ZERO ZERO, SoMa (826 Folsom, between 4th & 5th, 415-348-8800) – Zero Zero’s gracious bar manager, Joel Teitelbaum, recently integrated new Spring cocktails on his menu and there are a number of highlights.
For those who think they don’t like cognac, here is a ‘gateway’ cocktail: Purple Chandelier ($10), featuring VS cognac from one of my favorite cognac houses, Camus. Add in fresh strawberry puree, Campari, lemon, house-vanilla extract, and you have what feels like a sophisticated strawberry daiquiri for these warm, Spring days.
Where I thrilled was to a simple (as in three ingredients, classic-style) yet complex Short Giraffe ($10): rich Torres 10 yr brandy, bittersweet Zucca Amaro, Rosetto vermouth (a blend of red and white wines, sort of a cross between white and red vermouth). Layered and satisfying, this could easily be a new classic.
While you’re at Zero Zero, don’t miss out on Teitelbaum’s luscious Barrel Aged Negroni ($12), made with Beefeater Gin, Campari, sweet vermouth, aged in American oak for three months. The realization and integration of this aged version of one of the all-time greatest cocktails is further amplified when you taste it side-by-side next to a regular Negroni. For those wanting yet another direction, try the Negroni Bianco ($10): Leopold’s gin, infused Cocchi and bianco (white) vermouth.
Pair cocktails with a Stockton pizza ($14.95), dotted with asparagus, speck (ham), green garlic, fennel pollen and subtle bechamel sauce, or a heaping plate of Bucatini ($17.50) with Gulf prawns, broccoli Romanesco, garlic and breadcrumbs in a lobster sauce, and you’ve reached satisfaction.
ORBIT ROOM, Castro (1900 Market Street at Laguna, 415-252-9525) – Last week, I wrote about Orbit Room for Blackboard Eats. Art Deco and Sputnik lamps meet in a classic Art Deco bar that used to be just about casual cocktails. I’ve always liked the casual space and found the cocktails solid, if not destination-worthy. Now there’s pizza (like a $17 Petra: sausage, roasted fennel, spicy tomato sauce, mozzarella) to go with the cocktails, and what seems like a more realized cocktail menu.
Mostly it’s straight up classics, or variations thereof, like New Amsterdam ($10): gin, orange-flower water, lemon, and lavender syrup. The stand-out was their Dark and Stormy ($10), a basic classic that always refreshes with ginger beer, rum and lime. They upped the game by making a spicy, house ginger beer and brûléeing fresh ginger root for a striking garnish.
POQUITO, Dogpatch (2368 3rd Street between 20th & 22nd, 415-643-3900) – Off the beaten path in Dogpatch, Poquito is a mellow respite for tasty Latin American eats under $12 and a fun cocktail list showcasing tequila, pisco, rum and cachaca.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly ($9) is balanced mix of tequila, Campari, mezcal (1 1/2 parts tequila to 1/2 parts each Campari and mezcal) lightened with egg white, lemon, lime. It’s bright and seemingly light, but the three spirits sneak up on you, while Campari and mezcal merely hint at bitter and smoke alongside the tequila’s herbaceousness. Goes nicely with $2-3 arepas and croquetas during happy hour.
SPIRITS: American Whiskies
BULLEIT RYE ($27.99) – I sampled Bulleit’s new rye a number of times before release, both straight and making Sazeracs with it at home. I also attended a release party in the magical Presidio Log Cabin with heaps of grits, biscuits and jambalaya… and the delightful Tom Bulleit himself.
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It is good to see Bulleit release a rye, not only because I love rye, but as Bulleit Bourbon continues to be one of the best values to quality/taste bourbons out there, particularly for cocktails, though it stands up neat.
I appreciate the Rye’s unusually high level of rye for even a rye (95% rye mash/5% malted barely), giving it a gentle spice, bolstered by wood and cherry. It goes down smooth at 90 proof, inspired from a 150 year-old recipe of Tom’s great-great-grandfather, Augustus.
As one who sips whiskies neat and only sometimes on the rocks (the latter being Tom Bulleit’s preferred way of sipping it), I find taken straight, this rye does not quite carry the same depth and fullness of my favorites (like Van Winkle Family Reserve 13yr Rye). It seems to me first and foremost suited for cocktails. At the release party I enjoyed it in everything from a Manhattan to a Presbyterian, mixed with fresh ginger and lime juices.
Since ryes like Van Winkle are virtually inaccessible, Bulleit Rye wins for being widely available, affordable and of high quality. Spirits critics seem to be embracing it across the board.
EARLY TIMES BOURBON ($15.99 each) – Don’t be confused: Early Times has two American whiskies. One is the classic Early Times Kentucky Whisky and their new release of Early Times 354 Bourbon, which hasn’t been around since 1983. The 354 refers to Early Times‘ federal permit, the longest operating permit in Kentucky (yes, even through Prohibition).
For those less familiar, the Early Times brand was actually launched in 1860 by Jack Beam (the lineage that keeps on giving). He opened his own distillery after learning the craft at his family’s distillery at the ripe age of 15.
Early Times was actually the best-selling bourbon in the world by the 1950’s. Its parent company, Brown-Forman hearken back to those glory days restoring Early Times 1930’s packaging for a retro, classic look.
Early Times 354 is a deep amber color, spicy and sweet, with that caramel oak richness I so love in bourbon. It’s brash, a little sweet and apple-inflected. It’s far from the most sophisticated kid on the block, but it’s a welcome budget bourbon that refreshes on the rocks or in cocktails.
WINE & BEER
FAT ANGEL, Lower Fillmore (1740 O’Farrell Street between Steiner and Fillmore, 415-525-3013) – Fat Angel isn’t necessarily about a particular beer or wine, although the selection is top notch here. It’s about overrall spirit. I’d call it an ideal neighborhood wine/beer bar, one with European essence, intimate and candelit, stimulating conversation.
There are rotating beers on tap, the likes of Deschutes Abyss, and a wine list grouped in categories like “Chubby & Satisfying“.
Food is above average for drink pairings, like a range of butters (maple bacon or lemon caper sage, anyone? $4.5o) with country bread. Mac ‘n cheese ($11) is rich with gruyere, aged cheddar and Parmigiano-Reggiano.