Virginia Miller

Appetite: Latest in New Orleans dining


Returning to my beloved New Orleans, a city I’ve explored extensively via a path laden with jazz, Dixieland, Zydeco, Ramos Gin Fizzes, Sazeracs, Cajun and Creole food, there were ever more finds, both new and classic. The sweltering humid heat of July during Tales of the Cocktail is not ideal weather to fill up on po boys and boudin, but I managed, and in so doing, savored more of the soul of this most soulful of places.

Though I returned to modern day favorites like Cochon (rabbit and dumplings, boudin and fried alligator, thank you) or ordered appetizers and drinks at the bar at brand new Criollo in the Hotel Monteleone, following are restaurants I’d add to my already long, Nola neighborhood lists – and only one real disappointment.

Best New Restaurant: Maurepas Foods

Visiting six new hot openings this trip, Maurepas Foods, open since the beginning of the year, was easily the best. I approached the restaurant in the midst of a warm, sultry downpour of summer rain in the mellow, ruggedly hip Bywater neighborhood. Maurepas offers high value (everything is $3-17) in gourmet, quality food prepared with care – of the caliber I’m used to at home in SF. It’s also more playful and forward-thinking than higher priced restaurants around town. Salvaged chandeliers, reclaimed woods, the rustic look of a former printing house, all fit in the neighborhood, while the space is colorful, bright with windows, peaceful during late afternoon. Cocktails shine, artisan but affordable – more on that next issue when I cover the latest in Nola cocktails.

Chef-owner Michael Doyle (formerly of Uptown’s Dante’s Kitchen), keeps the food as funky and fun as the artwork lining the walls with his already beloved goat tacos ($8) accompanied by pickled green tomatoes and cilantro harissa on housemade tortillas. I get good goat tacos at home in Cali. and these are winners. A special of the day, lightly fried soft shell crab, feels nearly decadent in creamy curry, while Summer is glorified in peaches and peppers ($8) tossed in lemon balm with mint and coriander. A green onion sausage ($8) from Mid-City deli favorite Terranova is grilled, served alongside arancini (fried Italian rice balls) and figs with black pepper mustard.

I left Maurepas aglow from the hospitable service, confident I’d eaten at what is not just the Crescent City’s best new restaurant, but one of Nola’s best overall, downhome as it is refreshingly current.

Best Po Boy: Parkway Bakery and Tavern

Like any great regional dish, few agree on who makes it best. Which is why, when it comes to po boy sandwiches in New Orleans, I have to a try a few each visit, checking off the long list of those commonly deemed “best” (past favorites include Domilise’s). This trip, I learned from a local while riding the St. Charles streetcar that longtime Parasol’s owners had moved nearby to Tracey’s Irish Restaurant due to a rent hike, the local said. I rerouted there for a hearty (if a bit dry, despite being “dressed”) beef po boy. Nearby, I also visited the adorable Grocery (not to be confused with legendary Central Grocery in the Quarter) known for their “pressed po boys”, or basically panini. Though I loved the friendly sandwich shop, I couldn’t help but wish for a real Cubano when trying their Cuban sandwich.

But the top po boy thus far – of any of my New Orleans visits – may be obvious: I finally made it to Mid-City’s Parkway Bakery & Tavern. A classic since 1911, po boys have been served here since 1929. Lines are long (and slow) with plenty of menu items. But it’s the Parkway Surf & Turf ($8.10/11.30), slow cooked roast beef and fried shrimp in gravy, that’s a game changer. A local tipped me off to this one, rightly affirming there’s no reason to choose beef or shrimp po boys when you can have both. Adding remoulade and horseradish from the condiments table, I avoided the dryness that seems to plague many a beloved po boy. I could not stop sighing in ecstatic glee with each meaty, shrimp-y bite.

Church Brunch: Redemption

Setting outshines the food, at least at Sunday brunch, but sweet service and friendly locals who chatted with me as I dined solo with a book, a bourbon milk punch and chicory coffee, made my meal at the new Redemption in Mid-City a rewarding excursion via streetcar.

The striking, converted church setting is certainly the main attraction. High ceilings, wood rafters, and a stained glass glow imparted a lasting impression, although alligator sausage on waffles ($9 starter) could be amazing if perfected. Pricier dinner entrees ($22-$33) run the seafood to steak gamut with New Orleans influence.

Classic Ice Cream Parlor: Angelo Brocato

If you’re hitting up Parkway Tavern or Redemption in Mid-City, classic ice cream parlor, Angelo Brocato, is not a far trek from either.

Though I find flavors more interesting at La Divinia Gelateria, Creole Creamery or Sucre, I love Angelo Brocato’s history as a family-run, Sicilian sweets outpost since 1906. Refreshing mint ice cream soothes on an oppressive Summer day.

Best New French Quarter Watering Hole: SoBou

Even if the name SoBou (refering to South of Bourbon Street) feels forced, this newcomer (opened in July just a couple weeks before I twice visited) from New Orleans’ restaurant legends (Commander’s Palace Family of Restaurants) shows promise of succeeding on numerous fronts. Though the place can get obnoxiously loud, it’s multi-roomed, casual, festive, whether at individual or communal tables. A friendly bar staff, run by bar chef Abigail Gullo from NYC, beer taps actually at individual tables in the front room (dangerous!), and a menu from executive chef/partner Tory McPhail and Juan Carols Gonzalez are all reasons to go.

I’ll highlight cocktails next issue, but on the food front, playfulness reigns with blessedly local touches, like a Cajun queso ($5), essentially a pimento cheese fondue with pork cracklins’ to dip, and crispy oyster tacos ($7), a delight of fried oysters, compressed pineapple ceviche, mirliton (aka chayote or pear squash, the poster child of Southern vegetables), and Cajun ghost pepper caviar. The best bite of all?  Butternut duck “debris” beignets in chicory coffee ganache with foie gras fondue. Ridiculous.

My initial take is SoBou works best as a bar hangout (cocktails or beer) with crowd-pleasing bites and with its convenient locale and all day hours it’s just what the Quarter needed.

Sustainable Louisiana Seafood: Borgne

Obviously all of John Besh’s restaurants can’t be August… nor would I want them to be. The great New Orleans’ chef‘s latest is Borgne, with Executive Chef Brian Landry in the kitchen. It’s a bustling, almost cafeteria-like ode to Louisiana seafood, sustainable whenever possible. While the place feels short of greatness and a couple dishes disappointed, it’s a fine lunch outpost for a beer or a solid cocktail and the likes of three deviled blue crabs ($20), hollowed out and stuffed with their own meat, or skewered duck (misleadingly called poppers – $9), wrapped in jalapeno and bacon.

After-Hours Hangout: Delachaise

For late night goose fat fries ($6) with satay peanut sauce for dipping, smoked salmon johnny cakes ($13), and flank steak bruschetta ($10), alongside a bar-length chalkboard marked with an array of beer, wine and spirits (Campari-based aperitifs are a good way to go here, like a Negroni or Americano), Delachaise, with its magical, white light-draped front patio, is a couple steps above a dive and an ideal nighttime hangout with friends in the Garden District.

Business District Coffee Break: Merchant

Though I must be honest and say dry, bland crepes were a letdown, the clean, white design of 2011 newcomer Merchant in the CBD (Central Business District) makes for an inviting breakfast hangout. Serving Illy coffee, the space feels half chic Rome cafe, half Bay Area, as the design was, in fact, inspired by Apple in Silicon Valley.

Though Illy would be far from the most respected bean choice where I come from (more classic Italian chain than modern day coffee haven), what makes Merchant special as a coffee stop is that there’s nothing else around like it. Third Wave coffee hasn’t really hit New Orleans and though there is something strong to be said for a New Orleans iced coffee laced with chicory even from chains like PJs and Community Coffee, there’s a massive gap when it comes to sources for hardcore coffee aficionados. At least Merchant is trying to narrow the gap on the Italian side with a custom-build XP1 espresso machine and appropriately robust coffee.

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One fish, two fish


APPETITE Sushi bars proliferate around SF, with two more brand new spots opening on Russian Hill and down in the Mission.


Think of Elephant Sushi as on “island time” (read: chilled out) and you’ll enjoy your experience all the more. Reminiscent of early days at the original Sushi Bistro in the Inner Richmond when it first opened, dreadlocked wait staff and reggae tunes set a relaxed, island vibe at Elephant. It’s soft opening was in late August in the former Sushi Groove space, so Elephant is still in its infancy. Besides the Japan-meets-Jamaica spirit of the cozy space, the restaurant sets itself apart at first glance with real wasabi (which I love eating on its own), housemade soy sauce, and pots of intense, pickled ginger.

Winning points for doing what so few sushi restaurants do, even in our eco-conscious region, Elephant sources mostly wild or sustainably farmed fish, going the funky-fun route in their rolls and appetizers without sacrificing freshness and precision. Walu (Hawaiian term for escolar, the fish occasionally known to cause potentially unpleasant side effects in the… ahem… bathroom) is succulent and buttery here ($5 nigiri/$11 for five-piece sashimi), among the best walu I’ve ever tasted. Sizzling mango seabass ($12) wins on presentation, arriving on fire in a mini-cast iron skillet, thanks to sake and vodka, doused in masago aioli, Japanese chilis, and scallion. Unfortunately, the dish was bland, a let down after the flashy flame of its presentation.

Sipping sake and Sapporo on draft, I ordered crudo ($14) served in four spoons, two of young yellowtail in truffle oil, ponzu sauce, garlic chips and scallions, two of seared scallop in heirloom tomato, pickled wasabi stem, and a tangy yuzu vinaigrette.

If not quite the exquisite bites served at Bar Crudo, this crudo still pops with fresh flavor. Though varying in taste, maki (rolls) seems to be where their whimsical ethos best shines. Spicy king salmon ($9) rolled with cucumber, orange peel, and masago roe in chili sauce is heavy on the orange notes, while the White Out ($15) is a mix of hamachi and avocado draped in more of that luscious walu (seared in this case — I prefer it raw.)

The roll that stayed with me is the Boom Box ($10). I adore raw scallop, served here with avocado, crunchy garlic chips and English cucumber. A ripe banana drape with a sweet soy glaze sets it apart, a spanking fresh, of-the-sea dessert. The banana theme continues in neighboring Swensen’s banana ice cream ($3), all-in-all leaving Elephant Sushi firmly placed in the sleepy Hyde Street ‘hood, a welcome addition that I look forward to watching come into its own.

916 Hyde, SF. (415) 440-1905,


The building formerly housing Spork and pop-up Rice Broker was too cool to stay empty for long. In August, Sugoi Sushi opened in the space serving nigiri ($4.25–$7 for two pieces), five-piece sashimi ($12-15), sushi rolls/maki ($6–$13), and a quite reasonable omakase tasting menu of roughly $40 for a few rounds of sushi. Mini-two person booths remain intact, while red walls, pillows of lime green and red brighten the space.

Friendly staff bring out plates that border on works of art — as fine sushi tends to do. In this case, the artistry goes a step beyond. Case in point: a sashimi platter as part of the omakase arrives on a stone slab with a bundle of twigs covered in shredded daikon radish and draped with cuts of fish: masaba, Japanese mackerel ($6); toro. blue fin fatty tuna ($10); and kanpachi, baby yellowtail ($6). Another trio — raw scallops, escolar dotted with lemon seed mustard, and albacore belly bin toro — is presented three ways: in a cup, on a shell, on a pile of daikon.

While presentation immediately impresses, on each of my visits there’s been a funky piece of fish or two, though the restaurant emphasizes sourcing fresh daily. Japanese mackerel on one visit was almost unbearably salty, while Japanese red snapper with truffle oil and sea salt was nearly gummy. Yakitori ($3) at times disappoints, namely the hot dog-like spicy pork sausage. Tender chicken thigh fares better.

Rolls are filling and bright, like the Golden Mountain ($14) packed with toasted salmon, scallop, crab, and avocado, in curry tempura, or the Hot and Cold Tuna ($12), deep-fried spicy tuna covered with maguro roe and seaweed salad. Sashimi-like slices of seared blue fin toro ($18) are a bit salty, but fresh in chili sesame sauce and curry onion tempura, which adds a rich, savory layer to the fish.

While Sugoi is still clearly on the hunt for its identity, suffering from consistency issues, the funky, relaxed space on Valencia Street and the artful eye of its sushi chefs hold promise — it’s still steps beyond the other sushi restaurants lining the street.

1058 Valencia, SF. (415) 401-8442,

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Rum tales


FEAST Rum has had a rough and tumble history. It was the Royal Navy’s spirit of choice, and on a grim note, benefited from association with the slave trade. Consider the story of Admiral Horatio Nelson, whose body was preserved in a cask of rum after his death in the Battle of Trafalgar en route back to England. Upon arrival, the cask was empty of liquid, the rumor being his crew drank it in hopes of ingesting Nelson’s courageous spirit. From this comes one of rum’s many nicknames, “Nelson’s blood.” The act of imbibing it is often dubbed “tapping the admiral.”

Despite its dark days, rum thrives as the spirit of the Caribbean where, along with Latin America, the majority of the world’s supply is produced. The liquor is associated with island breezes, relaxation, the good life. From airy white rum to the sweet, spiced variety, there’s more complex rum variances than one might initially suspect.

Though no hard and fast rules apply to all rum, here’s a quick rundown of categories:

Light/silver/white rums are often smooth, sometimes sweet, mixable rums ideal for cocktails, made from both sugarcane and molasses. Typically aged briefly, they maintain a colorless look from being aged in stainless steel or neutral oak, or from having their color filtered out.

Gold/amber rums are typically medium-bodied, generally aged in wood barrels. They are the halfway point between light and dark rums.

Dark rums are molasses-based, aged in charred barrels. They are at times quite sweet and silky, at other times complex, best for mixing or sipping.

And there is a wealth of other categories. Spiced rums have, yes, spices and even caramel added. Flavored rums are infused with a wide range of tastes. Overproof rums are high proof spirits that exceed the standard 40 percent ABV. Premium rums are essentially a more refined category of sipping rums. Cachaça is, more or less, a Brazilian rum made solely from sugarcane juice.

In addition to styles, regions determine rum characteristics. The Spanish-speaking Caribbean (namely Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico) and South and Central America are most highly regarded for their smooth añejo style. English-speaking islands (like Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, Saint Kitts, Trinidad) are best known for full, dark rums, including demerara rums made from natural, unrefined demerara sugar. French-speaking Caribbean islands (including Haiti, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Martinique) are famed for agricultural rums (rhum agricole), produced solely from sugar cane juice, which are refined, complex, even grassy and funky.


Where to find good rum in the Bay Area? One of the greatest selections available anywhere, the standard-setting menu at Smuggler’s Cove offers over 200 rums, with flights and pours grouped by style and region. The bar even has a Rumbustion Society encouraging (and rewarding) exploration. Smuggler’s honors the roots of tiki (Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s paraphernalia abound) in its intimate, three-level layout. The cocktail menu is extensive, with sections on Cuban cocktail favorites from Havana’s glory days to modern interpretations of tiki drinks.

650 Gough, SF. (415) 869-1900,

Newly-opened Tradition offers booths (called “snugs”) with themes like New Orleans, Pre-Prohibition, and Scotland, each boasting vintage ads, signs, and barware in keeping with the motif. An artistic menu is likewise themed around each category. One theme is exotic/tiki, that page bearing mostly rum-based cocktails. For a unique rum experience, there’s an extensive house-blended and barrel-aged spirits program, including all manner of spirits finished in house barrels, like Flor de Caña rum in pinot noir or sweet vermouth barrels, imparting unexpected wine notes to the rum.

