Sep
15
2014

Imbiber

Lolo's new playing card cocktail menu

Lolo’s new playing card cocktail menu

My Top Drink Articles: September 1-15

Photos and articles by Virginia Miller

From my numerous articles a week as Zagat Editor, I summarize and link to 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

LOLO’s artistic new PLAYING CARD COCKTAIL MENU

NOPA’s two cocktail menus within a cocktail menu

Cocktails on the new TRICK DOG MENU

Cocktailing in ALAMEDA

Spirits

ST. GEORGE RELEASES 3 NEW SPIRITS for Fall

Juice

My new cold press juice favorite, UPTOWN JUICE

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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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Sep
01
2014

Wandering Traveler

Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos, in all its magical color

New York: My 8 Top NY Cocktails of 2014

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Golden Caddilac

Golden Caddilac

Working on a video project this Spring for Tastemade, I was asked to hand-select food and drink destinations to include in a Top 100 round-up of NY spots. This meant I was able to return to a number of my older favorites, like Amor y Amargo (my favorite amaro bar where, this time around, I enjoyed their iced coffee weekend brunch cocktail menu), Raines Law Room, Mayahuel, Cienfuegos, Brandy Library, Saxon + Parole and The Daily (the latter two of which I get into further below). Fine cocktails and spirits were had at each of these locations. Of course, I packed in some newer spots, too.

Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos

Sadly, the Golden Cadillac closed after my visit, though it hadn’t been open long. I appreciated the cheeky fun of the bar’s improved 70s cocktails, like a Golden Cadillac mixing Galliano, coconut cream, creme de cacao and orange bitters, or a Disco Daiquiri using almond milk instead of coconut milk (not to mention seeing great bartenders behind the bar, like Mathew Resler formerly of Empellon and Lulu Martinez, formerly of also-closed Painkiller. The East Village space will reopen as Boilermaker next month, involving none other than SF’s Erick Castro, who opened Rickhouse and the highly-lauded Polite Provisions in San Diego.

In the meantime, here are my 8 best cocktails in NYC this year (past years here), plus commentary on a couple newer cocktails bars.

ZZ Clam Bar's gorgeous vintage glassware

ZZ Clam Bar’s gorgeous vintage glassware

1. SAXON + PAROLE, NoHo

Masa Urushido

Masa Urushido

Saxon + Parole has been one of my favorite NY bars for years since Naren Young used to oversee the program. It remains a favorite in its current days under the able hands of Masa Urushido, a gracious bar manager who came from some of Tokyo’s top bars to NYC in 2008.

Raisin & Rum

Rum & Raisin

His seasonal cocktails can be stunners. This spring, I was wowed by a Spring Daiquiri ($14) combining Cana Brava rum, sugar snap peas, a house lemon-thyme cordial, lemon and tarragon salt. Topped with fresh pea pods, it tastes blissfully of crisp peas, backed with rum’s spice and sweetness, perked up with thyme and lemon. Another standout on the creamy end of the spectrum is Rum & Raisin ($14), a blend of Appleton Reserve rum, Greek yogurt, vanilla, cinnamon and Perrier to cut the lushness with a bit of effervescence.

Spring Daiquiri

Spring Daiquiri

The Daily-Virginia Miller

“Nacho” Jimenez

2. THE DAILY, Nolita

One of the great bar managers from the couple hundred NYC cocktail bars I’ve been to over the years is Ignacio “Nacho” Jimenez, at The Daily, who crafts well-balanced drinks in a seductive, mellow urban respite of a space featuring straightforward, daily changing cocktails and bites.

There’s one cocktail daily in each category, like bottled, “on the rocks” and aperitif. Returning this visit, a standout was a bottled La Perla for two ($26), served in a Daily flask (pictured below), a tequila, pear, sherry recipe from SF local, Jacques Bezuidenhout.

3. MOTHER’S RUIN, Nolita

Mother's Ruin's carrot gin slushie

Mother’s Ruin’s carrot gin slushie

Mother’s Ruin is a bartender/industry favorite and one of New York’s good-time hangouts where you’re greeted with a smile, elevated slushie and beer cocktails, and particularly during the day, a laid back, restorative vibe. Recently, Rabbit Done Died was the bracing slushie churning in their slushie machine, a combination of gin, carrot, lemon, cucumber and bitters, reminiscent of a Pimm’s Cup but icier and bolder. Fun was also had with a tequila and Cholula hot sauce cocktail partnered with a can of Tecate beer.

