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
15
2014

The Latest

Delicate, perfectly prepared sweetbreads

Delicate, perfectly prepared veal sweetbreads

Meet You at The Square

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

THE SQUARE, North Beach (1707 Powell St., 415-525-3579)

One of the most popular drinks of the 1960s (created in the ’50s), Harvey Wallbanger ($11) upgraded: vodka, Italian bitters, vanilla, orange, lemon weave into a not too sweet yet juicy whole

The Square surprised me. As the second incarnation in a historic North Beach space since the legendary Washbag (Washington Square Bar & Grill) closed in 2010, I half expected it to be a mediocre replacement, especially after perusing the menu. The initial impression was a pretty typical modern-day menu.

The housemade Parker rolls are one of the many highlights, served free with fennel pollen and super soft butter

The housemade Parker rolls are one of the many highlights, served free with fennel pollen and super soft butter

But after dining here twice, I quickly realized every dish I’d had was far better than it sounded. Even delicious. I knew the cocktails would be strong under the direction of Bar Manager Claire Sprouse (of Rickhouse and Tradition), and her drinks are what brought me in not long after opening at the end of February. Sprouse’s cocktails are classy twists on cheeky ’70s and 80s cocktails typically shunned in the revival of artisanal cocktails. She takes these “dark ages” cocktails, often loaded with vodka and fruit juice – like a Tequila Sunrise or Appletini, and brings them into balance for a more educated palate.

Roasted strawberries ($9) with tart fromage blanc ice cream, graham cracker crumbles, fresh spearmint

As with many dishes on the menu, more wonderful than it sounds: roasted strawberries ($9) blissfully coexist with tart fromage blanc ice cream, a graham cracker and fresh spearmint

Even the baby kale salad ($12) is better than average dotted with feta and pistachio

Even the baby kale salad ($12) is better than average dotted with feta and pistachio

The Square was opened by chefs Matt McNamara and Teague Moriarty (of Michelin-starred Sons & Daughters and Sweet Woodruff) who oversee dishes that have an unexpected amount of comfort and ease, starting with warm gougeres ($8) oozing fromage blanc cheese and chive.

I’ve not had one letdown among the dishes over a few visits. In photos, here are some food and drink highlights in the initial 2 1/2 months of The Square.

 

Excellent rabbit platter for two, accented by edible flowers

Succulent rabbit platter for two, accented by edible flowers and morel mushrooms

One of my favorites on the menu: the Appletini redeemed with Calvados (French apple brandy), Leopold's Sour Apple liqueur, lemon, and a splash of St. George Absinthe

One of my favorites on the menu: the Appletini redeemed with Calvados (French apple brandy), Leopold’s Sour Apple liqueur from Denver, lemon, and a splash of St. George Absinthe

Barley risotto ($16) with green garlic, lemon zest, maitake mushrooms

Heartwarming barley risotto ($16) marked by green garlic, lemon zest, maitake mushrooms

The Square dining room and bar

The Square dining room and bar

Clarified White Russian ($12) rye, coffee, milk, brown sugar, allspice

Another delightful play on a ’70s/80s favorite, Sprouse takes it to new territory as a Clarified White Russian ($12). Instead of vodka, it’s rye whiskey with coffee, milk, brown sugar and allspice, clarified like classic milk punches, resulting in a clean, creamy, lovely cocktail.

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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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Apr
28
2014

The Latest

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A bracing Coffee Break ($13) mixing Appleton Rum, Mr. Espresso cold brew coffee, Mandarine Napoleon orange liqueur, house mole bitters – subtle coffee and candied orange notes

Sneak Peek: DIRTY HABIT, opening 5/1

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

DIRTY HABIT, Union Square (12 Fourth St. between Market and Mission in Hotel Palomar, 415-348-1555)

The patio fireplace

The patio fireplace

Though I will miss the upscale inventiveness of the menu at Fifth Floor, thankfully, the same team is in effect at its new, more casual incarnation, Dirty Habit, opening Thursday, 5/1. Chef David Bazirgan, Pastry Chef Francis Ang, Master Sommelier Emily Wines and Lead Bartender Brian Means have created all new menus. The space has not only been completely remodeled in comfortably chic, warm tones, but what was the extended dining room has now become a sleek outdoor patio with rectangular rock fireplace that is set to be one of the coolest downtown hangout/gathering spots.

