Sep
01
2014

Imbiber

Ramen Shop beauties, like this rye and beer cocktail

Ramen Shop beauties, like this rye, cherry and beer cocktail

My Top Drink Articles: August 16-31

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my numerous articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some of this coverage here – you can follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily, or on my own @ThePerfectSpot via Twitter or Facebook.

Cocktails/Spirits

The TOP 5 BEER COCKTAILS to Drink Now, from SF to Oakland and Napa

The NEW COCKTAIL MENU at OAKLAND’s RAMEN SHOP

WINE & COCKTAIL Highlights at THE COMMISSARY in the Presidio

Cider

DEVOTO ORCHARDS CIDER from family-run apple orchards in SEBASTOPOL

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Aug
01
2014

Imbiber

Erik Adkins cocktails at South at SFJAZZ - the new Mexican restaurant from Charles Phan

Erik Adkins cocktails at South at SFJAZZ – the new Mexican restaurant from Charles Phan

My Top Drink Articles: July 15-31

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my 15 articles/posts a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some of this coverage here – you can sign up for Zagat’s weekly newsletter for the Bay Area here and follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily.

Cocktails

San Francisco wins at TALES OF THE COCKTAIL

ERIK ADKINS’ cocktails at CHARLES PHAN new Mexican restaurant/bar, SOUTH

Full bar and cocktail menu at NEW, EXPANDED OUTERLANDS by Ocean Beach

Pam Bushling’s garden-fresh cocktails in SONOMA (Healdsburg) at romantic MADRONA MANOR

Wine & cocktail recommends (French-centric) at Corey Lee’s new MONSIEUR BENJAMIN

A fantastic Lavender Flip and more at brand new SHAKEWELL in OAKLAND

Destination Oakland: cocktails at seafood haven, alaMar

Wine

New CADET wine + beer bar in NAPA

BARREL ROOM ROCKRIDGE’s wine classes study Spanish and Portuguese wines

Beer

ABBOTS CELLAR sells rare beers from its (and Monk’s Kettle) cellars

Books

3 NEW BOOKS (2 of them cocktail books from drink experts in NY and Portland)

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Jul
01
2014

Imbiber

Cafe Brulot flamed in the glass at Tosca Cafe

Cafe Brulot flamed in the glass at Tosca Cafe by bar manager Isaac Shumway

My Top Drink Articles: June 15-30

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my 15 articles/posts a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to just some of this coverage here – you can sign up for Zagat’s weekly newsletter for the Bay Area here and follow along on Twitter @ZagatSF, where I post daily.

Cocktails

Real deal, New Orleans-style CAFE BRULOT – flamed tableside! – now on 2 notable SF cocktail menus

8 reasons to revisit LOCAL KITCHEN & WINE MERCHANT in SoMa – Victoria D’Amato-Moran’s new cocktail menu

URBAN PUTT GETS BOOZE – and what to eat one month in at the quirky mini-golf restaurant/bar

If Savannah (or other quirky, historic Southern town) met a California Gold Country Western town, it might feel a lot like PORT COSTA, home to one of the country’s best dive bars and a cosmopolitan restaurant and cocktail bar

NICO ADDS NEW ROSE PAIRING and LOW PROOF COCKTAIL menus with these dishes

The BEST COCKTAILS in LOS GATOS – and some of the best in the South Bay

Silky crudo, standout salads and Carlos Yturria’s cocktails at LURE + TILL in PALO ALTO

Wine

Chef JOSH SKENES on SAISON’s New $498 Test Kitchen Dinners and Winemaker Dinner Series

NICO ADDS NEW ROSE PAIRING and LOW PROOF COCKTAIL menus with these dishes

Wine tasting room in a submarine training vessel DEBUTS ON TREASURE ISLAND

New PIATTINI ADDS A SLICE OF VENICE to Mission St.

