Mar
15
2014

The Latest

Oak & Rye, Los Gatos

Oak & Rye’s Puttanesca pizza

BY THE SLICE: 8 New Bay Area Pizza Spots

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Stone & Embers courtyard

Stone & Embers courtyard

As if the Neapolitan, artisanal, wood-fired pizza wave of the past decade weren’t enough, pizza openings continue to come on fast and furious. A recent interview I read with a New Yorker said they couldn’t live on the West Coast because they’d have to miss pizza. Having grown up in NJ (near NYC) and California both, and as a frequent traveler studying food and drink in cities the world over – and certainly all over Italy – San Francisco is easily one of the great pizza cities. The list of pies that are very good to excellent is long.

Amongs the newcomers, From a greasy NY slice to yet more Neapolitan-influenced havens, here are eight new pizza outposts open mostly between Fall 2013 and February 2014, from as far north as Philo in Mendocino County, all the way down to Los Gatos in the South Bay (hint: those two are the standouts of the crop).

North, South, East

OAK & RYE, Los Gatos

Oak & Rye

Oak & Rye

The best of the new pizza ‘comers, Oak & Rye, at first glance looks like just another wood-fired outpost with slick, white walls, sunny space and service. Open since October 2013, it could just be yuppy-peaceful Los Gatos’ first foray into that oft-done territory. There’s no shortage of world class pizza places around the Bay Area, but Oak & Rye, since my first visit back in December, immediately made an impression.

Blackbird

Blackout cocktail

On the drink side, they are strong on cocktails ($10), the exception, not the rule, in the South Bay. Case in point: the anise-laced balance of a Blackout uses SF’s own Emperor Norton absinthe soft with lemon, egg white and a splash of Prosecco. It’s a bright, bracing delight.

There’s ubiquitous small plates and sides like fried brussels sprouts ($8) gussied up with Nueske’s bacon, pecan and maple, or at dinner, a lightly-charred half chicken ($18) with braised kale and humble lemon wedge. Their custom, wood-fired oven glistens, covered in shiny pennies.

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The fantastic Scotty 2 Hottie pizza

But it’s those pies that stay with you: their red sauce is perfection, ideally sweet and savory.  The crust is that fine line of bubbly char and chewy depth. Angelo Womack, of famed Roberta’s in Brooklyn, recently moved across the country, bringing his mad pizza skills with him.

I adore the boquerones (fresh anchovies) brine and salty caper notes of the Puttanesca ($11), a red sauce pie liberally graced with garlic, oregano, onions and Parmigiano cheese. I’m in love with the Scotty 2 Hottie pizza ($16), despite its silly name. Tomato, basil and mozzarella undergirds a brilliant trio of meaty sopressata (dry Italian salami), sweet honey and hot pepperoncini oil. Sweet, spicy, savory… it’s perfection. Oak & Rye is worth driving down to Los Gatos for.

STONE & EMBERS, Philo

Intimate Stone & Embers

Chef Meany works his magic

The other great of the newcomers? Stone and Embers, in the small town of Philo in beautiful Mendocino County. Sad I am that this place is just far enough from home. Call ahead to make sure there’s pizza left – or go for lunch to ensure you don’t miss out (the place closes early anyway, typically by 8pm). As a one man show, Patrick Meany can only fit enough dough for about 60 pizzas a day in the small fridge next to their wood-fired oven. There’s merely three tables and a few bar seats in full view of the pizza-making action.

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Mushroom “chicharrones”

The restaurant opened in fall 2013 – I made it up there in December. Here I first tasted Boonville Bite Hard Cider, a vibrant local cider that is both dry and brightly fruity, showcasing fresh apples and dry bubbles simultaneously. I went next door in the idyllic Madrones complex housing the restaurant, a hotel and a couple shops, to Signal Ridge‘s tasting room, where I stocked up on 6-packs of the cider.

Meany’s crust is some of the best I’ve had from Italy to NY. He works thoughtfully on every aspect of dough-making to ensure balanced, complex crust. Turducken sausage is crumbled atop The Jeffer pizza ($19), layered in tomato sauce under smoked mozzarella and Parmesan, red chili pepper adding heat intrigue. Another pie, 707 1.3 ($16), refers to the area code and all things local. This time it’s the tomato sauce that’s smoked (as A16 Rockridge does in their Montanara Rockridge pie), while local mushrooms, goat cheese from Pennyroyal Farm, and Boonville piment d’espelette (a variety of chili pepper) enliven another fantastic pie.

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707.13 – all things local pie

Small plates are no afterthought. In fact, they feel plucked from San Francisco, easily at home with many hot restaurants of the moment. A risotto of barley and rye ($9) is earthy with local, roasted mushrooms, perked up by green apple and Parmesan. Likewise, fire-roasted brassicas (in this case, cauliflower and brussels sprouts) with baby carrots ($8) are lively with vadouvan spice and citrus, cooled by house yogurt. A snack of crispy mushroom “chicharrones” ($4) dusted in Parmesan and porcini salt is just a great idea. Only pretzel rolls ($1.50) tasted lackluster compared to pretzels I’ve had from places like Esther’s Bakery.

