Aperitif Hour at Range

Slippery Slope: an "inverted" gin martini, heavy on the vermouth
Slippery Slope: an “inverted” gin martini, heavy on the vermouth

RANGE, Mission (842 Valencia St. between 19th & 20th, 415-282-8283)

Aperitif hour:
Aperitif hour: Paris to Milan (L), Californio (R)

Range has been one of the Mission’s great restaurants with strong wine list and stellar cocktails since opening in 2005. Maintaining its quality across the board, they have retained staff for years – many since opening – a rarity in the restaurant/bar business. On July 10th, they launch a new concept.

As longtime Bar Manager Jeff Lyon works on Range’s upcoming bar Third Rail, slated to open this fall in the Dogpatch, new Range Bar Manager Tayler Buffington (who has worked his way up since the early days from barback under Lyon and Brooke Arthur prior) keeps Range on the reinvention tip with a new aperitif hour. Buffington has been dreaming of a European-inspired, lighter alcohol aperitif hour menu since Range’s early days. Buffington worked with Lyon and Chef/Owner Phil West on an accompanying bites menu that includes house pickles, chicken liver mousse, and trout rilette, they’ve changed opening hours from 6pm to 5pm on weekdays (Mon-Thu) and from 5:30pm to 5pm, Fri-Sun. The kitchen will still kick into gear at 6pm, but aperitif hour will be in full force, recalling happy hours in Andalucia, Spain, and all over Italy and France.

Negroni Equivocado

In true late-afternoon, Mediterranean spirit, Buffington’s drinks are light in alcohol, refreshing, sometimes subtly bitter or dry and clean, cleansing the palate and stimulating the appetite, as a proper aperitif historically was created to, pre-dinner.

Uptown Downtown

Aperitifs are $7, while Lyon conceived “inverted cocktails”, aka “flipping ratios” ($8). Instead of being whiskey-heavy as a Manhattan would be, the Uptown Downtown cocktail flips the ratio, 2 to 1 Cocchi di Torino Italian Vermouth to a smaller portion of high quality Noah’s Mill bourbon. The result is similarly robust but deceptively lighter. A crisp Slippery Slope flips a classic gin martini (heavy on Dolin Blanc vermouth with Martin Miller’s Westbourne Gin, a dash of Kubler Absinthe and Regan’s Orange Bitters), while the lush Negroni Equivocado inverts a tequila Negroni, heavy on Perucchi dry vermouth (a Spanish vermouth) and Aperol, light on Fortaleza Blanco Tequila.

All four offerings on Buffington’s aperitif cocktail menu are beauties, expressing a range of taste profiles, each refreshingly clean. A modern British classic, the Bramble cocktail, is reinterpreted here as a Spanish Bramble, with the typical gin base represented as a half ounce of St. George’s herbaceous Terroir Gin, mixed with an amontillado sherry base and a house-made blackberry-mint shrub instead of traditional crème de mûre (blackberry liqueur). It’s dry, crisp, with whispers of vinegar and fruit.

Gemstone, aromatic with a sprig of lemon verbena, is gorgeous with a 2 oz. base of La Gitana Manzanilla Sherry. The sherry’s salinity plays off the clean, ripe pear of St. George’s Pear Eau de Vie, nuanced with Bitter Truth grapefruit bitters. Paris to Milan is vibrantly pink, served on the stem, a lively mix of layered Cocchi Americano Rosa, St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, Fusion Napa White Verjus to heighten acidity, and a splash of invigorating Prosecco.

Buffington foraged California bay leaves near his East Bay home with which he makes a fresh syrup with bay leaves and a bit rosemary, contributing to the utterly pleasing Californio. The cocktail’s base is  Oloroso sherry and Gran Classico Bitter, served tallnwith soda, a California twist on a classic Americano or an Aperol Spritz.

Spanish Bramble
Spanish Bramble

In Andalucia style (central for aperitif culture), they’ve expanded sherry wine choices showing off a range of sherries: crisp Fino, sophisticated saline of Manzanilla, nutty Amontillado, sweetly soulful Oloroso, and the rare Palo Cortado, which is aged like a Fino or Amontillado, then oxidizes like an Oloroso.

Slippery Slope (L); Negroni Equivocado

San Franciscans are used to sherry or amaro-based cocktails as standard on local menus, but there’s surprisingly few entire menus of aperitif/low alcohol cocktails. The city can long claim refined palates with an affinity for bitter, herbaceous, dry or savory, but for all that, it’s rare to have a bar or restaurant feature an entire menu of such drinks, or offer a European-style aperitif and sherry hour.

Leave it to one of our longtimers, Range, to launch a special one. You needn’t sacrifice taste or sophistication, while only paying $7-8 a cocktail.