In my endless treks ’round the city for the best partnerships of drink and food, here are a few notable current menu offerings:
COMSTOCK SALOON, North Beach (155 Columbus Ave. at Pacific, 415-617-0071) www.comstocksaloon.com
Easily one of our city’s great bars, Comstock Saloon maintains historical reverence to SF’s Barbary Coast days without being stuffy. Old World decor, live jazz and bartenders who know how to make a proper cocktail make it one of the most blessedly grown-up watering holes, particularly in partying North Beach. If this weren’t enough, it’s a top notch restaurant. Chef Carlo Espinas churns out dishes better than your typical gastropub/”upscale comfort food” fare.
Mostly classic cocktails ($8-12) are often best as “Barkeep’s Whimsy” ($12), like a gorgeous Smith & Cross Sour, showing off the musky-elegant-spice notes of Smith & Cross rum with lemon, sugar and frothy egg white.
More whimsy choices from the talented Ethan Terry (here until Heaven’s Dog, where he’s Bar Supervisor, reopens): a stunner of smoky mezcal weaving with Firelit Coffee liqueur, Oloroso sherry and orange bitters; or a texture from the oil of two lemon peels with rye, Yellow Chartreuse and apricot brandy. Menu classics remain, like the ever-drinkable Cherry Bounce (bourbon, cherry brandy, lemon, Angostura, Champagne) or the recently added, but classic Charles H. Baker Zeinie: Cognac, pineapple gum syrup, lime, maraschino liqueur and Angostura bitters.
EAT: I can’t resist a good pretzel ($6)… and this one’s great. With whole grain mustard and cheddar mayo, it’s a worthy bar snack. Unless we’re talking melting soft, mashed potato fritters ($9) dipped in “loaded baked potato dip” (you got it: essence of bacon and chives in sour cream – I had to ask for more). Salads are refined yet comforting, whether the austere green of raw kale ($9) tossed with little gems, Parmesan and watermelon radishes in bright lemon dressing, or chunks of fresh crabmeat and smoked trout in a lentil, baby chicories salad ($12).
Toasts with silky burrata and pickled cherries ($14) on a frisee bed, similarly hit fresh-but-gratifying notes. Good thing I can contrast that healthy eating with bacon-wrapped meatloaf ($16) bearing a caramelized “skin” of ridiculously fine house ketchup (brown sugar, tomato, chili, to name a few ingredients) alongside dreamy coleslaw.
BRASSIERE S&P, Financial District (Mandarin Oriental, 222 Sansome at Pine St., 415-986-2020)
Consider leisurely Brasserie S&P, inside the Mandarin Oriental, your gin and tonic haven. But not just any G&T. Though cocktails fall on the pricey hotel side ($12-16, $13 for G&Ts), Beverage Manager Priscilla Young manages a robust gin collection, blends tonic waters in house, and presents mix-and-match G&T options via iPad to diners and drinkers.
Her sommelier’s palate (yes, she’s the whole package) ensures tonics align with botanical profiles of gins like local Old World Spirits‘ Blade Gin, its Asian botanicals dancing with Young’s citrus-tinged Sensei #1 tonic, orange, and Thai chilies. There’s an earthier G&T of St. George’s Dry Rye Gin poured with the same tonic, orange, and black pepper. In a “Dirty” G&T, Scottish Botanist Gin flows with celery brine and Q Tonic, decorated with salt pepper rim. Then there’s an aged G&T using Old World’s Rusty Blade gin with Young’s Sensei saffron tonic and burnt orange. Outside of G&Ts, Fresno chilis and bacon make the Diablo’s Whisper a refreshingly savory cocktail of Don Julio reposado tequila, blackcurrant hibiscus, and lime.
EAT: Conveniently open 11am-11pm, The Bar at Brasserie S&P is an all day, downtown drink option, though it’s also a blessedly non-trendy, power lunch spot. Light, clean kanpachi crudo ($17) nods to Hawaii with Kona fish and macadamia nuts, drizzled in sesame oil and Fresno chilis. Also light yet laden with Dungeness crab is a Louie salad ($19) stacked with butter lettuce, sieved egg and avocado. I often glaze over chicken, but Mary’s chicken paillard ($18) is a highlight breaded in anchovy garlic crumbs over marcona almond pesto.
Bonus: A new (and genius) offering is mini-martinis available all day at $5, like First Word, a twist on a classic Last Word cocktail, with Beefeater Gin, Green Chartreuse, lime and grapefruit. Imbibing guilt free, the diminutive size makes you want to order another.
CHAMBERS, Tenderloin (601 Eddy St. at Larkin, 415-829-2316)
Rock star cool and sexy hideaway describe Chambers record-lined dining room, one of the most striking in the city. Thankfully, style doesn’t infer lack of substance. Cocktails ($11) are improved from early days when they opened in 2011. Straightforward and unfussy, the drinks are well made and thirst-quenching. Playing off one of THE greats, a Whiskey Sour, their Whisky Cider Sour combines house-made cider, whisky, egg and fresh-grated nutmeg. A garden-fresh Cilantro Daiquiri blends Bacardi silver rum, Cointreau, and lime with plenty of muddled cilantro.
EAT: Appreciating Executive Chef Trevor Ogden‘s unique presentation of smoked fish (salmon) in the past, slowly smoking over a grate tableside. Despite pork belly burnout years ago, I hadn’t tried similarly smoking pork belly ($13) until recently, soft fat releasing its aromas as it burns before you, accompanied by Early Girl tomato kimchee and pickled sweet peppers. How could I resist? While a tai snapper entree ($24) was surprisingly bland despite a smear of black garlic soubise, Meyer lemon and yuzu koshu, salads unexpectedly steal the show.
Winter is exemplified in an artistic display of fuyu persimmons ($10) happily partnered with burrata, miners lettuce and toasted oat toffee, dotted with Angostura bitters (you heard right), olive oil, sea salt, and garam masala spices. Salade Lyonnaise ($12) is artfully deconstructed: grapefruit wedges, pork biscotti, lardons (thin strips of pork fat) and candied pomelo splay out spoke-like from a sous vide egg resting atop a mound of frisée in the center.