established years ago. Though I adore London and have been to all the nominated London bars, I can’t help but notice the US isn’t represented in London Cocktail Week, for example, so why wouldn’t we reserve at least a bigger section of the platform to acknowledge the fantastic bars nationwide?


Single barrel Japanese whisky vials for mixing or poured on the rocks

A hearty thank you to Suntory and the fabulous Neyah White and Gardner Dunn (Suntory Brand Ambassadors) for what was THE highlight of Tales: an intimate, invite-only tasting room in a Warehouse District loft. Down a candlelit hall was a white room punctuated by glowing bar, decorative kimono on loan from a Paris museum, and mini-tables lined with vials of single barrel whiskies from the Suntory line for us to mix and pour over hand-cut ice. Making the experience even more memorable, Michael Mina corporate chefs, Lincoln Carson and Gary Lamorte, flew out from SF and Vegas respectively to cook four exceptional bites. I’m still dreaming of a 76 degree sous vide egg strained through a siphon, creamy and whipped, over vanilla brioche studded with bacon. Togarashi Fiddle Faddle popcorn was an addictive snack, and a cool banana mochi over golden raisin puree elicited a long, slow sigh of delight.

Togarashi Fiddle Faddle

Alongside the space’s Zen peace and camaraderie with other whisky aficionados, the afternoon was landmark due to a bar of everything from Hakushu 25 year, Yamazaki 1984, Hibiki 30 year, and other extremely rare, unavailable in the US Japanese whiskies. The privilege was not lost on me, and while I would be hard pressed to chose a favorite, Yamazaki ’84 lingered on my palate long after I returned to the blinding heat outside.


Meeting with distillers, brand ambassadors and previewing unreleased spirits are key reasons I go to Tales, even if there wasn’t an overwhelming offering of the new this year. On the first day of Tales, I spent time with WhistlePig master distiller Dave Pickerell, who you may know as Maker’s Mark master distiller for 14 years. As Pickerell told me himself, I was the very first to try his upcoming October release, TripleOne. TripleOne is WhistlePig rye but at 111 proof (vs. 100), aged 11 years (vs. 10), and at $111 per 750 ml. bottle. The bracing TripleOne doesn’t boast quite as long a finish as the flagship rye, but it’s even more complex, surprisingly akin to applejack or Calvados at first sip, opening up into spicy rye body with citrus and chocolate notes. American whiskey fans, watch for this one. You’re going to want it.


Agostino Perrone of London's Connaught bar serves amari

You say amaros, I saw amari (plural for amaro). The bottom line is amaro (Italian for “bitter”), the wide range of herbal liqueurs commonly sipped as after-dinner digestifs in Italy, has been hot the past few years and only continues to get hotter. Though there are still countless amari not yet imported from Europe, big names like Fernet and Cynar have ushered bitter liqueurs into the mainstream. Amari popped up all over Tales, most notably in the Fortified and Aromatized Wines Tasting Room highlighting port, sherry, etc… and some of the US’ best vermouths like SF’s Sutton Cellars and Imbue in Portland. The highlight of the tasting was Neil Kopplin pouring Imbue’s debut of brand new Petal & Thorn, a gorgeously bitter gentian liqueur using homegrown beets for color, alongside cinnamon and menthol.

Sipping amari with Spirit of Italy

On the Italian front, The Spirit of Italy (TSOI) threw a two morning brunch hosted by Francesco Lafranconi, featuring seven producers: Amaro Lucano, Luxardo, Moccia, Nardini, Pallini, Toschi and Varnelli. Lafranconi’s cocktails stole the show, like addictive:

Amaro Lucano-Bourbon Milk Punch
1 ¼ oz Amaro Lucano
¾ oz Bourbon Whiskey
4 oz Milk Punch Mix*
Method: shake ingredients with ice then strain into a tumbler.
Garnish: orange peel and sprinkle of nutmeg.

*Milk Punch Mix (keep refrigerated):
2 oz milk
2 oz half & half
5 drops of vanilla extract
½ oz rock candy syrup

Zabov NOLA Coffee

1 oz Zabov Liqueur
½ oz Cream-style Sherry
½ oz Chocolate Liqueur
2 oz Chicory Coffee Blend
2 tbsp. Zabov-flavored whipped cream*
Method: shake ingredients with ice then strain into a glass coffee mug.
Garnish: zested lemon peel and sprinkle of cinnamon sugar.

Zabov in a Nola Coffee

*Zabov-flavored whipped cream:
12 oz heavy cream
4 oz Zabov.
In a pint-size whipping cream syphon combine the ingredients, charge and keep refrigerated.

Zabov is essentially zabaglione (the Italian dessert of whipped egg yolks, sugar, sweet wine) in a bottle – a little sweet on its own but fascinating in texture and in the coffee cocktail. On the other end of the spectrum, Varnelli’s expensive ($52), uber-bitter Amaro Sibilla is a complex delight, unfolding with chestnuts, coffee, honey, and intense bitter notes – not for the novice amaro drinker.


Evanston, Illinois' FEW at Indie Spirits That Rock

Kudos to Dave Schmier for Indie Spirits That Rock, a version of his Indy Spirits Expo, which I’ve been to every year in SF. Crowds thronged around small, independent spirits – they need a bigger tasting room next year. I was “tattooed” with an artful, temporary St. George Breaking & Entering Bourbon tat (which everyone thought was real) and even discovered a few new spirits I had not tasted before.