The Daily's bottled cocktails for two, La Perla

The Daily’s bottled cocktails for two, La Perla

4. ZZ CLAM BAR, Greenwich Village

Produce lining ZZ's bar

Produce lining ZZ’s bar

ZZ Clam Bar, a 12-seat, reservations-only seafood and cocktail bar is an intimate oasis in The Village that sings of island breezes and upscale Tiki culture circa 1940s with its romantic setting, soundtrack of lounge, exotica and other musical treats. Sounds like my dream spot, right? In many ways it is. Opened Summer 2013 by Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone of neighboring Carbone, it is, like that red sauce Italian haven, vastly overpriced. It can easily cost a few hundred dollars here for dinner and cocktails, the latter of which are $20 each (more on the food here).

Romantic & intimate: ZZ Clam Bar

Romantic & intimate: ZZ Clam Bar

ZZ’s sole bartender didn’t seem interested in engaging or explaining the cocktails we tried, despite the fact that we have many friends in common as he came from SF and The Alembic (where he used to work and where I bartended for a few months – I did not present any of this information but should not have had to to receive quality service). Even a bit of genuine engagement would have made the difference between a mediocre and a fantastic experience commensurate with merely 12 diners and the fine dining price tag. Thankfully, service was warm from our waiter, which should be a given from all staff.

It’s hard to say $300+ is worth it for a non-fine dining experience where portions are tiny, although in making reservations, one could request a couple seats against the wall and go just for drinks and a bite or two. At the same time, ZZ is such a one-of-a-kind spot that imparts romance in its size and decor, worth experiencing if you can afford it and desire something different, as those of us do who dine and drink at hundreds of places annually around the world. While we’ve seen seafood crudo and raw fish menus before, ZZ’s interpretations are imaginative and the cocktails maintain tropical flair, each visually striking in gorgeous vintage glassware.

A ZZ cocktail of pear, white rum, Fino sherry and green tea

A ZZ cocktail of pear, white rum, Fino sherry and green tea

I tasted six cocktails, intrigued by combinations like Plymouth gin, creamy with pistachio and honey, tart with kumquat, or a reposado tequila-based concoction mixed with squash, thyme and allspice. I crave this type of creative, culinary experimentation in cocktails. While some combinations worked better than others, I truly appreciate drinks with a vision beyond the usual. Kudos also for an anejo tequila cocktail implementing butter, pineapple and ras al hanout spices, and another with crème de menthe, apple brandy, mandarin orange and mole bitters.

5. BETONY, Midtown West

Betony's lush interior

Betony’s lush interior

Betony is an upscale Midtown restaurant that comes with a price tag as high as its gorgeously chic décor would suggest. Cocktails run $15-17 but are elegantly made with the type of sophistication one might expect from an Eleven Madison Park alum, namely GM Eamon Rockey. Betony is known for their lovely, regularly changing Milk Punch ($17 – read more about this in Robert Simonson’s NY Times article published around the time of my visit).

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel

Their Milk Punch during my visit had a Del Maguey Vida Mezcal base, combined with a Moroccan spearmint, cocoa nib tea and lemon. Another impressive drink was Coco Chanel, inspired by Chanel No. 5 perfume and made in collaboration with a master perfumer across the street. Though the drink seems to have evolved (note this earlier iteration in Town & Country), when I tried it, Rockey combined Cocchi Americano, lemon oleo saccharum, a dry French rosé wine and a spritz of rose water. The aforementioned master perfumier created a mixture including bergamot, roses, jasmine and citrus, which was rubbed on the garnish of mint leaves for enhanced aromatics.

My take on two newer bars:

2nd FLOOR on CLINTON, Lower East Side

2nd Ave's chilled out space

2nd Ave’s chilled out space

I was immediately smitten with the 2nd Floor on Clinton space for its removed, mellow vibe hidden upstairs in a Lower East Side space filled with mismatched couches and a lived-in, Victorian living room feel. The vibe (not the look) reminds me of the relaxed, non-trendy “speakeasy” days of Angel’s Share back in the 90s or the early days at the original Milk & Honey. One hopes the word doesn’t get out and make the space obnoxious or impossible to get in to.

d

Blessed Thistle cocktail

Too bad the cocktails ($15) don’t quite keep up with the romantic space. Despite how intriguing they sound, the cocktails I tried from listed “mixologists” Ektoras Binikos and Sarah Miller seemed to lack focus coming across “muddled” or confused, with no distinct flavor, like the Mistral (Martin Miller’s gin, Averna, verjus, sage and yuzu), or Blessed Thistle, a combination of Michter’s Sour Mash, Cardamaro, honey liqueur, lemon, Meyer lemon zest, Dutch’s colonial and cardamom bitters.