Brassicas & carrots

Brassicas & carrots

Dessert holds up, particularly house ice cream and sorbet ($3) in fun flavors like green tomato, local goat cheese or yuzu (Japanese citrus). Decadence joyously comes in the form of a pumpkin cinnamon roll ($8) with malted milk ice cream.

Though this tiny haven runs out of pizza all too quickly and closes way too early, it’s a food lovers’ treasure surrounded by the woods and farmland of Mendocino County.

SLICER, Oakland

Slicer slices

Slicer slices

Open since fall 2013, Slicer Pizzeria, helmed by Colin Etezadi (former chef de cuisine at Boot & Shoe Service), churns out pies that are not so much authentic NY or Neapolitan pizza but what feels more like Cali-meets-NY, thin crust pizza with interesting but unfussy toppings (slice $3.50, whole $23).

The crust has a nice crisp to it, while seasonal offerings could be asparagus and green garlic, accented with red onion, fennel and pecorino cheese, or savory pancetta and bitter radicchio over tomato sauce, doused with balsamic and Parmesan cheese.

BUILD PIZZERIA ROMA, Berkeley

BUILD's pizza bar

BUILD’s pizza bar

The oldest “newcomer” of this group, BUILD Pizzeria Roma, opened in April 2013, dramatically revamping a downtown Berkeley space into a sprawling, cavernous room. The dining room is centered by a pizza bar where staff build pies to your specifications, with ingredients like silky anchovies or Italian truffle. Husband/wife owners Lisa Holt and David Shapiro (she grew up in Rome) hope to open a series of BUILD – I can see how giant black and white wall photography punctuated by yellow, and build-your-own pizzas, appeal to a range of people.

BUILD pizza

BUILD pizza

So in full honesty, I’ve had better pizzas around the world. This is not so much a gourmand’s pizza den, although it will work for the pizza snob, too. It is fun, interactive and the pies certainly satisfy. With a base of rosso (red sauce), bianca (white/no sauce) or pesto, choose cheese and toppings from the line-up before you.

There’s plenty to drink on the craft beer and cocktail front, like a special beer cocktail one night I visited when Bison Organic Brewing was a featured brewery (something they do regularly with local breweries and distilleries): a Gingerbread Flip ($8) of spiced rum and raw ginger, was creamy with whole egg, effervescent and spiced with Bison’s Gingerbread Ale.

San Francisco

LONG BRIDGE PIZZA CO., Dogpatch

Long Bridge pies

Long Bridge pies

Just opened mid-February 2014, Long Bridge Pizza Co. is an airy, small shop in the heart of Dogpatch, a welcome addition for the neighborhood, cooking pies ($12-14.50 for small, $22-26 large, no by-the-slice) all day long. I wouldn’t call it a destination for those in other parts of the city, but these are gratifying pizzas. They strike a fine balance between greasy NY and Cali-fresh in their straightforward pepperoni, sausage or margherita pizzas.

PIZZAHACKER, Outer Mission

Festive Pizzahacker space

Festive Pizzahacker space

Cult pizza favorite, Jeff Krupman, a.k.a. The Pizzahacker, finally opened a brick-and-mortar spot for his beloved pizza in Outer Mission on the edge of Bernal Heights this January. Despite crowds descending on the lofty-yet-intimate space (formerly Inka’s), Pizzahacker staff are upbeat and friendly, and the vibe festive under blue ceiling and walls illuminated by strung colored lights and communal picnic tables.

There’s about five rotating pies each day ($12-16 each), with wonderfully bubbly crust and engaging toppings. One example: Yo Vinny! is laden with marinated onions, nearby butcher Avedano’s hot Italian sausage, and for lively contrast, pickled Goat Horn peppers.

THE PIZZA SHOP, Mission

The Pizza Shop

The Pizza Shop

Opening weeks ago in February, The Pizza Shop on 24th Street, is the most “real deal” NY of the thin slice newcomers, in the same class as long time, NY slice fave Arinell. I feel transported back to NY walking down the street eating a sopping (with appropriate grease, yo) pepperoni slice ($4 each, $19 for a pie), folded in half on a paper plate, not shy on the cheese.

Jersey love

Jersey love

Chef-owner Thomas Jividen comes from New Jersey and having partly grown up in the Garden State myself, I couldn’t help but cheer for the place when I saw the wood-carving of Jersey on the soda machine. Jividen comes from San Diego’s Bronx Pizza, while he’s running the shop with Laurie Badger from SF’s beloved Golden Boy Pizza. Whole pie delights include the Meat-O, laden with pepperoni, sausage, and, yes, meatballs.

PRESIDIO PIZZA COMPANY, Western Addition/Pac Heights

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Slice of Frankie’s

Presidio Pizza Company had a soft opening in December 2013, which I hit up a couple times in initial weeks. The staff has been so friendly every time, asking for honest feedback on the food. I truly appreciate their desire to improve and hone during those initial weeks.

Presido Pizza space

Presidio Pizza space

Their pizza style is NY/NJ-influenced – there’s even calzones ($8) and cannoli ($5) – though I noticed most of the staff are from Boston or the Bay Area.