441 Jones, SF. (415) 474-2284,

Though not a rum bar per se, Bar Agricole, with its impressive modern design and a bar flanked with dramatic photography, is named after French Caribbean rums and boasts a strong rum selection. Agricole perfects classic rum drinks — chat with bartenders about which version of the classic daiquiri you might want to try, they’re well-versed on each. Imbibe lesser-seen classics like a Martinique Crusta from Charles Baker’s Gentleman’s Companion, this particular recipe dating back to 1840 of agricole, lemon, bitters, and Maraska, a Croatian maraschino liqueur.

355 11th St., SF. (415) 355-9400,

For dive bar rum and cheap rum punch, try Hobson’s Choice in Haight-Ashbury ( Other notable tiki bars include the transporting East Bay classics, Forbidden Island ( and Oakland’s Conga Lounge (, not to mention out-of-the-way Tiki Haven ( in SF’s Outer Sunset.


Brand new to the bar’s fall menu is frothy, light beer and rum beauty, Jasper’s Rum Shaker (a cheeky reference to the 1990s rap song, “Rump Shaker”): Bacardi 8 Rum, Shipyard Pumpkin Ale, lime, pumpkin syrup, cream, egg white, and orange flower water recall a classic Ramos Gin Fizz. Also new to the menu is bartender Taylor White’s Haymaker, which allows Appleton Reserve Rum to shine in a fabulously musty, spiced way with Combier orange liqueur, chai tea infused Punt Mes vermouth, Angostura, and orange bitters.

401 Taylor, SF. (415) 775-7979,

An after dinner sipper this summer was AQ’s Senegal at Dusk ($10), a mixture of Lemon Hart rum, coffee and a blissful cardamom banana cream. At Tradition, Kona Kope stands out from an entire book of cocktails. Sweet Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva rum and barrel-aged spiced rums intermingle with coffee syrup and a touch of coconut cream, evoking lively coffee-tinged tropical breezes. For a milky rum stunner, try Smuggler’s Cove’s Jamaican Milk Punch, reminiscent of traditional Brandy Milk Punch, smooth, frothy, spiced.

1085 Mission, SF. (415) 341-9000,

The Lower Haight joint might not be a rum bar, but Maven’s Nauti’ Mermaid is a winner, mixing Jamaican rum, lime, orange, coconut, and housemade hazelnut orgeat, substituting orgeat’s typical almond base for hazelnuts.

598 Haight, SF. (415) 829-7982,

In downtown Berkeley, Comal’s Black Daiquiri is a refreshingly unique expression, mixing Pampero Aniversario rum, Averna, lime, sugar, and Chiapan coffee tincture for a tart, bitter, sweet, and robust imbibement. Coffee notes don’t dominate, but add a hint of earth and body.

2020 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 926-6300,


One of my all-around favorite rums is Brugal 1888 ($54.99), from five generations of family distillers in the Dominican Republic. First aged in American white oak barrels, then finished in Spanish oak, it’s a blend of rums aged five to 14 years that hits the nose with spice, coffee, dried fruits. Tasting it yields notes of bourbon-like caramel, wood, spice, a hint of earth, a complex finish. An affordable sipping rum is Appleton Estate Reserve 12 year ($34.99) from Jamaica, blended by female master blender Joy Spence. It’s bright and bold, but also nutty and buttery. If you can get your hands on Appleton 21 year, it’s a beauty. Fascinating grassy notes, nuts, orange blossom, molasses.

Ron Zacapa 23 year ($37) is a Guatemalan classic, smooth with toffee and spice and crafted by a female master blender Lorena Vasquez. Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva ($35) is lushly sweet with caramelized brown sugar, a spice-redolent Venezuelan dark rum. Botran Solera 1893 Gran Reserva ($24), a Guatemalan añejo rum, is an affordable, different side of the sweet coin. A blend of five to 14 year old rums, is balanced, not cloying. It tastes of caramelized banana and coconut.

Shellback is a new release of two affordable ($17 per bottle) Barbados-blended rums, ideal for cocktails. The silver is clean, with vanilla smoothness and whispers of tropical fruit, while the spiced is medium-bodied with cinnamon bark, ginger and clove oils, nutmeg, cassia.

Possibly my top white rum, Banks Five Island ($25.99) is rife with character, funk, and elegance — a blend of rums from five islands (hence the name), it’s reminiscent of the Asian-Indonesian sugarcane spirit Batavia Arrack. Banks recently released Banks 7 Golden Age Blend ($30), 23 rums sourced from seven places. It’s a complex as that would imply, dry, nutty, tropical, and rich.

Rhum agricole is my favorite style of rum — it’s often funky, grassy, complex, elegant. I adore the floral, fresh spirit of Clement Martinique Rhum Blanc ($30) and its VSOP ($35), which exhibits spice, coconut, apple, earth. I’m already a fan of the brand’s elegant rhum agricoles from Martinique, and they just released a fresh, smoky six year old ($56), not to mention a cinnamon, wood, and vanilla-inflected 10 year ($73). For a splurge, I adore the unique, cask strength (though still reasonably under 100 proof) 10 year Rhum J.M. Millesime 1997 ($130), which unfolds with toasted nut, lemon, sage, cinnamon.


Started by rum expert and all-around great guy Ed Hamilton, Ministry of Rum is a key resource for all things rum. Find reviews and discussions on just about every rum in existence, plus glossaries, rum basics, and rum events worldwide, including the annual Ministry of Rum tasting held in the Bay Area.

Rum For All is a project started by F. Paul Pacult (publisher-editor of Spirits Journal) and industry expert Sean Ludford. Their website is an online resource of rum primers, select producer profiles, and cocktail recipes. I recently went to their touring seminar when it was in SF, which offered an impressive range of rums to sample side-by-side — which is, of course, the best way to get educated.

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Aria Korean American Snack Bar (932 Larkin, SF. (415) 292-6914)

Cat Head’s BBQ (1665 Folsom, SF. (415) 861-4242,

Craftsman and Wolves (746 Valencia, SF. (415) 913-7713,

Gioia Pizzeria (2240 Polk, SF. (415) 359-0971,

Hot Press (2966 Mission, SF. (415) 814-3814,

Ice Cream Bar (815 Cole, SF. (415) 742-4932,

Marcella’s Lasagneria and Cucina (1099 Tennessee, SF. (415) 920-2225,

Market and Rye (68 West Portal, SF. (415) 564-5950; 300 De Haro, SF. (415) 252-7455,

Mission Bowling Club (3176 17th St., SF. (415) 863-2695,

903 (903 Cortland, SF. (415) 678-5759)


Abbott’s Cellar (742 Valencia, SF. (415) 626-8700,

The Corner Store (5 Masonic, SF. (415) 359-1800,

Elephant Sushi (1916 Hyde, SF. (415) 440-1905,

FuseBOX (2311A Magnolia, Oakl. (510) 444-3100,

Honor Kitchen and Cocktails (1411 Powell, SF. (510) 653-8667,

Local’s Corner (2500 Bryant, SF. (415) 800-7945,

Machka (584 Washington, SF. (415) 391-8228,

Namu Gaji (499 Dolores, SF. (415) 431-6268,

Orexi (243 West Portal, SF. (415) 664-6739,

Pläj Scandinavian Restaurant and Bar (333 Fulton, SF. (415) 294-8925,

Rich Table (199 Gough, SF. (415) 355-9085,

Saru Sushi (3856 24th St., SF. (415) 440-4510)

State Bird Provisions (1529 Fillmore, SF. (415) 795-1272,

St. Vincent (1270 Valencia, SF. (415) 285-1200,


Adam’s Grub Truck (428 11th St., SF. (650) 440-7956,

All Good Pizza (1605 Jerrold, SF. (415) 846-6960,

Casey’s Pizza (

Cosmic American Voodoo Van (2250 Jerrold, SF. (415) 341-7203)

Del Popolo (

Old World Food Truck (


Truffle tour


FEAST 2012 Clearly, we can’t get enough chocolate. As chocolatiers continue to proliferate around the country, we are blessed with an endless wealth of fine sweets to choose from. Tirelessly sampling chocolates in every city and country I travel in, I’ve found standouts of all kinds. Some chocolatiers have perfected a certain truffle, others a pure bean-to-bar process. Many local greats produce treats in the city, like SF classic Recchiuti, single-minded Hooker’s Sweet Treats, playful Poco Dolce, and forward-thinking TCHO. Here are a few more, plus my notes on favorites, worldwide.


With a new Victorian-era mercantile on Haight Street, Buyer’s Best Friend has among the best gourmet food selections in the city in many categories – and it is slated to open its second shop in North Beach on October 26 (450 Columbus, SF). When it comes to chocolate, the shop often has samples from rarely-seen small chocolatiers from around the globe, for many of which they are the sole distributor. Start asking questions and you’ll discover a whole world of chocolates you never knew existed.

1740 Haight, SF. (415) 745-2130,

Eccentric and delightful, Noe Valley’s Chocolate Covered has long been the premier chocolate shop of SF, with a rare and varied selection. I lived directly across the street from it for six years — in dangerously close proximity.

4069 24th St., SF. (415) 641-8123,

Tiny but well-curated, Russian Hill’s shiny Candy Store has long been a source for rare and old fashioned chocolates and candies.

1507 Vallejo, SF. (415) 921-8000,


There’s chocolate and then there’s bean-to-bar chocolate. Whereas most chocolatiers start with already fermented cacao beans (yes, cacao beans go through fermentation), few oversee the entire process from sourcing to processing. Dandelion Chocolates was launched right here in SF by chocolate lovers whose experimentation with bean-to-bar as a hobby turned into a business. Purity of the cacao is their passion, so Dandelion makes chocolate with only bean and sugar, no cocoa butter.

Tasting their bars side-by-side is like sampling wines or coffee, with different nuances and terroir apparent in each. There’s the lush, malty notes of Rio Caribe, Venezuela (my favorite bar), bright citrus-strawberry expression in the Ambanja, Madagascar bar, and earthy, tannic notes from Elvesia, Dominican Republic. Already, Dandelion is easily one of the superior chocolates you’ll find in the Bay.

Visiting the company’s Dogpatch factory last month, I witnessed Dandelion’s entire process: roasting, cracking, sorting, winnowing, grinding, conching, tempering, molding, and packaging, all happening in one small space. Dandelion is moving to its new Mission location on Valencia (though it will keep its Dogpatch space), slated to be factory, tasting room, shop, and cafe all in one. Opening this month, it’s sure to be a hit. It’s inspiring to see passion lead to success — especially when your sweet tooth reaps the benefits.

740 Valencia, SF. (415) 349-0942,

Many artisan chocolatiers boast a couple of exceptional truffles, but none I’ve tried have the volume of Feve Artisan Chocolatier, formerly Au Coeur Des Chocolats, available in shops like Bi-Rite and on the company’s website. Owners Shawn and Kathryn Williams have traveled Europe extensively, visiting many of the world’s best chocolate makers. Besides artful, elegant, precise presentation, Shawn’s truffles succeed first and foremost in flavor.

Many chocolatiers promise flavors like curry or lemongrass or other excitement in their truffles, but often the flavor of truffles (at the standard, expensive $1.50–$3 a piece) is barely discernible or bland, leaving me disappointed, wishing I’d stuck with a straightforward piece of chocolate. Not so in Feve’s line of truffles, in which I struggle to name my favorite overall. There’s cherry-vanilla (dark chocolate and lemon ganache layered with cherry vanilla gelée), cardamom punchy with Scotch, sesame-vanilla crispy with praline, dreamy banana-caramel, pistachio-rosemary caramel with pistachio praline, and vivid passionfruit or yuzu. Each is exquisitely lush.


Chocolatier Blue’s truffles, served in its Berkeley shops are fresh and creative. Try the Ants on a Log, filled with celery seed, peanut butter, and currant, or the tart caramel apple or peanut brittle crunch with caramelized banana and creamy peanut butter.

Saratoga Chocolates’ Caramel Cin, a heart-shaped treat of dark chocolate oozing decadent cinnamon caramel.

Sixth Course Artisan Confections’ aromatic caramels, like rosemary, or sage and brown butter.

Wine Country Chocolates’ Elvis truffle of peanut butter and banana ganache rules, while the cinnamon and clover honey oozes honey goodness.

Maison Bouche’s Fleur de Sel is one of the Oakland producer’s elegant, French-spirited bars, a standout made using Brittany salt.


Alma Chocolates in Portland, Ore. makes an insanely good Thai peanut butter cup with ginger, Thai chile, lime, even red volcanic sea salt varieties. You can usually find it at Portland chocolate haven Cacao.

Antidote is a quality raw, NY-based bean-to-bar line made in Ecuador. It produces dark chocolate bars in flavors like banana-cayenne, lavender red salt, and almond fennel. Expect subtlety and a earth-like taste in each. Available locally at Buyer’s Best Friend.

Chocolat Modern is a longtime New York favorite, making square “bistro bars” that are dark and filled with the tastes like banana and Cognac, pumpkin praline, apricot and Bas Armagnac, and zesty grapefruit. There’s a rotating selection available locally at The Candy Store.

Responsible for some of the best local chocolates I’ve had from Los Angeles, Compartes creates dark chocolate truffles and bars, including the apricot and shichimi seven-spice chocolate bar ($8), and various truffles. Some of my favorites of these include smoked salt, peanut butter, and the pink peppercorn and Raspberry.

Fine & Raw is a Brooklyn-based raw chocolatier that creates treats with high dark chocolate content and cacao butter, managing to maintain creamy texture and flavor all the while. Its most interesting bars are its cacao and coconut, along with the lucuma and vanilla. Buy it in town at Buyer’s Best Friend.

Though I fear the healthy superfood label when it comes to pleasures like chocolate, Boise, Idaho-based Good Cacao creates “lemon ginger immunity” and coconut omega-3 bars that taste like a tropical vacation. Find it at Buyer’s Best Friend.

MarieBelle‘s elegant banana chocolate bar shines. The company is a New York favorite, with a Soho tea salon and cacao bar.


Dublin’s Cocoa Atelier makes the best chocolate I had in Ireland. It’s a chic outpost stocking drinking chocolate and elegant truffles that creates its delicacies using local specialties like pot still Irish whiskey.

Coco Chocolate is my Edinburgh favorite, a darling shop focusing on handmade bars like its rose and black pepper, pink peppercorn and nutmeg, and a tropical-inflected lime and coconut. Coco creates invigorating flavors, embedded in dark chocolate.

Kopali Organics is marketed as vegan health food made by passionate founders who live off the grid in Costa Rica. Its fair trade dark chocolate-covered banana bites taste vivid and fresh, nothing at all like some dried, chocolate-covered fruits. Find it in San Francisco at Buyer’s Best Friend.

When in Bordeaux, don’t miss charming La Maison Darricau. The romantic shop sells chocolate and creative truffles made fresh daily, infused with flavors like wine-filled Médoc, basil, Szechuan pepper, curry-date, and an excellent blend of prune, almond paste, and Armagnac.

In London’s Borough Market, Rabot Estate is a rustic-hip shop with staff pouring cups of free dark hot chocolate and bars like chili with a lush Santa Lucia-grown dark chocolate.

Among the best chocolates I’ve had in the world are from Paul A. Young, one of the world’s best chocolatiers whose three London shops stock supreme examples of what fresh truffles and exotic bars should be. Go funky with Marmite truffles, or his herbaceous peppermint leaf. Whatever you do, when in London, don’t miss it. Young penned Adventures with Chocolate, a visually striking book that explores the ins and outs of chocolate making from the art of combining beans to yield the best flavor profiles, to making the perfect ganache. Primarily, it is a cookbook, utilizing chocolate in recipes from boozy drinks or teas to savory dishes and desserts.