3 new LOCAL WINE COUNTRY GUIDES

Beer

The 8 BEST BEER GARDENS in the Bay Area

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Jun
01
2014

Imbiber

Sampling beers during Strong Beer Month at Magnolia Pub in San Francisco

Sampling beers during Strong Beer Month at Magnolia Pub in San Francisco

5 NorCal Beers You Should Try

Article and photos by Virginia Miller

SANTE ADAIRIUS’ SAISON BERNICE, Capitola

Sante Adarius' cask

Sante Adarius’ cask

Sante Adairius is Santa Cruz’ beloved beer haven since it opened in May 2012. Run by gracious Sante Adairius co-owners Tim Clifford and Adair Paterno, they not only make some the best beers in the area, but among the more exciting to come along in the massive beer world of California in the last couple years.

When I visited back in January, the place was mobbed on a Sunday afternoon, though at the end of deserted-looking street bordering the freeway. While I enjoyed the like of their Vanilla Joe made with local Verve Coffee, it’s their Saison Bernice (6.5% ABV), named after Tim’s mom’s middle name, that made the strongest impression, with its classic Belgian profile and lively nature. 

MAGNOLIA’S PROMISED LAND IMPERIAL IPA, San Francisco

Promised Land Imperial IPA’s 10.5% ABV, long, grapefruit-bitter finish was a standout during Strong Beer Month in February at Magnolia Pub. Thankfully, it’s still on the menu so we can continue to enjoy this bright, boozy beer.

RUHSTALLER’S GILT EDGE CALIFORNIA GOLDEN LAGER, Sacramento

Weekend crowds at Sante Adairus

Weekend crowds at Sante Adairus

Ruhstaller Beer uses almost all local, organic hops, grown at 2000 ft. elevation in volcanic soil near Mount Konocti. They’ll inform you that pre-Prohibition, Sacramento was once the world’s greatest hops growing region.

Their understated beers keep winning awards, particularly the refreshing Gilt Edge California Golden Lager. Best of all, they give a percentage of their sales to Pride Industries towards jobs for disabled and mentally handicapped.

PALO ALTO BREWING COMPANY’S COOL BEANZ COFFEE PORTER, Palo Alto

Palo Alto Brewing Company‘s Kasim Syed was brewing in San Jose, serving his beers only at Palo Alto’s Rose and Crown Pub, but demand grew and now his beers are all over the Bay Area. Cool Beanz Coffee Porter is a nutty-chocolate laden standout made with beloved cult SF coffee, Philz.

KNEE DEEP BREWING CO.’s HOPTOLOGIST DOUBLE IPA, Lincoln

Yes, it’s hoppy. In all the right ways. Knee Deep Brewing, located in the town of Lincoln between Sacramento and Auburn, creates award-winning, uber-hopped beers, thanks to Founder/Brewmaster Jeremy Warren, that keep the sometimes maligned category from being merely a gimmick. He crafts drinkable, flavor-intense beers, particularly Hoptologist Double IPA and Simtra Triple IPA.

Cheese platter with beer at Magnolia Pub

Cheese platter with beer at Magnolia Pub

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Dec
15
2013

Wandering Traveler

Bruges in the sunlight

Bruges in the sunlight

In BRUGES

Photos & Article by Virginia Miller

Carriage rides around the city

Carriage rides around the city

The romance of Bruges cannot be overstated. I was delightfully surprised to arrive in the small, intimate city of narrow cobblestone roads and horse drawn carriages to be one of the more romantic cities I’ve visited (and I’ve been to 25 cities around the globe just this year alone): partly due to its intimate size and approachability, partly due to its fairy tale architecture and interlocked waterways, not too far removed from the canals of Venice.

Hotel Die Swaene was my home base, a velvet-strewn respite of dreamy paintings, drippy chandeliers and a quiet bar behind thick curtains that feels like one’s one private drawing room straight out of an 19th century movie. The bamboo-surrounded pool and spa under a glass ceiling are added bonuses. The rooms themselves were a bit dowdy comparatively but I didn’t spend much time there.

Dining & drinking in Bruges squares

Dining & drinking in Bruges squares

Waterways of Bruges

Waterways of Bruges

I indulged in morning cappuccinos on the sunny rooftop garden of a cafe, savoring the Belgian ritual of chocolate or mini-pastries served with coffee. I scoured chocolate shops, tasting a range of truffles, some better than others – there’s a surprising excess of milk chocolate and other over-sugary chocolates vs. the dark, complex, artisan chocolate I seek out around the world. Nonetheless, I stumbled upon some worthwhile chocolate.