Though I could use more tang and sweet-savory bite in their red sauce, meatballs ($6 for 3, $9 for 5) are tender, dotted with basil and Grana Padano cheese. As for the pizza, it’s more gratifying than a game-changer, ideal mainly for those in the neighborhood. My favorite pie has been Frankie’s ($4 slice/$22 pie) with its juicy slices of sausage with rapini, garlic, onions and cherry peppers over mozzarella. The Grandma ($3.50/$20), a thin, square pie could use a lot more red sauce, as could The Sicilian ($4/$22), another square pie, both blessedly straightforward with cheese and basil, or in the case of the Grandma, with pesto and red sauce (add any topping).

The enchanting Madones complex in the countryside of Philo houses Stone & Embers

The enchanting Madrones complex in the countryside of Philo houses Stone & Embers

Written by in: The Latest | Tags:
Mar
15
2014

Imbiber

Rarities: 50 Year Old Scotch & 1950 Cognac

Article and photos by Virginia Miller

Photo courtesy of lastdropdistillers.com

When you get the rare chance to try 50 year old Scotch or Cognac, you do. When it’s a tasting with drink industry legends like James Espey, who is behind the creation of iconic brands like Bailey’s Irish Cream, Malibu Rum and even Johnnie Walker Blue, it’s an imperative. I enjoyed a rousing lunch at Hakkasan this week with James and Ben
Howkins of Royal Tokaji, one of the partners in his unique project, Last Drop Distillers.

With the tag line, “Before There is No More,” Espey and his three Last Drop business partners hunt for rare treasure: cellared casks, stored for decades undiscovered. They  release them in elegant, limited edition bottlings, and only in key markets: UK, US and China.

Tasting both the whisky and the Cognac, both coming with fascinating stories.

There’s only 388 bottles of this second edition/release of The Last Drop 50 Year Old Whisky (selling for about $4000 per bottle!), made from over 82 whiskies. They found three casks of this blend, forgotten in the back of a warehouse produced by many now-defunct distilleries around Scotland, married (blended) over 50 years ago.

This heaven of a whisky carries whispers of the enchanting country of Scotland in each sip. A woody, dried fruit and spice nose gives way to a taste that hints at the peat of Islay, alongside the balanced nuance of the Highlands. It’s rich, warm and unfolding, with a touch of water. It’s a privilege just to have tried this beauty.

Photo courtesy of lastdropdistillers.com

Photo courtesy of lastdropdistillers.com

Likewise, The Last Drop 1950 Fine Aged Cognac (selling for about $2800 per bottle) is revelatory. It’s story is romantic and inspired: they met a mother and daughter in the Cognac countryside, the mother 93 years old. She had distilled a Cognac when she was in her 30′s. Though much of what remained had evaporated, what survived was still shockingly lively, and the Last Drop boys bought up all her Cognac casks.

Aside from the unreal time I tasted 1805 and 1865 Cognacs with Salvatore Calabrese and Dale DeGroff during Tales of the Cocktail 2010, this is the best Cognac I’ve ever had. It’s shockingly fresh, clean and floral, yet retains the maturity and depth of a fine whisky, blessedly bottled at cask strength. It imparts a woody playfulness and welcome dryness.

More fun Espey facts: In June 2013, James received an O.B.E. (Order of the British Empire) from the Queen “for services to the Whisky Industry.” He is also founder of The Keepers of the Quaich, a leading international Whisky Society, and recently published a book on building and marketing your brand (you), no matter the industry, Making Your Marque.

Written by in: Imbiber | Tags: ,
Mar
15
2014

Wandering Traveler

In the village of Mondsee, about 20 minutes outside of Salzburg, famed for the church in which Maria & The Captain got married in the movie, The Sound of Music

In the village of Mondsee, about 20 minutes outside of Salzburg, famed for the church in which Maria & The Captain got married in the movie, The Sound of Music

DREAMY AUSTRIA: Returning to Salzburg

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Fairy tale city: Salzburg

Fairy tale city: Salzburg

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University of Salzburg Church (Die Kollegienkirche)

Salzburg impressed me during my first visit in 1999 where the romance of its spires, churches, river, mountains and rolling, green hillsides was an influence since childhood, thanks to that film locals love to dislike, The Sound of Music. As with my visit in ’99, going on a SoM tour was a highlight of my visit (there are many to choose from but Panorama Tours has been the best).

Salzburg’s sheer beauty and walkable charm made it my Austrian city of choice even back then, far above expansive Vienna, which despite it’s fantastic architecture and even more fantastic musical history, live classical music and grand opera house, felt a bit cold to me. My second go-to Austrian city is Innsbruck (read about my explorations here).

In love with Salzburger Nockerl, the city's legendary souffle-like dessert that arrives warm & fluffy, doused in warm berry sauce

In love with Salzburger Nockerl, the city’s legendary souffle-meets-dumpling-like dessert that arrives warm & fluffy, doused in warm berry sauce (here at Gablerbrau but on the menu at most restaurants serving traditional Austrian food in Salzburg)

Dominating the Salzburg skyline: Fortress Hohensalzburg (a castle on a hill)

Dominating the Salzburg skyline: Fortress Hohensalzburg

Returning nearly 14 years later, I am even more in love with Salzburg. This visit, I found more hidden treasures, walked further afield, and down each narrow, car-less street.

