Mar
01
2014

Imbiber

Two US Spirits Newcomers: Beet Spirit & Overproof Rum

Article and photos by Virginia Miller

(photo source: sidetrackdistillery.com)

(photo source: sidetrackdistillery.com)

Two standout new spirits of the year thus far? Here are two unusual US-made spirits that immediately drew me back for a second taste.

Bete from Sidetrack Distillery ($32.95/375 ml)
In my three trips to Seattle in seven months, a spirit that keeps impressing me with every sip is the uncategorizable Bete from Sidetrack Distillery in Kent, WA. The spirit is distilled from sugar beets and like the great beet cocktails I’ve had over the years, it’s vegetal, earthy, while simultaneously light and bright. Figuring out ways to use it in cocktails may seem initially daunting, but messing around at home, I find it plays beautifully with lime, lemon and other citrus, as well as vegetables like celery. A fascinating product, never has the essence of beets quite been captured like this.

High Ester Navy Style Rum from Lost Spirits Distillery ($45/375 ml)

(photo source: lostspirits.net)

(photo source: lostspirits.net)

Monterey’s Lost Spirits Distillery (from Distiller/Blender Bryan Davis, formerly making Leviathan peaty whiskey and an absinthe) is not far from my home of SF… but their new cask-strength, Navy-style rum (68% ABV) is an adventure hinting of far away islands and stormy seas.

Hardly what one might call an “elegant” rum – though it is well made – this high ester rum is robust, overproof and most importantly, memorable. Not as boozy as its ultra-high proof would suggest, its Grade A molasses-base ensures a dark, moody spirit with the kind of funk I adore in a rum, hence my first loyalty to agricole-style rums. This is not agricole, but it’s funky, alive, woody, laden with overripe fruit and licorice notes, produced in copper pot stills. There’s a wildness to the rum more exciting than dozens of American-made rums I’ve tried this year, or in any recent years.

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Feb
15
2014

Imbiber

Cachaça: Primed For Mainstream?

In Conversation with Avuá Co-Founder
Nate Whitehouse

Article by Virginia Miller

Avuá Cachaça (pronounced ahv-wah kah-SHAH-sah) is spreading the cachaça gospel. Founders Nate Whitehouse, Pete Nevenglosky, and Mark Christou are key voices raising awareness of the complexities and range of Brazil’s beloved sugarcane spirit, best known as the base for the Caipirinha cocktail. Though it surged in popularity a few years back with major brands, the category never quite took deep root in US bars as a wide diversity of brands did not make it to the US.

Cachaça is primed for far greater exposure as Brazil hosts the 2014 FIFA World Cup this summer and the 2016 Summer Olympics, where the nation’s favorite drink will surely be consumed in copious amounts. Though the spirit has long been lumped in with rum, despite being considerably different, recently gaining its own official classification/category won’t immediately help bring it to the forefront of spirit drinkers’ minds. Education and greater access to the range of cachaça out there is still greatly needed.
(Photo credit: www.avuacachaca.com)

(Photo credit: www.avuacachaca.com)

I first tasted Avuá (the Portuguese word voar, meaning “to fly”) back at Tales of the Cocktail last summer, both the clean, fruit and floral notes of Prata (aged 12 months before bottling), and the 24-month aged Amburana, named after the wood it’s aged in, exhibiting savory vegetal notes alongside the soft caramel of the wood. I was immediately impressed by Avuá’s quality and complexity above other brands I’d previously tasted. Made from single-sourced cachaça, Distiller Katia Espírito Santo is one of few Brazilian female distillers who also grows all sugarcane used to make Avuá on her family farm, Fazenda da Quinta, in Carmo, roughly four hours north of Rio de Janeiro.

