ZIRYAB, Alamo Square/Western Addition (528 Divisadero Street between Fell & Hayes Streets, 415-522-0800)
Though open for seven years, Ziryab, Divisadero’s Middle Eastern hangout boasting an enclosed front patio, reopened this week from owner Salim Nasser with a brand new bar, liquor license and new food menu. Having the privilege of watching bar manager Zachary Taylor grow up in the Bay Area bartending world the past few years, from places like Oakland’s Bocanova to The Corner Store and Hog & Rocks in SF, I know he’s a dedicated bartender who studies the history and craft of cocktails and spirits.
Which is why I visited Ziryab pre-opening day and again later in the week, tasting through every cocktail on his new menu. Taylor’s creations were crafted with Middle Eastern flavors in mind, co-existing nicely with dishes from Moroccan Chef Khalid El Mourabit (who’s cooked throughout Europe and Morocco), like blocks of thyme and nicoise olive oil-marinated feta cheese ($9) scooped up by warm, housemade pita bread, or crispy sticks of lamb, raisin, almond-filled filo pie ($13) fragrant with ras el hanout (a North African spice blend).
Tasting the entire initial cocktail menu (and a chunk of the food menu), I had the most fun with the unusual Ostwald Ripened, which reminds me of New Orleans brunch classic, Absinthe Suissesse. Similarly, Ostwald Ripened is creamy, served on the rocks, but in this case with Bols Natural Yoghurt Liqueur, a fine use of the tart, yogurt nectar. Instead of absinthe, anise notes come from Arak Haddad, arak being a historic Middle Eastern anise liqueur. A splash of muscat grape and orange blossom-based Pavan liqueur and fresh-grated cinnamon rounds out this milky refresher.
Though I’d love taste more fig and garlic in the Jericho Fig Tree, fig-garlic purée adds a whisper of sweet-savory (aided by the rim) to blanco tequila, bright with lemon and Benedictine. Taylor has been perfecting this recipe so I look forward to trying it again in coming weeks. Ziryab Manhattan infuses Dickel Rye whiskey with dates, stirred with sweet and dry vermouths and a subtly smoky strain from lapsang souchang tea-infused Angostura Bitters. It’s lovely alternative to a Perfect Manhattan.
Revived from Pioneers of Mixing at Elite Bars: 1903-1933 by Charles Christopher Mueller is The 1934 Cosmopolitan. Deceptively pink, evoking the 1980’s instead of a cocktail aficionado’s tipple, it’s a classic of Tanqueray Gin, lemon, raspberry syrup and Cointreau, finely mixed by Taylor so as to be seamlessly acidic, sweet, botanical. No taste of the ’80’s here.
Coffee notes of the Pajaro Negro come from Galliano Ristretto, intermingling with smoky mezcal, bitter-herbaceous Cynar (Italian artichoke amaro) and orange peel is exactly what I want for dessert. Or maybe Taylor will be experimenting, as he was during one of my two visits this week, maybe with a layered combination of Zacapa 23 rum, Kusmi Darjeeling tea, lemon, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram and apricot jam.
Despite a non-descript interior, the vibe is friendly and the space already filled with neighborhood locals in initial days. Quality and vision is markedly focused from past years at the new and reinvented Ziryab.