I stayed in a local apartment directly across the Staatsbrücke bridge looking at Old Town, down narrow, cobblestone alley, Steingasse street.

Here are a few of my favorite tastes and discoveries:

Distant view of Old Town Salzburg from a riverside walk

View of Old Town Salzburg from a riverside walk

FRIDRICH

Stroll along the river

Stroll along the Salzach river

Just a couple doors down from my wonderful apartment on narrow, cobblestoned Steingasse street, is tiny wine bar, Fridrich. Run by Fridrich himself since 1986, I would easily call this one of my favorite bars in Europe. I’m a spirits and cocktail girl first, so I don’t typically note a wine bar as favorite bar.

Entering Fridrich on

Entering Fridrich on Steingasse

Though the bar, under arched stone ceiling is intimatly sexy, Fridrich almost imparts a subtle punk-rock attitude to the relaxed, glowing environs. It’s partly his expert knowledge of all things Austrian – he tasted me through the crisp, earthy notes of Nigl (pronounced nee-gel) Gelber Muskateller white wine, harvested from tiered, hillside vineyards, and likewise, earthy, complex Golles schnaps. During another visit, he recommended a glass of lovely Stiegelman Grauburgunder Weingut, a white wine I’d also loved at a restaurant in the Tyrolean-chic village of Kitzbuhel.

Intimate perfection at Fridrich

Intimate perfection at Fridrich

The other reason for Fridrich’s uniqueness is his impeccable musical tastes and expansive vinyl and CD collection, which he plays interchangeably like a sophisticated DJ. His top of the line sound system envelops the bar with a tapestry of sound.

There’s a wonderful woman who works with him, demure yet engaging, both of them offering recommendations, pours, humorous asides. Lou Reed died the last night we were in Salzburg. Fridrich told us the news, then put on Reed’s music. We all raised a glass, shedding a tender tear. It’s that kind of a bar.

The Renaissance Man and I were so inspired, we dreamt of opening our own tiny bar like this somewhere in the world: a place where you immediately feel like a local, where what is poured and what is played is of equal importance, where there is nothing to prove, only to relax, savor to feel at home.

Otherworldly St. Peter's cemetery

Otherworldly St. Peter’s cemetery

STIFTSKELLER ST. PETER

The warm woods of one of the Stiftskeller dining rooms

The warm woods of one Stiftskeller dining room

As the world’s oldest known operational restaurant since 803 AD, Stiftskeller St. Peter’s history may insinuate food is an afterthought, but it’s a one-of-a-kind dining experience with unexpectedly strong food.

Built into the stone cliffs of Salzburg’s Old Town, and off the square housing St. Peter’s gorgeous church and mesmerizing graveyard – among the most beautiful in the world – Stiftskeller is an upscale restaurant, also known for their Mozart dinners upstairs in multiple dining rooms, both intimate and grand. As I went to the restroom upstairs by the grand dining room, I got chills hearing the strains of the orchestra playing Mozart here in the town of his birth, while everyone dined at long tables by candlelight.

Stiftskeller beef tartare

Stiftskeller beef tartare

We ate downstairs in a warm, wood-walled dining room with red and white seating, and paintings of monks mingling with modern art.

Entering the restaurant, one passes through a stone archway that, in my November visit, was completely covered in pine boughs. Aromatic and magical, the archway then opens into a stone courtyard which is a standing bar area in the shadow of the steep stone cliffs carved out by monks above. At this time of year, the courtyard was packed with Christmas trees. Benedictine monks were running Stiftskeller as recently as 20 years ago and still live on square that houses the restaurant. The whole operation is mesmerizing.

Christmas tree-lined courtyard

Stiftskeller Christmas tree-lined courtyard

Food and service were better than I expected. In fact, we had a top-notch server who had worked in restaurants around the world, including the US, had studied hospitality and was a consummate, warm professional. Our meal was a series of high points and artful plating, including beef tartare in pine nut butter formed into a square, young venison saddle in Glennfiddich Scotch glace (yes!), and upscale versions of Germanic classics like veal weiner schnitzel, breaded and pan fried, with parsley potatoes and cranberries.

Nut-crusted sausages at Market

Nut-crusted sausages at Grünmarkt

Desserts (we tried three) were also a highlight, including a variation of plum dumplings partnered with stewed plums and plum ice cream. Though the restaurant was expensive, it wasn’t outrageous compared to other meals in Austria and even pricier Switzerland, and it certainly delivered a one-of-a-kind experience.

St. Gilgen, just 15 minutes outside Salzburg - a spectacular view over the town where Mozart's mother was born

Dreamy St. Gilgen, a town 15 minutes outside Salzburg

Another St. Gilgen view

Another stunning St. Gilgen view – the town where Mozart’s mother was born

Baumkuchen (a flaky pastry shaped like the ring of a tree, crusted in cinnamon & sugar) being baked to order at Grünmarkt (a "farmers market" or food market daily in Universitätsplatz square)

Baumkuchen (flaky pastry shaped like a tree ring, crusted in cinnamon & sugar) baked to order at Grünmarkt farmers market daily in Universitätsplatz square

Next issue I will delve into Austrian spirits, exciting and virtually unknown by many spirits fans. I will share more about Austrian schnaps/brandies and fantastic shops like Sporer, on Salzburg’s main, touristy-yet-delightful shopping street, Getreidegasse, since 1903.