Talking cachaça, I recall pisco a few years ago. The Peruvian and Chilean grape-based spirit has long had a close connection with San Francisco where there have have been bars dedicated predominantly to pisco for years, even when most of the US didn’t know much about it. Pisco really didn’t place on the national cocktail consciousness until recent years when brands like Encanto upped the profile and quality of pisco and bar managers began to feature it more. In my visit to Peru last year making pisco in Ica and visiting cocktail bars around Lima, I was amazed at the diversity of ingredients mixed with pisco in cocktail menus often 50-deep, far beyond how it has been used in the US. Though the spirit has gained much more attention in recent years, there’s still unexplored worlds of its possibilities best represented in its home countries. I see similarities with cachaça.
In a recent conversation with co-founder Nate Whitehouse, I immediately caught his passion for Brazil and cachaça. There’s a growing US community of cachaça producers, importers and aficionados who are uniting to educate and share in a greater way than ever before. Whitehouse is working with cachaça expert Felipe Jannuzzi, who runs the extensive site, Mapa da Cachaca, to translate it article-by-article into English (English site here; more on Facebook).
(Photo source: https://www.facebook.com/mapadacachaca)

(Photo source: facebook.com/mapadacachaca)

Whitehouse compares the rise he hopes to see in the cachaça category to the way mezcal has captured the national cocktail scene. His hope is that as knowledge of the sugarcane spirit deepens, it will face a similar widespread growth. He talks of over 4000 registered cachaça producers in Brazil, but that actual estimates range from 7000 to more than 30,000 producers. With over 500 years of history, cachaça is one of the historic spirits of the world. It can be young, clean and cocktail-friendly or aged in a wide range of woods, resulting in elegant, sipping cachacas. Whitehouse describes these cachacas as embodying, “… a richness we’re not familiar with because of many of them have not come into the US market.”

Similarly, Brazilian bartenders mix cachaça with a wide range of fruits from the Amazon, punches are commonplace, and some infuse the spirit with Amazonian barks and other unusual ingredients. Alongside the revival of the dining scenes in Rio and Sao Paolo, the cocktail scene is thriving.

Inspiring views from Centro de Tecnologia in Cachaça in Brazil (photo source: Mapa da Cachaca https://www.facebook.com/mapadacachaca)

Inspiring views from Brazil’s Centro de Tecnologia in Cachaça (photo source: Mapa da Cachaca facebook.com/mapadacachaca)

The story of how lawyer-turned-entrepreneur Whitehouse fell in love with cachaça and Brazil is a good one, well told in 2012 in Gourmet. Whitehouse was inspired by famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, sharing with me Niemeyer’s most famous quote, a passage that inspires the ethos behind Avuá: “It’s not the right angle that attracts me, nor the straight line—stiff, inflexible, created by men. What really attracts me is the free, sensual curve. The curve I see on the sinuous course of our rivers, on the clouds in the sky, on your favorite woman’s body. The universe is entirely made of curves.”

While Avuá launched on the East Coast in NYC this fall and at a few choice spots here in San Francisco, its official rollout in California is right now: late February. In San Francisco, you can find it bars like Smuggler’s Cove, Lolinda, Absinthe, AQ, Wingtip, Local Edition, Laszlo, Penelope in Oakland, and more.

As I listen to bossa nova, which I’ve been crazy about since I was teen, while sipping Avuá cocktails I’ve made at home, I long for a visit to a few of Brazil’s many cachaça producers myself. Every time I get up close and personal with a spirit – particularly when I visit its home country and distilleries – I fall further in love with it and the people who make it. But until I get there, I’m grateful for people like Whitehouse and Jannuzzi who are working to share the best of what’s going on in Brazil here at home.
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Feb
15
2014

Imbiber

Bay Area Bottled Brandy-Fruit Infusions

Article and Photos by Virginia Miller

San Francisco Bartender Bret Sylvester has done the somewhat impossible: created a line of fruit-infused brandies to please the spirits and non-spirits drinker alike. I recently tested out his sparkling line on visiting family and friends.

(photo source: drinkverbena.com)

(photo source: drinkverbena.com)

My wine drinking and even some generally teetotaling family members all loved Drink Verbena, while I and other spirits drinkers found the line complex as it was refreshing. Granted, we each had different favorite flavors but the universal appeal is the bubbly balance of these dry, bright infusions. With convenient Zork corks to reseal and maintain carbonation, Verbana comes in small 187 ml bottles ($7) or larger 375 ml ($14). At 13% ABV, it’s low alcohol, ideal to take out on picnics, usable in cocktails but each perfectly lovely on its own.

