Forbidden Island Field Trip

One of the drinks included in “Food & Wine Cocktails 2008″ is Martin Cate’s version of the classic Trader Vic drink the Fog Cutter

Forbidden Island

Taking the opportunity of a friend’s band (The awesome Project Pimento!) playing at Forbidden Island, I stopped by to try the drink in question.

Fog Cutter

Le Fog Cutter. Tasty! I’d not tried one before. It was fruitier than I expected, with a good amount of the drink’s character coming from the Orgeat. I don’t have the book handy, but it has always struck me as an unlikely combination of ingredients, especially for a Tiki Drink. Most recipes include: Brandy, Gin, Rum, Sherry, Orgeat Syrup, and Orange Juice. Sometimes lemon. Somehow it all works!

Martin & I*

I am such a bartender stalker! Anyway, Martin went on to explain how interesting it is to track the sweetness and different character of the Fog Cutter through the seasons. They’re on late season Navel oranges right now, giving the drink a sweeter character. He said pretty soon they’d be switching to Valencias, which would be quite tart in the early part of the season and then mellow as the summer went on.

FGCUTTR*

Martin even brought in his old FGCUTTR license plate for photographic documentation.

*Humuhumu took these pictures.

Beretta

I was lucky to be invited to the opening party last night for San Francisco’s newest cocktail and food establishment, Beretta.

While I am still puzzling over the connection between Pizza and Cocktails, there is no questioning the mightiness of the cocktail list Thad Vogler has created or impressive array of staff he has assembled to make those cocktails.

Starting with Mr. Vogler, whose resume includes such stellar establishments as The Slanted Door, Presidio Social Club, and Jardiniere, the list of talent includes Todd Smith, (Bourbon and Branch,) Eric Johnson, (Bourbon and Branch, Eastside West,) and Ryan Fitgerald, (Tres Agaves).

The cocktails are based on a fun assortment of mostly New World spirits. Rum, Pisco, Tequila, and Rye Whiskey all make appearances. I was especially taken with the Dolores Park Swizzle, Agricole Mule, Airmail, and Agave Sour.

I’m not sure if the configuration of the restaurant they had for the party was the same as they will have for formal service, but it seems like about 2/3 of the space will be taken up by shared seating, a la NOPA, with only a few tables for proper seating in the back. Definitely a casual, cocktail friendly vibe.

As you may know, I live in Bernal Heights, which is mostly a desert as far as decent cocktails go. It is possible you may get lucky and have a half way decent cocktail at Wild Side West, Stray Bar, Knockout, or Argus, but really the closest place where you can be assured a truly great cocktail is range. It is quite exciting that Beretta is now here, a couple blocks closer than range. I can only hope that the Southwards Progress continues, and one day I will have a tasty cocktail in Bernal Heights that I, or one of my neighbor cocktail enthusiasts, didn’t make. Until then, I am looking forward to getting back to Beretta to try out that mysterious pizza and cocktail combo.

PDX Express

A quick trip to Portland, Oregon, this last weekend.

I’d read about Bailey’s Taproom on some Portland forum or another. It recently opened across the street from the restaurant we were dining at later in the evening, Saucebox. A nice selection of what I would call “Extreme” beers. Beers from Stone, Russian River, Deschutes, Amnesia, etc. Almost every beer on the menu over 6% alcohol. We tried a couple of very nice examples of the style. If you’re in the mood for this sort of thing, Bailey’s is the place to go.

Saucebox was all right. A West Coast take on kind of Asian/tiki food and cocktails. A little mirror-ey, clubby for me.

For breakfast the next day we went to Mother’s, a Portland institution. I’d heard Portland was a great breakfast town, and Mother’s didn’t let us down.

Every foodie I talked to recommended we go to Park Kitchen, and they were right. Unfortunately, nearly the whole restaurant was booked for a wedding party. But, we got there early enough to get one of the first come first serve tables on the sidewalk. Fantastic, friendly service and fantastic food. I’ve been kind of down on fancy dining lately, and Park Kitchen went a long way to restoring my faith in the institution.

I’d been told by drinky friends that the one bar I needed to check out was the Teardrop Lounge. Handily, it was within staggering distance of Park Kitchen, so we stopped in for drinks after dinner.

Opened a couple months ago by relocated San Franciscans Daniel Shoemaker and Ted Charak, it is a pretty fantastic venue. After working in “volume” bars in San Francisco, Daniel and Ted had a dream of opening a true cocktailian bar. Fresh ingredients, quality spirits, homemade mixers and bitters. Unfortunately, the economics of San Francisco didn’t work out, so they looked to Portland. After a brave struggle with the bureaucratic powers that be, they are finally living that dream. If you care about cocktails, you owe it to yourself to check out what these guys are doing.