As I visited last week for a sneak preview and taste-through of most (12) of the cocktails (not including the classics and the barrel aged cocktails) and a number of dishes, I don’t see how this new spot couldn’t be a hit. With playful, quality drinks in equally fun and lovely vintage glassware, stellar spirits collection, standout dishes – elevated lounge food, the staff’s informed welcome, and comfortable chairs in the seductively dim space – not to mention that killer patio – the one safeguard from the hordes is its fifth floor location, tucked away upstairs location in the Hotel Palomar.

Here are some initial bites and cocktails of note via photos:

Femme Fatale ($13): an Avua Cachaca, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, coconut, lime cocktail - with boba, soda water, and sprinkling of espelette pepper on top

Femme Fatale ($13): an Avua Cachaca, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, coconut, lime cocktail – with boba, soda water, and sprinkling of espelette pepper on top

The sleek new patio

The sleek new patio

One of my favorite cocktails on the menu is a vodka drink: Spritz & Giggles ($13) under Seasonal & Shaken: Belvedere Vodka, strawberry shrub, Sutton Cellars vermouth, corn tea - notes of chamomile flowers, orange oil, vinegar and strawberry, salt makes it; bottled & slightly carbonated

One of my favorite cocktails, Spritz & Giggles ($13), is a bottled and carbonated Belvedere Vodka drink with tart/bracing strawberry shrub, Sutton Cellars vermouth, and corn tea – a dash of salt makes it sing

Killer chicken wings - among the best in town: Chicken wings ($10) sweet soy and chili vinaigrette

Killer chicken wings ($10) – among the best in town – crispy in sweet soy and chili vinaigrette

Another one of the best new cocktails: Chupacabra ($13), mixing Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Los Altos Blanco Tequila, Aperol, grapefruit cordial, lime, Sal de Gusano (ground Oaxacan salt, chile & worms) - it's tart with grapefruit, salty, with chili and bitter orange notes

Another of the best cocktails: Chupacabra ($13), mixing Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Los Altos Blanco Tequila, Aperol, grapefruit cordial, lime, Sal de Gusano (ground Oaxacan salt, chile & worms) – it’s tart with grapefruit, salty, subtly smoky, bright with chili & bitter orange notes

House charcuterie platter ($16) - all made in house but speck = with crackers, pickles (pickled Persian plums!)

House charcuterie platter ($16) – all meats & pates made in house except for the speck – with house beef tendon chicharrones and pickled vegetables and pickled Persian plums

Ludovico Technique ($13) under Seasonal & Shaken: Absolut Vodka, blueberry, Dry Madeira, lemon, verjus - notes of green grass and dried grapes

In front of Dirty Habit lunchboxes is the Ludovico Technique ($13): Absolut Vodka, blueberry, Dry Madeira, lemon, verjus, sipped from a bendy straw with notes of green grass, dried grapes and blueberry

Another brilliant dish: Octopus ($16) eggplant, pine nuts, cherries  - crispy confit style

Another brilliant dish ($16): octopus – some of it tender, other tentacles are crispy confit-style – eggplant, pine nuts, cherries

Pink Elephant ($12) under Seasonal & Shaken: Ford's Gin, Martini & Rossi Rosato Vermouth, Small Hands Pineapple Gum, orange bitters, St. George Absinthe

Pink Elephant ($12): Ford’s Gin, Martini & Rossi Rosato Vermouth, Small Hands Pineapple Gum Syrup, orange bitters, a dash of St. George Absinthe – herbaceous and tart