Belgian beers at La Garre

Belgian beers at La Garre

Entering La Garre

Entering La Garre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruges squares

The Belfry of Bruges (medieval bell tower to the left)

Frites & rose at Poules Moules

Frites & rose at Poules Moules

A bucket of Belgian frites (thick-cut fries) and a glass of rosé orbeer is a quintessential Belgian experience, particularly on a sunny afternoon at a sidewalk table in a large, bustling square, as was the case at Restaurant Poules Moules. Better yet, a heaping bowl moules and frites (mussels and fries).

Espresso in Bruges

Espresso in Bruges

Beer & stew at Cambrinus

Beer & stew at Cambrinus

Streetside Belgian waffles, hearty meat stews or platters of sausages and sauerkraut… and, of course, Belgian beer. In indulged in it all. Bierbrasserie Cambrinus, in an atmospheric 1699 brick building, was a favorite for its casual, traditional Belgian food and extensive novel of beers – pages and pages worth – even if neglectful service left a little (or a lot) to be desired. I sipped a double-hopped De Ranke XX Bitter (which is found easily here at home at places like Healthy Spirits) or Van Steenberge Leute bokbier, a bright brown ale.

My favorite bar was off a narrow alley in an even more narrow building: La Garre stocks over 130 Belgian, Trappist and craft beers, particularly of the craft kind, offering the likes of most of the Oerbier line on draft alongside house brews.

Belgian waffles streetside

Belgian waffles streetside

Hotel Die Swaene

Entering Die Swaene's bar

Entering Die Swaene’s bar

Romantic paintings line the hotel

Romantic paintings grace the hotel

Die Swaene's indoor pool

Die Swaene’s indoor pool

Lounging with Campari & soda or absinthe in the hotel bar

Lounging with Campari & soda or absinthe in the hotel bar

Cafe Cambrinus

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Belgian beers at Cambrinus

Cambrinus' historic building

Cambrinus’ historic building

 

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Written by in: Wandering Traveler | Tags: ,
Oct
01
2013

Imbiber

Red Rabbit's Krakow Salt Mine

Red Rabbit’s Krakow Salt Mine

DRINKING in SAC TOWN

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Grappling Hook at Hook & Ladder

Grappling Hook at Hook & Ladder

Sac Town, our California Gold Country capital… known for its politics, surrounded by the boundless produce of inland California which us city dwellers richly benefit from. It’s a town I stop to dine in on the way to or from Tahoe but have only stayed the weekend in a couple times, despite its close proximity to San Francisco. A recent revisit meant I trekked to at least eight spots a day, combing the city’s restaurants, bars, coffee houses and more (read about food/dining here; and my slideshow article on Sacramento highlights for PureWow.

While they’ve been a beer town for awhile, the formerly non-existent cocktail scene has grown exponentially the last five years, throwing its 5th Cocktail Week this August. Innovation isn’t the town’s strong suit, compared to what’s long been happening in other cities around the world – the focus is instead on approachable, straightforward drinks using quality spirits. Wine is growing in sophistication with some small producers exhibiting Old World restraint despite inland heat, as at Revolution.

Red Rabbit

Red Rabbit’s Chappelle Cocktail

Getting the worst out of the way, there was an appalling four spots in one weekend (far more than I experience at home or in frequent trips around the world) where service was lackluster to downright bad. In fact, for those I bothered to give a second chance to (something I typically cannot do, particularly when visiting eight places in a day), service only improved when meeting with a manager. A warm welcome, if not knowledgeable, engaged service, should be standard in raved-about places. Given the wealth of amazing spots in Nor Cal, it’s maddening to pay to be treated with indifference, or, as happened at a renowned cocktail bar, to leave a watery, tasteless drink virtually untouched, and not even be asked if everything was ok when I paid for it.