We had another great breakfast at Zell’s the next morning, and cleared our heads for another day of Portland.

Bartender and bloggerJeffrey Morgenthaler was kind enough to arrange for a tour and tasting of the House Spirits distilling facilities.

House Spirits make several products including a popular Gin, Vodka, and Aquavit.

Owner Lee Medoff gave us the run down on the production of these products and then let some of Jeffrey’s other friends, who also turned out to be bartenders, take turns at making drinks.

I sort of suspected that I might have to take a turn at the bar, but, had luckily spied the ingredients necessary for one of my favorite Savoy Cocktails, The ATTY Cocktail. Whew! Talk about nerve racking! I’d never really made cocktails behind a bar before, let alone in front of 5 bartenders and the manufacturer of the gin I was mixing. Fortunately, I didn’t completely choke, and managed to score a slight victory for an unjustly ignored drink. Well, it does have two very difficult to find ingredients, so will likely remain somewhat obscure for the foreseeable future. Still, the Aviation Gin was very, very good in the ATTY.

While we were chatting at House Spirits, and swilling gin cocktails, Jeffrey mentioned that some of the folks from Imbibe Magazine were going to be at Clyde Common for drinks. What the heck! I’d had a few drinks, surely meeting journalists couldn’t be more nerve racking than mixing drinks for bartenders!

Clyde Common turned out to be an unusual concept. Restaurants in San Francisco have been adding common tables; but, Clyde Common is all common tables. We had some appetizers at the bar, chatted, drank a couple more drinks, and parted ways.

We had one last Portland breakfast at Bijou Cafe, packed up, and flew back home.

Whew! My head is still spinning!

San Francisco Bartender Competition

The first Monday of every month Jon Gasparini and Greg Lindgren of Rye bar in San Francisco host a competition for bartenders.

An ingredient is chosen, usually working with a spirits company, and the bartenders create original cocktails featuring that ingredient. The winning cocktail goes on the menu at Rye.

This month I was lucky enough to be tapped as one of the judges.

As a cocktail enthusiast and San Franciscan, I can’t really think of many better ways to spend an evening out at a bar, than having drinks made for me by some of San Francisco’s top bartenders.

The ingredient this month was a challenging one, Campari. This bitter aperitif is most well known for its part in the classic drink, The Negroni. But, its bitterness makes it something of a challenge to feature in a cocktail. Too much Campari and your drink might be too sweet or too bitter. Too little, and it gets lost.

My fellow judges and I were given instructions on the criteria for judging cocktails, from “aroma” to “utility”, and sat down at a table to await our drinks.

I was quite happy to be joined in judging cocktails by two experienced Bay Area bar professionals, David Nepove and Dominic Venegas. (It almost as fascinating and informative just to listen to these two geek out about the spirits and bar industries as to judge the cocktails!)

The cocktails ran the gamut, from an upscale take on the Negroni featuring Anchor Junipero Gin and Cocchi Barolo Chinato to an absolutely amazing new original cocktail with strawberry juice, Plymouth Gin, and a passion fruit foam.

I was completely awed by the amount of work and creativity that went into each of the 9 cocktails we were presented with.

Unfortunately, we did have to decide on 3 winners, and they were:

1) Joel Baker, Bourbon and Branch, for his creation, Notte della Stella

This was the aforementioned creation with strawberry, gin, Campari and a passion fruit foam. I was blown away by this one, from the lovely aromatic smell of the passion fruit foam to the perfect balance of sweetness and bitterness in the liquid proper. He even punched out little star shaped pieces of citrus peel to float on top of the cocktail as a garnish.

2) Yanni Kehagiaras, Bourbon and Branch, for his creation Milanese Breeze

This was an incredibly refreshing combination of watermelon juice, campari, and gin with a lovely curl of thinly sliced cucumber impaled on a silver cocktail pick for a garnish. I really want a pitcher of this for my next party.

3) Carlos Yturria, Rye, for his creation, Spiagia Nera

Carlos created a drink with Campari, organic plum syrup, citrus, and a “snowball”. This was a sort of a Campari sno-cone. Light refreshing and enjoyable.

For me, the whole experience underscored how fortunate we are here in the San Francisco Bay Area, to have available to us such an incredible selection of ingredients, and passionate food and bar professionals who are willing to go to incredible lengths to utilize those ingredients in amazing and unexpected ways.

I can’t wait to get back to Rye some time soon to see how they manage to pull off Joel’s “Notte della Stella”!