Smooth Ambler Gin at Indie Spirits

Standouts included West Virginia’s Smooth Ambler Spirits‘ (I’d had their Old Scout bourbon before) fascinating Barrel-Aged Gin, aromatic with orange marmalade, bitter subtleties, pine, cinnamon, and their Very Old Scout bourbon, earthy with oak, nuts, toast and butter. Few Spirits (from Evanston, IL) also offered an intriguing rye and bourbon, the former spicy, sweet, bracing, the latter smooth but not lacking in character. I look forward to revisiting each of these.


Inside Francis Ford Coppola's French Quarter home

Besides Suntory’s sacred den of Japanese whisky, the other haven from Tales madness and New Orleans’ Summer heat was Francis Ford Coppola’s French Quarter home. By invite only, we were merely given an address, entering a candlelit walkway into a classic New Orleans courtyard and hundred years’ old home with exposed brick walls, fireplaces, grand piano and jazz duo serenading us as we sipped Krug and Inglenook Wine. I stopped in more than once, grateful for a peaceful gathering on comfy couches where I ran into friends from New York to Ireland.


Courtyard at Coppola's home

Thanks to Portland’s House Spirits for the brilliant idea of a coffee bar – with booze, of course –  every morning at an art gallery across the street from the Tales’ home base of the Hotel Monteleone.

Iced Stumptown Coffee perked us up on those slugglishly hot, post-party mornings. And if one must add House Spirits’ coffee liqueur or aquavit to the coffee, so be it.

A memorable Spirited Dinner on 4/26 celebrating Sindey Frank Importing Co.'s 40th anniversary at Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse with drinks by (L-R): Sean Kenyon (Denver), Sean Hoard (NYC), Ivy Mix (NYC), Todd Richman (NYC), chef de cuisine Alfred Singleton

2012 TALES of the COCKTAIL
Spirited Award Winners

The John Lermeyer Award for Good Behavior:
The Bon Vivants 

American Bartender of the Year:
Eric Alperin
Charles Joly
Jeffrey Morganthaler
Joaquin Simo

Best American Brand Ambassador:
Erick Castro
Elayne Duke
Jamie Gordon
Jim Ryan

Best American Cocktail Bar:
Anvil Bar & Refuge – Houston, Texas
Clover Club – Brooklyn, New York
Columbia Room – Washington, District of Columbia
The Varnish – Los Angeles, California

Best Bar Mentor:
Bridget Albert
Wayne Collins
Francesco Lafranconi
Steve Olson

Best High Volume Cocktail Bar:
Beretta – San Francisco, California
Clover Club – Brooklyn, New York
Eastern Standard – Boston, Massachusetts
La Descarga – Los Angeles, California

Best Cocktail Writing, Non-Book:
Time Out NY

Best Cocktail Writing:
Gary Regan
Robert Simonson
David Wondrich
Naren Young

Best International Brand Ambassador:
Jacob Briars
Ian Burrell
Claire Smith
Angus Winchester

Best New Cocktail/Bartending Book:
The American Cocktail by the Editors of Imbibe
Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-all
Gaz Regan’s Annual Manual for Bartenders 2011
PDT Cocktail Book

Best New Product:
Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum
Cognac Pierre Ferrand 1840 Formula
Lillet Rose
Perlini System

Best Restaurant Bar:
Bar Agricole – San Francisco, California
Rivera – Los Angeles, California
Saxon + Parole – New York, New York
Slanted Door – San Francisco, California

International Bartender of the Year:
Zdenek Kastanek
Alex Kratena
Sam Ross
Dushan Zaric

World’s Best Cocktail Bar:
69 Colebrooke Row – London, United Kingdom
Black Pearl – Melbourne, Australia
The Connaught Bar – London, United Kingdom
The Varnish – Los Angeles, California

World’s Best Cocktail Menu:
Black Pearl – Melbourne, Australia
Callooh Callay – London, United Kingdom
Clover Club – Brooklyn, New York
Mayahuel – Manhattan, New York

World’s Best Drinks Selection:
Artesian Bar at The Langham – London, United Kingdom
Death & Co. – Manhattan, New York
Eau de Vie – Sydney, Australia
Salvatore Calabrese at The Playboy – London, United Kingdom

World’s Best Hotel Bar:
Artesian Bar at The Langham – London, United Kingdom
Clive’s Classic Lounge – Victoria, British Columbia
Clyde Common – Portland, Oregon
The Zetter Townhouse – London, United Kingdom

World’s Best New Cocktail Bar
Aviary – Chicago, Illinois
Candelaria – Paris, France
Canon – Seattle, Washington
The Zetter Townhouse – London, United Kingdom

Helen David Lifetime Achievement Award:
Gaz Regan 

Written by Virginia in: On the Town | Tags: ,


Bar Talent & Rare Bourbon Barrels on 16th

16th Street between Valencia and Guerrero is packed with good food and longtime dive bars. As classic cocktail dens and mixology menus are the norm rather than the exception in this town, it’s easy to forget that some of our great ‘tenders continue to serve the quality drinks we crave without fuss. On this stretch of 16th, there’s two in particular.

Roses for a Peach - a Summer stunner at Elixir made from one of their Four Roses single barrel whiskies

As with any bar, who is tending makes a difference and these gifted few craft their own robust creations while nailing down boozy classics. Chat them up about what they’re working on lately or ask for one of these recent pleasures, including a rare, single barrel bourbon collection.