NITECAP, Lower East Side

Nitecap

Nitecap

David Kaplan and Alex Day are big names in the cocktail world, opening NYC’s Death & Company and more recently Honeycut in Los Angeles. They opened their intimate basement bar, Nitecap, just a couple weeks before I was in NYC in April so I caught it in early weeks. With brick walls and plum leather banquettes, the dim space is seductive and appealing. I just missed head bartender Natasha David, but tasted a few cocktails on their playfully-designed menu. They were pleasant though soft cocktails where the alcohol was barely a whisper (making some drinks feel more for the spirits novice rather than the aficionado). Service was aloof and unengaged, making it less fun than Portland’s Pepe Le Moko, which also opened this spring in Portland with a similar basement vibe and look though it is decidedly more fun. Kudos, however, for Nitecap’s late night, early ‘90s hip hop soundtrack.

Saxon + Parole cocktails

Saxon + Parole cocktails

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Aug
15
2014

Imbiber

Urchin Bistrot Cocktail-Virginia Miller

Cocktails at Urchin Bistrot in the Mission

My Top Drink Articles: August 1-15

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/Spirits

- First Look: What to Drink at the new URCHIN BISTROT in the Mission
- WHITECHAPEL: Martin Cate’s (of Smuggler’s Cove) New Gin Temple
- Trendspotting: FRENCH SPIRITS-CENTRIC BAR PROGRAMS
- 5 Best Things I Drank at EAT DRINK SF

Wine

3 Killer WINES TO DRINK NOW on Bay Area Menus

Beer

Take a Beer Break at BARREL HEAD BREWHOUSE

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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
15
2014

Imbiber

Creative Asian-influenced cocktails from Danny Louie at brand new Chino in the Mission

Creative Asian-influenced cocktails from Danny Louie at brand new Chino in the Mission

My Top Drink Recommends: June 1-15

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.

As I have been for over a decade, I’m on the ground daily looking for early standouts at each new opening, while sharing underrated places and dishes you’ve seen me write about here at The Perfect Spot for years, and, of course, plenty of drink coverage (cocktails, wine, spirits, beer).

Spirits

4 NEW LOCAL SPIRITS from a rye and New Orleans-influenced coffee liqueur, to a California aperitif and a sloe gin

Cocktails

The 5 BEST MARGARITAS in San Francisco

6 early favorite cocktails from Bar Manager Danny Louie at CHINO

5 classic NEGRONIS to seek out in San Francisco

FIRST LOOK at THE INTERVAL at the Long Now Salon, complete with robot behind the bar and a Drinking Around the World menu (among 8 mini cocktail menus from Bar Manager Jennifer Colliau)

What to eat & drink at the new Paris-meets-NY chic hotel bar, THE EUROPEAN

NEGRONI WEEK Highlights

Coffee

Unsung Heroes: GRAFFEO COFFEE since 1935

Tea

Check out the new SAMOVAR: you’ve never had tea like this

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May
01
2014

The Latest

Veggie spread at the Coachman kitchen bar

Veggie spread at the Coachman kitchen bar

BRITSH-Influenced PHAN

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

THE COACHMAN, SoMa (1148 Mission St. between 7th & 8th, 415-831-1701)

Heidelberg Cup

Heidelberg Cup No. 9

British-influenced food from Chef-de-Cuisine Ross Wunderlich (formerly at Bar Tartine, SPQR, A16)? Cocktails from one of the country’s great bar directors, Erik Adkins, and Bar Manager John Codd? Cocktail destination Heaven’s Dog closed and converted into a new restaurant and bar called The Coachman? All under master chef/owner Charles Phan? All this drew me to Coachman three times in the first two weeks alone. And each visit was a pleasure.