Augustiner's beer garden

Augustiner’s beer garden

Augustiner Brau, Salzburg’s famed brewery since 1621, is a festive gathering of locals. Whether you sit in the beer garden or one of the beer halls, it’s a slice of local’s life. Though tourists certainly seek out the brewery, it’s sprawling grounds welcome all ages – there’s even a playground with a beer barrel to climb through for the kids!

Fish on a stick - one of the snack offerings with beer at Augustiner Brewery

Fish on a stick – one of the snack offerings at Augustiner Brewery

I watched grandpas enjoy a beer with their grandkids, couples toast each other over beer and pretzels, even a family playing a game out of fish bones collected from the garbage in the garden (odd, but there must be a story behind that). Though food vendors in and around the brewery are hardly gourmand, it’s inspiring to see the likes of whole fish, head and all, on a stick for snacking with beer.

Just down the street from the brewery, Blumen & Feinkost market, with its retro, pinup girl logo, felt like a slice of home infused with Germanic spirit. Browsing through this organic market, heavy on produce, fine meats and cheeses, breads and the like, made me start envisioning a picnic.

Salzburg spires & steeples

Salzburg spires & steeples

Zotter Schoko-Laden

Zotter Schoko-Laden

Chocolate lovers: head to Zotter Schoko-laden in the Old Town. Organic, fair trade, artisan and uniquely funky in its flavor profiles, the internationally popular, artisan chocolate bar line is a true Austrian success story. While I have sampled Zotter bars for years from shops in San Francisco (like Chocolate Covered in Noe, and The Candy Store in Russian Hill), this is the first I’ve seen the range of Zotter chocolates in one place. They don’t all work for me – some are far too subtle and bland. But when they do work, they represent a fine example of the range of chocolate bar flavors yet to be explored. How about apples, carrots and ginger? Or cheese, walnut, grape? Maybe sacramental wine and frankincense chocolate bars are more your speed? Zotter bars never read “boring.”

Savoring Carpe Diem cones

Savoring Carpe Diem cones

Quickly escalating prices after ordering a few seemingly affordable bites is one downside. So could be the hotel setting on bustling, touristy (yet still charming) shopping street, Getreidegasse (or it’s just conveniently located?) Ultimately, Carpe Diem Finest FingerFood pleases with its mini-gourmet cones filled with burgers and fries or scallops. On a sunny day, the chic patio is an ideal way to enjoy these playful, gourmet cones and Austrian wine or internationally popular (you can find it at Whole Foods), local kombucha brand, Carpe Diem, which the restaurant is named after.

Dinzler (dinzler.de/de) is a welcome Salzburg coffee shop/cafe, although this lovely chili mocha listed with a heat warning contained little to no heat at all despite the chili

Dinzler (dinzler.de) is a welcome Salzburg coffee shop/cafe, although this lovely chili mocha listed with a heat warning contained little to no heat despite the chili

Church cematary in ritzy Austrian ski town, Kitzbuhel, on the way to Salzburg

Church cemetery in ritzy Austrian ski town, Kitzbuhel, on the way to Salzburg

Kitzbuhel's main street

Kitzbuhel’s main street

Pretzels & beer at Gablerbrau (rich on historic atmosphere, but worst service of my trip)

Pretzels & beer at Gablerbrau… rich on historic atmosphere, but awful service

Fabrizi Espresso, run by Italians in Salzburg for Italian coffee

Fabrizi Espresso, run by Italians in Salzburg for Italian coffee

 

Salzburger Brezen at the market with pretzels

Salzburger Brezen Grünmarkt with pretzels in flavors like apple, poppy or chocolate

Elderly woman taking an afternoon stroll in the village of Mondsee, about 20 minutes outside of Salzburg

Elderly woman taking an afternoon stroll in the village of Mondsee, about 20 minutes outside Salzburg

Another coffee haven in Salzburg:

A Salzburg coffee haven: 220 Grad (220grad.com)

Salzburg's Hellbrunn Palace with its idyllic grounds

Salzburg’s Hellbrunn Palace with its idyllic grounds

Driving the countryside outside Salzburg

Driving the countryside outside Salzburg

Written by in: Wandering Traveler | Tags:
Mar
15
2014

Imbiber

Tasting Old Blowhard & Barterhouse at Wingtip

Tasting Old Blowhard & Barterhouse at Wingtip

RARITIES: Two American Whiskies with Stitzel-Weller & Old Bernheim Ties

Article and photos by Virginia Miller

Ode to the mighty Stitzel-Weller distillery

Ode to the mighty Stitzel-Weller distillery

As common as they are, “limited” whisk(e)y releases may seem like a lot of hype. But American whiskey fans (such as myself) perked up when we heard about Diageo‘s Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Co. This new line of rare, essentially foraged or found whiskies, just launched with their first whiskies.

20 year Barterhouse and 26 year Old Blowhard bourbons were both found aging in the legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery (which stopped distilling in 1991-92), filled with “juice” from the older (circa 1980′s) and the newer Bernheim distillery (sold to Heaven Hill in the late ’90′s), then bottled for Orphan Barrel at George Dickel in Tennessee.