Elixir is an SF institution, the intimate, wood-lined saloon harkening back to Barbary Coast days – a bar since 1858. Run by one of our country’s cocktail pioneers, H. Joseph Ehrmann, and talented bar manager duo Shea Shawnson and Nick DesEnfants, the cocktail menu is a mix of 1800’s saloon classics, Elixir classics like H.’s Celery Cup No. 1, and rotating seasonal drinks.

Elixir's classic bar

Elixir is also for the whisk(e)y aficionado, with over 220 bottles behind the bar – not to mention a solid tequila selection. Now is the time go, however, for a flight ($25) or single pour ($12.50) of their four special single barrels of Four Roses bourbon, aged 8 to nearly 11 years, personally selected by H., Shea and Nick in Kentucky when visiting master distiller Jim Rutledge (selected while I was also in KY judging spirits alongside H. for the American Distilling Institute awards).

Their four single barrel whiskies show an impressive range and body, all at barrel strength/high proof. Part of their unique profile as a bourbon is due to the signature Four Roses style of a higher mashbill (which is essentially the grain mix used to make a whiskey or beer) of rye grain: 20%-35%. Bourbon must be corn dominant (51% or more) and no other bourbon contains as much rye as Four Roses, except for Bulleit Bourbon due to the fact that it’s distilled at Four Roses. This higher inclusion of rye grain adds the spice and character us rye devotees adore, while retaining those sweet, caramel bourbon notes.

Que Sea Rapido (make it quick!)

In reference to the combination of proprietary yeast strains used to make each of these bourbons, Elixir’s barrels are labeled by yeast strain combinations: OBSK, OBSO, OESO, OBSQ. Lest all this start to sound a little geeky, just ask for the tasting sheet and see what tasting notes jump out at you (chocolate and caramel or pickle brine, wood, hay?), then choose your pour accordingly. Better yet, share the flight with someone and find your favorite the best way: side-by-side comparison. My favorites? OBSK, which was the unanimous first choice of the Elixir guys, for its orange zest and earthy chocolate notes, and the OBSQ with greater bite and salty, grassy soul. Sampling Four Roses Limited Edition 2012 Single Barrel release (aged 12 years) alongside Elixir’s one-of-a-kind four rounded out the pleasure at a bracing 111.2%, still smooth with vanilla cream and toasted almond tempered by a spice bite.

Make it a Sunny Side

The latest cocktails at Elixir? A few so new they aren’t on the menu: Roses for a Peach uses the OBSQ single barrel bourbon, muddling fresh, juicy peaches, peach bitters and Shea’s house sage syrup. Though sweet as summer, the bourbon’s higher proof imparts body, holding up to and elevating the natural peach sweetness. Bartender Levanah Ananda created this cocktail beauty along with Sunny Side, an ebullient mix of Aviation Gin with the sage syrup, pineapple, lemon and an absinthe rinse – a large slice of lemon floats in the glass like a sunny side up egg yolk (hence the name).

I’m in love with the wet stone/slate quality of Nick and Shea’s Que Sea Rapido (make it quick!) Del Maguey Vida imparts the smoky stone notes, while just the right touch of Domaine De Canton ginger liqueur and lime rounds it out, with ancho chile powder giving it earthiness rather than heat.

Elixir is a small, often crowded bar so for those such as myself who like it mellow, preferred time is afternoon or early evening hours for a seat at the bar and time with these bartenders who keep it real… as they casually craft winning cocktails.

Dalva/The Hideout

Curiel creations at Dalva

Dalva is the main bar, a worn-but-comfortable Mission classic, thankfully untrendy, divey and to be relied upon for a beer under a screen showing classic films and lesser seen Bruce Lee movies. I typically head straight to The Hideout, a cozy, dim back bar with superior craft spirits selection. Here one or two bartenders, including the occasional guest bartender like Josh Harris of the Bon Vivants, craft classics and classically-influenced cocktails… accompanied by loud, kitschy-cool tunes (see my review from early 2011). Arriving early one night before the Hideout opens at 7pm, I’m taken care of by bartender David Curiel who tends both in Dalva and The Hideout (currently he’s at the latter Wednesday and Friday nights). Even with big name brands lining Dalva’s bar, I’m not suffering for a craft drink.

Curiel operates with a classics ethos of just a few ingredients – including vermouth and bitters – allowing boozy attitude to shine, tempered with mature restraint. A prime example is a creation he was considering naming Michael Landon (after the TV actor, who I grew up with both on Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie): rye whiskey, Italian aperitif Cocchi Americano, musky Oloroso sherry and orange bitters. This imbibement hits first with rye spice and Oloroso nuttiness, balanced by Cocchi’s bright bitterness. Another Curiel drink, Smoking Gun, goes the peaty route with Ardbeg 10yr Scotch, and if at Dalva’s bar, it’s vivid with two Italian aperitifs, Campari and Cynar, plus Angostura bitters. In The Hideout it’s local great Gran Classico and Italian amaro Ramazotti instead of Campari and Cynar. Ask what Curiel or any of the Hideout bartenders are working on or excited by lately – or give them your mood (bitter, smoky, citrus, herbaceous, etc…) and let them satiate.

At the Hideout bar in the back of Dalva

Written by Virginia in: Imbiber | Tags:


Red velvet-draped ceiling with vintage fans at Big

Menu-Less Joys: Two New Destination Bars

Comfortable early hours at Rio Grande

Grandaddy of the speakeasy resurgence, New York’s Milk & Honey, has been doing the menu-less thing since 2000, while places like LA’s Library Bar get their inspiration from daily-changing, farmers market produce. Two fascinating new SF bars are serving custom cocktails their own way, only able to go sans menu because of strong talent behind the bar.