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Japanese within reach


APPETITE The nuances and clean lines of Japanese cuisine have long intrigued me. I grew up on the East Coast with my lifelong best friend, who is of Japanese descent, discovering authentic cuisine in her home and around New York City. I fondly recall the first time I had sushi, okonomiyaki, sake, and shabu-shabu. San Francisco boasts one of few Japantowns in the US — the oldest and largest Japantown in the country, in fact — one of the reasons to love living here. Sushi is one of my greatest cravings, and the izakaya pub-bar food wave seems to hit SF every few years, with a slew of openings.

Outside of these two dominant categories, we’re blessed with Kappou Gomi’s memorable small plates (buttered scallops, tempura crusted in macadamias and almonds), Kare-Ken and Muracci’s Japanese curry, intimate Minako for organic, unusual dishes, Macha Cafe and YakiniQ Cafe for matcha tea and sweet potato lattes, Kitchen Kura for an okonomiyaki menu, Delica for Japanese deli goods… the list goes on. These three younger Japanese restaurants offer comforting food at a reasonable cost.


Opened this summer, Camp BBQ’s Japanese grilling takes its cues from Korea. The long space is lined in rustic Japanese woods, roomy tables surrounding individual grills. Like Korean BBQ, mini-bowls of dipping sauces such as house miso arrive, then platters of vegetables, including a “rainbow mix” ($6) of carrots, bok choy, onions, and garlic cloves wrapped in foil, ready for the grill. Scallops soak in garlic butter ($7), tender and buttery in foil. When it comes to meats, there are many options, sliced thin, generally tender — only the pork cheek, though juicy, was a little tough to bite. Kobe-style Kalbi chuck short rib ($13 for 3.5 ounces) and ox tongue ($8) are two worthy beef options, though I find the cheaper, savory qualities of spicy pork ($4) and pork cheek ($5) even more appealing. Portions are small enough to mix-and-match while sipping sake, Japanese beer, even pineapple or watermelon slushies. Moving away from the grill, cheese pockets ($5), essentially wontons supposedly filled with cream cheese and shrimp, are disappointingly empty. The setting is mellow with families and friends grilling and singing along to somehow appropriate dance pop tunes as backdrop.

4014 Geary, SF. (415) 387-1378,


Hot pot stylings of shabu-shabu are the basis for Shabuway, the first SF location of a local Bay Area chain that began in 2004 in San Mateo, growing to locations in Mountain View, San Jose, Union City, Santa Clara. Eiichi Mochizuki launched Shabuway using meats from animals fed on an all-vegetarian diet: Angus Prime, American Kobe, Niman Ranch lamb, Kurobuta Berkshire pork. The result translates into a fresher-than-average shabu experience. In keeping with the meaning of shabu-shabu (“swish-swish”), one selects thinly-sliced meat of choice, chooses spicy miso or seaweed broths, then swishes raw meats in boiling broth until done. Vegetables (cabbage, carrots, enoki mushrooms, etc.) and mini-bowls of soy and crave-inducing gomadare (an almost creamy sesame sauce) arrive, filled when running low, with add-ons like udon or ramen noodles a mere $1–$1.75. When you’re finished cooking the meats and veggies, flavor-rich broth is poured over rice, eaten soup-like as a finish. There is little besides shabu-shabu on the menu, an appreciated focus — but a special I’d recommend if you see it is takoyaki ($4.50), octopus dumpling balls topped in benito flakes, essentially okonomiyaki (the fantastic Japanese “pancake”) in bread-y ball form, dotted with customary mayo and savory-sweet okonomiyaki sauce.

5120 Geary, SF. (415) 668-6080,


Ramen is akin to pho in Vietnamese food or other filling soups in Asian cuisine. Maybe it’s my craving for bold, pronounced flavors that have made me not so much averse to basic broth soups as just bored by them. I typically prefer udon or soba noodles when it comes to Japanese soups for more texture and emphasis on the noodles and may never be obsessed with ramen, pho, or the like. But Kirimachi Ramen, a month’s old spot tucked away in North Beach with 1950s diner chairs and laid back vibe, does well by the genre. All bowls are hefty at $10, with veggie, pork, or chicken as a base. The staff told me they haven’t found a reliable organic pork source yet, but use Marin Sun Farms chicken, focusing on fresh ingredients. I took to Sapporo-style miso ramen with chopped pork, Chinese chives, bean sprouts, corn, with additional toppings ($1) including kikurage mushroom, fish cake, and soft-boiled egg.

450 Broadway St., 415-335-5865,

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Appetite: Portland cocktailing


More than 50 places in one week…  I may not have covered all of Portland this May, but I certainly made a dent. So much so that my Portland reviews are broken up in a four part series. Soaking wet half the week, I biked out to neighborhoods East, West, and North with my usual (if grumpy, cold, and irritable) tenacity to dig in and taste the soul and breadth of a place rather than its veneer. Join me as I drink, and eat, my way through the rainy town up north.

As cocktail bars are required to serve food in Portland, cocktails and food are intertwined – and strong – at many a locale. Though I separate out cocktails and restaurants, there are numerous places where both are worth making your way to so you’ll see some restaurants listed here and in next issue’s Portland restaurant article.

Brendan Wise of Beaker & Flask filled me in on a couple cocktail projects launching just after my visit: Corazon from Chris Israel (chef-owner at Gruner, which I review next issue), and the Beaker & Flask team created a drink menu for popular PIX Patisserie featuring cocktails and sherries to go with their sweets.


Visiting Riffle NW in its opening week, I was struck immediately with fresh seafood, friendly service and some of the best drinks of my Portland week. It was opened by Dave Shenaut (former president of the Oregon Bartender’s Guild) with bartenders Emily Baker (formerly of Rum Club), and Ricky Gomez (formerly of Teardrop Lounge) – SF bartender Brandon Josie of Bloodhound recently moved to Portland to take over as bar manager for Gomez who is moving on to a new project. Riffle’s spare, modern decor displays seafaring inspiration in wood ceiling panels made of reclaimed shipping docks, while the name refers to a rocky shoal or sandbar below the surface of a waterway.

I came for the drinks but was not disappointed in the food. Black bass tartare ($10) is punctuated with dill, squid Carbonara ($17) is meaty with guanciale, while an overflowing, fresh crab roll ($21), and a huge cut of rare Copper River sockeye salmon ($32) is grilled, its salty skin subtly sweet with a bourbon maple glaze.

Emily Baker offered the best service of my entire time in Portland. After I was there a couple hours, we began talking industry connections and drink, but long before she knew I was a writer, she went out of her way to ascertain our taste preferences and make sure we were comfortable at the bar.

On the menu, a Riffle Collins ($11), made of gin, lemon, lime, celery, absinthe, salt, is the perfect starter, garden bright, light and appropriately savory with celery and salt. Room D ($9) delighted with rye whiskey, the spice of Becherovka, while quinine and citrus imparted punch.

Off menu, Baker suggested and created just what I was craving: Art of Choke (a Violet Hour creation by Kyle Davidson), mixing Cynar, mint, Bacardi white rum, and Green Chartreuse. Herbaceous, bitter, and vibrant, it hit all the right notes. Similarly, a Self Starter (a Jamie Boudreau drink) balanced Lillet with Old Tom gin, absinthe and Orchard apricot. Not too musky but crisp, sweet, boozy. All around, hand cut ice perfects each drink.

It was a treat sampling Jack Rudy Tonic from Charleston, a bottle I noticed on ice behind the bar and had to inquire about. A small batch syrup (available in SF at Bi-Rite Market), it makes a lovely tonic, set apart with lemongrass and orange peel.


So much has been said about Clyde Common and Jeffrey Morgenthaler since opening that it’s almost needless to point it out as a Portland “best”. In fact, for one who almost never repeats places in the same trip (ever with an aggressive agenda), I returned to Clyde Common three times in one week. Morgenthaler was only there one of three stops, offering cheeky, impeccable service. But service was warm and accommodating both evenings I dropped in – only during a weekday visit did I experience lackluster, abrupt service from one bartender.

Cocktails are a reasonable $7-9. Morgenthaler’s famed barrel aged cocktails ($10)  – his Negroni and one of my all time favorite cocktails, an Old Pal – rotate but were completely out all three visits. What pleased most were his bottled and carbonated cocktails ($8).

Though I’ve seen a lot of these the past year  – one was a basic Americano (Campari, Dolin Sweet vermouth, water and orange oil) – the Broken Bike was possibly my top drink on the menu, fizzy and vivaciously bitter with Cynar, white wine, water, lemon oil. Both were well balanced, refreshing and more importantly, fun.

Elsewhere on the menu, a Kingston Club exhibited subtle balance of fruit and herbaceous notes with Drambuie, pineapple, lime, Fernet, Angostura, and orange peel. The Nasturtium cocktail was unexpectedly too sweet for me, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur hitting heavier than the Dolin Blanc vermouth and Bonal. A Spiced Dark & Stormy is a brilliant idea – and went down all too easy. Rum (Gosling’s dark, in this case) infused with Chinese five-spice, a spicy, house-brewed ginger beer, finished with lime, made for another winning drink.

Clyde Common was the Portland bar that for me most upheld its reputation: centrally located, serving understated drinks, strong on precision.


It goes without saying that Beaker & Flask, opened by Kevin Ludwig of Park Kitchen, has been one of Portland’s hottest cocktail bars since debuting in 2009. Despite large groups in the spacious restaurant, bar seats free up often, even on a weekend, and we were able to chat, unhurried, with the bartenders, lingering over drinks.

Menu cocktails ($9) like a soft, woody Walk in the Woods (Old Tom Gin, Stone Pine liqueur, lemon, sage syrup, egg white) and elegant Cricket Club (Pimm’s, rose port, Bonal, amargo bitters, cucumber soda) please but going off menu in the hands of talented Chicago transplant Brandon Wise (now President of Oregon Bartenders Guild) and Neil Kopplin, who also makes Imbue Vermouth, is where the real action is.

Wise mixed a Rose Americano cocktail, bright with Martin Miller’s Westbourne Gin and grapefruit, earthy-sweet with Amontillado sherry. Kopplin goes with a recipe from neighboring Rum Club, the Begonia, utilizing his Imbue vermouth, aged Novo Fogo cachaca, Benedictine and velvet falernum. Sweet, spiced apple notes hit first, with a beautifully subtle bitter on the finish.

Seek out Neil’s new product, Petal & Thorn, a gorgeous gentian liqueur using homegrown beets for Campari color, cinnamon, menthol, and other intriguing elements.


Depending on which direction you’re approaching, enter Rum Club either on the front or back side of Beaker & Flask. The cozy bar is roughly one year old, conceived by Beaker & Flask’s Kevin Ludwig and Michael Shea of Doug Fir. Affordable $5-10 cocktails, chic wallpaper, low wood ceiling, the bar in the center, and a small patio you can smoke in if you’re nowhere near the door, make it an appealing place to gather with friends until the wee hours.

Though packed and noisy, I was won over by well-crafted drinks like the Hi-Lo Split ($8), vivid with Old Grand-Dad Bonded whiskey, Cynar, lemon, passion fruit syrup, grapefruit bitters – a stunner, actually. Also by Road to Ruin ($8), with a rye whiskey base, dry vermouth and bitters, set apart by cardamom notes from Cardamaro Amaro and texture from lemon oil.


Despite the widespread respect garnered for this chic, centrally located bar in downtown Portland, Teardrop Lounge was the one disappointment of my bar excursions. It’s long hyped as being one of PDX’s best, and depending on the bartender, I’m sure it could be. The space centers around a dramatic round bar, open air windows ushering in a gentle breeze on a nice day. Even with well-prepared drinks, I found touristy clientele and disinterested bartenders during my visit soured the experience.

The menu reads well, including a glossary of terms educating non-cocktail geeks on terms like oleo-saccharum (a traditional punch base of lemon peels macerated in sugar to extract oils) and Batavia Arrack (an early 16th century, palm sugar-distilled spirit tasting of spice, citrus, anise – often used in punches).

There’s sections of House Cocktails, Classics (like Sky Rocket from 1919 or a Morning Glory Fizz – from the Savoy Cocktail Book, 1933), and one called Friends highlighting bartenders’ drinks from other cities, including SF locals: Kevin Diedrich’s Whiskey Wallbanger and Ryan Fitzgerald’s Rodriguez).

Though intriguing, a Wanderlust ($12), made of Banks white rum, a house sherry blend, Marolo chamomile grappa, medjool date bitters, orange bitters, and flamed absinthe was musky sweet without the hoped-for layers jumping out. However, Of Praise for Tulips ($9), was a brightly elegant aperitif, floral with Clear Creek pear brandy, dry and bitter with Cocchi Americano, Dolin Dry vermouth, Barenjager, Boston bitters and Pacifique absinthe.


They had me at ’70s wood-paneled walls, cocktails ($9-12) named after classic actors (e.g. Sydney Poitier, Elizabeth Taylor), and old school, Rat Pack bar vibe. When asking bartenders at “mixology” havens around Portland where they liked to drink off hours, more than one of them said The Driftwood Room. Granted, it’s in Hotel deLuxe (opened in 1912 – the bar opened in the ‘50s) and forget catching a cab from the hotel any time after 11:30pm when the train isn’t running (apparently, neither are cabs), but for a mellow, retro vibe with boozy-but-crafted drinks, Driftwood is a welcome respite.

Both Bittersweet Symphony ($10 – Temperance bourbon, Punt e Mes vermouth, Pelinkovac, Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters) and Old Tom Cocktail ($11 – Ransom gin, Agwa de Bolivia coca leaf liqueur, Krogstad Aquavit, lime juice, barrel aged bitters) pack a punch while maintaining balance.


Another bartender off-hours favorite is Circa 33 in Southeast Portland. For me, flat screens and sports interfered with a vaguely retro, laid back vibe. A library-like wall of American whiskey and bottles line the back wall with wood ladder for easy access. Easy-going bartenders can create cocktail classics, even if they don’t know them. I requested a simple but perfectly classic Old Pal, executed solidly per instruction. It’s the hidden back bar that draws industry folk, an intimate space ideal for conversation.


Though not overwhelmed with creative vision at Kask, the newer sister bar to neighboring Austrian restaurant Gruner, I enjoyed the corner casual chic in a small space with welcoming bartenders. Here can linger with friends, actually hear each other, and savor solid cocktails ($9-12).

Though my favorite drink was an off menu Del Maguey mezcal/citrus creation, I tasted the gamut, from Rabo de Galo, utilizing Novo Fogo’s barrel aged cachaca (a spirit popping up often on Portland menus), Gran Classico, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and Brazilian coffee bitters. The Black Lodge covered the whiskey/vermouth/bitter side with Wild Turkey Rye, Punt E Mes sweet vermouth, Combier Rouge, Cynar, Regan’s orange bitters, while another off menu creation, Leather Canary (a Chevy Chase reference), mixed up that profile with tart/sour: Combier Pamplemousse  – a grapefruit liqueur, rye whiskey, Gran Classico, Punt E Mes vermouth.

Kask’s service and relaxed vibe make it one of the better hangouts for cocktailians in my downtown Portland explorations.

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Appetite: Tasting spirits


An array of new liquor tastes, and a Whiskyfest recap


Unforgettable: my journey to the south of England town of Plymouth and its legendary distillery with Master Distiller Sean Harrison. Possibly the most beautiful distillery I’ve yet visited. I relished drinking Plymouth Navy Strength ($34.99) while in the UK, a bracing version of their classic gin at 57% ABV/114 proof, the preferred gin of the British Royal Navy.

Though still smooth like Plymouth gin, Navy Strength packs a greater botanical punch, enlivening cocktails. The good news is it finally arrived to the US merely weeks ago in September so drink up.

