From Berkeley to Sausalito, new restaurants to old, here are a handful of drinks to put on your warm weather, spring radar – and accompanying bites to go with.
COMAL, Berkeley (2020 Shattuck Ave., between Addison & University, Berkeley, 510-926-6300)
Downtown Berkeley (as opposed to the rest of Berkeley) has never overwhelmed on excellent dining options, much as I’ve combed restaurants within the BART vicinity over the years. Gather is my top recommend in the area, but Oaxacan newcomer Comal promises to be a new favorite. Owned by the former band manager of Phish with Executive Chef Matt Gandin (formerly chef de cuisine at Delfina) running the kitchen, the reason drink lovers should go is a cocktail menu created by the Bon Vivants, Josh Harris and Scott Baird. I went opening night, May 5th, and no surprise from that expert bartending crew: each drink tried was a winner, featuring South of the Border spirits from tequila to mezcal. We were lucky to have Baird mixing drinks that night, though the Vivants won’t be bartenders.
Jack Satan ($9) is not remotely evil. Despite a tinge of heat from the “infierno tincture”, the whole effect is tart loveliness with Tres Agaves Reposado, hibiscus syrup, lime and salt. Another immediate standout is a Black Daiquiri ($10) mixing Pampero Aniversario Rum, Averna, lime, sugar, and Chiapan coffee tincture.
Tart, bitter, sweet and robust, coffee notes do not dominate but add a hint of earth and body – refreshingly unique. Mexican classics like the Paloma get the Vivants treatment, in the case of the Palomaesque ($9) which substitutes Don Amado Rustico Mezcal for tequila, ups the bitterness ante with Cocchi Americano alongside grapefruit, and rounds it all out with lime, honey, salt, soda.
Oaxacan food, one of my great cravings (mole!), is the other great draw here in the open, modern space and appealing back patio. Of initial dishes tried, duck mole coloradito (a red mole sauce) enchiladas ($14) already had me jonesing for a return. Duck mole and a little Jack Satan? Sins worth committing.
COPITA, Sausalito (739 Bridgeway, Sausalito, 415-331-7400)
TV and cookbook chef Joanne Weir showcases her love of tequila – and recipes from her Tequila book – at Copita, Sausalito’s spanking new Mexican restaurant with sidewalk seating, open air setting, and rotisserie chicken… all a stone’s throw from the shimmering Bay. Still working out opening kinks since opening a couple weeks ago, two visits have allowed me to work my way through the entire cocktail menu and enjoyable flights (try the $20 Highlands Reposado flight: Siete Leguas, Ocho, Excellia reposados) with shots of house sangrita: tomato, pineapple, cucumber, orange, celery, ancho chile, lime.
There’s cocktails like Joanne’s favorite – one I love to make at home – the Prado: Corazon blanco tequila, Luxardo maraschino liquor, lime, egg white. A fun imbibement is Spicy & Smoky “Raspado”: Del Maguey Chichicapa mezcal, tamarind, with a chile-salt rim hit spicy, smoky and sweet simultaneously. Add anejo to your Oaxacan chocolate milkshake ($6), and don’t miss the restaurant’s most heartwarming bite thus far: Mexico City-style quesadillas ($8), fried and filled w/ Yukon gold potatoes, a savory, excellent house chorizo and queso fresco with crema on top.
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hasn’t been the obvious place for a quality cocktail but with new bar manager Kristin Almy on board, there’s a stronger focus on cocktails at the Hotel Monaco bar than ever before. In keeping with the restaurant, French influence resounds with cocktail names like Bardot and St. Tropez. Most drinks dwell on the softer side: fizzy, layered, delicate, though a light Napoleon’s Dynamite ($9) is a fine intro for those who don’t think they’re whiskey drinkers: Bulleit Rye, Dubbonet Rouge, lemon, and grapefruit bitters go down all too easy.
Merci ($8) is an elegant, dry aperitif ideal for afternoon or pre-dinner sipping and light on alcohol: Noilly Prat dry vermouth, sparkling wine (prosecco), and Almy’s house blackberry liqueur.
A lovely Three Musicians ($9) is subtly soft, infusing tequila with piquillo peppers, mixing cucumber and lime, topping the drink with Lillet foam. Though ideally I’d like a stronger kick of heat and boldness, I see the dilemma at the Monaco: appealing to tourists and locals alike. This menu challenges the inexperienced palate with an approachable, playful whisper. Add on a round of braised ground octopus flatbread ($14) and it’s a happy hour.
HOG & ROCKS, Mission (3431 19th St. at Bartlett, 415-550-8627)
While seasonal fun is had on Hog & Rocks new Spring menu with drinks like Rhubuddah Mint Coolah ($10.50) – Hangar One Buddha’s Hand vodka, lemon, rhubarb-shiso syrup, candied rhubarb, mint, ginger beer – the stand-out on the new menu is a drink best suited to chilly nights: the Nardini Black Manhattan ($12) is robust with Rittenhouse Rye whiskey and Carpano Antica vermouth, balanced by bitter, herbaceous Nardini Amaro. Sip it with a platter of Southern, Italian or Spanish hams from Hog & Rocks rotating ham menu.
ABSINTHE, Hayes Valley (398 Hayes St. at Gough, 415-551-1590)
With recently updated cocktail menu from former bar manager Jeff Hollinger, who went on to open Comstock Saloon in 2010, classic stalwart Absinthe offers new drinks.
If you like it sweet but with a little tart and smoky to keep it interesting, I recently tried a special called Sol Y Fuego. Bartending charmer, Raoul, mixed a kumquat shrub with nutty-spiced Velvet Falernum, lemon, bitters and a base of Don Amado mezcal. Savor it with fat garlic pretzel sticks dipped in fondue-like Vermont cheddar mornay.
Don’t forget to finish with Absinthe’s house specialty: a flaming, cinnamon-laced Spanish coffee. Worth the spectacle alone.