RIO GRANDE, Mid-Market (1108 Market St. at 7th) 

Drinks before the pole

I’ve written about Bon Vivants (Scott Baird, Josh Harris, Operations Specialist and mover behind-the-scenes, Jason Henton) numerous times over the years, from early days at 15 Romolo to creating the cocktail menu at Berkeley’s new Comal. Anticipating their long awaited Mission bar Trick Dog, I’ve meanwhile been having fun with multiple visits to Rio Grande, a bar they just launched as part of ATO (A Temporary Offering) in the Kor Group‘s Renoir Hotel, a genius pop-up project where local entrepreneurs can test concepts from FoodLab dinners to shops and art events. Using the hotel’s vacant, three-room space, revolving projects revitalize the seedy stretch of Market near 7th.

Border town cantina feel with a hint of shimmery glitz

Rio Grande is unlike any other bar in town. Evoking a South of the Border cantina, or what the Vivants dub “Tarantino and Once Upon a Time in Mexico meet bordertown roadhouse”, here funk and tacky glitz marry laid back ease, as tequila, mezcal, whiskey and cans of beer flow. Born as an idea over a drink Baird had one night with Justin Simoneaux (chef at Boxing Room), the concept has been years in coming. Under the gaze of Wild Turkey bourbon and Espolon tequila logos emphasizing the bar’s whiskey/tequila union, the ceiling sports a Virgin Guadalupe shrine in front of a painting of ’70’s actress Vanessa del Rio, a Baird crush, who he named the Del Rio cocktail after (reposado tequila, fino sherry, St. Germain elderflower, orange bitters). The Del Rio will soon be served on tap, while the current on-tap cocktail is an Old Fashioned.

Morgan Shick hand-chips ice

Initially launched as a “pop-up” bar in keeping with ATO’s rotating offerings, the Renoir folks like the bar enough to try and find a way for it to stay. If not, the Vivants will move it to various locales as a gypsy bar (here’s hoping it remains while they launch other nomadic bars – a fine concept). Impressively built out in three weeks, Henton says there were days they’d still be at Rio at 5:30am wielding power saws, building high top tables, implementing one of Harris’ many estate sale/flea market finds – he stalks local sales for vintage pieces like the bar’s fascinating ceiling fans or the cowhide splayed in the entrance. Harris found Mexican national newspapers from 1945-47 which became wallpaper behind the bar. The bar boasts a pole on either end for whatever shenanigans might ensue, while a mini stage is set for live music. Even without bands, tunes are perfection: a little hard rock, a lot of classic country (think Waylon, Hank I and II, your general outlaw cowboy musicians).

Shimmer, shrines, turkeys & vintage ceiling fans

To exist sans menu, it’s crucial that bartenders are talented, knowledgeable and versatile. They couldn’t be more on the right path with hand-chosen bartenders Morgan Shick and Russell Davis assisted by Chester Watson, Trick Dog’s chef and one of Zagat’s 30 Under 30 this year. Shick is one half of Jupiter Olympus (the other is Eric Quilty at Oakland’s Adesso), a bar/restaurant consulting company that throws some crazy, imaginative parties. I’ve judged a number of cocktail contests where Shick (who’s worked at bars from Marzano to Michael Mina) is an entrant – his sense of balance and ingenuity stand out every time. Davis, besides being named Nightclub & Bar’s 2012 Bartender of the Year, recently crafted a brilliant soda fountain menu at Ice Cream Bar and can be found literally igniting flames at Rio Grande (just ask him to).

Cowhide splayed in the entrance

According to Harris, The Vivants’ wanted “to take the pretentiousness out of the bar scene and make it fun”, which is why Tecate and Dos Equis flow just as freely as Del Maguey. In my visits, I’ve sipped a mezcal and yellow chartreuse winner or a bitter amaro beauty on crushed ice (Julep snow cone-style). Speaking of ice, they hand cut ice here, a pleasure to watch. During one visit, Shick made a mezcal, grapefruit soda drink accented with crème de cassis (black currant liqueur), lime, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur and salt: smoky, salty and citrus-y. Spiced Fall notes shine in his mixture of Siete Leguas anejo tequila, Averna for a tinge of bitter balance, Angostura orange bitters, sweet vermouth and apple brandy.

Bands on stage

I’m in love with a finish of Old Bardstown bourbon, Nocino walnut liqueur, Balcones’ rum-like Rumble (made from Texas wildflower honey, Mission figs, turbinado sugar), plus dry vermouth and triple sec. Dry, sweet and full, it’s still bracing enough to put hair on your chest. Ideal for this burly, comfortable cantina.

They’re securing a music permit hopefully this week so the tiny stage will rock with what Harris describes as, “Less electro-synth, indie rock, but the likes of rockabilly, folk, Black Keys-style blues rock.” He says watch for “some potentially interesting surprises musically” and Tarantino Tuesdays where Tarantino films and soundtracks accompany your pour.

BIG, Tenderloin (761 Post St. between Leavenworth & Jones)

Big’s intimate, charming bar

Big may be an oxymoron: this cozy space from the crew behind Jones is a mere few seats and when the bar is full at around 20-25 people, be prepared to wait at the door until space clears (they will text you when it does). After multiple visits, I continue to find the bar staffed by the talented Brian Felley (previously at Fleur de Lys and Garcon), a barback and one other bartender, Mo Hodges, who is recently here from burgeoning cocktail town Denver, having worked at the Squeaky Bean. Similar to the aforementioned Library Bar, there’s a small herb and produce spread here, while both bartenders are quite  adept at assessing preferences, taking time to craft you “just the thing”.

