Cocktails at Nopa, 15 Romolo, Range, The Alembic; Tequila at Tommy’s; Kilchoman’s Release; Wines of Portugal

Marcos Tello guest-bartends at Rickhouse, serving a “Pancho Sanchez”


A 15 Romolo line-up

15 Romolo really is one of the best bars in SF (drinks, atmosphere, staff). Mellow and soothing, I love to linger here with good friends. I’ve written about Track 42 ($12) before – but it bears repeating. If you want a nuanced, refreshing garden of a drink, this one is always a pleasant surprise: 42 Below Manuka Honey Vodka, basil, unfiltered apple juice, lemon and egg white for froth.

Infante at Rickhouse

I adore the creamy smoothness of Amazona ($12): cachaca, coconut milk, ginger, lime, Angostura bitters, fresh nutmeg grated on top. Their Vieux Carre ($10) is about as fine a version of the Nola classic you’ll find… ditto their Pimm’s Cup. Finish with a Black Irish Flip ($10), a savory dessert of Jameson Irish whiskey with Picon Club, whole egg (yes, yolk, too), cacao nib tincture and Angostura  bitters.

• I missed Marcos Tello at The Edison when I was in LA a few weeks ago, but I got to try a couple of his creations at Rickhouse on 3/30 when he guest-bartended for the night. He made a nice, strong spirituous cocktail called Pancho Sanchez, but my favorite was a Dutch Kills recipe from NY, Infante: a mix of tequila, lime, orgeat and fresh-grated nutmeg. Nutty and refreshing simultaneously.

The spread at Range

Range is not only a favorite upscale neighborhood restaurant over the years, but some of the truly great, refined cocktails in SF  – it will be interesting to see if that stays true after Brooke Arthur moves on to helm the bar at the upcoming new restaurant from Boulevard. At Range, Evergreen welcomed Spring with gusto in the form of citrus and herbs: Plymouth Gin and St. Germain accompany fresh kumquats, sage, lemon. Go the tequila route with Malia: Pueblo Viejo blanco tequila, lime, egg white, cinnamon bitters and a winning quince/apple duo.

The Alembic is one of the true joys in my new ‘hood when it comes to food and drink. How I wish Upper Haight would grow up and deepen its culinary offerings. Thankfully, Alembic is one block from me and one of the best in SF, especially during laid back “off” hours when Haight crowds aren’t making a place to sit impossible.

Nopa’s Kumquat Caipirinha

There have been recent wonders inherent when the bartenders get their hands on beets or galangal. Earthy, aromatic, balanced experimentation flow – it’s a pleasure to sample what they might come up with. See my April 21st Guardian FEAST article about a rosy beet cocktail made with beets, Rittenhouse Rye, dry vermouth, red wine vinegar, orange zest muddled with sugar, and a splash of sparkling wine.

• It’s easy: Nopa’s bar manager, Neyah White, is one of our city’s treasures and experts on superb cocktails, sherry (which he’ll be sharing in NY at a sherry class during May’s Manhattan Cocktail Classic – I’ll be covering the event), and a pioneer’s edge showcasing small batch, rare spirits long before everyone else in the artisan cocktail world catches on. Neyah and staff mix some unique beauties, including a range of white whiskey martinis on the current menu. If you’re lucky, kumquats will still be in house for a Kumquat Caipirinha ($9), which I just had last week. I’m a lifelong fan of the puckeringly tart citrus (which has been in many a cocktail lately), but Nopa’s kumquats are the best in memory, muddled and mixed with Boca Loca Cachaca, fresh lime, soda. Broken open, the citrus’ skin and flesh are sweet, sour, juicy, and I ate ever last one out of my glass. Stay tuned for Neyah’s Spring creations in coming weeks, including cocktails utilizing a Chinese rose blossom Rose wine.

Porfidio collectors’ Reposado (photo source: Porfidio website)


• On a recent rainy afternoon, after chowing down on some satisfying crispy tacos from Nick’s, The Renaissance Man and I had a craving for tequila and the place to be (always) is Tommy’s.  A happy mid-day respite included uber-hot salsa, chips, margaritas and a shot of the sadly now defunct 100% blue agave Reposado from Porfidio, listed under their discontinued Collector’s Items (page 197). Too bad. This beauty has a golden hue and caramel, toffee notes not commonly found in reposado.

• At a private scotch tasting held by Plumpjack, Impex Beverages and JVS Imports, I took an educational walk through 9 scotches from all parts of Scotland, from smoother to more peaty as we progressed. Already a fan of Scotland’s smallest distiller, Edradour, it was a delight to sip their just released Edradour Caledonia 12 year (bottled un-chillfiltered; 92 Proof): smooth, creamy with vanilla and spice notes. Another highlight was a rare 1991 Highland Park 17 year Signatory single malt with a balanced peat, whiffs of oceanside salt air, floral and earthy. I was able to try an as of yet unavailable Smokehead, but the smoke blast of this peatiest of scotches isn’t always my top choice (I like it but prefer a more balanced scotch).

Kilchoman’s Single Malt (photo source: Kilchoman website)

I was especially privileged to meet a surprise special guest at this event, Anthony Wills, founder of Kilchoman, the first new distillery on the Scotch island of Islay in 124 years (ultra expensive and difficult to start a distillery there). Though yet to be released in the US, we tasted this already-in-demand single malt that continues to sell out, from the only Scottish distillery growing their own barley. At a young three years of age, it has the mature profile of a much older whisky. Wills stresses the point that quality isn’t always found because something is old, as early reviews of his whisky attest to. Side by side, next to 9 others, it held up to older whiskies and surpassed some with the peat Islay is famous for but also toffee, dark fruit and caramel creaminess.


Stunning city/bay views while sipping Portuguese wines

Wines of Portugal – On the Westin St. Francis’ top floor on a gorgeous Monday afternoon, blue skies and bay melded around SF skyscrapers for a wine event showcasing the range of Portugal’s vino, from sparkling to porto. I’m not well-schooled on the wines of Portugal, but made some strides at this tasting, even if the public, post-press hour grew insanely packed. Often affordable (less than $10 bottle), there’s plenty to appreciate, though I seem to gravitate towards Portuguese whites more than reds, and always to port.

One of the better deals on reds is Vidigal Douro (the same region port hails from), a smooth red that makes for good, everyday drinking at an easy $9.99 a bottle. I had a little fun with their ’08 “Shocking Green“, a perky Vinho Verde with tart fruit and floral notes. They’re both, along with a wide range of Portuguese wines, available from Portugal Wines.

Crowds at Wines of Portugal

Dao Sul’s light and breezy white, 2009 DOC Grilos, tasted of Summer. Adega makes zippy, effervescent Vinho Verde. Tasting four of their similar whites side by side, I preferred the 2009 Sec. Another nice choice? Aveleda‘s 2008 Alvarinho.

On first taste, my top whites at the event were both from Casa Santos Lima: ’09 Moscatel was creatively described by the pourer as “the Chanel No. 5 of whites”. I wouldn’t go that far but it is floral and bright. Their ’09 Sauvignon Blanc shocked with the juicy crunch of yellow pepper skins.

I like port: ideal for an after dinner sip and one of the first spirits I got into in my younger days.  Sandeman’s 30 year Tawny Port has a golden cherry hue and tastes of silken raisins, hazelnuts and vanilla. Krohn Porto 20 year is candy-like, smooth, with chocolate tones.