Completely remodeled lounge area

Completely remodeled lounge area

Green Thumb ($13) under Stirred & Sipped: Tanqueray No. 10 Gin, Carpano Bianco, Green Chartreuse, nectar essence made from African tea in a Tanqueray Rangpur Lime base - experimenting with oils and olive oil for texture in essence

Green Thumb ($13): Tanqueray No. 10 Gin, Carpano Bianco, Green Chartreuse, nectar essence made from African tea with a Tanqueray Rangpur Gin base

Fried lamb belly bao (steamed buns) with peanuts ($5)

Fried lamb belly bao (steamed buns) with peanuts ($5)

Marigold ($13) under Stirred & Sipped: Cuttysark Prohibition Edition, Luxardo Apricot, house apricot bitters, Laird's Applejack - slightly smoky-sweet, apple blossom notes

Marigold ($13): Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition Scotch, Luxardo Apricot liqueur, house apricot bitters, Laird’s Applejack – slightly smoky-sweet with apple blossom notes

Loveable Trixter ($12) under Seasonal & Shaken: Plymouth gin, lime, blackberries, sage, crushed ice

Loveable Trixter ($12): Plymouth gin, lime, blackberries, sage, over crushed ice

Wink & A Nod ($12) under Stirred & Sipped: Bulleit Rye, Cynar, Galliano Ristretto, Fernet BrancaMenta - rye bread, chocolate, mint, espresso notes

Another favorite, Wink & A Nod ($12), mixes Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Cynar (Italian artichoke liqueur), Galliano Ristretto (Italian coffee liqueur), Fernet BrancaMenta (Italian herbal mint liqueur) – notes of rye bread, chocolate, mint, bitter herbal notes, espresso

Dirt Nap ($10) under Stirred & Sipped: Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth infused with porcini mushrooms, Lustau "Don Nuno" Oloroso sherry, King's Ginger Liqueur - earthy, dried mushroom, sweet ginger notes

Dirt Nap ($10) combines Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth infused with porcini mushrooms, Lustau “Don Nuno” Oloroso sherry, King’s Ginger Liqueur – it is earthy with dried mushroom and sweet ginger notes

Leather & Lace ($12) under Stirred & Sipped: James Pepper Rye, Lustau "Peninsula" Palo Cortado sherry, Licor 43 for sweetness, house tobacco bitters with shaved cardamom on top - nutty, dry, sweet, aromatic

Leather & Lace ($12): James Pepper Rye Whiskey, Lustau “Peninsula” Palo Cortado sherry, Licor 43 for sweetness, and house tobacco bitters with shaved cardamom on top – the cocktail is nutty, dry, sweet, aromatic

Get Me A Juicebox! ($24) canned PBR, hot toddy, house bar nutss for 2

Get Me A Juicebox! ($24): order your own Dirty Habit lunchbox, complete with a can of PBR beer (or, in this case, Negro Modelo), house bar nuts and a hot toddy cocktail in a thermos

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Apr
15
2014

The Latest

Pretty Wings

Pretty Hot Wings

You Haven’t Had Thai Like This

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

KIN KHAO, Union Square (55 Cyril Magnin St. at the corner of Ellis and Mason in Parc 55 Hotel, 415-362-7456)

Blue Flower Limeade ($5) or as Kathoey Collins (Ladyboy Collins): Akvinta Vodka, Chareau liqueur, lime, blue flowers

Blue Flower Limeade ($5) or with booze as Kathoey Collins (Ladyboy Collins), mixing Akvinta Vodka, Chareau liqueur, lime, blue flowers

Back in 1998-1999 I spent two months in Thailand – and another in Vietnam – working in orphanages and traveling around both countries. Needless to say, it was a life-altering three months, particularly during a far less touristy time in Southeast Asia. For a mere dollar or two, I ate amazing meals – and was stretched by experiencing a lot of rough conditions and indefinable “food”, bugs and animal parts included.