Tasting Barterhouse at Wingtip

Tasting Barterhouse at Wingtip

Future Orphan Barrel whiskey releases will likely be sourced from a number of defunct distilleries.

Having the Stitzel-Weller name associated calls loudly to American whiskey fans. Now nearly impossible to procure Pappy Van Winkle whiskies were once produced at Stitzel-Weller, but have, since its closure, been produced by Buffalo Trace. Like many American whiskey fans, I first got turned on to the possibilities in American whiskey years ago, thanks to Pappy… particularly the rye. What I first tasted was the Stitzel-Weller juice. I was reminded last year in Louisville of its superiority when a colleague pulled out bottles of old Pappy distilled at Stitzel-Weller and I was refreshed on what made me fall in love with it in the first place.

(photo source: Orphan Barrel Whiskies)

(photo source: Orphan Barrel Whiskey)

Any whiskies coming from Stitzel-Weller are a thrill for the whiskey aficionado. Given the rarity of these hand-selected barrels, bottles are pricey, although actually quite reasonable for rare, old, strictly allocated whiskies such as these.

I cleared my calendar for an Orphan Barrel trade and media tasting on March 3 at Wingtip. Though there are ultimately three initial bourbon releases, only sold in the US, the third, Rhetoric, will be released in the coming weeks. In keeping with the Bernheim formula, the mashbill of all three whiskies is 86% corn, 6% rye, 8% barley.

(photo source: Orphan Barrel Whiskey)

(photo source: Orphan Barrel Whiskey)

Barterhouse 20 year old (45.1% ABV – $75)
For 20 years of age, Barterhouse is surprisingly golden and young, with crisp green apple on the nose, and on the tongue, cereal, honeysuckle, warm woods, spices, and a slightly creamy mouthfeel.

Old Blowhard 26 year old (45.35% ABV – $150)
It was difficult to decide which of the two whiskies I liked more. While I loved the bright liveliness of the Barterhouse, I was smitten with the robust masculinity of the Old Blowhard (and it’s tongue-in-cheek name). Its bold, woody nose gives way to dark cherry, leather, tobacco, spice, toffee and toasted wood on the palate. Oak (and thus age) heavily dominates but it’s a pleasure nonetheless, begging for a comfy leather chair, roaring fireplace and a fine cigar.

Written by in: Imbiber | Tags:
Mar
15
2014

Wandering Traveler

From my cottage rental: view over Innsbruck

From my house rental: view over Innsbruck

DREAMY AUSTRIA: Innsbruck

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Wandering Innsbruck's Old Town

Wandering Innsbruck’s Old Town

Innsbruck is the capital city of the Austrian state of Tyrol (Tirol) in western Austria. The city is famous for its scenic setting along the Sill River, sandwiched between dramatic mountains (2000-3000 meters/7000-9000 feet), and for being the site of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics. It was a city I’d meant to visit during my first visit to Austria in 1999, but only finally made it to this fall.

Though the weather chose to go the stormy, cloudy course most of my stay in Innsbruck (whereas it was sunny and brilliant in Salzburg) – thus often (tragically) obscuring mountain views – Innsbruck is a rich town, one I’d gladly spend more time in.

Situated in our house rental in the foothills of the mountains, just off the convenient Hungerburg funicular with its space age stations, views were breathtaking over the city with the river cutting through it, particularly when the clouds cleared. In 10 minutes, the funicular took us down the mountainside to the heart of the Old Town, where it was easy to walk everywhere.

Divine dessert at Sitzwohl: chocolate strudel in a Le Crueset

Divine dessert at Sitzwohl: chocolate strudel in a Le Creuset

Cozy Elferhaus pub

Cozy Elferhaus pub

Though no other Austrian city embodies the storybook magic of Salzburg, Innsbruck is full of its own architectural, natural and edible treasures, a walkable, scenic city blessed by the surrounding, mothering Alps.

Walking its Old Town, cobblestone streets, I find Tyrolean ham havens like Speckeria. Beer bars abound, though often stocking mostly larger brands, or occasionally local Austrian beers, a couple being featured at comfortably unglamorous Elferhaus. Cafe Sowieso is a divey student pub with a handful of unique Austrian brews on draft. It’s on a gritty few blocks near Old Town but is worth a detour for beer lovers.

At Stiftskeller Innsbruck, the beers are basic but platters of sausages, sauerkraut and a range of hearty dumplings made from the likes of spinach, comfort. Best of all, it is set in multi-room halls and a beer garden that feel plucked from medieval days. It’s an idyllic, Germanic, beer hall meal.

Medieval beer hall & restaurant: Stiftskeller Innsbruck

Medieval beer hall & restaurant: Stiftskeller Innsbruck

Cocktails at The Penz

Cocktails at The Penz

I can’t say the cocktail renaissance even appears to be peeking it’s head out – there’s little going here in that regard, as is also the case in Salzburg. Local spirits, however, are very exciting – see my article next issue on Austrian spirits, schnaps/brandies and fantastic Innsbruck shops like Culinarium, a father and son-run spirits shop that’s been around over 40 years.