Big drink beauties

Vintage glassware makes sipping a pleasure, the bar lined with a thoughtful selection of spirits and bitter beauties I adore like Bittermens Amère Sauvage, even one I wasn’t familiar with: Salers Gentiane Apéritif. One warm night, fresh beet juice was radiant with Hirsch corn whiskey, habanero shrub for a gentle heat/vinegar accent, lemon, half a rim of paprika, salt and black pepper. A real stunner of a cocktail utilized their tart, lively rhubarb syrup, mixing it with Plymouth gin, Aperol, Bitter Truth Creole bitters, Vya Whisper Dry Vermouth and a hint of fresh fennel juice. Refreshing as it was, the best part of the cocktail was that its layers unfold with one sip: tart, bitter, spice, floral, etc… Each as pleasing and subtle as the last.

Sweet corn fizz!

During another visit they concocted a bright mix of Fidencio mezcal, reposado tequila, grapefruit, lime, dry vermouth and a fascinating mirepoix (celery, onions, carrot) syrup. I’d just tried the syrup earlier in the week as Felley’s first experimental batch, the onion hitting too strong (though I’m crazy about savory, funky cocktails), while a few nights later Mo added it to the aforementioned cocktail for delicate savory notes. I value their experimentation, hunting for the right match for each ingredient.

Seasonal touches

I’d been on the elusive hunt for their sweet corn fizzes which they recently tweeted about but are only available when sweet corn is in the house. My third visit was the charm. Mo mixed the subtle sweet corn (fresh off the stalk, blended into a liquid) with essentially a Cognac fortified wine, apple, lemon, a dreamy basil milk, a touch of  Lebanese liqueur Arak Razzouk and Zirbenz pine liqueur, shaken with egg whites and topped with Peychaud’s bitters. Soft and frothy, this refreshing imbibement hits subtly with sweet corn, then whispers of pine forest and anise from the Arak. Thankfully here I know I can expect something unique, complex, rewarding but without attitude or fussiness. Naturally, it takes a few minutes to craft each drink, and be prepared for cash only and $13 per cocktail, which adds up quickly.

Vibrant beet cocktail

They’ve only recently expanded from being open merely Thursdays through Saturdays to adding on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (opening at 6pm). If you are a cocktail aficionado, this bar offers a special experience. If you are not, don’t visit Big to try the same old thing (there’s plenty of nearby bars for that – please leave the minimal seats to the rest of us) – rather, be open and ready to have your whim of the moment met with fresh style.

Big is just the sort of bar I fall in love with: romantic, welcoming, intimate, mellow – one where I can converse comfortably with bartenders and my companions while sipping a beautiful custom drink.


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Black Daiquiri (L) & Palomaesque (R) at Berkeley's new Comal

and bites to enjoy with

From Berkeley to Sausalito, new restaurants to old, here are a handful of drinks to put on your warm weather, spring radar – and accompanying bites to go with.

COMAL, Berkeley (2020 Shattuck Ave., between Addison & University, Berkeley, 510-926-6300)

Decidedly not evil: Jack Satan

Downtown Berkeley (as opposed to the rest of Berkeley) has never overwhelmed on excellent dining options, much as I’ve combed restaurants within the BART vicinity over the years. Gather is my top recommend in the area, but Oaxacan newcomer Comal promises to be a new favorite. Owned by the former band manager of Phish with Executive Chef Matt Gandin (formerly chef de cuisine at Delfina) running the kitchen, the reason drink lovers should go is a cocktail menu created by the Bon Vivants, Josh Harris and Scott Baird. I went opening night, May 5th, and no surprise from that expert bartending crew: each drink tried was a winner, featuring South of the Border spirits from tequila to mezcal. We were lucky to have Baird mixing drinks that night, though the Vivants won’t be bartenders.

Duck enchiladas in red mole sauce

Jack Satan ($9) is not remotely evil. Despite a tinge of heat from the “infierno tincture”, the whole effect is tart loveliness with Tres Agaves Reposado, hibiscus syrup, lime and salt. Another immediate standout is a Black Daiquiri ($10) mixing Pampero Aniversario Rum, Averna, lime, sugar, and Chiapan coffee tincture.

The fab Black Daiquiri

Tart, bitter, sweet and robust, coffee notes do not dominate but add a hint of earth and body – refreshingly unique. Mexican classics like the Paloma get the Vivants treatment, in the case of the Palomaesque ($9) which substitutes Don Amado Rustico Mezcal for tequila, ups the bitterness ante with Cocchi Americano alongside grapefruit, and rounds it all out with lime, honey, salt, soda.

Oaxacan food, one of my great cravings (mole!), is the other great draw here in the open, modern space and appealing back patio. Of initial dishes tried, duck mole coloradito (a red mole sauce) enchiladas ($14) already had me jonesing for a return. Duck mole and a little Jack Satan? Sins worth committing.

TV chef/cookbook author/tequila fan, Joanne Weir, serves Mexico City-style quesadillas

COPITA, Sausalito (739 Bridgeway, Sausalito, 415-331-7400)

Copita's inviting sidewalk patio

TV and cookbook chef Joanne Weir showcases her love of tequila – and recipes from her Tequila book – at Copita, Sausalito’s spanking new Mexican restaurant with sidewalk seating, open air setting, and rotisserie chicken… all a stone’s throw from the shimmering Bay. Still working out opening kinks since opening a couple weeks ago, two visits have allowed me to work my way through the entire cocktail menu and enjoyable flights (try the $20 Highlands Reposado flight: Siete Leguas, Ocho, Excellia reposados) with shots of house sangrita: tomato, pineapple, cucumber, orange, celery, ancho chile, lime.