It’s radiant in a classic Pink Gin (2 parts Plymouth Navy Strength, 3-4 dashes of Angostura bitters, lemon twist to garnish), which I enjoyed in the hills above Plymouth made by Harrison using fresh drops of reservoir water from the reservoir we enjoyed tea alongside.


This year’s WhiskyFest was another memorable one. The hilarious Martin Daraz of Highland Park and the uber cool Beer Chicks, Christina Perozzi and Hallie Beaune (their book, The Naked Brewer, just released), killed it with their laughter-packed seminar. There wasn’t enough room for all who wanted to attend their tasting pairing Highland Park whiskies, all the way up to the glorious 30 year, with well-chosen craft beers selected by the Beer Chicks – a number of pairings went shockingly well together. This seminar should definitely return next year, giving all those who missed it a chance to partake of the joys.

Digging further into the independent distillery line of BenRiach whiskies with international Brand Ambassador Stewart Buchanan was a highlight, whether the affordable steal of 10 year Curiositas, a robust, elegant 1995 Pedro Ximenez Cask #7165 (at cask strength, 52.3%) or the otherworldly, perfectly balanced 25 yr. The BenRiach line is a nuanced alternative to an Islay Scotch. Though peaty, these whiskies corner balance, letting the peat shine alongside other layers.

On the American side, the standout was St. George’s 30th Anniversary XXX Single Malt Blend, a layered blend of whiskies from three generations of St. George distillers, Jörg Rupf, Lance Winters, Dave Smith. This new release (only 715 bottles) is a rare blend of whiskies: Winters’ first single malt distillation, his 1999 single malt aged in Rupf’s pear brandy barrels, a small portion of Lot 12 whiskey, and a whiskey distilled in 2007, aged in a port cask made of French oak. Pear notes shine in this bright whiskey as does ginger, butter, banana, hazelnut and orange peel.

Another Scotch standout was Classic Malts’ Glen Spey 21 year, a limited edition whisky maintaining a lively profile in spite of age from bourbon casks with notes of coconut, caramel, toffee.


Held this past weekend in the massive Fort Mason, the first SF Craft Spirits Carnival was yet another opportunity for the consumer and industry to sample a wide range of international spirits. Though burlesque felt off in the middle of the vast space, acrobatics were more in line as we explored a US craft spirits-heavy selection with a good mix of Scotch, tequila, rum and the like from around the globe surrounded by gorgeous Bay and Golden Gate Bridge views.

While a number of my usual favorites were there (Highland Park, St. George, Old World Spirits, Charbay, Rhum Clement), there were quite a few new releases to taste. Charbay started importing beloved Tapatio tequila earlier this year, one of the best values out there for quality tequila, and at the Carnival, poured Tapatio’s just-imported Reposado and Anejo tequilas. Finally in the States, both are green, bright beauties thankfully allowing the agave to dominate over barrel wood.

Local distiller Don Pilar just released a refined Extra Anejo (aged a minimum of three years). Though I am typically not a big Extra Anejo – or sometimes even Anejo – fan when it masks agave properties with too much oak, Don Pilar manages complexity with agave liveliness.

Greenbar Collective’s (aka Modern Spirits) spiced rum ($30) from downtown Los Angeles could have been too sweet – as their fruit liqueurs were for me – but the spiced rum is subtle, nearly dry, aromatic with allspice, clove, cinnamon, vanilla, and orange zest, redolent of fall.

Michter’s from Kentucky (I’ve long appreciated their 10 year bourbon and their rye) poured their two brand new releases out this month, a decent Sour Mash (86.6%) aged over 4 years, mixable more than sippable, and a robust, cask strength (114.2%) 20 year single barrel bourbon, aged over 20 years with a definite rye spice, although they can’t disclose any information whatsoever on the grain make-up or distilling location.

The tasting highlight of the weekend belonged to Rhum Clément. Already a fan of their elegant rhum agricoles from Martinique, I was pleased to see they just released a fresh, smoky 6 year old ($56), and a cinnamon, wood, vanilla-inflected 10 year old ($73), both aged in virgin and re-charred oak.

In addition, Rhum Cément Cuvee Homere is aged in French Limousin barriques and re-charred bourbon barrels, smooth with tastes of biscuits, almond butter, hazelnut, chocolate, black pepper, while the stately, pricey Clément XO Rhum, is a Cognac-reminiscent treat blending rhums from highly regarded vintages, like 1952, 1970, 1976, complex with fruitcake, toffee, tobacco, leather. My favorite ended up being a cask strength (though still reasonable under 100 proof) 10 year old Rhum J.M. Millesime 1997, unfolding with toasted nut, lemon, sage, passion fruit, white pepper, cinnamon.

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Boozy shakes


APPETITE A wave of old fashioned soda fountains serving alcoholic and non-alcoholic treats alongside quality food is hitting various parts of the country, with two notables in San Francisco.

I’ve already written about the incredible, one-of-a-kind Ice Cream Bar (815 Cole, SF. 415-742-4932, Reviving the lactart, phosphate, and traditional sassafras root beer, it reaches past the 1950s all the way back to the 1890s. Recent changes at the family friendly shop include the launch of a food menu of comfortable diner fare and the gain of a beer and wine license.

An egg salad sandwich — made with slices of thick, house-baked brioche and served with a pickle and roasted vegetable salad or house-made sweet potato chips, as with all sandwiches here — is soft and lively, with chives, arugula, and the clincher: pimento cheese. My favorite, the tuna melt, evokes childhood, elevated by Gruyere cheese, organic tomatoes, and arugula.

There’s one “must” on the new alcoholic section of the soda fountain menu: a classic Angostura phosphate. Fizzy with acid phosphate, gum foam and soda, a heavy pour of Angostura Bitters makes for a spiced beauty, conjuring fall and winter simultaneously. Can’t Stop is a notable dessert of butterscotch syrup, whole egg and cream, effervescent with Drakes Bay Hefeweizen (adding notes of grain and hay), topped with a musky Carpano Antica vermouth float.

Joining Ice Cream Bar in the fountain revival is the new Corner Store (5 Masonic Ave., 415-359-1800,, in the old Hukilau space, from 330 Ritch business partners Miles Palliser and Ezra Berman. Old-fashioned in ethos, contemporary in style, this all-day restaurant and fountain serves sodas, candy, beer, wine, and gourmet food. The airy space and outdoor sidewalk patio nod to an era gone by. The menu seems straightforward, but dishes become more intriguing at second glance.

Chef Nick Adams (Salt House, Town Hall) elevates the umpteenth roasted beets plate ($8) with Greek yogurt, candied almonds, purslane, and radicchio in honey vinaigrette: it’s sweet, nutty, earthy, and creamy. Likewise, house smoked salmon ($10) goes well beyond the usual piece of salmon with potato pancake. An herb-laden egg salad flanks a crisp potato pancake, multiple slices of silky, fresh salmon, and mound of lettuce.

Whether a burger ($12) laden with aged cheddar, pickled red onions, pickles and bacon jam, or a fried green tomato sandwich ($9) with burrata and avocado at lunch, items between bread are done right here. Thoughtful $16 entrees are a steal compared to similar dishes at greater cost elsewhere in town, like Snake River pork loin ($16), co-mingling with fennel, marble potatoes, and pancetta, invigorated with shishito peppers and a zippy nectarine mostarda. A side of house brioche dinner rolls ($3) with honey butter and sea salt makes it homey.

Hans Hinrichs (25 Lusk, Foreign Cinema) helms a soda fountain menu of cocktails ($10), boozy shakes ($10), and sodas ($8), using local or American craft spirits whenever possible. Though not the journey through soda fountain history you’ll find at Ice Cream Bar, Hinrichs creates drinks that make you feel like a kid again… with booze.

The Muir Trail is a tribute to local nature, both in name and the use of St. George Terroir Gin, the Bay Area’s native gin. Hinrichs allows the gin to shine alongside tart huckleberry puree (huckleberry juice is infused with a sachet of spices, thinning it out with port wine reduction), dry vermouth, lemon, and bitters. Sans alcohol, Lone Mountain Egg Cream is dulce de leche and sea salt, creamy with milk, perky with seltzer, plus a number of bottled classic sodas like Cheerwine and Dang! Butterscotch Beer ($4).

Spirits-laden shakes induce cravings. 50/50 — spiced rum, orange marmalade, vanilla ice cream — is textured and rich with rum and marmalade, accented by strips of candied orange peel. My youthful favorite, a Grasshopper, is a minty dream with Tempus Fugit’s unparalleled Creme de Menthe and Creme de Cacao, vanilla ice cream, and a hint La Sorciere absinthe to perk up the mint.

Probably my favorite of all three boozy shakes is the Manhattan. Tasting like a real Manhattan, punchy with bourbon, sweet vermouth, cherry syrup, creamy with vanilla ice cream, bourbon shines though Hinrichs uses no more than one ounce of base spirit plus half-to-one ounce of any other liqueur in any given shake. It’s a perfect combination.


Appetite: What’s new at Anchor? A lot.


Inside scoop from Anchor Distilling: A new clear hops spirit, line of Japanese whiskies, rooftop bar, world’s most extensive cocktail book library, and more

Anchor Distilling is a local treasure. Fritz Maytag pioneered craft beer and craft spirits in America long before most were even thinking about it. Tracing back Fritz’ brewing days to the 1960s puts San Francisco squarely on the map as a leader and trendsetter in beer, while in spirits Fritz — alongside Jorg Rupf at St. George, and Hubert Germain-Robin of Germain-Robin — were all pioneering American craft spirits here in Northern California decades before the current renaissance.

Though I was sad to see Fritz retire and sell Anchor in 2010, I’ve been encouraged to witness the care invested by the new owners. Conversing with Anchor President David King is a pleasure. He came from London and Berry Bros. & Rudd (BBR), an iconic name in spirits and wine, now partnered with Anchor Distilling, with a historic shop in London’s posh St. James’s district (which I visited last year in my London explorations). King oversees all imports in their growing portfolio and Anchor’s spirits catalogue, maintaining a humble yet visionary mindset behind the company’s growth.

In keeping with Anchor and Fritz’s legacy, he’s been working to create a spirit different from any before it.

It will be the first Anchor spirit to be releases since Genevieve years back: a hops-based spirit, appropriately named HopHead. Though King and Anchor brewmaster (of 41 years) Mark Carpenter long ago passed the conceptual stages, there’s still the waiting game of TTB approvals, including classification of the spirit. As King explains to me, HopHead is made in Anchor’s alembic still used to craft their whiskies, but it is produced like a gin, though made solely with hops in neutral grain spirit vs. gin botanicals.

Because it defies typical classification, it may even end up being categorized as vodka, which would be a mental hurdle for countless of us cocktail geeks and industry folk who have helped spur on the cocktail renaissance of the past decade plus. But HopHead is not flavored vodka. I’ve tasted numerous hoppy whiskies (a shining example being Charbay’s R5 made from Bear Republic Beer), but this is quite different. As King expressed, the goal is to have the taste of fresh hops without the bitter finish. It’s unexpectedly clean, smooth, vibrantly hoppy but with no lingering bitterness. Granted, IPA lovers and hops fanatics crave the bitter, but I find this a fascinating expression of hops, illuminated from other angles when chilled – unique cocktail creations are waiting to be made from this one. The HopHead label is designed by the same Sausalito houseboat artist who has designed Anchor’s Christmas beer labels for years.

Months back I visited Anchor’s new rooftop bar, a window-heavy respite with chic yellow couch, wood bar, and striking views of downtown San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. They are close to finishing a deck which will function as a beer garden of sorts, surrounded by herbs and hops. They’ve recently acquired bartending legend Brian Rea‘s cocktail library, considered to be the most extensive in the world. King says they plan to have a library room on the top floor of Anchor near the bar where industry folk can peruse vintage books (cozy on the couch with those views) and try them out at the bar with the extensive collection of Anchor spirits and imports. It will be one-of-a-kind as an industry space.

On top of this, Anchor Distilling continues to sell a number of exciting imports in an ever-growing catalogue, like Glenrothes’ brand new release of the first in a line of Extraordinary Casks from the 1960s and ’70’s, and elegant, refined Hine Cognac, the standout being Hine Antique XO poured at this year’s WhiskyFest. Especially exciting is the import of Nikka whiskies from Japan. We have had to stick to Nikka when overseas and in general, there’s not close to enough Japanese whiskies being imported into the US compared to what is available in Japan. King says he’s hoping in to soon have five or six Japanese whiskies from the Nikka portfolio here in the States, including Yoichi and Taketsuru. We sipped the latter while I learned of the compelling story of its namesake, Masataka Taketsuru. He worked in various distilleries in Scotland, married a Scottish woman, Rita, eventually returning to Japan and founding Nikka as a company (initially named Dai Nippon Kaju K.K.)

We ended our chat with a pour of 16 year Hotaling’s single malt whiskey, Anchor’s crowning beauty (and rarity – this release at only 274 bottles), which I have been privileged to taste a few times. With the view of San Francisco before us, it seems our city’s entrepreneurial, visionary spirit continues to inform Anchor’s direction, just as it has with Fritz Maytag since the 1960’s.

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Rich Table


APPETITE Not since State Bird Provisions and AQ opened towards the end of 2011 have I been as excited about an opening. Evan and Sarah Rich’s new Rich Table is, kinks and all, even in the first month, well-rounded and satisfying. With efficient, informed service, reasonably priced wine list, few but well-crafted cocktails, a comfortable dining room with rustic-urban decor, and most importantly, a number of exquisite dishes, Rich Table is primed for greatness.

The Riches, a husband-and-wife chef duo, both worked at Bouley in New York and Coi here in San Francisco. Evan was also at Quince, Sarah at Michael Mina — and the couple hosted memorable pop-up dinners at Radius last fall. This fine dining pedigree infuses their mid-range menu. At other restaurants, dishes don’t often surprise beyond a menu reading. But here numerous dishes are more fascinating than their descriptions suggest. At AQ, dishes are works of art unfolding in layers of unexpected flavor. At Rich Table, there’s an approachable comfort elevated with refined nuances.

On the light bites side, everyone (and I mean everyone) has been buzzing about paper-thin potato chips ($7) with sardines interwoven through the center, dipped in horseradish cream. I’m a big sardine fan : these are not overrated, worth ordering every time. I brushed past Castelvetrano olives ($5) as common — thankfully a dining companion ordered them on one visit. Brightened by celery leaves and preserved lemon, the olives pop.

On an early visit, popcorn soup ($10) tasted like buttery, pureed popcorn in a bowl. Yuzu kosho (a fermented paste of chili peppers and yuzu rind) perks up the creamy bowl. Outstanding squid dishes ($14) morph with seasonal ingredients. The first incarnation wowed, the plump squid lively with watermelon yet simultaneously savory in black olive vinaigrette, dotted with crispy onions. This sweet-tangy, fresh-grilled dish was such a joy, I couldn’t help but be a little let down by its successor: squid with figs, crisp onions and lardon draped across the top. The breezy luminosity brought by the melon felt a bit weighted down with figs, though still a winning dish. Crushed peas ($14) with California yellowtail and saltine crackers to scoop up is vivaciously fresh, but comes in a slight (i.e. miniscule) serving.

The menu is not easily categorized nor a copycat of anyone, but is packed with pleasures peeking out in unforseen places. Case in point? The pasta. I could come here for pasta alone (one dinner I ordered all four pasta dishes on the ever-changing menu). None shines more than a divine duck lasagna ($19). A smile crosses my face just thinking of delicate, melting sheets of pasta, layered with braised duck, light béchamel, and tart Santa Rosa plums. It’s a glorious pasta dish with no equal in this town… or in any other. Other pasta dishes may not reach these heights but each is worthwhile, even excellent, whether rigatoni bolognese ($18) elevated by bone marrow and crispy kale or beets, or spaghetti ($18) tossed with Jimmy Nardello peppers and clams.

