From mid-March to mid-April, here are the standout cocktails and new menus Ive been tasting around the Bay Area.
1. BDK’s Shiso
It’s always good news when Kevin Diedrich is back manning a bar. At brand new BDK (my Zagat feature on the restaurant here), his two pages of cocktails ($11 each) are named after a single leading ingredient or element and all about engaging the senses. The drinks are as creative and varied as at his previous bars, when he launched Burritt Room (now Burritt Room + Tavern), Gaspar Brasserie or Jasper’s.
To be expected, there are numerous standouts on the BDK cocktail menu, like the dry, vegetal Snap Peas. But if pressed, I love Shiso, marked (naturally) by a leaf of shiso, a Japanese herb in the mint family. London dry gin, plum wine, shiso, citrus and egg white meld into a frothy, nuanced whole, while a dusting of li hing mui powder (salty dried plum) makes the drink sing with sweet-salty gusto.
2. Schroeders Pur Coincidence
Returning a third time to the newly refreshed Schroeder’s SF’s historic German beer hall given a refined turn in its latest incarnation the newest cocktails stay (thankfully) focused on Germanic spirits and eaux de vie (fruit brandies). Pur Coincidence ($10) is a new drink showing off locally-based German Kiki Barverman’s pürspirits, produced in Germany. This drink exhibits the floral and delicate fruit notes of pur pear and pur elderflower liquer, imparted with heat from Scrappys Firewater (habanero) bitters, balanced by lime.
3. Perbacco’s Hemingway-ish!
Perbacco does not disappoint on the pasta front (like this recent dream of rhubarb and duck ragu cavatelli). Thankfully, cocktails keep pace. Recently, California winter (citrus season) and spring collided in Mi Piace ($11), combining Four Roses Bourbon, honey syrup, lime and whiskey-barrel aged bitters with a perk of kumquat marmalade. I was warmed by the elegantly subtle funk of ever-fantastic Smith & Cross Rum mixed with Zaya Gran Reserva 12 year rum, Cocchi Americano vermouth, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur and grapefruit bitters in the Hemingway-ish! ($11) cocktail.
4. Hopscotch’s Your Cheatin’ Heart
Ideal paired with a surprisingly standout smoked salmon and wild rice salad over recently-launched lunch at Hopscotch (or any time, for that matter), is Your Cheatin’ Heart ($11). This vivid cocktail showcases the vegetal, green punch of St. George Green Chili Vodka with blood orange juice and a welcome contrast of smoked salt.
5. Vignette’s Jardesca Aperitif
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6. Bar 821’s Negronis Made with Unusual Amari
Like Rx Bar in the Tenderloin, Bar 821 is all about amaro (amari in the plural), a fascinating category of Italian (often bitter) herbal liqueurs. While the bar still serves cheap beers in a laid back neighborhood setting as it has in years past, its recent remodel and re-opening at the end of February ushered in one of the most extensive amari collections around and touch of elegance in the comfortable bar.
My preferred experiment here (easy with a friendly bartender) is mixing and matching some of the amaro conveniently listed on a big chalkboard with tasting notes in classic cocktails. I also enjoyed sipping bitter-sweet, balanced Carlo Alberto Amaro Mandragola, just shaken with ice and served up.
7. Parallel 37’s Honey Scrub
Prior to a fascinating special dinner at Parallel 37 paired with local Saint Frank coffees in the recently remodeled The Ritz Carlton, San Francisco, I stopped in for a cocktail at Parallel’s bar. Camber Lay continues to turn out sippable creations like the lovely Honey Scrub ($14). The drink showcases Vermont’s Barr Hill Gin partnered with subtle savory notes of grilled lemon and sage.
8. Ice Cream Bar’s The Cappellettis
While ever-wonderful Ice Cream Bar is about you guessed it ice cream, their one-of-a-kind soda fountain is the highlight, not just serving historic soda fountain drinks and creative, boozy drinks, but also straight up cocktails. The recent addition of The Cappellettis is a happy one. The bitter-sweet notes of Aperitivo Cappelletti and the floral/herbaceous/bitter Elisir Novasalus Amaro are lively with lime juice, house juniper tincture and soda. Perfect for adults while the kids eat their sundaes.