Sangrita & reposado

There’s cocktails like Joanne’s favorite – one I love to make at home – the Prado: Corazon blanco tequila, Luxardo maraschino liquor, lime, egg white. A fun imbibement is Spicy & Smoky “Raspado”: Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal, tamarind, with a chile-salt rim hit spicy, smoky and sweet simultaneously. Add anejo to your Oaxacan chocolate milkshake ($6), and don’t miss the restaurant’s most heartwarming bite thus far: Mexico City-style quesadillas ($8), fried and filled w/ Yukon gold potatoes, a savory, excellent house chorizo and queso fresco with crema on top.

GRAND CAFE, Union Square (501 Geary St. at Taylor, 415- 292-0101)

Almy's Merci aperitif

Grand Cafe hasn’t been the obvious place for a quality cocktail but with new bar manager Kristin Almy on board, there’s a stronger focus on cocktails at the Hotel Monaco bar than ever before. In keeping with the restaurant, French influence resounds with cocktail names like Bardot and St. Tropez. Most drinks dwell on the softer side: fizzy, layered, delicate, though a light Napoleon’s Dynamite ($9) is a fine intro for those who don’t think they’re whiskey drinkers: Bulleit Rye, Dubbonet Rouge, lemon, and grapefruit bitters go down all too easy.

Merci ($8) is an elegant, dry aperitif ideal for afternoon or pre-dinner sipping and light on alcohol: Noilly Prat dry vermouth, sparkling wine (prosecco), and Almy’s house blackberry liqueur.

Three Musicians: tequila, piquillo peppers, cucumber, lime, topped with Lillet foam

A lovely Three Musicians ($9) is subtly soft, infusing tequila with piquillo peppers, mixing cucumber and lime, topping the drink with Lillet foam. Though ideally I’d like a stronger kick of heat and boldness, I see the dilemma at the Monaco: appealing to tourists and locals alike. This menu challenges the inexperienced palate with an approachable, playful whisper. Add on a round of braised ground octopus flatbread ($14) and it’s a happy hour.

HOG & ROCKS, Mission (3431 19th St. at Bartlett, 415-550-8627)

Playful Rhubuddah Mint Coolah

While seasonal fun is had on Hog & Rocks new Spring menu with drinks like Rhubuddah Mint Coolah ($10.50) – Hangar One Buddha’s Hand vodka, lemon, rhubarb-shiso syrup, candied rhubarb, mint, ginger beer – the stand-out on the new menu is a drink best suited to chilly nights:  the Nardini Black Manhattan ($12) is robust with Rittenhouse Rye whiskey and Carpano Antica vermouth, balanced by bitter, herbaceous Nardini Amaro. Sip it with a platter of Southern, Italian or Spanish hams from Hog & Rocks rotating ham menu.

ABSINTHE, Hayes Valley (398 Hayes St. at Gough, 415-551-1590)

Sol Y Fuego - tart, sweet, smoky

With recently updated cocktail menu from former bar manager Jeff Hollinger, who went on to open Comstock Saloon in 2010, classic stalwart Absinthe offers new drinks.

If you like it sweet but with a little tart and smoky to keep it interesting, I recently tried a special called Sol Y Fuego. Bartending charmer, Raoul, mixed a kumquat shrub with nutty-spiced Velvet Falernum, lemon, bitters and a base of Don Amado mezcal. Savor it with fat garlic pretzel sticks dipped in fondue-like Vermont cheddar mornay.

Don’t forget to finish with Absinthe’s house specialty: a flaming, cinnamon-laced Spanish coffee. Worth the spectacle alone.

Raoul flames Spanish Coffees at Absinthe

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This issue’s Top Tastes in DRINK

An unforgettable night tasting Highland Park scotches: 18, 25, 30, 40 year & 1968 Vintage


•  For someone who’s every day is a taste adventure, I will say a private Russell’s Room tasting at Bourbon & Branch of Highland Park scotches was one of the most memorable I’ve ever been privileged to be a part of. There are only two such tastings going on in the country: here and in New York. I felt lucky to be one of 9 around the table (and only 2 women – scotch remains predominantly a man’s world?) tasting HP’s awesome 18, 25, 30 and 40 year scotches. But the centerpiece was a just-released, $3999 per bottle, limited-edition 1968 vintage. At Whiskyfest last year, HP’s 30 year was among my favorites. To take it two steps further (the 40 year alone is a special, $2000 per bottle imbibement), was my Scotch dream come true.

HP brand ambassador, Martin Daraz, is a charming, hilarious host. With pairings from cheese guru, Wil Edwards, of SF Cheese School, it was unforgettable. Each whisky grew lighter in color the greater the age. The ’68 vintage defined “smooth”, with a gentle sweetness, refined toasted oak notes, and hints of spice. I don’t know how else to describe the finish other than that it keeps going. One layer unfolds after the other… as I was in conversation after our last glass, wave after wave of flavor continued to roll over my tongue. Sigh.