THE best Thai sausage

THE best Thai sausage

Rarely am I faced with some of the more fascinating elements of taste experienced in remote parts of Thailand… long before I started taking notes and photos of all my meals. While there is plenty of authentic Thai food in the US (minus the dumbed-down heat), the majority of restaurants stick to a similar menu. In LA, I can experience proper Thai heat from the second menu at Jitlada. At famed Pok Pok in Portland (now also NY), I find flavors I hadn’t experienced since 1999, creatively wrought, and also a proper use of stinky durian in dessert.

One half of Kin Khao's dining room

One half of Kin Khao’s dining room

Enter Kin Khao, a new restaurant that belongs in the genre of exceptional Thai. First, there’s cooked-from-scratch curries (most restaurants do not go through this painstaking process) and exploring oft-ignored aspects of Thai cuisine. Proprietor Pim Techamuanvivit, author of The Foodie Handbook, and the popular blog, Chez Pim, hails from Bangkok. She is seriously dedicated to sourcing the best ingredients, even including a run down to LA every week to get a very specific brand of palm sugar for dishes and cocktails, one she can’t find anywhere else.

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Yum Kai Dao

Chef Michael Gaines (who formerly worked at Pim’s partner, David Kinch’s two Michelin-starred restaurant, Manresa) oversees Pim’s kitchen and family recipes, sending out one memorable dish after another. Oh, those curries. Massaman Nong Lai ($26) showcases a bone-in beef shank braised in Massaman curry paste and coconut milk with burnt shallots and potatoes, decadently accented by orange oil.

Crab Sen Chan ($17) local Dungeness crab meat and rice noodles wok-charred together in a zingy Chantaburi sauce made from crab fat

Crab Sen Chan ($17): local Dungeness crab meat and rice noodles wok-charred together in a zingy Chantaburi sauce made with crab fat

An off menu classic Daiquiri, created by Bon Vivants' Chad Arnholt, made with that irresistible palm sugar, resulting in an earthy, lush, tart-sweet cocktail

An off-menu classic Daiquiri, created by Bon Vivants’ Chad Arnholt, made with that irresistible palm sugar, resulting in an earthy, lush, tart-sweet cocktail – one of my favorite drinks here

If this savory curry hadn’t made impact enough, the 15 or more ingredients in Khun Yai’s green curry ($22) result in a show-stopper. Lush with coconut milk, Thai Apple eggplants, Thai basil and tender, pristine rabbit three ways – loin, saddle, and tender, herb-laden meatballs – it’s enough to make you want to give up on mediocre curries everywhere. Though expensive, the portion is plenty for two to share. I’ve brought home leftovers after every visit. Both curries taste amazing the next morning, stir-fried with eggs and rice.

There’s plenty to love beyond curries. Mushroom Hor Mok ($10) is a fluffy, cool curry mousse served in a jar, made of both wild and cultivated mushrooms, scooped up with crisp rice cakes. Pretty Hot Wings ($7) don’t approach the divine fish sauce wings at the aforementioned Pok Pok in Portland and NY, but they are juicy, marinated in Nam Pla fish sauce and garlic marinade, glazed tamarind and Sriracha. Yum Kai Dao ($7) is an unusual “salad” of deep fried duck egg, delightfully contrasted by runny yolk, the crunch of peanuts, shallots, mint, cilantro and cucumber, dotted with dollops of chilli jam.

Mushroom mousse

Mushroom Hor Mok

Sai Ua+Namprik Noom ($15), a grilled house-made Northern Thai pork sausage, is the best version I’ve ever had, including in Thailand. The sausage nearly pops with flavor, contrasted by pork cracklings and spicy pepper relish. Saeng-wah salad ($16) is an unusual play on texture. Though called a wild gulf prawn “ceviche”, it’s plump prawns over crispy catfish crumbled up, dotted with lemongrass, ginger and bird’s eye chilli. While it starts to feel like too much raw shrimp half way through, it’s a memorable play in contrasts.