Compared to what we’re surrounded by in San Francisco, Sac might not (at first glance) seem to be making waves. But it’s a town that has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years. Though you might see trends (gourmet donuts & hipster, third wave coffee, etc.) that have been established for years in other cities, Sacramento seems to be finding that sweet spot of embracing the bounty surrounding it and expressing it straightforwardly. Food and drink aficionados can find plenty to satiate here, graced with a California heartland freshness.

Wine

REVOLUTION WINES

Revolution Wines - Virginia Miller

St. Rey Celeste

At Revolution – a winery, restaurant and tasting room in the heart of town – Winemaker Craig Haarmeyer graciously tasted me through their wines from the barrel and the bottle. The whites are a balanced pleasure, like a crisp St. Rey Albarino ($22 per bottle) or grassy, floral, whole cluster Sauvignon Blanc ($19), rested in stainless steel. There are also nuanced reds like the Celeste Sacramento County blend ($30) or pepper-berry notes of a blessedly acidic Zinfandel ($26).

Haarmeyer is experimenting with Syrah grapes grown at over 2500 feet above the nearby town of Auburn. He wisely picks early, veering away from overripeness, ensuring elegant balance to his wines (not to mention the value for the quality). I was privileged to sample an experimental dry vermouth, made with rose petals, rosemary, black pepper, gentian, quinine and sage. I immediately began picturing its best gin pairing, imagining it in a martini – I hope it might be a future release.

Beer

TRACK 7 BREWING

Track 7

Track 7

Sac Town’s cult brewery, Track 7 Brewing, recently turned 1 year old, celebrating with a double-hopped version of their popular Panic IPA, a pleasingly bitter, lively release I had on draft at nearby Red Rabbit.

Friends and former home brewers, Geoff Scott and Ryan Graham, run a welcoming garage brewery where you can bring in your own food or eat from a revolving lineup of food trucks (like Chando’s Taqueria, Krush Burger, Orale Mole, Mama Kim Cooks, etc…), fill up growlers, and sample beers.

After sampling eight beers at the brewery, my favorites (besides the passion fruit bitter of the Panic IPA) are a bright and bready Delta King Saison or malty-earthy Soulman Stout. There are countless fantastic breweries in California, and Track 7 is one of them.

Bars

Inviting bar

Inviting bar

RED RABBIT

Besides being the kind of restaurant that serves winning fusion combinations like a pastrami stir-fry ($14.50), The Red Rabbit is a laid back, friendly, all-day watering hole.

Barman/Owner Matt Nurge (one of the cocktail pioneers in the area who helped open The Shady Lady) ensures quality cocktails ($8-9), heavy on classics like a Boulevardier or Chappelle Cocktail (gin, sweet vermouth, lime, falernum, pineapple). Try the signature house cocktail, Krakow Salt Mine, a salty-sweet refresher of Zubrowka vodka, apple cider, lemon, ginger beer, and kosher salt. The vibe is right at Red Rabbit: relaxed without sacrificing quality.

GRANGE

Elegant Long Island Iced Tea

Elegant Long Island Iced Tea

At Grange in the Citizen Hotel, engaging Bar Manager Ryan Seng (also one of the opening crew at Shady Lady) has created a strong cocktail program, and from what I could see, trains staff well based on the gracious service I encountered even when he was not around.

Seng runs a smart house barrel program with three personally-selected barrels of Bols Genever, Herradura Reposado tequila and Woodford Reserve bourbon he selected in their home country/distillery of origin (in fact, I saw his barrel of Bols Genever in the Bols warehouse outside of Amsterdam when I visited this May, ready to be shipped to California).

Tusk

Tusk

My favorite cocktail at Grange is Seng’s blend of all three house barrels into a boozy-elegant (yes, elegant) Long Island Iced Tea. I’ve never liked that sloppy, booze monster of a drink, but this version makes me reconsider. Another standout is the Grange Margarita ($14) made with their Herradura double barrel reposado tequila, house curacao, lime and agave, rimmed with smoked lime sea salt.