Playing off his years of experimenting with infusions at bars, Sylvester sources an unaged brandy as the base, then infuses with a range of ingredients, including fruits all sourced from Nor Cal farms, from Fresno to Sebastopol. In the case of the Meyer Lemon Infusion, for example, he works with lemon, lime, green cardamom, coriander seeds, lemongrass, juniper berries, allspice, black peppercorn, lemon zest, agave, gentian root, weaving all together into a seamless whole.

Impressively, Sylvester is a “one man show” since he launched in March 2013, making and bottling everything himself, currently just for the Bay Area. He continues to experiment with and test out a range of infusions. Of the few I’ve tried, my favorite is the dry tart of the Cherry Infusion, balanced by vinegar, pineapple, vanilla bean, lime, lemon zest and gentian root.

The bottles don’t need to be refrigerated, although being bubbly, they taste best chilled. Citrus-based infusions can keep up to 5 months, while some, like Pineapple Infusion, can last up to 10. One of my longtime favorite restaurants, Brenda’s, serves the Cherry and Meyer Lemon Infusions, as does Grub. In San Francisco, bottles are sold at Whole Foods, Liquid Experience, Noe Valley Wine Merchants, Swirl on Castro, and now also at SoMa StrEat Food Park, to name a few (more locations for purchase here).

I suspect expansion will be in Sylvester’s future as demand for Verbena continues to grow.

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Written by in: Imbiber | Tags:
Feb
01
2014

Imbiber

Alchemy 3-Virginia Miller

Oakland’s New Spirits Shop Extraordinaire

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller

ALCHEMY BOTTLE SHOP, Oakland (3256 Grand Avenue, temporary number: 415-553-0803)

Alchemy's upstairs art gallery

Alchemy’s upstairs art gallery

Oakland will soon have a spirits shop to delight spirits and cocktail lovers. Alchemy Bottle Shop, from Tova Herman, formerly in the wine industry, and Peter Mustacich, who quit his Financial District day job (where he frequently spent breaks at Cask) to open their Grand Avenue spirits shop, is going to be the kind of store that’s heavy on amari and unusual, small-batch spirits, one with an art gallery upstairs featuring local artists, primed for tastings and events.

As they finish the build-out, opening date is still an estimate. They are hoping for March, and with a space as airy, elegant and welcoming as this one promises to be (not to mention the prime location on busy Grand Ave.), it looks like East Bay-ers will have another spirits shop destination along with Ledger’s Liquors in Berkeley.

After my “hard hat” visit to the under-construction shop, I chatted with Tova and Peter about Alchemy. It quickly became apparent that their love and knowledge of spirits ensured we not only had plenty to talk about, but that spirits lovers can expect good things while novices will benefit from their desire to share and educate:

Virginia: Can you tell us about a few unique spirits you’re particularly excited to be stocking at Alchemy?
Tova: There are SO MANY amazing spirits that we are super excited to be carrying, but here are a few of our favorites:
Breckenridge Bitters – An American take on Genepy, made in CO using local Alpine herbs
Firelit Coffee Liqueur – Made in CA, using beans from Blue Bottle and other local roasters. Unlike other coffee liqueurs we’ve tried, this one actually tastes like coffee! And delicious cold brew coffee at that.
OOLA Barrel Aged Gin – It is absolutely one of our favorites – partly because of their unique choice of botanicals (rose petal and black lemon!) and partly because of the amazing creaminess they get from barrel aging.
Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky – Made using a Coffey still, this is unlike other Japanese whisky because it’s a blend of grains rather than a single malt, but we love it for it’s balance and smooth, full-bodied texture.
Alchemy's elegant, white shelving

Alchemy’s elegant, white shelving

Virginia: What type of events, classes or tastings can people expect at Alchemy in your shop and art gallery?
Tova: We really want to focus on engaging our customers and teaching them about new products they might not be familiar with, so we’re hoping to bring in lots of producers who can actually talk about how their product is made and what goes into it. We also think that context is really important when it comes to spirits so rather than just tasting them straight, we really want to get into demonstrating how to mix our products into cocktails. We’re hoping once we get up and running to do a weekly series of interactive cocktails classes that people can sign up for in advance, in addition to our in-store tastings and art gallery openings.