Thus far, there’s one dessert. Black rice pudding ($8) is blessedly not sweet on its own, but is served with a variety of condiments: toasted rice, coconut cream, and that divine palm sugar melted like caramel, all stirred to taste preference in the warm black rice. It recalls my Thailand days where dessert, if it happened at all, was rarely ever sweet, but often comforting. This also makes a lovely leftover breakfast.

Black bean dessert

Black rice pudding

With warm service and what already promises to be the most exciting Thai food in SF, only the clean white walls and slightly generic-looking setting in the Wyndham Parc 55 Hotel (enter through hotel doors at the corner of Mason and Ellis) feels as if it’s not keeping up.

Though Kin Khao is still working out opening kinks, this is the Thai restaurant I’ve been waiting for.

Khao Mun Gai ($16) chicken fat rice, ginger-poached chicken, Pim’s secret sauce, served with cup of intense chicken consommé

Khao Mun Gai ($16): chicken fat rice, ginger-poached chicken, served with cup of intense chicken consommé

That dreamy coconut palm sugar

That dreamy coconut palm sugar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most vacation-like drink on the menu: Hua Hin Beach, a blend of Pampero dark rum, coconut cream, lime, salt, kaffir lime, and, yes, a splash of beer (in this case, stout)

The most vacation-like drink on the menu: Hua Hin Beach, a blend of Pampero dark rum, coconut cream, lime, salt, kaffir lime, and, yes, a splash of stout beer

BON VIVANTS’ COCKTAILS

With a cocktail menu ($12 each) crafted by San Francisco cocktail/design dream team, The Bon Vivants – most specifically by the talented Scott Baird – there was no way it wasn’t going to be good. Just as important, they’ve hired bartenders who can properly execute, like the talented Keli Rivers and Rhachel Shaw. In my initial three visits, I tried every cocktail on the menu – and a couple off menu – most of them refreshing, lovely accompaniments with the food.

Sao Thai (Thai Girl) on right: Ocho blanco tequila, house banana cordial, lime cinnamon Rasa Umami on left: Hidalgo Oloroso sherry, Black Grouse Scotch, house turmeric lime cordial, white pepper

Sao Thai aka Thai Girl (R): Ocho blanco tequila, house banana cordial, lime cinnamon;
Rasa Umami (L): Hidalgo Oloroso sherry, Black Grouse Scotch, house turmeric lime cordial, white pepper

Kafe Mao (drunken coffee – R): Pierde Almas mezcal, Combier cassis, coffee, cream; Tom Yum (L): Tanqueray gin, Imbue vermouth, lime, galangal, lemongrass, Abbots bitters

Samunprai Julep (Thai herb julep): Dickel whiskey, Mandarine Napoleon, Thai herbs, palm sugar, tea

Samunprai Julep (Thai herb julep): Dickel whiskey, Mandarine Napoleon, Thai herbs, palm sugar, tea

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Apr
15
2014

Imbiber

Roka Akor

At Roka Akor: Drunken Monk (L) with slice of grilled Asian pear, adding toasty notes to an otherwise bright blend of winter-spiced pear shochu, green Chartreuse, fresh orange and lemon

Article & photos by Virginia Miller

Here’s my April 10th photo slideshow and article on 10 best spring cocktails in San Francisco for Zagat: www.zagat.com/b/san-francisco/10-best-spring-cocktails-in-san-francisco#1.

A re-imagined Appletini from Claire Sprouse at The Square in my Zagat spring cocktail article

A re-imagined Appletini from Claire Sprouse at The Square

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Feb
15
2014

Imbiber

Cachaça: Primed For Mainstream?

In Conversation with Avuá Co-Founder
Nate Whitehouse

Article by Virginia Miller

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

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

(Photo credit: www.avuacachaca.com)

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

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

(Photo source: facebook.com/mapadacachaca)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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