 WALL-E-BEAR ANIVERSARIO PAMPERO RUM, FINO SHERRY, NEGRONI REDUCTION, YELLOW CHARTREUSE

Wall-E-Bear: Aniversario Pampero Rum, Fino Sherry, Negroni reduction, Yellow Chartreuse

Maybe even more so than Heaven’s Dog, which still churned out gratifying late night dim sum and excellent cocktails, but could be criticized for being pricier than the endless affordable dim sum options around.

The Coachman’s food is possibly more realized and cocktails are as strong as ever. Pickled sardines ($10) co-mingle with hedgehog mushrooms and beets, while blood sausage ($19) falls apart with juicy, rosy, spiced glory. Slices of tender prime rib ($30), dribbled with jus and accompanied by Yorkshire pudding plus a side of creamed spinach or mash ($5), results in a deliciously hearty dinner.

Robert Burns' Hunting Flask: Redbreast 12yr Irish whiskey, currants, ginger, lemon peel, served in a hunting flask - traditional Scottish Highlands recipe

Robert Burns’ Hunting Flask: Redbreast 12yr Irish whiskey, currants, ginger, lemon peel, served in a flask, Erik Adkins’ version of a traditional Scottish Highlands recipe

Beef tartare & smelts

Beef tartare & smelts

My favorite bites, particularly with their gorgeous cocktails? When it’s in season, which was when the restaurant first opened, potted crab ($14) swimming in excess butter and scooped up with brioche toasts is an unctuous pleasure. A filling bowl of lentils and roasted garden carrots ($14) is lively in parsley dill sauce and meaty-sweet in a brilliant smoked date jam. My other favorite is beef tartare ($14) smartly contrasted with fried smelts. Raw beef and mini-fried fish? It’s such a fantastic “bar bite” that I’ve ordered it three times already – and I don’t tend to repeat until I’ve tried everything.

Cocktails ($11) are the showstopper here, though cask conditioned ales, beers and the French and German-centric wine list are no afterthought. Also, keep your eyes out for bartending master Erik Ellestad’s lovely, dry ginger beer which he’s fermenting champenoise-style (Champagne method) in the bottle. Cocktails are reinvented, rare classics from the Georgian through Victorian eras, while the back bar stocks a wealth of rum, sherry, and Scotch selections.

Antique Sour

Antique Sour

After trying the entire initial cocktail menu, there are a number of standouts, the first being a surprising combination of wine and genever. It’s actually a genius combination: bartender Keli Rivers played with Heidelberg Cup No. 9, an 1869 recipe from Cooling Cups & Dainty Drinks to get the elements just right. Diep 9 Belgian Genever, a house lemon cordial and Nahe Austrian Riesling combine over crushed ice for a dry, malty, stimulating drink, like a Cobbler cocktail born in Austria and Belgium.

Erik - California Milk Punch: Osocalis brandy, Appleton V/X Jamaican rum, Batavia Arrack, clarified milk, spiced syrup from Jerry Thomas' Bartenders Guide: How to Mix Drinks 1862

A well-executed California Milk Punch: Osocalis brandy, Appleton V/X Jamaican rum, Batavia Arrack, clarified milk and spiced syrup adapted by Erik Ellestad from Jerry Thomas’ Bartenders Guide: How to Mix Drinks 1862

Potted crab

Potted crab

An Antique Sour is one of the most balanced and lovely cocktails: Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, Pur Geist Beer Schnaps/bierbrand and lemon hit with flavorful punch, softened by egg white.

Ellestad’s Atholl Brose, a modern interpretation of a traditional Scottish Highlands cocktail, is my ideal dessert… or breakfast: Straus organic milk is infused with toasted oats, combined with whisky, honey, and dash of coffee.

Part owner Olle Lundberg’s Lundberg Design has left their mark on many SF spaces, and this redesigned restaurant opens up in the back at the end of the bar, dramatically lit by a “honey wall” of 76 panels filled with California-sourced honeys in varying shades, changing with light and heat (you might recognize the panels from Phan’s first Out the Door in Westfield Mall).

Though I had a soft spot for Heaven’s Dog, The Coachman feels more holistic. It’s already a necessary stop for the cocktail lover in the ‘hood, that thankfully also serves a great bite.

Cider cup a la Ensor (Cooling Cups & Dainty Drinks, 1869): Osocalis brandy, cider, Pur Pear, cucumber, pineapple, lemon

Cider cup a la Ensor (from Cooling Cups & Dainty Drinks, 1869): Osocalis brandy, cider, Pur Pear eau de vie, cucumber, pineapple, lemon

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