Though Trick Dog is the just-opened hot cocktail/food destination of the moment (my my early word here), slipping in at the bar at these three restaurants, ranging from elegant to festive, offers some of SF’s best cocktails with incredible food.
It’s impossible to get a reservation at Rich Table, one of the most buzzed about restaurants in the country right now, but I find seats at the bar open up often on a Monday – and arriving when they open at 5:30pm is an ideal time to go.
RICH TABLE, Hayes Valley (199 Gough St. at Oak, 415-355-9085)
Returning yet again, Rich Table is as satisfying as it was in first opening months. With new bar manager Jason “Buffalo” LoGrasso (from Quince and Cotogna), already lovely cocktails expand from 4-5 offerings to 7 on the regular and 4 on the dessert menu. After tasting every LoGrasso cocktail ($10), it’s official: I’m in love with the Carnegie Martini. Inspiration is genius – a pastrami sandwich from Carnegie Deli, where my Dad took me for my first Reuben as a teenager. LoGrasso combines elements of the ultimate sandwich into a clean, refreshing whole. Wisely using St. George’s Dry Rye Gin as a base, caraway comes in the form of Combier’s Doppelt Kummel Extra liqueur, an aromatic caraway liqueur redolent of cumin. He adds drops of mustard oil and a pickle, causing salivation and pastrami cravings.
Strong points including a beautifully musty Shivered Timbers, a lively red drink with pomegranate touched by ginger and cinnamon, evoking rhum agricole but using Smith & Cross Pot Still Rum. This cocktail will likely make way for a crowd-pleasing rum cocktail featuring Denizen rum, honey, lime, and Pur Spice liqueur. Despite not being a vodka drinker, my top aperitif here might be Figaro Chain, a bright, appetite-stimulant of Swan’s Neck vodka, Averna, lemon and ginger. Dessert cocktails shine. Rich Coffee is a harmonious blend of Fernet, Sightglass coffee and pistachio cream, while the Carthusian Hot Cocoa sings with chocolate, Green Chartreuse, mint and pineapple marshmallow, simultaneously herbal, earthy and sweet.
EAT WITH: My new obsession on the Rich Table menu: doughy, savory doughnuts ($7) topped with shaved, dried porcini, the clincher being thick raclette dipping sauce. I’d call this “bite” one of the best new menu additions. An amuse bouche named “Dirty Hippie” elevates “granola” to to gourmet with cool buttermilk panna cotta doused in pumpkin seeds, sprouts and spices. Delicate pickled herring ($13) is unusually paired with avocado, coconut cream and tortilla crisps. Divine tajarin ($27) egg noodles (a Piedmont pasta style) dissolve in the mouth, melting in house cultured butter under shaved Perigord black truffles. Sigh.
MICHAEL MINA, Financial District (252 California St. between Front & Battery, 415-397-9222)
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Since his former days at Gitane and years at Michelin-starred Michael Mina, Carlo Splendorini has crafted some of the most elegant, balanced cocktails not merely in San Francisco, but anywhere. In my travels sampling cocktails the world over, it’s rare to experience the precision and finesse Splendorini brings to drinks ($11-14). Prime example: the way Barrel aged Bols Genever and Beefeater Gin seamlessly weave with piney notes of Clear Creek Douglas Fir eau de vie, the earthiness of sencha green tea, brightened by the tart of yuzu, lemon and grapefruit foam. This combination could easily go wrong but mixed by Splendorini, it’s exquisitely layered. Similarly, Yamazaki 12 year Japanese whisky, chamomile tea and a spoonful of Yellow Chartreuse over a shiso leaf dramatically cast against a giant ice cube in a wine glass make a striking sipper. A third new drink of note also showcases Japanese whisky, in this case Hibiki 12 year, with, believe it or not, wine: Grenache/Syrah and a sweet, late harvest Cabernet. If it’s in stock, sample their Mina Blend Bourbon, a limited edition six-year-old Willett bourbon (also available at RN74).
EAT WITH: Try oysters brilliantly accented by drink sauces (Pimms Cup, Elderflower Fizz, Bloody Mary) instead of the usual vinegar and lemon, or a meaty Monterey bay abalone ($21) grilled over shiitakes, tokyo turnips, mirin-scented rice, in a miso broth (I’ve seen abalone haters convert on this one). An amuse bouche of grilled cheese and chestnut soup should be a bar menu fixture. For a more affordable bar bite, Mina’s signature ahi tuna tartare starter ($19) doused in ancho chile, sesame oil and mint is $10 during happy hour.
HOG & ROCKS, Mission (3431 19th Street between San Carlos & Mission, 415-550-8627)
With new chef Robin Song on board a couple months ago at Hog & Rocks (formerly at Haven and Plum), there are elevated touches to Hog & Rocks ever approachable food, a prime example being a special of perch crudo ($14), delicate with nasturtium, puffed rice, minced Manila clams and blood orange. This suits Bar Manager Michael Lazar’s robust yet refined cocktails just fine. Chef Song’s amuse bouche of buckwheat gougeres topped with salty lardo should be a menu fixture. Gougeres dissolve under warm, melting lardo fat, divine with Lazar’s Miller’s Meyer ($11), a vivid winter cocktail of Martin Miller’s Gin, Meyer lemon syrup (think fresh juice vs. simple syrup), and herbaceous Elisir M.P. Roux liqueur lending whispers of anise, verbena and lavender.
A refreshing Cider Press Buck ($11) showcases one of the most edible garnishes around: a spiced Arkansas black apple (preserved via Cryovac®). This delicious garnish evolves with the seasons, atop Old Fitzgerald bourbon, lime, ginger and Wandering Aengus dry pear cider, confirming the current cider craze. The Buck pairs with H&R’s always pleasurable ham platters ($16). Song has chosen a few I haven’t seen on H&R’s ham menu before: Monte Nevado Jamon Serrano from Spain, aged 15 months, served with candied almonds; Greci & Foizani Proscuitto from Italy, aged 24 months, served with house ricotta; and a stunningly smoky ham exemplifying all I love best in Southern hams, Edwards Surryano from Virginia, aged 16 months, served with strawberry mostarda.
My drink of choice is house Willett bourbon, a bracing 130 proof but cut with water. Rye spice and sweet corn notes meld perfectly in Lazar’s Old Fashioned with orange and Angostura bitters.