On the entree front, lichen-poached rabbit ($25) is heartwarming as it is gourmet, mingling with cippolini onions, radicchio leaves and broccoli raabe. Pork belly panzanella ($24) is the classic Italian bread salad of tomato, basil, cucumber and toasted bread cubes tossed with fatty pork belly, though I took to a hearty tomato-braised oxtail on toast ($25) even more. While accompanying grilled octopus and collard greens seemed disparate, the meaty toast alone makes it worthwhile, as satisfying as Southern BBQ.

Sarah Rich’s desserts (all $8) maintain the comfort-meets-craft spirit of the restaurant from a bright melange of chilled melon to caramelized olive oil cake in strawberries, a heightened strawberry shortcake. Panna cotta lovers shouldn’t miss Sarah’s silky rendition with changing seasonal accents.

Wines are priced by glass, carafe or bottle, conveniently grouped in three white and three red price categories, with strong options like 2010 Christian Moreau Chardonnay from Burgundy, or a 2011 COS Frappato from Sicily. The cocktail list ($10 each) is short — no more than four or five at a time — and I’ve sampled six different ones. While some fare better than others (the Barn Wood, with Buffalo Trace bourbon and bitters, was a bit too musky-sweet from stone fruits), most offer understated elegance, actually different than other cocktail menus in simple purity.

The star is the lush, green Big Night, which looks like a healthy, green veggie drink, but is subtly smoky Del Maguey Vida mezcal mixed with nasturtium and ginger, topped with an edible flower. It’s clean, strong, memorable. As is Land’s End, the Riches’ answer to a martini, using the incomparable St. George Terroir Gin, dry vermouth and foraged Monterey cypress. On the light, soft side, Let’s Go is a refreshing sipper of Encanto pisco, coconut water and lime.

Sarah, Evan, and the engaged staff serve a warm vibe at their table in Hayes Valley — and an ever unexpected menu that focuses simultaneously on flavorful comfort and elegant simplicity.


199 Gough, SF.

(415) 355-9085

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Aim for these


APPETITE Most memorable restaurants boasts an overarching standard of quality to their menus. Other times, one dreams of specific items from certain spots. Here are a few places worth trekking out to for unique dream dishes.



Lasagna… there are few foods as evocative of my childhood. Until now, Gaspare’s in the Outer Richmond was typically where I’d get my old school lasagna fix. Since May, though, Dogpatch now has a lasagneria, of all fantastic things. Marcella’s Lasagneria and Cucina is a humble corner shop selling Chef Massimo’s aioli spreads (like black truffle or spicy Chardonnay) and other housemade food products, paninis, soups, and pizzas for eating in or taking out. Best of all, six kinds of lasagna to choose from.

Jovial Massimo hails from Italy’s Abruzzo region (I’m charmed by the 1980s-looking photo of him above the counter in chef’s hat with a glass of wine), who regales with tales of early kitchen work and family. The shop is named after his daughter, while his friendly son sometimes works the counter. On a typical visit (open weekdays, 11:30am-7pm), lasagna options are butternut squash, bolognese, wild mushroom, spicy eggplant, spicy sausage, and pesto zucchini. I buy a whole lasagna for a family birthday — yes, it’s celebratory-good — and bring home three slices for dinner (8.50 each), reveling in savory-sweet red sauce and ultra-thin pasta sheets redolent with but not overcome by ricotta and mozzarella.

Butternut squash lasagna is typically white, so that the squash shines. Here it still does, while benefiting from a bit of red sauce. Earthy wild mushroom, spicy eggplant or pesto ricotta are winning. I like classic Bolognese best, the version my mother used to make. Massimo corners lassagna balance: there’s never too much of any one ingredient. The entirety melts in your mouth, as heartwarming as your Italian mama’s cookinge.

1099 Tennessee, SF. (415) 920-2225,



There are not many Thai joints in the Marina (Yukol Place has been keeping it real for years), and certainly not one like Blackwood. High ceilings and shades of black and grey set a chic tone, while non-traditional dishes like mushroom egg rolls and unfortunately named Marina Strips — Wagyu beef strips wrapped in baby hearts of palm — fill the menu. Many dishes are larger, more artfully arranged, versions of typical Thai dishes, like papaya salad or Pad See Ew (spelled Pad See You). Thai fusion is apparent in a Thai Wagyu burger ($12) on brioche loaded with a Thai salad of cucumber, carrot, cilantro, sesame. Or in generous, sizzling stone pots ($14-16), akin to Koran bibimbap filled with rice, veggies, meat of choice (I like crispy red snapper in plum dressing), topped with a fried egg.

However, the one destination item is merely a $5 add-on to a breakfast platter (served daily, 8am-4pm). And what an add-on! Blackwood’s only been open since June, but the millionaire’s bacon has already been named on the Discovery Channel Destination America’s United States of Food. Two hefty strips of bacon are dense, shimmery, chewy beauties, caramelized and slightly sweet and smoky. Despite bacon burn-out over the past decade, with bacon gracing every dessert and dish possible, these juicy strips renew and refresh the love, reminiscent of Southern ham in gourmet jerky-like form.

2150 Chestnut, SF. (415) 931-9663,



Bluestem Brasserie is no run-of-the-mill downtown shopping break. In fact, it has improved since opening in summer 2011, honing in on its menu, house charcuterie, and whole-animal butchery practices (no part goes to waste). With new executive chef Francis Hogan, there is fresh life in the space frequented by tourists, shoppers, and the Moscone Center crowd. While wine on tap, grass-fed beef, and whole-animal practices are common in SF at large, being centrally situated downtown between SoMa and Union Square, Bluestem is exposing a new range of clientele to the delicious taste of sustainability.

Besides satisfying house pâté (on the charcuterie platter) of pork, pistachio, and the like, a whole roasted branzino ($29) is flaky, perked up with roasted summer chilis or your choice of side, while grass-fed six-ounce filet ($31) or 12-ounce ribeye ($34) steaks are appropriately tender, medium rare, with choice of sauce ($3.75), like bourbon espresso or horseradish-roasted garlic cream. The dish I found myself trekking back for whether at lunch or dinner is Calabrian chile spaghettini ($19). Though I would prefer some heat from Calabrian chiles (I detected none), the heaping bowl of pasta is topped with Early Girl tomatoes, arugula, and basil — the pièce de résistance being melted burrata flowing over the pasta in lush waves. A gentle zesting of lemon rind perfects it. Dessert ($9.50) is no afterthought. The Peaches and Herb “Reunited” sundae was a layered summer treat, but the jar filled with mini-cookies baked in-house, including lemon sugar and peanut butter, made me feel like a kid again. There were so many cookies, I finished the rest for breakfast the next day with coffee.

One Yerba Buena Lane, SF. (415) 547-1111,


Appetite: New whisk(e)y releases and WhiskyFest


I’ll take whisk(e)y year round. But as summer evolves to fall, it seems all the more appropriate enjoyed on crisp nights, preferably fireside. Thankfully, WhiskyFest approaches this Friday/5, in the usual massive, underground Marriott ballrooms. Recapping past years, VIP early pours of rare whiskies and seminars tend to be highlights. There’s another seminar this week with the legendary, delightful Parker Beam, exploring Japanese Whisky with Suntory brand ambassador Neyah White, and I’m particularly looking forward to beer and single malt pairings with Highland Park brand ambassador Martin Daraz.

There’s a number of  new pours this year, including Glenfiddich’s Malt Master which I review below, Parker’s Heritage Collection release for 2012, the Master Distiller’s Blend of Mashbills (Parker Beam’s annual, limited edition releases are among the most exciting American whiskies made), and for the first time ever Nikka Japanese whisky, which I’ve long had to enjoy when in Europe, as you can’t get it here in the US… until this fall, thanks to SF’s very own Anchor Distilling here in SF. Anchor is importing Nikka with, as Anchor President David King told me recently, a few more Japanese whiskies to come — a huge win for whisky lovers like myself who’ve been longing for more imports from Japan. I sampled Taketsuru 12 year, which will also be poured at WhiskyFest, while Anchor will soon import their 17 yr and 21 yr whiskies.

If you aren’t going to WhiskyFest, or even if you are, here are three recently-released American whiskies and two Scotches worth seeking out:


High West American Prairie Reserve Whiskey ($40; 46%/92 proof) – Besides being a real value at $40, I’d deem Prairie Reserve (named after the largest wildlife reserve in the lower 48 states, a 5000 square miles reserve in the works in northeastern Montana) another winner in High West’s Utah-distilled catalogue. With 10% of all sales going to this reserve, High West expresses its love of Western land through whiskey — a blend of two bourbons, to be exact: six-year-old Bourbon from the old Seagrams plant in Lawrenceberg, Indiana (a corn-dominant whiskey at 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% barley malt), and a 10-year-old Four Roses Bourbon (60% corn, 35% rye, 5% barley malt). Orange spice dominates on the nose, there’s the expected bourbon characteristics of vanilla caramel, and sweet, nutty, dark cherries to taste. Though not made from a High West mashbill, it is in keeping with their style, is an elevated cocktail base, yet also a joy sipped neat. 

Balcones “1” Texas Single Malt Whisky ($69; 52.7%/105.4 proof) — This new release from the always interesting Balcones Distilling feels Texan namely in its robust character. You could call it a Texas whiskey for the cowboy set but actually their Brimstone smoked corn whiskey, which goes down like a campfire of scrub oak, exhibits a greater ruggedness. The Single Malt, though bracing, is simultaneously smooth, even silky, unfolding with pear, cinnamon spice, even dusty earth. Even though I find Master Distiller Chip Tate’s Brimstone more grab-you-by-the-cojones fascinating, his Texas Single Malt is ultimately more sophisticated and balanced. 

WhistlePig TripleOne ($111; 55.5%/111 proof) – The splurge, out this month at a limited 1100 cases, is WhistlePig’s TripleOne from Master Distiller Dave Pickerell, who you may know as Maker’s Mark master distiller for 14 years. As Pickerell said, I was the very first to try TripleOne at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans this July. TripleOne is WhistlePig rye but at 111 proof (vs. 100), aged 11 years (vs. 10). The bracing TripleOne doesn’t boast quite as long a finish as the flagship rye, but it’s even more complex, surprisingly akin to applejack or Calvados at first sip, opening up into spicy rye body with citrus and chocolate notes. It’s a beauty showing the elegance possible in rye whiskies. 


Balvenie DoubleWood 17 year ($130; 43%/86 proof) – Balvenie’s new DoubleWood release has been aging 17 years (vs. their classic 12 year), or essentially 17 years in bourbon casks (for 17 years) and 3 to 6 months in Oloroso sherry casks. I prefer  bourbon cask liveliness in my Scotch and with the sherry finish there’s merely a whisper of sweet muskiness. Nougat and apples unfold, caramel peeks out, but the body is light and smooth, while still standing up with a hint of briny robustness. 

Glenfiddich Master Malt Edition ($90; 43%/86 proof) – This brand new, limited-edition whisky was just released in September from the classic distillery, one of only four in Scotland still owned and run by the same family since the 1800’s. At merely 18,000 bottles, it’s small production for Glenfiddich, celebrating their 125th anniversary. Malt Master Brian Kinsman crafted their first double-matured whisky, which spent roughly 6 to 8 years in used Bourbon barrels, then 4 to 6 years in sherry casks. Sherry sweetness hits first on the nose but thankfully doesn’t overpower the whisky though sherry characteristics dominate (of course there are devotees on both sides of the bourbon or sherry cask-aged whisky spectrum). With whispers of brine, fruitcake and cinnamon, Mitch Bechard, Glenfiddich’s Brand Ambassador, West, said over lunch that it, “Goes down like a penguin in a wet suit”… that is to say, smooth.

If you find a way to taste it, I especially love the new, but already sold out in the States (only 1000 bottles) 1974 edition ($800; 46.8%/93.6 proof), a cask strength single malt, that is surprisingly bright for such age, with pear, vanilla, even passion fruit notes, and a long, spiced finish. A drop of water brings out briny, salty characteristics. 

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In FiDi, a Turkish gem


APPETITE With the Guardian’s recent move to the Financial District, I’ve frequented downtown haunts, returning to old favorites, discovering new gems. Humble, tiny spaces like La Fusion (475 Pine, SF. delight with Peruvian-influenced Nuevo Latino dishes, including rotisserie chicken and warm bread salad, vivid ceviches, cinnamon-clove inflected sangria, and fried empanadas dipped in huacatay sauce and piquillo pepper aioli. However, the biggest standout of new FiDi dining spots has been an upscale Turkish restaurant, Machka.

Walking up to Machka, directly across from the Transamerica Building behind a line of motorcycle and Vespa parking, you feel as if you’ve stumbled upon a chic cafe in Rome. In fact, Machka is Turkish, with a brick-walled dining room with massive chandelier, whose lighting casting an appealing glow on fellow diners, while a flat screen plays classic Turkish films, like Kirik Plak (1959), visible through a glass wall from inside the restaurant.

Machka was just opened in July by lawyer Farshad Owji and his wife Sibel. The chef is Reynol Martinez, who served those delightful duck confit tacos and some of SF’s best fish tacos at Potrero Hill hidden gem, Papito. (He also cooked at Globe, Aperto, and Epic Roasthouse.) Service is one of Machka’s strong suits, including the professionally engaging warmth of Jessica — who was a server at Nopa — or Gulhan, who recently moved here from Turkey, his gracious hospitality setting a familial tone. P.S. he’s also an inspiring reader of Turkish coffee grounds.

Starting with the SF standard — locally sourced, mostly organic ingredients — one journeys to Turkey in rare form. Although there have long been hole-in-the-wall treasures like A La Turca in the Tenderloin or the Mission’s mid-range Tuba, the Turkish list has been short. Machka fills a gap, faring well with both traditional and creative Turkish. In the meze-starter realm, pistachio-crusted goat cheese ($11) is easy to lap up. Spread the subtle, soft cheese, crunchy with pistachios, over toasts, sweet and savory with caramelized onions, golden raisins and wildflower honey. There’s only a handful of lamb tartare dishes in town (Gitane’s being one of the best), and Machka’s version ($13) is brightly gratifying, tossed in mint, grainy mustard and argan oil, with haricot verts.

Tender, grilled octopus ($13) is mixed with chickpeas and celery, doused in lemon and olive oil — it’s a delicate smattering of celery leaves that adds a garden-fresh aspect to my favorite invertebrate. Blue cheese and chorizo-stuffed dates ($9) are a crowd-pleaser, particularly wrapped in pastirma (Armenian cured beef) in a sherry wine-mustard vinaigrette. The only missteps seemed to be a bowl of fava beans ($10) which sounded like the ideal veggie dish, mixed with English peas, snap peas, cilantro, mint, sumac in lemon and a smoked paprika vinaigrette, but was surprisingly bland. A traditional fattoush salad ($11) was likewise humdrum, a mere couple tomatoes, cucumbers and pita crisps unable to bring the greens to life.

On the entree side, I crave the durum (flatbread) wrap ($12) to-go when I don’t have time sit down and savor the restaurant’s soothing setting. I love the falafel wrap (also available as a $9 starter), laced with cacik (light, seasoned yogurt), pickled cucumber, lettuce, grilled red onions, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and tahini sauce. The elements weave together into the ideal wrap: fresh, textured, filling — also available with chicken, lamb or beef. Speaking of lamb, Machka does it right: as a burger ($15), curry-marinated in a kebab over rice pilaf (one skewer $13, two $26), or in my top choice, a marinated ground beef and lamb sausage, the adana kebab.