Virginia: What will be different about Alchemy than other liquor/spirits stores?
Tova: I think the main difference we’re striving for is a higher level of interaction with our customers. There are many places that you can go if you’re simply looking to buy spirits, but for someone who is just getting into craft cocktails, or who wants to know more about some of the unique and obscure spirits we’re starting to see more of, it can be very overwhelming and intimidating. There is sometimes a certain attitude around spirits and mixology that can feel exclusive and we want to work as hard as we can to dispel that. Through our classes and tastings, we really want to engage our customers as much as possible and pass on our knowledge as well as the knowledge of all the distillers and other industry professionals that we know. We want to be a fun and accessible place that people come to learn and talk about spirits, as well as a place where you can pick up a number of great bottles.
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Feb
01
2014

Imbiber

Perfection: Chris McMillian's Absinthe Suiessesse

Perfection: Chris McMillian’s Absinthe Suissesse

Best Cocktails in NEW ORLEANS 2013

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller

Ramos Gin Fizz

Ramos Gin Fizz

Back for Tales of the Cocktail in my beloved city of New Orleans, my last visit yielded these standout drinks at some new and some not-so-new spots (the latest on food and dining in Nola here).

KINGFISH, French Quarter

Wherever bartender Chris McMillian tends, I would go. As the consummate, lifelong bartender who showed me back in a 2008 visit to Nola what a true bartender is, I couldn’t miss drinks at his new home of Kingfish, conveniently located in the French Quarter.

Just try McMillian’s perfect Ramos Gin Fizz on a sultry Nola day. As he foams up egg white over the back of a spoon in a tall glass, served cool with absinthe, creme de menthe, orgeat, cream, you know you’re being served by one of the greats… and that the classics often pale made by the hands of others. Case in point: his Absinthe Suissesse is equally mesmerizing and thirst-quenching.

LOA, CBD (Central Business District)

Loa's enchanting Absinthe Suissesse

Loa’s Absinthe Suissesse

As I wrote about in 2012, Loa remains the truly inventive cocktail menu of New Orleans thanks to Bar Manager Alan Walter. Another two returns this years was no exception. The swank, mellow bar of the International House is the kind of place where New Orleans’ classics like an Absinthe Suissesse ($11) are given a unique turn using coconut milk instead of cream, mixed with Dolin Dry Vermouth and Kubler absinthe, topped with an anise pod.

Additional kudos for fascinating creations like Pearly Gates ($12), decadently mixing 20 year old Grappa Stravecchio, Rothman & Winter Orchard pear liqueur, a lush-bracing golden raisin-Pinot Grigio vinegar and sparkling lemon radler (traditional German lemon soda-beer concoction); or a bright watermelon reduction intermingling with my beloved Redbreast Irish whiskey, gorgeous Crispin Rose Liqueur and herbaceous Elisir M.P. Roux in a Drawing Room cocktail ($13).

BELLOCQ, CBD (Central Business District)

Bellocq

Bellocq’s genepy/creme de cacao/gin cocktail

Of all the newer-wave of cocktail bars in staunchly-classic-cocktail-driven New Orleans, Bellocq is possibly my favorite. In my estimation standing far above its sister bars, Cure and Cane & Table (see below).

As a cobbler-based bar, it doesn’t copy bars done better elsewhere in the country, sharing a distant kinship with the cobblers and juleps at London steakhouse Hawksmoor. Bellocq’s luxurious velvet couches and corners still call to me on a hot Nola night. The bartenders know their stuff, while the unique focus on icy cobblers, sometimes served in frosty silver mugs akin to a Julep cup, might be nutty with Maidera or herbaceous-sweet with yellow Chartreuse.

They also serve a range of cocktails outside the cobbler. This summer, I was smitten with a preview of a new drink soon to launch on their menu, a subtly complex blend of Genepy, Marie Brizard Creme de Cacao and Hayman’s Old Tom Gin.

COQUETTE, Irish Channel

Cocktails at Coquette

Cocktails at Coquette

One of my all-time favorite restaurants in Nola, Coquette is the “whole package”: heartwarming service, in a historic building, serving fine cocktails and fantastic, contemporary New Orleans cuisine (read more about the food here). Cocktails ($8-11) keep pace. I sampled four, all well made and gratifying without being complicated or fussy. They do lovely things with mezcal, while their St. James Sour is a beauty of Legendre Herbsaint, lemon, egg white and bitters perfected by root beer extract – a sort of root beer absinthe sour.