Stiftskeller Innsbruck dumplings

Stiftskeller Innsbruck dumplings

There are two hotel bars with striking views: 360°, directly across a ramp from restaurant Lichtblick (below), a circular, completely glass-walled bar where it is best to stick to what’s great: Austrian wine.

Nearby, on the 5th floor of the The Penz hotel, is a lofty, slick hotel bar with plenty of whiskies or beloved German gin, Monkey 47. Although cocktails are decent and there are a few classic cocktails on the menu, the drinks still reflect what cocktails were like in the 80′s and 90′s before studious, historical study of the classics and molecular experimentation became common in many of the world’s great cities. Still, service is sharp, friendly and it’s an upscale bar in which to take in surrounding mountain views.

Innsbruck's main "square": bustling Maria

Innsbruck’s main “square”: bustling Maria-Theresien-Strasse

Ubiquitous Austrian soda pleasure: Almdudler, a traditional elderflower soda found everywhere in the country

Ubiquitous Austrian soda pleasure: Almdudler, a traditional elderflower soda found everywhere in the country (and just a fun word to say)

SITZWOHL

Prosecco &

Prosecco w/ green tea lime sorbet

Easily the best meal of my stay in Innsbruck, Sitzwohl, from chefs Elisabeth Geisler and Irmgard Sitzwohl, is a sleek den of gourmet delights. Soft, neutral color tones and the room’s glow soothe, although strangely, intense wafts of cigarette smoke from the bar below seem to drift up the stairwell into the dining room… the one buzzkill to otherwise relaxed-chic ambiance.

I loved an aperitif of Prosecco with green tea and tart lime sorbet (4.90 Euros). Creamy pumpkin soup was playfully accompanied by soft cottage cheese tramezzini: triangular sandwiches with crusts removed. It felt like a grown-up version of a classic American kid’s lunch.

Pike

Pike perch over beetroot risotto

Though I’m a crawfish (crayfish in Europe) fan, a crayfish and cauliflower salad accented by saffron (17 Euros) nested in iceberg lettuce fell a little flat. Not so with vibrant grilled pike perch (23 Euros) on a vividly purple-red beetroot risotto with freshly shaved horseradish on top.

Surprisingly, dessert was the most memorable. A warm chocolate strudel arrives in a mini-red Le Creuset (12 Euro), the flaky folds of the pastry creating a dramatic image against the red, while a scoop of raspberry chocolate chili ice cream adds cooling flair. In November 2013, three courses of choice was 46 Euros, four was 56, 5 was 66, or order a la carte.

LICHTBLICK

Views from Licthblick's dining room

Views from Licthblick’s dining room

Slip into giant shopping mall, Rathausgalerien, off the city’s main square, Maria-Theresien-Strasse, and head to the top, 7th floor restaurant, Lichtblick, for inspiring 360° views of Innsbruck (360 the name of the circular, glass bar that shares a floor with the restaurant).

I chose lunch to fully appreciate the view. The cooking is Austria-meets-Italy, from the likes of buffalo mozzarella and pastas to crème of celery and apple soup with truffle (4.20 Euros). The food isn’t noteworthy in the scheme of the great restaurants of the world or even Europe, but it’s solid, gourmet restaurant, especially with the view, and service is professionally attentive.

Munding's vintage espresso machine

Munding’s vintage espresso machine

Standout dish on my visit? Three juicy, seared scallops over curry couscous under a subtle coco chili foam (12.90 Euros at lunch).

MUNDING
Established in 1803, historic Munding Cafe is my favorite cafe in Innsbruck. Perfecting Austrian cakes and strudel, they also create beautiful French macrons and serve coffee from a sleek 1950′s espresso machine. I love their charmingly dated (circa 1970′s) decor – wood paneling, velvet red booths – their locals crowd, and cheery servers. It’s especially cozy on a raining morning, with a square of Munding chocolate placed atop your coffee.

Suffered through many different versions of apfelstrudel (apple strudel) around Austrian for comparison: loved this version at Munding, my favorite Innsbruck cafe, although best was in the village of Mondsee outside of Salzburg

I “suffered” through many versions of apfelstrudel (apple strudel) around Austrian for comparison: loved this version at Munding, my favorite Innsbruck cafe, although best strudel was in the village of Mondsee outside of Salzburg

Weiner Schnitzel at Stiftskeller Innsbruck

Weiner Schnitzel at Stiftskeller Innsbruck

Written by in: Wandering Traveler | Tags:
Mar
15
2014

Imbiber

St George Coffee 2- Virginia Miller

St. George’s New Nola Coffee Liqueur

Article and photos by Virginia Miller

I adore New Orleans. I adore coffee. And I adore St. George Spirits. So I was (naturally) pleased to hear St. George was releasing Nola Coffee Liqueur. On its way to stores and bars as we “speak”, this new coffee liqueur starts local with cold-brewed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee beans roasted by Jewel Box Coffee Roasters, an up-and-comer in Oakland, just reaching funding for their business via Kickstarter.