Tusk ($10), a savory-sweet blend of Four Roses bourbon, bacon vermouth and absolutely delicious candied bacon, is sweet and gratifyingly robust. Though I’ve seen bacon-infused whiskey many a time over the years around the US, Seng’s version is a crowd-pleaser.  Spectacular Spectacular ($12) is the aperitif of choice, using Hendrick’s Gin and Grange select barrel aged Bols Genever, mixed with plum, lemon and topped with Prosecco, making a dry, pre-dinner refresher.

HOOK & LADDER

Hook & Ladder's special brand branded via iron onto citrus peels

Hook & Ladder’s special brand branded via iron onto citrus peels

Hook & Ladder is a go-to for low key drinks, rotating cocktails on tap, and a solid collection of craft spirits. The bar is run by Chris Tucker, who was one of the pioneering bartenders to usher in Sacramento’s cocktail renaissance (another in the opening crew at The Shady Lady). He’s got other potential projects in the works, but at H&L, he’s the one person in town featuring a hand-cut ice program and an unusual (and smart) designated driver drink section where house ginger beer, honey blueberry lemonade or a strawberry shrub with soda ($3 each) are free for designated drivers.

Pimm's Proper

Pimm’s Proper

Besides local draft beers like Berryessa or Track 7, there’s wines on tap (like Saintsbury Chardonnay) or nearby producers I’ve enjoyed in recent years such as Lee Family Farm Rio Tinto ($9/32). The cocktail menu is straightforward and fun, offering Cheekies (one-ounce social shots), highballs, bucks, and rotating draft cocktails ($8-9) of classics like a Negroni, Bijou, Martinez, all barrel aged in a 6-gallon French oak barrel.

Pimm’s Proper ($8) is a variation on the Pimm’s Cup combining Pimm’s, gin, lemon juice and ginger beer, or there’s a Grappling Hook ($8) showcasing Candolini Grappa Ruta with Punt E Mes sweet vermouth and Luxardo Maraschino liqueur. My favorite cocktail is seemingly simple: Tucker’s La Fresa ($9) mixes Espolon Blanco tequila with a house strawberry shrub. The shrub is all tart, vinegar brightness – as a good shrub should be – restrained strawberry made complex and savory by salt, pepper, coriander.

HOCK FARM CRAFT & PROVISIONS

Hock Farm's playful-chic decor

Hock Farm’s playful-chic decor

New Hock Farm Craft & Provisions, serves farm-fresh food sourced from nearby farms – far from a unique concept (think ubiquitous gourmet deviled eggs, fried green tomato BLTs, etc.), but it’s well-executed and comforting, the menu featuring a map highlighting the wealth of nearby produce and animal sources, county-by-county.

Bottled cocktails &  bacon popcorn

Bottled cocktails & bacon popcorn

What stood out at spacious, well-designed Hock Farm was Bar Manager/Managing Partner Brad Peters’ cocktails. “Bubbled and bottled” cocktails ($9) are straightforward – Aviation gin and house tonic or Papa’s Pilar rum and a house cream soda, effervescent and lively. An Irish banana colada ($10) combines Jameson Irish whiskey infused with banana and Perfect Puree of Napa Valley coconut and pineapple purees. It’s creamy, tropical goodness – with a touch of Irish.

LOWBRAU

LowBrau beer cocktails

LowBrau beer cocktails

Hipster Germanic fare it is, but what sets LowBrau apart from other such artisan sausage and craft beer joints around the country is damn good sausages on pretzel buns, killer sauces (they perfect curry ketchup), and alongside the beers, the addition of elegant cocktails, and an impressive collection of rare herbal liqueurs (Schwartzhog, Killepitsch, Rossbacher) and schnaps/eaux de vie (Schladerer Himbeer Liqueur, Schonauer Apfel, Freihof Marile Apricot brandy) from Austria, Switzerland, Germany.

Cocktails ($9) and beer cocktails ($7) include the likes of the Zimmerman Plan, giving smoky Del Maguey Vida Mezcal a kick of refreshing lime, orange juice, cilantro simple syrup, jalapeno and a fizzy splash of Hefewiezen. There’s also rare beers from Copenhagen or hot US craft beers like Prairie Ales.