Chef Martinez displays vision in entrees like a seared branzino ($25). The flaky fish is interspersed with roasted fennel and cherry tomatoes, which taste like another glorious fruit altogether — sweet, sour, fantastic — roasted in a balsamic pomegranate reduction. It’s an elegant entree that takes an unexpected turn with the tomatoes.

The wine list ($9 for a five ounce glass, $14 for eight ounce) includes interesting Turkish wines, like an acidic, zippy 2010 Kavaklidere Cankaya Emir from Ankara, and from the same producer, a balanced, fruity red: 2011 Kavaklidere Yakut Okuzgozu. Another wine that worked well with starters was a tropical fruit-laden 2011 Pinot Gris from New Zealand, The Ned.

You couldn’t do better than a dessert of kunefe (or kanafeh, an Arab cheese crusted in shredded pastry, often phyllo dough — Jannah in the Western Addition also makes a beauty of a version). Soft, white cheese oozes from crisp, shredded phyllo soaked in honey and rosewater syrup, a finish sweet and satisfying as the overall experience in this latest Turkish respite.

Matchka 584 Washington, SF. 415-391-8228

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Cocktail harvest


APPETITE Judging a cocktail contest in Calistoga and sampling Wine Country cocktails early in 2011, I witnessed a rise in quality congruent with the cocktail renaissance exploding across the nation, beyond longtime torchbearers like SF and NYC. This is especially notable in tourist-heavy Wine Country, where shaking off the all-consuming culture of the grape is an uphill battle (so local bartenders tell me). Although you won’t see many cocktail bars opening up, restaurants continue to refine their cocktails and spirits selections. You’ll now find a few city-quality drinks among the vineyards. Here are two intriguing spots in Napa, perfect for harvest-time exploration.



Scott Beattie has long been considered the number one talent in Wine Country — he crafted exquisite cocktails in sleepy, chic Healdsburg at Cyrus long before many of the country’s big cities had clued in, leading the way in farm-fresh, artisanal cocktails (see his book, Artisanal Cocktails,, torching kumquats and crisping apple slivers from his backyard as garnishes.

When Beattie left Spoonbar to take over the bar at St. Helena’s Goose and Gander, which opened in April, Sonoma’s loss was Napa’s gain. Goose and Gander is in the former Martini House in a 90-year-old craftsman bungalow with idyllic yard and patio. Red walls, bookshelves, brown leather booths, fireplaces, wood ceilings and floors impart a charming hunting lodge feel. Beattie works alongside talent like Michael Jack Pazdon, who previously supervised the bar program at SolBar and has won numerous cocktail contests. Beattie, Pazdon, and crew serve fantastic drinks from a handful of cocktails (all $11) on the regular menu. Ask for “the book” for a more extensive selection — and peruse an impressive spirits collection lining the bar.

The Mellivora Capensis (a.k.a. honey badger) is a prime example of Beattie-style cocktails: Eagle Rare 10 year bourbon, honey, and lemon sound like a classic base, but it gets interesting with a touch of peat from Ardbeg Scotch, pineapple, black cardamom, and chili, with coconut foam contributing texture, and edible flowers the crowning touch. A Cucumber Collins (Square One cucumber vodka, yuzu, lemon, fresh and pickled cucumber, huckleberries, seltzer) is classic Beattie: striking visuals, artfully refreshing.

Executive Chef Kelly McCown’s food is notable. Spicy whole blue prawns ($16) are large and juicy, skillet-roasted brown, swimming in shallot garlic butter, rosemary, and chilis over polenta. A bright crudo of Hawaiian lemon snapper ($17) is lined up next to heirloom tomatoes dotted with shaved tomatillos and sea beans. As a twist on the ever-gratifying wedge salad, a Berkshire pork belly “wedge” ($15) is an understandable hit: a disc of iceberg topped with a hefty chunk of pork belly and Shaft’s blue cheese dressing. Jersey cow’s milk ricotta gnocchi ($18) melt joyously in the mouth, intermingling with cherry tomatoes, basil, and tomato coulis, crowned by a light Parmesan crisp. Goose and Gander is the whole package and works both as a romantic date locale or relaxed stop for bite and drink.

1245 Spring, St. Helena. (707) 967-8779,



Follow the vintage neon signage of the former Fagiani’s, where The Thomas opened just last month in a 1909 building restored by New York’s AvroKO Hospitality Group. First visiting during opening week, I dined on the partially covered third floor terrace (although housing a second bar, this floor is for diners only) gazing out over downtown Napa. As the sun set over the river below, rooftops and hills peeking above the the deck, I was transported to Europe, a timeless moment on a summer night.

I was immediately hooked, but I’m waiting to see how the place evolves, particularly with just-launched brunch and recently named bar manager Jim Wrigley of London’s Albannach and the Lonsdale. During my visit, AvroKO cocktail director Naren Young was in town serving drinks from the menu he co-created with Linden Pride, with whom he runs Saxon+Parole in NY. Drinks are classic, simple, playful with the ubiquitous (though not so much in Napa) Negroni on tap ($12), and a generous White Manhattan on tap ($15), utilizing Death’s Door white whiskey, white vermouth, kirschwasser, jasmine bitters. An ideal aperitif is Jasmine ($14), made of Campari, Beefeater Gin, Combier triple sec and lemon juice. Dessert was a winning round of a Grasshopper and an elegant whiskey cocktail with biscotti, ideal alongside dreamy dark chocolate pot de creme with cookies or decadent monkey bread.

Though it’s a bit too early to call, there’s plenty to enjoy on Executive Chef Brad Farmerie’s casual, comfortable American food menu. (he’s formerly of The Public in NYC.) On a warm night with an icy-cool White Manhattan, a raw bar seafood tower (mini $22, medium $67, large $125) suited perfectly with a sampling of East and West Coast oysters, smoked mussels, Dungeness crab, and plump shrimp. Grilled chorizo sausage ($13.50) was lively, with txiki cheese, black bean chocolate puree, and padron peppers.

The three-story space has a big city energy, with much of the staff from NY, imparting a welcome cosmopolitan vibe atypical of the area. The bottom floor boasts a vintage oak bar and pressed-tin ceiling, which looks like it’s been there for 100 years, in keeping with the historicity of the building, freshly incarnated.

813 Main, Napa, 707-226-7821,

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Appetite: What not to miss at SF Cocktail Week


SF Cocktail Week is here once again, drawing out cocktail geeks, spirits aficionados, and those seeking a memorable event or a fine drink.

For those of you who attended last year’s San Francisco Cocktail Week, you know it was jam-packed with some downright magical events, celebrating our city’s rich cocktail heritage and talent that has influenced the cocktail renaissance globally. There’s another strong line-up this year, in keeping with the memorable highlights from last year and the year prior.

To name a few, the annual party at St. George’s WWII hangar and distillery is always one of the highlights of Cocktail Week. This year the theme is cops and robbers with bartenders serving drinks behind bars, squirt gun target practice, live music from funky-fun Hot Pocket, and food from Tacolicious, Breads of India and Five Ten Burger.

The second annual Legends Awards honors legends in the drink world, including a lifetime achievement award for Miles Karakasevic, 13th-generation master distiller at Charbay. Best of the West assembles top bartending talent from cities of the West Coast, and for the first time this year, food carts and cocktails gather at Spirited Food Trucks in the new SoMa StrEat Food Park, heated patio and all. Another new event this year? Jupiter Olympus’ California Altered State Fair, a raucous event of games, fried food, contests in a state fair theme with drinks like a Salt-Water Taffy Old Fashioned or a Manhattan Sno-Cone.

There are dinners, after parties, and nightly events… a little something for everyone in a city that has long known how to craft a fine cocktail. Tickets and schedule here.

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Fall wine, uncorked


WINE Recommended bottles, fall events in Sonoma, urban wine classes … here are a few wine tips for true autumn flight. Check out my online Appetite column on the Pixel Vision blog at this week for restaurants making some of Napa’s best cocktails, a family vineyards wine-tasting report, and more Wine Country dining reviews.



An in-house wine club with storage facilities and a wine school launched in April, SF Wine Center (757 Bryant, SF. 415-655-7300, hosts intimate classes, held in owners Brian and Hillary McGonigle’s inviting City Room. With kitchen, library, and comfy leather chairs, it feels more like a friend’s home than a classroom. This room is available for private parties, as is a wood-lined, speakeasy-like room tucked away above the wine storage area — it feels ready for a cigar, a glass of Pinot, and a round of cards and good friends.

Recently, a class led by James Beard award-winning writer and Burgundy expert Jordan Mackay was a walk through regions and wines of Burgundy in the best way possible: by tasting a wide range side-by-side. We discussed styles and regions as we sipped nine different wines — a steal considering class price (generally $60-75) vs. costs of wines poured. Tastes ranged from a meaty 2009 Dujac Fils & Pere Cambolle Musigny ($65 a bottle) boasting excellent acidity and earthiness, to a rare 1976 Domaine Leroy Romanee St. Vivant Grand Cru ($500), with sediment and funkiness (it’s a whole cluster wine, after all), and notes of black tea, mushroom, leather, smoke, moss, tart cherry. Fall classes start up September 25th and sell out quickly. Watch the website for the fall schedule.


Bluxome Street Winery (53 Bluxome, SF. 415-543-5353, wins cool points just for being an urban winery whose product is actually made right here in the city with grapes from various Sonoma plots. It’s already a wine-tasting respite, and some change is afoot with new winemaker Web Marquez, who is also one of three winemakers at Anthill Farms and one of two at C. Donatiello. His early days interning at the excellent Williams Selyem — and in New Zealand and France — give him a balanced perspective on Old and New World wine styles.

While we have to wait until next year’s bottling to see the results of his approach with Bluxome’s wines, in the meantime we can enjoy a tart 2011 Rose of Pinot Noir, or the acidic, balanced 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, or a Chardonnay and three Pinots (all bottles under $45). Taste in the candlelit space while watching winemaking through glass windows under a projected movie (shining on a brick wall) showcasing San Francisco in pre-1906 quake days when winemaking in the city was common — there were no less than 120 wineries and commercial cellars in SoMa alone. Here’s to Bluxome reviving our rich urban wine history.



A foodie’s dream event: Slow Food’s Fresh Food Picnic (Sun/15, 11am-6pm, $40–$125. Rancho Mark West, Santa Rosa, is a picnic and then some. Carlo Petrini, the founder of Slow Food himself, flies out from Italy for a rare appearance, while Alice Waters and Nikki Henderson (of Oakland’s People’s Grocery) join him as speakers for the event. Then there’s the chef line-up. A family-style picnic will be served by Christopher Kostow (Meadowood), Dennis Lee (Namu Gaji), Ryan Farr (4505 Meats), Christopher Kronner (formerly Bar Tartine, Slow Club), Thomas McNaughton (flour+water, Central Kitchen), Christopher Thompson (A16), and more There will be tastes from farmers, food artisans and winemakers, local bands, a petting zoo, guided hikes and tours of Rancho Mark West, the event’s farm setting. Proceeds benefit A Thousand Gardens in Africa, a Slow Food International project, and California-based Slow Food initiatives focused on food and farm education. As a zero waste event, bring your own plates, flatware, and napkins — provide glassware will be provided.


Jordan Winery (1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg. is a pioneer in Sonoma’s wine history, started by Tom and Sally Jordan in 1972. These Bordeaux wine lovers built a Bordelais inspired chateau on their 275-acre Alexander Valley vineyard in 1976, a gorgeous structure overseeing the winery’s soothing grounds (tastings by appointment only). With spectacular chateau apartments reserved for overnight guests, the 1100 acre grounds go beyond winery to full working ranch with cattle, chickens, gardens, olive oil groves, and fishing lake with Tiki bar and hammock. As from the beginning, Jordan stays refreshingly focused on only two varietals, a green apple-inflected Chardonnay ($29) and elegant Cabernet ($52 for a bold but balanced 2008 Cab). It’s a family business with son John as CFO, while Rob Davis has been Jordan’s head winemaker for 35 years, since the inaugural vintage in 1976.

Now is the time to shop for your holiday wine with them to earn a fabulous Jordan Winery harvest lunch. You must sign up for their email newsletter and purchase wines to earn the points which can be used towards winemaker tours, Christmas library tastings, and the coveted harvest lunches, which begin this week and run through mid-October. Harvest season is the most enchanting time in Wine Country, ideal for a family-style, weekday feast alongside winemaking staff and a tour of the grounds during crush season.



Where to shop for the below? K&L Wines, Jug Shop, Bi-Rite, Arlequin, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, SF Wine Trading Co., and D&M offer excellent wine selections in the city.


Au Bon Climat “Hildegard” White Table Wine, Santa Maria Valley

Au Bon Climat’s is one of the state’s great, small wineries, and Hildegard ($35) is one of my top California whites. A blend of 55 percent Pinot Gris, 40 percent Pinot Blanc, 5 percent Aligoté, it’s layered and complex, unfolding with apple, almond, violet.

Heitz Cellar Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc, St. Helena

Heitz Cellar is one of my longtime Napa favorites for a beautifully balanced, lively Sauvignon Blanc ($19.75), and splurge-worthy Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($110-200) — the far more affordable 2007 Napa Valley Cab ($45) is a worthy substitution. This family-run winery has been going strong since 1964 with Old World balance, one of Napa’s true gems.

Lucia Vineyards LUCY, Santa Lucia Highlands

Lucia Vineyards’ LUCY ($18) is a a beauty of a rosé boasting zippy acidity pairs well with a wide range of dishes — another Santa Lucia treasure.

Tatomer Riesling Vandenberg, Santa Barbara

2008 Tatomer Riesling Vandenberg ($24.99), named for the neighboring air force base, is easily one of the best wines in the Santa Barbara region. Maintaining an Old World ethos, dry, crisp, it still boasts a New World uniqueness. Incredibly balanced, pear and apple skins shine with minerality that’s gorgeous with food.

Amapola Creek’s 2009 Cuvee Alis, Sonoma Valley

Glen Ellen’s Amapola Creek, from Richard Arrowood (who founded Arrowood Winery), is a small, boutique winery. Cuvee Alis ($48) is named after Richard’s wife, a hand-harvested, unfined and unfiltered blend of 55 percent Syrah, 45 percent Grenache, organically grown on a slope of the Mayacamas Mountains on the Arrowood’s 100-acre ranch. The wine gives of a nose of cherry pie, gentle pepper, smoke, tasting of dark berries, spicy meat, with silky tannins and acidic balance.


Viña Tondonia Rosé Gran Reserva Rosado, Rioja, Spain One of the best rosés I’ve ever had, 2000 Viña Tondonia Rosé Gran Reserva ($30) is not for novices. At 12 years of age, this blend of 60 percent Garnacha, 30 percent Tempranillo, 10 percent Viura exhibits a velvety, rosy hue, unfolding with damp, funky, mushroom notes dancing alongside bright blood orange, berries, hazelnuts, rhubarb. It’s so unusual, it pairs beautifully with spicy foods from a range of cuisines. Thanks to sommelier Ted Glennon of Restaurant 1833 in Monterey for introducing me to this stunner, available through K&L Wines. Every time I have it, it’s a pleasure.

Vidal-Fleury Saint Joseph & Muscat, Rhone Valley, France

Vidal-Fleury is produced by winemaker and managing director Guy Sarton du Jonchay, who understands the balance between New and Old World having made wine in France, Chile, Argentina and Australia. “Old world is terroir… New World is winemakers”, he says, as he pursues a balance of both. Stand-outs are a 2007 Vidal-Fleury Saint Joseph Syrah ($28.99), full, bright, earthy, with dark berry, black tea, pepper, and meaty notes (he only releases best vintages so there will not be a 2008 — 2009 releases next); and 2009 Vidal-Fleury Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise ($18.99), tasting of elderflower, dried apricot, lychee, nuts, with a balanced sweetness and minerality.