St George Coffee - Virginia MillerSt. George distiller Dave Smith cold-brews the coffee with their vodka base, adds distilled French chicory root, Madagascar vanilla and organic cane sugar. It’s like fresh, bracing, cold-brewed coffee… meaning it’s beautiful neat, on ice. The liqueur is earthy and rich, with a whisper of sweet vanilla, and that New Orleans spirit from the chicory.

I’ll take it neat but it’s also a winner with cream. Sipping it on ice transports me straight back to the hot, sultry streets of Nola where I down chicory iced coffee as if it were water – and it’s nearly as thirst-quenching. Though I haven’t had a chance to experiment with it in cocktails yet, it begs for new cocktail recipes to showcase it, while it would immediately upgrade any “guilty pleasure” Kahlua-type cocktail (Mudslides or White Russians, anyone?)

The label is gorgeous, in keeping with the style of the labels and bottle shape of St. George’s gins and agricole rum, with nods to New Orleans: hints of purple, a drawing of St. Louis Cathedral and the ubiquitous symbol of the city, the fleur de lys. There’s also a tie in with California and their Dry Rye Gin: just as the Dry Rye sports a martini glass in a bear trap (California’s state animal being the grizzly bear), the Nola bottle shows a coffee cup and spoon in a bear trap as Louisiana’s is a black bear. New Orleans is the city where Smith fell in love with his wife, and as a tribute to her, the liqueur carries heart and soul behind its robust, balanced flavor.

Quoting the label – and New Orleanians: “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” (Let the good times roll!)

Written by in: Imbiber | Tags:
Mar
15
2014

Top Tastes

Joe Obegi in front of his iconic burger joint on its last day

Joe Obegi in front of his iconic burger joint on its last day

Tribute to a SAN FRANCISCO LEGEND:
Goodbye, Joe’s Cable Car

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Joe's burgers

Joe’s burgers

Pulling into the Joe’s Cable Car parking lot 15 minutes to its 11am opening time, I made it just before a steady stream of cars, news crews, even a firetruck full of fireman, filled the legendary diner for their last Joe’s burger. On its final day of business, March 16 – after 49 years run by the same wonderful, 75-year-old owner – Joe Obegi served burgers, chatted and took photos with patrons.

Love those root beer freezes

Love those root beer freezes

Fresh-ground meat, old school-delicious burgers, quirky diner decor and Joe’s constant personal touch make losing this iconic burger joint a real loss for San Francisco and for food lovers. It’s been a favorite of mine since I moved to SF in 2001.

Here’s my photo goodbye to Joe’s on it’s last day of business. Tragically, it seems the diner will likely be torn down to make way for condos. The wrong places go.

Fresh ground meat daily

Fresh ground meat daily

Iconic roadside sign

Iconic roadside sign

Joe's exterior

Joe’s exterior

Joe's Cable Car3-Virginai Miller

Exterior sign

Joe keeping an eye on diner's on the diner's final morning

Joe keeping an eye on diner’s on the diner’s final morning

Beautiful 1946 Mercury in Joe's parking lot

Beautiful 1946 Mercury in Joe’s parking lot

Peeking into the kitchen

Peeking into the kitchen

My favorite of the many parking lot signs

My favorite of the many parking lot signs

Written by in: Top Tastes | Tags:
Mar
01
2014

March 1, 2014

“I worry about the prospect of collective amnesia. While access to information has never been so universal as it is now… the total sum of knowledge of anything beyond the present seems to be dwindling among those people who came of age with the Internet. Anything beyond 1945, if then, is a messy, remote landscape; the centuries melt into each other in an insignificant magma… Everything is equalized… There is a way out: by integrating the teaching of history within the curricula of all subjects—using whatever digital or other means we have to redirect attention to slow reading and old sources. Otherwise we will be condemned to living without perspective, robbed of the wisdom and experience with which to build for the future, confined by the arrogance of our presentism to repeating history without noticing it.” – Noga Arikha

The most beautiful place on earth? (see Wandering Traveler)

The most beautiful place on earth? (see Wandering Traveler)

There’s been delightful happenings from “across the pond” this week: this past Sunday, I was featured in the Sunday Times edition of The Times London (print and online), an article I wrote on current trends in San Francisco dining and cocktails.

Simultaneously, Pür in Spirit, the cocktail book I recently wrote the introduction to (I was also featured in a 1930′s-inspired photo shoot we did for the book), just received a strong review in the great, London-based CLASS magazine. We hope to get the book published on a large scale at the same high quality the original printing was done.

This issue:

Still wriggling on the plate: live, raw spot prawns (see Top Tastes)

Live, raw spot prawns (see Top Tastes)

Top TastesHolding Strong at SF Standard-Setters: Latest dishes at five of SF’s recent restaurant greats.
Imbiber Adventures in Bassano del Grappa, Italy: In the birthtown of grappa, visiting the great Nardini distillery, talking grappa and liqueurs with Antonio Guarda Nardini, finding a rare cocktail and absinthe bar haven.
Wandering TravelerThe Most Beautiful Place on Earth?: Visit # 3 to Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland.
ImbiberTwo Fascinating New Spirits: A Washington beet spirit and a California overproof rum.
Around the BaySonoma’s Tasting Menu “Steal”: A top notch, multi-course dining experience with wine pairings for only $50 at a Santa Rosa winery.

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

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

Written by in: Intro Letter |

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