ENOTRIA

Cocktails at Enotria

Cocktails at Enotria

Enotria is arguably the most advanced dining menu in Sacramento at the moment with impeccable wine pairings from Tyler Stacy. Cocktails ($12) by Russell Eastman likewise surprise, and are worth a visit to a somewhat generic-looking bar (the white light-draped outdoor patio is preferable). Employing savory and herbaceous elements in his drinks, Eastman avoids the “same old thing” a cocktail geek is used to expecting (i.e. classics), and instead creates cocktails more in line with a Scott Beattie ethos, utilizing produce and showcasing California bounty.

Eastman’s Electric Relaxation combines tequila blanco, Lillet Blanc, mezcal (for a hint of smokiness), lemon and thyme with a vibrant blueberry-white pepper shrub, resulting in a vivacious drink. A Salvador Dali mixes gin, Campari, lemon, lemongrass and sesame – blessedly heavy, almost textural, with the sesame, though I tasted little lemongrass.

Thankfully, one of the Sac’s best restaurants is also a great place to drink.

SPIRITS SELECTION

CORTI BROTHERS

Corti Brothers

Corti Brothers

From the exterior, Corti Brothers looks like the 1940’s-era grocery store it is, a bit dingy and plain in a nondescript area of Sacramento. Besides boasting an old school deli (take a number and expect a bit of wait) churning out hearty sandwiches, Corti surprises with solid beer and wine sections and an unexpectedly dense spirits selection – the best in the area. This is not an elevated liquor store like Cask in San Francisco or Hi-Time in So Cal, but it may be the best grocery store liquor selection I’ve ever seen. There’s an impressive array of small batch spirits, amari from Italy, Eastern European liqueurs and other rarities one would not expect to find in a place like this.

COFFEE

One of 2 Temple Coffee locations visited

One of 2 Temple Coffee locations visited

Find Sac’s best artisan, third wave coffee at Temple, Insight Coffee, or local’s favorite, Chocolate Fish. Insight in particular is obviously hipster and trendy (think artful graffiti, ubiquitous beards and handlebar mustaches, Chemex and Hario v60’s lining the walls) but the coffee is strong at all three coffee houses, providing a robust fix whether you order a cold brew or a pour over.

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Aug
15
2013

Around the Bay

Sampling beers at Steins in Mountain View

Sampling beers at Steins in Mountain View

3 Reasons to Dine South (Bay, that is)

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Oh, that burger: Steins

Oh, that burger: Steins’ dry-aged short rib-brisket-sirloin patty

As with any part of the Bay Area, the South Bay offers plenty of culinary riches. It may be Silicon Valley, the ‘burbs, numerous towns rather than a metropolitan city, but exploring Indian food from Mountain View to Santa Clara or international hole-in-the-walls in San Mateo can gleefully feel like eating through another country.

Here’s three restaurants where food and drink lightheartedly co-mingle, promising delights for the foodie, the gourmand, the drink aficionado, or the plain hungry.

STEINS BEER GARDEN, MOUNTAIN VIEW

Fried chicken

Fried chicken

There’s no better beer-with-food outpost in the South Bay (besides pastrami or brisket with Belgian beers at The Refuge in San Carlos) than Steins. Boasting a sunny beer garden, their spare, cavernous space features over 20 beers on tap, many of them rare kegs, and large, communal tables, ideal for larger parties.

Steins beer hall setting

Steins beer hall setting

EAT: Chef Colby M. Reade is clearly having fun with the menu. There’s obvious (but no less delightful) beer pairings like warm, house-baked pretzels ($6) coated in lye for golden brown color, sprinkled with Maldon sea salt, dipped in caraway beer mustard. Or a stunner of a burger ($11) – best medium-rare – a house-ground blend of dry-aged short rib, brisket and sirloin on brioche (add Danish blue, cheddar or Swiss for $1, pork belly, over easy egg, or mushroom for $2). Alternately, they serve a juicy fried chicken sandwich ($12) topped with apple slaw and spiced honey on ciabatta.