Beer for dinner


BEER + WINE Craft beers are in their heyday, alongside craft everything else — it only makes sense that they would begin to take prominence on local menus next to intricately prepared and finely sourced dishes. San Francisco beer luminary Dave McLean has been brewing Magnolia beers, among my favorites anywhere, at his Upper Haight brewpub for nearly 15 years, now expanding to a new Dogpatch location. Like Magnolia, modern classic Monk’s Kettle in the Mission has focused since its 2007 opening on serving food to match its beer offerings, and new Maven in Lower Haight is innovative in its extensive beer-food pairings menu. (And we haven’t forgotten more casual beer-and-sausage options like Gestalt and Toronado-Rosamunde.) Now, two new restaurants arrive where food is equally important to beverage, with exciting beer slants.



Opened in May with great wine world buzz, St. Vincent is owned by sommelier David Lynch, known for his impeccable wine list at Quince. Accordingly, the wine list at St. Vincent (named not for the popular indie musician but for a third-century Spanish deacon known as the patron saint of winemakers) is global and excellent, with many bottles in the $30–$50 range, plus affordable by-the-glass pours like a crisp, floral 2011 Domaine de Guillemarine Picpoul de Pinet.

Wisely, Lynch brought on beer director (and certified cicerone) Sayre Piotrkowski, whose brings his beer knowledge and keen eye for the unusual from his former position at Monk’s Kettle. Piotrkowski has made spot-on drink recommendations on every visit, and the friendly staff are well-versed on the menu. I’ve tasted many of the eight rotating beers on draft, like those from Oakland’s Linden Street and Dying Vines breweries, or delightful beers from tiny Pasadena micro-brewery Craftsman Brewing Co., including a Triple White Sage Belgian-Style Tripel or a 1903 Lager, pre-Prohibition style. Splurge for a $22 bottle of fascinating Birrificio del Ducato’s Verdi Russian Imperial Stout, spicy with hot chile from Parma, Italy. ($11 if you can find it at liquor store extraordinaire Healthy Spirits, btw.)

New Jersey native Chef Bill Niles (most recently of Bar Tartine) exhibits a strong dose of New Southern in his California cooking. Although dishes like she-crab soup ($14), utilizing sea urchin, sugar snap peas and Carolina gold rice in a corn-lobster chowder, or rabbit burgoo ($24), a mélange of white turnips, baby green okra, white corn grits, and rabbit loin sausage with unusual lamb’s quarter herb, are nothing like the she-crab soups I’ve loved in South Carolina or the burgoo stews I’ve dined on in Kentucky, Niles has reinterpreted the regional dishes with care — and a distinctly West Coast ethos.

Beet-horseradish or curry pickled eggs ($3 each) are a predictably a good time, while a hand-rolled pretzel with mustard and butter ($5) is a bit small and forlorn. I searched for the listed clothbound cheddar in the baked Vidalia onion soup ($9), where even onions didn’t impart the hoped-for flavor intensity. Rarely-seen, ultra-salty Welsh laverbread ($18) is a hunk of Tartine wheat bread lathered in Pacific sea laver (seaweed), Manila clams, and hen of the woods mushrooms, ideal with beer. Entrees like roasted duck leg ($22), surrounded by buttered rye berries, griddled stonefruit, celery, and pickled mustard are heartier, but, unexpectedly, I preferred a vegetarian entree: an herb-laden spring succotash ($18) of butter beans, white corn, and dandelion, perfected with padron peppers.

Though St. Vincent’s food voice feels like it’s still finding itself, I appreciate that it is not the same iteration of gastropub food we’ve seen a thousand times over.

1270 Valencia, SF. 415-285-1200,



Abbot’s Cellar opened in July and is Monk’s Kettle sister restaurant. The Lundberg Design (Moss Room, Quince, Slanted Door) space immediately impresses with 24-foot ceilings illuminated by skylights, and a long, 3000-square-foot dining room marked by reclaimed woods for a rustic, urban barn feel. A two-story stone cellar houses beer at proper temperatures, listed in a book that pulls out from the side of each table.

The volume lists more than 120 rotating beers — curated by co-owner and cellarmaster Christian Albertson with co-beer director Mike Reis — grouped by style (sours, saisons, etc.), with two pages dedicated to drafts. There’s a wall of glassware suited to every type of beer served, whether Jolly Pumpkin’s Madrugada Obscura Sour Stout from Dexter, MI, or Italian 2004 Xyauyu Etichetta Rame. A pricey ($14.50 for a six-ounce pour) Belgian Brouwerij De Landtsheer Malheur Brut is a dry, elegant Champagne-style beer served on the stem, one of ten offerings in a by-the-glass selection from large beer bottles rarely available by the pour.

As a temple dedicated to beer, the Cellar succeeds immediately. The bar and chef’s counter are ideal perches from which to sip, accompanied by hand-pump cask engines (sample Firestone Walker’s Unfiltered Double Barrel Ale from these classic pumps), and a reading shelf lined with Dulye’s collection of cookbooks.

Chef, co-owner, and experienced craft beer restaurateur Adam Dulye explores flavors optimal to brews. Dishes — a la carte options or tasting menus: three course $45, $60 with pairing; 5 course $65, $90 with pairing — are well-crafted and artful. As at St. Vincent, some dishes stand well above others, although there’s generally promising possibility. A coon-striped shrimp salad ($11) makes a dramatic presentation but, similar to crawfish, you’ll struggle to pull a tiny bite of meat from the shrimp. Cumin-roasted heirloom carrots ($11), elegantly displayed with quinoa, oyster mushrooms and sprouts, lack distinctive flavor.

Alternately, braised rabbit on tender handkerchief pasta ($23), dotted with English peas and hen of the woods mushrooms, is heartwarming, particularly with beer. “Wow factor” is in play with a unique beef bone marrow ($12) dish. The bone is topped with crispy house pastrami, alongside spicy greens, more pastrami, pickled mustard seeds, and rye croutons — one of the more exciting of countless bone marrow dishes I’ve had. While roast pheasant ($24) with lacinato kale and non-existent (but listed) cauliflower puree was too dry, a generous pork chop ($25) is insanely juicy and satisfying over chewy caraway spaetzle, topped with grilled peaches. A dessert of warm, roasted parsnip cake ($9), co-mingling with whipped cream cheese and a ginger molasses cookie, is a homey highlight, lovely with the coffee-almond malt of Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stout.

742 Valencia, SF. 415-626-8700,



Ever since savoring a fantastic New England cider pairing with each course of a fall dinner at NYC’s Gramercy Tavern years ago, I’ve wondered when we might witness the arrival of urban cider bars. SF’s new Upcider and Bushwhacker in Portland are it thus far.

Two aspects of Upcider jump out immediately: Ozgun (Ozzie) Gundogdu and his sister’s warm welcome — Ozzie opened the bar with former roommate and co-worker Omer Cengiz — and a second story upstairs space with floor to ceiling windows overlooking Polk Street. One can sit at the windows, gazing below at a busy street scene, enveloped by low-ceilings and a cozy glow, transported to a European bar or maybe even one in Turkey, Ozzie and Omer’s homeland.

The bar, lined with rustic, reclaimed wood, houses a range of bottled ciders — 19 producers, 40 varieties of cider (and growing) at $5–$26 a bottle, the most expensive being a 750ml of Etienne Dupont Brut De Normandie from Victot-Pontfol, France. You’ll find big brands like Magners or ones we’ve seen often in SF like Fox Barrel, Crispin, and Two Rivers. But you’ll also discover three ciders from Wandering Aengus Ciderworks in Salem, OR, or J.K. Scrumpy Organic, a sweeter cider from Flushing, MI. On the dry side (there’s also a medium-dry option), I liked Hogan’s Cider from Worcestershire, England. A new discovery was Julian Hard Cider from Julian, CA, a small Gold Rush town inland from Escondido and San Diego.

Its tart, dry Cherry Bomb ($11 for 22 oz. bottle) is a fascinating cider with a funky finish. There are Basque ciders, mead, wines, and beers, and bar food from chef Tony Carracci (Cha Cha Cha). For the time being there are no ciders on tap, but that is due to the intensive plumbing rebuild necessary to meet city requirements. Hopefully, there will be a way to provide draft ciders in the future.

Whiling away summer evenings in Upcider feels like traveling. I noticed the neighborhood’s Middle Eastern community gathering below for friendly banter, a refreshing alternative side of a street lined with raucous partiers and bar-hoppers.

1160 Polk, SF. 415-931-1797,

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Tasty reads


LIT A harvest of cookbooks, some set for release in the fall, some ready for your shelf, cupboard, or bar hot off the press.


By James Freeman, Caitlin Freeman, and Tara Duggan

Ten Speed Press

240 pp, paper $24.95

Since its first kiosk opened in January 2005, Blue Bottle has been my first choice in coffee, from ethos (served immediately, individually brewed, beans sold fresh after roasting) to taste. Musician James Freeman dove into coffee after being laid off from a corporate job post-9/11: the inspiring story of how he began is detailed in this book. Written with his wife, Caitlin, and James Beard-nominated food writer Tara Duggan, with photography by Clay McLachlan, Craft contains sections on global growing regions, roasting, cupping, pour-over, siphon, espresso machines, and multiple techniques. Caitlin, resident Blue Bottle pastry chef and former owner of Miette, contributes more than 75 pages of recipes — not so much utilizing coffee itself, but including breakfast recipes to go with morning coffee from Blue Bottle cafés, desserts and treats for dunking, and recipes from chef friends like Stuart Brioza of State Bird Provisions’ tuna melt with piquillo peppers. Although Blue Bottle has now gone nationwide with New York locations, these pages allow one to wax nostalgic over this Bay Area success story bringing us all better coffee. To be released October 9.


By James Teitelbaum

Santa Monica Press

408 pp, paper $19.99

Chicago resident James Teitelbaum wrote the kind of book I would happily pen, the first I’ve seen to detail the world’s best craft cocktail bars. Destination Cocktails ( is a cocktail aficionado’s trusty guide to destinations both obvious (NYC and SF) and overlooked (Reno and Cleveland). As for the international scene, the book runs the gamut from Wellington to Edinburgh. While there are a few missing great drinks and bartenders — and info can change so quickly, even since Destination‘s September 1 release date — Teitelbaum’s book offers a comprehensive collection that would set any budding or well-traveled cocktailian on the right path. From London (Worship St. Whistling Shop, 69 Colebrooke Row) to Denver (Williams & Graham), many of my global tops are highlighted, alongside cities and bars I’ve been hankering visit (ah, Tokyo!)


By Shelley Lindgren and Matthew Accarrino with Kate Leahy

Ten Speed Press

304 pp, hardcover $35

A beautiful, visual tribute to Italy, local restaurant SPQR releases a book by its wine director, Shelley Lindgren (also of A16), and executive chef Matthew Accarrino with Kate Leahy. The book features eight regions of Italy, each influencing creative recipes from SPQR’s kitchen and from which Lindgren chooses wines. Her essays explore lesser-known producers and varietals succinctly but with depth. Accarrino’s artful skill with Italian cuisine may not appear easy for most of us, but there are tips and photo breakdowns of recipes, small animal butchery, and pasta-making. Photos by Sara Remington inspire with a romantic eye tempered by realism. To be released October 16.


By Tama Matsuoka Wong with Eddy Leroux

Clarkson Potter

224 pp, hardcover $25

At a recent intimate gathering at Coi, I was privileged to spend time with Tama Matsuoka Wong, forager for Daniel restaurant in NYC (Daniel Boulud wrote this book’s forward), sampling bites made with ingredients she’d foraged with Coi staff while visiting the Bay Area. We celebrated Foraged Flavor, released earlier this summer. I learned of her career change from lawyer to forager in New Jersey (my former stomping grounds), where her three daughters are involved in her foraging and cooking lifestyle. The book’s clean, classic layout includes botany-style plant diagrams, seasonal groupings, and approachable gourmet recipes like dandelion leaves with poached eggs and bacon. There are foraging and growth tips and info on key characteristics of each wild plant.


By Elizabeth Falkner

Ten Speed Press

224 pp, hardcover $29.99

Longtime local favorite and Top Chef Master star Elizabeth Falkner recently moved to NYC and released her second book August 28. As a James Beard-nominated pastry chef, her first book, Demolition Desserts, focused on the sweet side, while new Cooking Off the Clock is a volume of everyday, accessible recipe favorites. There are sections on condiments (kimchee, tahini sauce), flavorful salads, playful snacks (three types of hot wings: Moroccan, Tabasco-honey, black bean-sesame-ginger), a few of her beloved desserts (two versions of cherry pie), and pizzas, including her amazing pastrami version — like a Reuben pie, with Russian dressing, shredded cabbage, and thinly-sliced pastrami — which I never forgot from her restaurant Orson.


By Sherri Dobay

Flying Archer Press

231 pp, paper $14.99

Sherri Dobay feels like a kindred spirit… although young, her romantic, sensual verbiage communicates that “old soul,” the kind of view with which I’ve seen the world since girlhood. Food, wine, art, nature, horses (she’s a rider) are her subject, and she is as inspiring as she is comforting. More memoir than cookbook — and published in a format that’s hard to open while working in the kitchen — the book’s draw is its tone, not its recipes. Sections are grouped around themes of decadence (Divine Decadence, Decadent Simplicity, Decadence of the Seasons, Decadence of Letting Go), and wine recommendations are explored from a right-brain perspective rather than thorough analytical tasting notes. Reading bits of the book at a time is like a sip of crisp, refreshing wine.

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APPETITE A fledgling new restaurant is a work in progress, evolving. Often I’ll visit restaurants in their opening week, then return three to four weeks later, noticing a marked improvement in rhythm and flow, if not a dramatic change in food (often first food impressions prove to be consistent).

Returning a few months into a restaurant’s life, if things are heading the right direction, a distinct voice emerges, reflected in service and menus. Other times, one still searches for a point of view, a compelling enough reason to return. Opening in May with big vision and standouts on the plate, Dixie in the Presidio struggles to find cohesion after three months of visits.

The Southern intention of chef Joseph Humphrey (a Florida native) is just the sort of thing I get excited about: California-fresh with a New Southern ethos, not dissimilar to some of the Southern-influenced mashups I find at the likes of Maverick, the new St. Vincent, or in the best food cities of the South. Humphrey cooked at Michelin-starred Meadowood and Murray Circle, and in New Orleans with none other than Dickie Brennan & Co. South truly meets West in Dixie.

In the former Pres a Vi, Dixie hints at Southern plantation feel on the roomy veranda — ideal for the just-launched brunch — clearly the best area in the roomy restaurant. Though dreamily set in the Presidio, surrounded by trees, the Palace of Fine Arts standing majestically across the lawn, the inside remodel hasn’t quite covered up the space’s corporate feel. Rich wood grains and musical instrument art installations warm slightly, but neutral tones and a subdued air communicate “bland.”

Nearly condescending, cold service on my first visit had me actually dreading a return. Dread should never be on the menu, especially at this price. In another visit, I dined in the back space where at 7:30pm on a Saturday night more than half the tables were filled with thankfully well-behaved children. Here service improved: sweet if unsure.

Humphrey’s skill shines in chicken-fried quail on garlic waffles ($15), a twist on my soul food favorite, with cabbage and kale slaw and a subtle kick from Thai chilies in the syrup. Another excellent dish is chicken and dumplings ($24). “Dumplings” are melting-soft ricotta gnudi surrounding tender cuts of chicken draped with baby carrots. This reinterpretation does what it should: it makes you rethink, but still thoroughly enjoy, a classic.