Leblonmonaut at Bartenders' Masquerade Ball

• Thanks in large part to Drink PR pro, Debbie Rizzo, a 2/21 Leblon Carnaval Masquerade Ball at Rickhouse was one awesome party. Intimate, festive but not overcrowded, we took over the bar with carnaval masks, live music from local Diego’s Umbrella, and guest bartenders the likes of Philip Ward (of Death & Co. and Mayahuel in NYC) and Misty Kalkofen from Boston’s Drink). Rickhouse staff were holding their own with lovely Leblon cocktails, like Kelli Bratvold’s Leblon & Prosper: Leblon cachaca, lime, grapefruit, maraschino, allspice dram. Ward hit both sides of the spectrum with a smoky, mezcal-based Leblonmonaut, and a sweeter Leblon James with pomegranate molasses, mint and lime.

Congrats, Josh Harris, one of the two finalists, going to NY for nationals; international winners head to New Zealand

• On 2/22, 42 Below Cocktail Competition at the Regency Center was nicely spread out in two large rooms, plenty of space to taste and view bartenders make New Zealand vodka creations. It takes talent to bring layers of flavor out of vodka and this group delivered. Certainly, there were other spirits mixed in and some real creativity going on set to a rowdy, live rockabilly/punk band. Congrats to Michael Callahan of Gitane, who created a fresh, aperitif-like concoction using, among other things, lemon and fennel root, and to Josh Harris, of 15 Romolo, for once again pulling a win with his nuanced Bridge to Terabithia (loved that book as a kid), which contains everything from his own fennel syrup to 42 Below’s Kiwi Vodka, dusted with masala chai.

Eating bees on Joe Parrilli's Waggle Dance

I loved straight-from-the-orchard apple freshness of Spruce‘s Brandon Clements’ cocktail – his answer (or welcome antidote?) to Apple-tini requests. I commend the use of cherry jalapenos in Chase Williamson’s (of 21st Amendment) Wha Rua (“42″ in Maori). My favorite was also the biggest adventure: Tavern at Lark Creek‘s Joseph Parrilli’s Waggle Dance (name inspired by bee action) is a floral/sweet creation of vodka, Fever Tree ginger beer, wildflower bitters, Wedderspoon Manuka raw honey, topped with sugar-crusted, gold-dusted bees. Yes, bumble bees (stinger removed). I dove right in an ate one. Cute, crunchy, without much flavor, it’s kind of like eating a grasshopper, like I’ve had in Southeast Asia.


Sayonara, Crushpad!

•  A 2/25 event accurately named Around the World in 80 Sips, doubled as a last hurrah for Crushpad before it leaves SF, moving north to Wine Country. There was a nice, international representation here, in a reasonable, well-paced format of 80: more than enough to try but not so many as to make it overwhelming. Though quite sweet, it was fascinating trying dessert wines from Israel (Rimon) and Thailand (Radee). As ever, Italian wines were a pleasure, particularly the reasonably priced ($19 a bottle) Moziese, a Nero d’Avola from Sicily, and a lovely Prosecco, La Tordera (also $19).

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Top Tastes

Starlight Wine Bar's Pullman Car

Starlight Wine Bar’s Pullman Car

Even when times are tight, we’ve got to eat. There have been a slew of revisits, cheap eats and comfort food keeping me going lately, like Town Hall’s new BBQ-out-back lunch (ribs, sausages, po boys), ever lovable Phat Philly cheesesteaks, maki at Sushi Zen, Belgian waffles at Civic Center Farmer’s Market, always heroic sandwiches at Morty’s (jury duty had to have some reward!), lunch (ok food, but great coffee and snacks) in Horatius’ dramatic, pristine space, shopping at beer kings, City Beer Store & Healthy Spirits, a rowdy German dinner at Schnitzelhaus (“yes” to Black Forest Deer Ragout with spaetzle & red cabbage), and a late night Mission Heat at Urban Burger.


• At a recent Girl & the Fig dinner (a place I always enjoy, but never love, food-wise – I do love the classic bar and idyllic Summer evening back patio, however), the cheese platter included Pleasant Ridge Reserve cow’s milk cheese from Dodgeville, Wisconsin – grassy and firm, a pleasant mix of salt with sweet sides of quince paste and fig cake.


Pork Belly Sandwich at Bar Tartine

Pork Belly Sandwich at Bar Tartine

• Three days a week I work in Potrero and am rather blase about nearby 18th Street lunch options. Helps to have Dogpatch (and Kitchenette) a short drive away, with The New Spot my stop for pupusas, fresh juices and Mexican food. Now New Spot folks debuted a little sandwich shop on Third called Oralia’s Cafe, which slices some mean pastrami. Get a sandwich for $7.49 loaded with thick, savory cuts of the meat, nicely contrasted with pickles.  Makes me homesick for the East Coast.

Bar Tartine does me right for brunch every time. Mellow, sweet service, Blue Bottle coffee, excellent food – and no waits (though they just started taking brunch reservations). I tend to overdo it on

Poached Artisan Foie Gras at Masa's (this photo: photography by Michelle Walker, michellewalker.com)

Poached Artisan Foie Gras at Masa’s (this photo: photography by Michelle Walker, michellewalker.com)

the pork belly ‘shout-outs’, I know (I can’t help it!), but my favorite recent dish was their Open-face Pork Belly Sandwich ($14), a huge helping of belly, avocado, perfectly-made egg salad, sweet and spicy pickled jalapeno, with shoestring fries and aioli.

Masa’s is a stellar experience, from service to food – truly a San Fran fine dining classic. Last week, I found myself (for the sake of other diners) trying to reign in my excess pleasure over an amuse bouche of Siberian Caviar atop a Cauliflower Panna Cotta, and a dish of warm, silky Foie Gras topped with Royal Blenheim Apricots on a bed of French green lentils and squab consommé (the latter a tasting menu option).