Summer Squash

Summer Squash

Unexpectedly, Chef Reade also offers seasonal, garden-fresh beauties that make me feel less guilty for chowing down on burgers, beer and pretzels. This summer it was thinly shaved and diced squash ($12) over a mound of roasted corn and cracked wheat in herb pesto and lemon vinaigrette. There’s good times to be had with Breakfast for Dinner ($15), a meaty hunk of smoked pork belly under poached egg in maple Dijon vinaigrette. End with cinnamon sugar crullers (doughnut-like pastries, $8) dipped in dark drinking chocolate.

Dessert platter:

Dessert round: Devil’s Food chocolate cake, flourless almond cake w/ raspberry sorbet, crullers with dark drinking chocolate

DRINK: Just a few of the possible draft joys waiting to be poured from the ever-changing drafts at Steins? A rare cask of Dogfish Head Positive Contact ($8), an ale brewed with Fuji apple cider and spices, slow roasted farro, cayenne and fresh cilantro. Or try High Water Brewing Campfire Stout ($9) which is actually brewed with chocolate malt, marshmallow flavoring and actual graham crackers. Sounds like junk food, yes, but it’s a marvelously meaty, smoky-sweet brew. Happily co-existing with food might be Ninkasi’s Total Domination ($7), an IPA with citrus, floral notes and hoppy richness from Carahell and Munich malts.

NICK’S NEXT DOOR, LOS GATOS

Beef tartare

Beef tartare

Expect a warm welcome from Nick himself, who moves effortlessly between kitchen and guests, ensuring everyone is having a good time. Nick’s Next Door is a South Bay gem with front garden/patio, a neighborhood restaurant filled with regulars and upscale enough (though definitely relaxed) to feel like a night out.

Nick's patio

Nick’s patio

EAT: There’s a Cali-fresh sensibility to the cooking and playful twists on some of my beloved favorites like steak tartare ($14). Here, a mound of silky tartare is topped with fried (vs. raw) sunnyside egg, surrounded by pommes frites and toasted sourdough crostini. Their “NOT your traditional Caesar” ($6) salad is a generous portion of baby spinach, wild arugula and radicchio littered with Pt. Reyes blue cheese, bright anchovies, garlic croutons and crispy bacon.

Nani's meatloaf

Nani’s meatloaf

Entrees aren’t a let down either, particularly house staple Nani’s meatloaf ($21), a tender mound of beef partnered with whipped potatoes and sauteed broccolini, in a mushroom gravy. A special might be plump, seared scallops ($28) over a duck fat-infused faro grain. The dish is decadent in Parmesan cream and parsley lemon oil with crispy sheets of lollipop kale for contrast. Finish with a scoop of tarragon ice cream in port cherries ($4).

DRINK: Choose from a California-only wine list or sip a ginger-spiced Bulleit Rye whiskey cocktail, Bitter Old Man ($12), softened by lemon, Grand Marnier, ginger and basil, served up with a candied ginger garnish.

MANRESA, LOS GATOS

Rare Belon oysters

Rare Belon oysters

Manresa is a fine dining temple to produce (sourced from their own Love Apple Farms) and experimental cooking, thanks to Chef-Proprietor David Kinch. They are widely acknowledged internationally, hosting some of the world’s greatest chefs when they’re in town (like an unforgettable collaborative dinner last year with Chef Ben Shewry of Attica in Melbourne, Australia). If that weren’t enough, they own a coveted two Michelin stars.

s

Strawberry gazpacho

EAT: Needless to say, this isn’t everyday dining for many of us. That’s why I was pleased in early June to taste through their just-launched lounge menu, a still delicate, exotic sampling of Manresa’s creativity without the price of the prix fixe ($130) or seasonal tasting ($185) menus.

In the small lounge, the tasting menu is five changing “bites” for $48, starting with warm garden beignets, and a seasonal dish like vibrant, sweet-savory strawberry-red bell pepper-cucumber gazpacho poured over Marcona almonds and lemon balm curd.

Goat milk ice

Goat milk ice

Then there might be silky Japanese sea bream in yuzu, or a rare treat of a Belon oyster from Maine (originally from Brittany, France) over seaweed ice. Dessert from Pastry Chef Stephanie Prida might be goat milk ice, layered with kumquats, tapioca-like pearls and crumble, drizzled in a rum sauce.