CANE & TABLE, French Quarter

Cane & Table

Cane & Table

Cane & Table just opened this summer within days of my trip to Nola. From the team behind Cure and Bellocq, it’s a restaurant and rum-heavy bar some have dubbed Tiki in theme. There’s nothing Tiki about C&T other than that they serve tropical drinks. The feel is more Colonial-era rum trading with a Caribbean-influenced food menu, which launched after I visited.

As with Cure, which, after multiple visits over the years, I’ve found overrated in the scheme of great US cocktail bars (though original for Nola when it debuted), Cane & Table’s drinks did not overwhelm. But given the right ingredients, it’s the Nola bar for an elevated rum focus. Improved Bombo ($10) is an example of the right mix: the subtle funk of Smith & Cross Navy Strength Rum, smooth Plantation 5 year rum, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, Bittermans Tiki Bitters and fresh nutmeg coalesce into a pleasing whole. The only-in-New-Orleans back patio seals the deal, even if I can’t help but recall rum bar greats like Smuggler’s Cove or La Descarga‘s back room when sipping a C&T cocktail.

21st AMENDMENT, French Quarter

21st Amendment

21st Amendment shows classic films over the bar

Though feeling more like a mediocre bar riding (late) on the speakeasy, Prohibition-era bar trend than actually truly knowing (much less perfecting) the genre, the one promising moment at newer 21st Amendment in the touristy depths of the Quarter was a drink called Anybody Wanna Peanut? Though sounding “iffy” as a mix of peanut-infused Maker’s Mark bourbon, honey syrup and Xcolate Mole Bitters, what made it fascinating was the peanut-y texture of the bourbon. Even though the drink wasn’t entirely balanced, it wins strong points for truly tasting of peanuts as other peanut-infused drinks often lack the flavor at all. They turned a tricky consistency into a rich, nutty sip worth perfecting – and creating more drinks from.

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Jan
15
2014

January 15, 2014

“There’s no time like now, there’s no time like this time.”
- Sam Phillips song, No Time Like Now on Push Any Button

Hearthfire glow ... the source of all cooking at TBD

Hearthfire glow … the source of all cooking at TBD

Amazing how swiftly January has already kicked into gear. This constant 70′s weather in SF is providing daily joys of sun, brilliant sunsets, beach walks, and welcome clarity.

Alongside fellow food writers, I recap the year in dining at Eater.com, and here are my Best of 2013 lists (local, national, international) on food and drink.

This issue:

Cocktail winners on the new Trick Dog menu

Cocktail beauties on the new Trick Dog menu

The LatestBest New SF Restaurant of 2013: Warmed by the hearthfire glow at TBD.
ImbiberTrick Dog’s New Menu: Spin the Zodiac wheel for another artful, themed menu at SF’s hottest bar opening of 2013.
ImbiberForeign Cinema’s New Bar Program: New manager and focus at beloved SF restaurant.
Wandering TravelerNYC Cocktails: 2013 highlights (and low points) from visits to over 20 NYC cocktail bars.

As your personal concierge who tells it like a good friend would, I also create personalized itineraries: trips, meals, explorations (under “Services“).

Virginia
Twittertwitter.com/ThePerfectSpot
Facebookwww.facebook.com/ThePerfectSpot

Spoonwiz Restaurant Reviews & Travel Articles
Liquor.com Contributor Page
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/theperfectspot

**Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Virginia Miller**

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Written by in: Imbiber,Intro Letter |
Jan
10
2014

Imbiber

Trick Dog's new zodiac sign menu

Trick Dog’s new zodiac sign menu

TRICK DOG’s NEW ZODIAC MENU

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

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

s

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

 

n

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

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Jan
09
2014

Imbiber

Brunch favorite:

Frothy, invigorating brunch favorite, No New Tale to Tell: Spirit Works Sloe Gin, Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin, lemon, Angostura bitters, egg white, soda