Fresh Vegetable Platter at Starlight Wine Bar

Fresh Vegetable Platter at Starlight Wine Bar

• On a pristine Sebastopol day, lunch at Starlight Wine Bar was a one-of-a-kind experience aboard a gorgeous, original Pullman car inside a barn-like structure housing a cute cafe and Starlight’s partner wine bar. The setting, with big band & jazz classics softly playing, and informed service, impresses, but I also noted ultra-fresh salads and vegetable platter with nearby farm ingredients. Most fun was an appetizer of plump Cajun Shrimp with addictive Creole sauce and (thankfully) bread to soak it up with.

Sturgeon & Lobster/Bacon/Corn Cake at Wexler's

Sturgeon & Lobster Corn Cake at Wexler’s

• It was a happy night back at Wexler’s (tried it for lunch last time), working my way through a Slow- Roasted Smoked Sturgeon ($21) with divine Lobster/Bacon/Corn Cake and bartender, Carlos Yturria‘s, classically strong, beautiful Mint Julep (yes, in a proper julep cup, just the way it should be!)


Banana & Cinnamon Pizza at Giovanni's

Banana & Cinnamon Pizza at Giovanni’s

• A late night pizza feast at Giovanni’s was already satisfying after Caprese and Mexican pizzas were devoured. But a Banana & Cinnamon Pizza (order any size from small to extra large), with slivers of baked banana on top of a blend of four dry cheeses (including Parmesan) for a subtly savory touch, is one of the more comfortingly good desserts I’ve had in a while. When the generous owners came by offering everyone a slice of a hot-out-of-the-oven Crab Apple pizza, I dug the contrast of savory cheese with ultra-sweet crab apples. They told me they’re working on a Guava dessert pizza next. These aren’t gooey sweet, but rather light, unique desserts worth trekking to Outer Mission/border of Bernal for.

Sour Cream Japanese Pear Pie at Wexler's

Sour Cream Japanese Pear Pie at Wexler’s

Wexler’s deserves a second, and even a third, mention as I recently got to try the two desserts ($6 each) I most wanted to order on opening day but which they were out of… both were winners. Sour Cream Japanese Pear Pie looks thin, but is just the right amount of flaky, buttery crust with Winchester Gouda for a savory hint to the pears and spices, while sour cream rests as a light, tart whip on the side. Inside-Out Root Beer Float is a delightful mix of house-made vanilla soda with Humphry Slocumbe’s root beer ice cream (in which I distinctly tasted ginger), topped with whipped cream and two boozy (soaked) cherries.


Lavender fields at Matanzas Creek Winery

Lavender fields at Matanzas Creek Winery

Bourbon & Branch does it again (no surprise) with a new Summer creation from bartender, Andrew Mitchell: a Favala ($12 – hint: they’re also serving it at fabulous Rickhouse, their second bar which just opened tonight!) This beauty is a refreshing burst of Cachaca, Mint, Lemon and Orange Bitters, that surprises with a hint of Arabica Syrup giving it a mint coffee finish. Hello!

• One of my favorite wineries, Matanzas Creek, with its complex wines, French owners and lavender fields, is always a dreamy respite for me. At a recent tasting, I sampled some lovely reserve and limited edition wines, but my favorite is the $29 bottle of complex and comforting 2007 Chardonnay, layered with pear and apples, creamy, with a mineral finish.

Basil Canteen's take on an Old Fashioned

Basil Canteen’s take on an Old Fashioned

Basil Canteen, where I go for a brick-walled, New York loft-like setting with my Thai food, has some fun cocktails. I really liked bartender, Russell’s, robust variation on an Old Fashioned ($9): Knob Creek w/ orange bitters, tangerine, a touch of lemongrass syrup.

I gratefully took a Beretta bartender’s suggestion and ordered a Kentucky Mule ($9), a classic variation of their listed Agricole Mule, which I’d had a number of times before. Substituting rye whiskey for the Agricole’s rum, with a mix of ginger, mint and lime juice, makes a bright, smooth cocktail I’d have over and over again.

Kentucky Mule at Beretta

Kentucky Mule at Beretta

• At Masa’s, Master Sommelier, Alan Murray, knew the ideal pairing for each course, perfectly orchestrating a symphony of tastes from sake, to whites, reds and sparkling wines. Dessert reached an apex when he paired my Chocolate Sacher Torte with Bugey-Cerdon Sparkling Rose, Patrick Bottex’s “La Cueille”. This 80% Gamay/20% Poulsard blend from Savoie in eastern France, is a rosy beauty, sparkling with wild strawberries, not too sweet. Tangy acidity and the brightness of berries makes this one to please a range of palates.

The Peony

The Peony from Danny Louie of Dosa on Fillmore

At a Nirvino party at RIGHT Gin‘s chic SoMa Loft, Josh Harris, of 15 Romolo, shared two of his cocktails (happy a match is made between absinthe and strawberries), while Danny Louie, of Dosa, served a new creation that may make it’s way to the Dosa menu (ask for it!), The Peony: RIGHT gin, homemade Hibiscus Masala nectar (an enticing mix of black peppercorn, cumin, mustard seed, chili, hibiscus, coriander, sugar), lime juice, orange flower water, with a creamy touch of coconut milk and kaffir lime leaf garnish. Quite drinkable, I must say.

Written by Virginia in: Top Tastes |

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