Manresa cocktails

Manresa cocktails

DRINK: This peek at what goes on in a world class restaurant is ideally savored with wines from their impressive 600+ list.

Cocktails include the soft Golden Orange ($16), with a subtle taste of the Templeton Rye whiskey and Campari base, lemon, Amaro Nonino and bit of kumquat jam, or a Pumpernickel Twist ($16) using St. George’s Dry Rye gin, infused with caraway infusion, mixed with lemon, mole bitters, decanter bitters.

LODGING AND ACTIVITIES

While recently weekending in Los Gatos, which is about an hour’s drive south of San Francisco, I crashed at Toll House Hotel off the main street and easily walkable to all restaurants. My husband, The Renaissance Man, and I raided their in-house DVD collection for film noir and movie classics one night, complete with Scotch (which I brought) and chocolates from Amour Patisserie just up the block. I also recommend Amour for proper French pastries like pain au chocolat and almond croissants with Blue Bottle Coffee in the morning, and Garrod Farms in neighboring Saratoga where we spent a lovely morning riding horses through scenic trails with Bay views in the distance.

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Written by in: Around the Bay | Tags: ,
Aug
01
2013

Imbiber

Gathering around Mikkeller's 30+ seat bar

Gathering around Mikkeller’s 30+ seat bar

What to Drink at SF’s New Mikkeller Bar

Article and Photos by Virginia Miller

MIKKELLER BAR, Tenderloin (34 Mason St. between Turk and Market, 415-984-0279)

Exposed brick walls in 1907 space

Exposed brick walls in 1907 space

In the heart of the Tenderloin and a couple short blocks from Union Square, Mikkeller Bar has soft-opened, a boon for beer aficionados and fans of the beloved Copenhagen brewery. But this bar and restaurant is not a replica of Mikkeller Bar in Copenhagen. Opened by Chuck Stilphen, founder of The Trappist and Trappist Provisions in Oakland, he partnered with friend and Danish brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergsø to open this SF bar featuring 42 taps of American and international beers, two cask handles, an extensive bottle selection, and numerous special house beers, including the Mikkeller Tenderloin Series.

The weekend of August 9-11th marks the bar’s grand opening and is packed with events and tastings to please the masses, including a rare, 7-course dinner on August 11th for Mikkeller beer and Scandinavian food fans alike with Danish Chef Jakob Mielcke.

Entering Mikkeller Bar

Entering Mikkeller Bar

The 1907 space houses a “sour room” cellar featuring Lambic and sour beers, and available for private parties and tastings. “Danish industrial” describes the brick-walled, clean lines of the large space designed by local Martin Heid Design/Build (Range, Adesso, Commonwealth), graced with artwork from the artist who designs Mikkeller’s beer labels, Keith Shore.

Special Mikkeller releases on draft

Tenderloin Mikkeller releases on draft

Gather in the main dining room around communal tables or the 30-seat bar and order a beer with Chef Michael O’ Brien’s (from Church Key in Washington DC) house sausages, charcuterie and gourmet-hearty menu. While you’re savoring steak frites, here are a few beer possibilities from an ever-changing tap selection.

1. Mikkeller’s collaboration with Firestone Walker: Lil’ Mikkel is a wild sour ale perfectly balanced with just enough sour
2. Mikkeller Texas Ranger is a meaty chipotle porter with a touch of spice – my new favorite
3. Mikkeller Tenderloin Pilsner is a beauty of a house Pilsner and a tribute to the ‘Loin, while the Mikkeller American Dream Pils drinks a lot like an IPA with subtle hops
4. Mikkeller’s It’s Alive Chardonnay is something different: a wild sour ale with subtle hints of mango and finely-tuned sour notes
5. Non-Mikkeller winners on draft at the bar’s soft opening: smoky Iceland beer Olvisholt Lava, Oklahoma’s Prairie Ales Prairie Standard, De La Senne’s funky, crisp Taras Boulba Belgian Pale

Enter Mikkeller Bar

Enter Mikkeller Bar

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