Foreign Cinema’s New Bar Program

Article and photos by Virginia Miller

FOREIGN CINEMA, Mission (2534 Mission St. between 21st & 22nd Streets, 415-648-7600)

Kevin Dowell crafts a Painkiller # 3

Kevin Dowell makes a Painkiller # 3

Foreign Cinema will always hold a special place in my heart. Not only was it one of the hottest restaurants in town back in 2001 when I moved to San Francisco (as a lifelong film buff, I also love the theme and movies playing on the wall), but it was the site of my engagement dinner after The Renaissance Man proposed to me in 2003. The effuse service, celebratory cheer and the bubbly we received from the staff that night – all while ensconced at our corner, fireside table – made it unforgettable.

Through the years, brunch has been a favorite way to take in that magical courtyard while the food and wine list has stayed consistently strong. But cocktails have been more of the mainstream variety, not a strong feature of the restaurant… until now.

New Bar Manager Kevin Dowell (who is also crafting the cocktail menu at Outerlands expanding space, and formerly worked at Zero Zero, Wo Hing General Store, Rio Grande, to name a few) oversees the new bar program. Dowell also manages neighboring bar in the front of the restaurant off the long hallway entrance to Foreign Cinema (FC), Laszlo, an industry favorite and casual outpost for FC food.

Lady Grinning Soul: Reyka Vodka, La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry, lemon, Giffard Pamplemousse (grapefruit cordial), cucumber with subtle, dry sherry finish

A vodka winner, Lady Grinning Soul, with Reyka Vodka, and a clean, bright mix of lemon, Giffard Pamplemousse (grapefruit cordial), cucumber – its a solid dose of La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry that gives the drink its subtly-complex, dry sherry finish, but wouldn’t be obvious to the vodka-drinker

h

Tiki goodness in a Surfer Girl garnished with toasted coconut & banana chips: El Dorado 12 yr rum, Pierre Ferrand Cognac, lemon, soda, coconut, banana, honey, sea salt

While FC may be quite late to the game in terms of a cocktail emphasis, they jump in strong with Dowell’s expertise, offering balanced, well-crafted drinks that are definitely a real step up from what they were doing, but keeping their wide-ranging, longtime clientele in mind (i.e. this won’t be a boundary-pushing, cocktail hotspot, rather a reliable, relevant restaurant bar). All three new menus (FC dinner and brunch, plus Laszlo’s new menu) launched January 4. I had a preview a few days before, tasting through most of the menus. 

Laszlo is all about approachable classics like a Hanky Panky, Philadelphia Fish House Punch (El Dorado 12 year rum, Pierre Ferrand Cognac, lemon, peach) and a beauty of a Painkiller # 3 (three-rum blend, orange, pineapple, coconut, nutmeg) – plus one rotating Mission/Bernal neighborhood bartender recipe, currently John Ottman’s After the Gold Rush (Old Grand-Dad, lemon, apricot, pineapple gum) of Holy Water.

Foreign Cinema's newly built bar

Foreign Cinema’s back bar

Foreign Cinema’s dinner menu is divided into sections of four “Originals”, three “Classics” (currently a Sherry Cobbler, Casino, Saratoga), and three “Friends”, the latter category being cocktails by mentors and bartenders Dowell has worked for. The initial menu features cocktails by Joel Teitelbaum, Brooke Arthur, and Scott Baird in the “Friends” section, with drinks like Teitelbaum’s bright, bracing Vida Vida mixing Altos Blanco Tequila, Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, lime, Green Chartreuse, and agave.

Via photos and notes, I explore highlights from the new menus.

My top drink of the new creations? Stranglehold inspired by Trinidad Sour; Diplomatico Rum, Rittenhouse Rye, lime, orgeat, Angostura bitters (1/2 oz.), spiced, rust orange

My top drink? Dowell’s Stranglehold, inspired by a Trinidad Sour, with generous, spiced dose (1/2 oz.) of Angostura bitters, Diplomatico Rum, Rittenhouse Rye, lime, orgeat

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At Laszlo, a 2011 recipe from Holy Water Bar Manager John Ottman: After the Gold Rush (Old Grand-Dad, lemon, apricot, pineapple gum syrup)

 

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