Red miso black cod ($23), silky in apple and bourbon-tinged foam, was so good it was the one dish I reordered. Accompanied by lobster mushrooms, only a mound of farro was flavorless and forlorn. I couldn’t help but long for 4505 Meats and Ryan Farr’s unparalleled, dissolve-in-your-mouth chicharrones when chomping on the harder, overly-salty version ($6) with nori salt here. Abalone and pickled jalapeno peek out of creamy corn soup ($14), while horseradish deviled eggs ($7) are smartly topped with fried chicken liver. Despite the promise of shaved tasso ham (I adore tasso), a Dixie chopped salad ($12) is almost banal, the ham more like two big slices of deli meat draped across an otherwise unadorned salad (merely lettuce in creamy shallot dressing with a smattering of radishes), rather than sliced up and in the mix.

Wine or a pour of whiskey were the more gratifying drink choices. On the cocktail front, a pricey Terroir Fizz ($14) utilizes amazing, local St. George Terroir gin with lemon, lime, Cointreau, lemon verbena, and egg white for froth. Though I commend the move away from sweet, it was so sour (and I’ve been to known suck on lemons, that’s how much I crave sour), balance was lost in what could have been a beautiful aperitif — a bigger blow when this town is packed with excellent cocktails in the $8–$12 range. Dixie Triple S ($12) fared better in balance of sweet-smoky-spicy (the triple “S”) with Espolon silver tequila, lime, watermelon-jalapeno puree, and a hickory-smoked salt rim. 2 Bens is a playful tribute to “what dad and granddad drank” — a pint of Guinness and shot of Jack Daniels — but I cannot fathom paying $16 for a pour of such basic brands.

Dixie’s musical, New Southern vision is among my dream restaurant concepts but in actuality feels incongruent and out-of-sync despite supreme moments of taste. After the bill arrives at well over $100 for two, walking out into misty Presidio air before a green expanse leading to the Bay, our first thought is where to go next to fill up.


One Letterman Dr., SF

(415) 829-3363


Jellyfish, oxtail, and more from the Street Food Festival


The annual Street Food Festival enlivens blocks of the Mission every year with many of our great food trucks, booths manned by the kitchen staff of our favorite SF restaurants, and a few visiting guests — which at this year’s fest on August 18 included my favorite Portland food cart Eurotrash, and the adorable Linda Green of Ms Linda’s Catering from New Orleans. The most significant addition to the Street Food lineup this year wasn’t a cart at all,  but rather an entire event — the Friday night before the main festival, the Night Market took over the Alemany Farmers Market. In the whipping winds of South San Francisco we sampled unforgettable bites that were not available at the Street Food Fest. The festive, Chinese lantern-laced outdoor space made the Night Market a stand-out. I hope it becomes a yearly feature.

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Full captions: 
1. The star of the Night Market was The Boss Hog, the debut of a new project from the Bone & Gristle Boys (SF’s Ryan Farr  of 4505 Meats and Rhode Island’s Matt Jennings of Farmstead). 
 2. One of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had, The Boss Hog is slow-roasted pork, cornmeal-fried pork cutlet, Vermont cheddar, smoked pickles, red onion, greens, jalapeno ranch dressing, Farr’s chicharrones
3. One of my favorite Portland food carts Eurotrash showed off fresh grilled prawns loaded in a baguette with spicy curry slaw
4. At the Night Market, Fifth Floor chef David Bazirgan’s delicious fava bean falafel wrap 
5. Ken Ken Ramen served jellyfish at Friday’s Night Market
6. Vada Pav (spicy potato puff sandwich) from Juhu Beach Club
7. Friday’s festive Night Market — a tradition I hope continues each year
8. State Bird Stuart – State Bird Provisions’ Chef Stuart Brioza assembles burrata and fried garlic bread
9. The top taste of Saturday’s festival was State Bird Provisions’ (Bon Appetit’s 2012 # 1 New US Restaurant) hand-pulled burrata atop addictive fried garlic bread
10. A Korean favorite from the Inner Richmond, To Hyang’s braised oxtail with daikons, carrots, dates, hard-boiled egg


Mission sandwiched


APPETITE Two unusual, new Mission sandwich options: one of the city’s best restaurants launches lunch with Scandinavian influence (part of the Nordic culinary wave finally reaching the West Coast that includes new restaurant Pläj) , and a low-key panini shop opens, refreshingly real with Middle Eastern touches.


Nick Balla’s forward-thinking, Eastern European menu at Bar Tartine offers some of the most exciting food in the city right now, so new daytime hours (Wed-Sun, 10:30am-2:30pm) are a gain. Smørrebrød is Danish for “bread and butter”: these open-faced sandwiches (one for $6; three for $15) lead the way on the new menu, though heartier sandwiches are on offer, too, such as beef tongue ($12) generously laden with sauerkraut, onion, and that Hungarian staple, paprika. Or on the vegetarian side, slab bread filled with lentil croquettes, yogurt, cucumber, padron peppers.

On rustic rye bread, smørrebrød toppings evolve. I find two enough, three for those with a bigger appetite. My favorite is bacon, egg, avocado, dill and roasted tomato in a blue cheese sauce blessedly garlic-heavy. Creamy chicken liver pate is a gourmand’s option, although such a generous scoop of pate overwhelms accompanying apricot jam. Another toast is topped with smoked eggplant, white beans, olive, roasted tomato, while a sweeter side is expressed in hazelnut butter and rhubarb compote.

They’re calling it a sandwich counter and you can certainly take out, but Bar Tartine’s rustic tables and expanded space welcome: they’re ideal for lingering with Four Barrel coffee and that divine Hungarian fried bread, langos ($9), you’ve heard me talk about often — it’s on the lunch menu. Now it’s amped up with toppings like lamb, horseradish cream, summer squash, and tomato, or blackberries, peaches, and cream. Langos with fried egg, hollandaise and bacon is a breakfast dish of my dreams.

In the spirit of meggyleves, Balla’s Hungarian sour cherry soup that wowed me last summer, there’s chilled apricot soup ($9) — not as sweet as suspected — smoked almonds, and sour cream adding texture to the savory-fruity broth. Jars of pickled treats line the walls, available in the menu’s snacks section (pickled curried green beans!), refreshing contrasted with a kefir-ginger-strawberry shake ($5).

561 Valencia, SF. 415-487-1600,


With a friendly Middle Eastern welcome, the guys at the new Hot Press welcome customers into their humble Mission shop for panini, Caffe Trieste coffee, and Three Twins ice cream by the scoop, waffle cone, or sundae. While American sandwiches like pastrami-loaded Staten Island ($7.75) with Emmentaler cheese, house Dijonaise, cabbage slaw, and sliced pickles are delicious, the Lebanese touches and vegetarian offerings that skew unusual. Dream Cream ($6.50) is soft-yet-crusty ciabatta bread slathered in light cream cheese, sauteed peppers, caramelized walnuts, and cucumbers, za’atar spices perking up the mild, comforting panini. On a French baguette, another vegetarian sandwich with Middle Eastern leanings is Ayia Napa ($6.99), likewise comforting with melted halloumi (a traditional Cypriot cheese from the island of Cyprus), mint leaves, tomatoes and a douse of olive oil. Pollo de la Mission ($7.75) is a neighborhood tribute of free range chicken on ciabatta in creamy chipotle sauce, pressed with peppers, grilled onions, Colby Jack cheese, and corn.

Sides ($2.25 half pint; $4.25 pint) range from coleslaw to a salad of spinach leaves, goat cheese and strawberries, while three bean salad — cannellini, kidney and garbanzo beans tossed with onion, parsley, lemon, olive oil — comes in mini-tasting cups with each sandwich. Local ingredients go beyond ice cream and coffee to sandwich bread from Bordenave’s in San Rafael, with neighborhood goodwill in the form of a kids menu and dessert sandwiches like Peanut Butter & Better ($4.99): creamy or crunchy PB, sliced bananas, lavender honey, or grape jelly.

The space is nondescript in a refreshing way, with sidewalk seating and Middle Eastern music videos playing on a flat screen. Thankfully, not every new opening in the Mission is a hipster, trendy affair.

2966 Mission, SF. (415) 814-3814,

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Appetite: Outside Lands, as seen by a food writer


This year’s Outside Lands, the three-day extravaganza of some of the top musical acts in the world and quality food and drink (this is SF, after all) in the beauty of Golden Gate Park, felt more packed than ever. But despite throngs descending on SF from all over the country that turning Golden Gate Park into a sea of trash — thanks clean-up crews! — Outside Lands magic happened each day.

For example on Sunday, when performer Jack White popped up for an impromptu set, surprising fans who happened to be traversing the eucalyptus groves near Choco Lands. It was magic eating local foods in a festival setting, like dreamy Italian Del Popolo (although hour-plus lines and daily sell-outs were a drag) or everything from Ryan Farr’s two 4505 Meats stands sustaining us on those long walks between stages with the perfect “damn good cheeseburger” and “yum yum” fried chicken sandwich. You could feel the magic in the new-this-year Beer Lands, where one could sip craft beers while taking in the Foo Fighters, Regina Spektor, or Beck (Although the training given to those pouring beers was far from magic. One pourer for The Bruery on Saturday told me confidently that this incredible brewery from the O.C. was from San Diego.)

Magic occurred when Metallica, flames, lasers, and all, delivered the tightest, hardest-rocking set of the weekend. Not long after the noon hour, fun. swept up the entire Polo Field in their rousing anthems. Magic reigned at Stevie Wonder’s set on Sunday night. His voice sounded as tight and beautiful as ever, even at age 62. His joy and wisdom radiated from the moment he took the stage, streaming out to a field full of thousands basking in waves of pink, blue, and green lights, foggy Pacific Ocean air, and the voice of a legend.

Full captions: 

1.  Ryan Farr’s ridiculously good Chicken “yum yum” sandwich was one of the festival’s best eats. Watch for it at Ferry Plaza Farmers Market

2. 4505 Meats’ chicharrones bars were like rice krispie treats made with Ryan Farr’s unparalleled chicharrones, puffed rice, marshmallow, and Apple Jacks or Cocoa Puffs

3. Misty, dreamy lighting changes colors, illuminating Golden Gate Park trees at night

4. The hilarious, improvisational Reggie Watts rocked comedy and music Friday afternoon (and here, in the media tent following his set)

5. The Wine Lands tent impressed once again with 49 wineries. 2012 highlights included Villa Creek, Robert Sinskey, Qupe, Kermit Lynch, Palmina, The Scholium Project, and Wind Gap 

6. Beck keeps the crowd happy at the Land’s End stage on Friday

7. The new-this-year Beer Lands hosted 16 California breweries selected by brewmaster Dave McLean of Magnolia Pub. Highlights included the Bruery’s brilliantly bitter Humulus APA and Sierra Nevada’s Outside Lands saison 

8. Under faux Victorian facades, chef John Fink of The Whole Beast grilled eight to 10 whole lambs per day at Lamb Lands, an excellent 2012 addition to Outside Land’s food selection

9. Michael Mina’s RN74 and Bourbon Steak served whole roasted lamb gyros, lamb poutine, sweet corn in lamb sausage crumbs at Lamb Lands

10. Thousands swarm the Polo Fields

11. Saturday in the media tent, Magnolia and Alembic brewer Dave McLean (center) talks Beer Lands and The Whole Beast’s John Fink dishes on lamb

12. Choco Lands was an enchanted, Tim Burton-esque fantasy in the eucalyptus groves, with Day of the Dead accents and an array of chocolate carts and treats

13. Outside Lands ends with best set of all: Stevie Wonder exudes joy and life to thousands in the Polo Field, his voice in top form

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APPETITE Despite its Future Bars group provenance, Tradition is not Bourbon and Branch part two. Although I continue to bring visitors and locals who’ve never been to the still-magical, speakeasy-like B and B, Tradition is a more relaxed entrant in the Future line-up, which also includes Wilson and Wilson, Rickhouse, Swig, and Local Edition.

I’ve been to Tradition multiple times since its June opening. Part of me misses the divey fun (and cheesy movie nights — Top Gun! Tony Scott, RIP) of the former Mr. Lew’s Win-Win Bar and Grand Sazerac Emporium. The location is unrecognizable from those days. Yet I’m a fan of the dramatically altered, high-ceilinged space with numerous areas to enjoy a drink: small upstairs bar overlooking the action (dedicated to house blends and barrel-aged spirits), giant, rectangular center bar where you can sit or stand, in a cozy back nook reminiscent of an English pub, or in one of eight “snugs,” which are essentially booths (reserve ahead). Each booth varies in size, seating two to eight, themed along with a visually striking artistic menu: New Orleans, Prohibition, Tiki, American dive bar, English, Irish, Scottish, and Grand Hotel. Themes are established with vintage ads, signs, and barware in each booth.

Impressively, owner Brian Sheehy and beverage director Ian Scalzo created an extensive house-blended and barrel-aged spirits program. They are storing and experimenting with countless barrels, grouped by spirits from gin to whiskey. Options imaginatively run the gamut, while menu tasting notes appeal to spirits geeks or help narrow down options served neat or on the rocks. One could sip Four Roses bourbon finished in Pinot Noir wine casks or Four Roses Single Barrel in apple brandy casks. Russell’s Rye in a Green Chartreuse cask thoroughly intrigued me though I didn’t get as much herbal emphasis as I was hoping for from the Chartreuse.

My beloved Redbreast 12-year Irish Whiskey (cask strength) is poured from a barrel washed with Guinness. Flor de Cana rum is finished in a sweet vermouth barrel, an “Autumn Blend” of bourbon and apple brandy in an Arabica coffee cask, Auchentoshan 12-year Scotch in a puer tea cask — combinations are fascinating. I have not seen the likes of this in any city… yet. There are likely to be many imitators forthcoming.

Each themed cocktail menu also includes a couple beers in keeping with categories from English to Irish, all of it generally unfussy. With so many cocktails and barrel-aged spirits, some fare better than others. Pitchers and volcano bowls are ideal for groups, although those craving more intricate sips might steer clear, as these either get watered down quickly or aren’t as nuanced as individual drinks.

After sampling more than 30 drinks in my visits, my barrel favorite is Espolon Reposado tequila finished in an arabica coffee cask. Coffee and tequila impart a chocolate-orange spirit with notes of cedar, slate, citrus — a fascinating tipple. On the cocktail side, I’m most smitten with Kona Kope ($9) in the exotic-Tiki category. Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva and barrel-aged spiced rums intermingle with coffee syrup, a touch of coconut cream, and barrel-aged Angostura for a lively bit of elegance, bracing with coffee and whispers of the tropics.

Multiple Sazerac variations on the New Orleans or Speakeasy menus haven’t quite gripped me. I prefer the chicory coffee sour from the former (do you see a coffee theme developing?) or a classic Hanky Panky from the latter. On the Scottish menu, Hebrides Flip ($9) is a savory finish for those who like flips (i.e. whole egg): Black Bottle scotch, Dry Sack sherry, gomme syrup, whole egg, and a little Cynar for bitter roundness.

At Bourbon and Branch, patrons of the otherwise enchanting Library Bar in the back are limited to an abbreviated cocktail list (a downside, in my book), compared to a full menu in the front room. Similarly, walk-ins to the left side of the bar at Tradition are also offered a limited list, while those seated at the right or in snugs get the full book of options. It’s therefore a good idea to make reservations — although I haven’t had trouble securing a seat on weeknights without one.

Tradition adds to the excellent little cocktail district developing near Union Square, which includes Jasper’s Corner Tap, Bourbon and Branch, Wilson and Wilson, and Rye), and provides a convenient Tenderloin meet-up spot with a little something for everyone, from cocktail geek to British pub fan. despite many gems, it doesn’t serve the most exquisite cocktails in town — but its unique barrel program and relaxed vibe certainly make it a downtown destination.


441 Jones, SF.

(415) 474-2284

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