From mid-October to mid-November, here are 6 standout cocktails and new menus I’ve been tasting around the Bay Area.
1. 15 Romolo’s Miraculous Milk Punch
With in-house sherry expert Ian Adams and an impressive collection of over 500 spirits, 15 Romolo has been one of SF’s greatest bars for over a decade. Their sherry collection is one of their strengths and I look forward to their Sherry Christmas cocktail menu ($10-13 each) each year.
The menu came early this year and there are a number of notable drinks, from the dry, elegant Penelope to the wintery Cosmic Rebellion. But it’s tough to resist the Miraculous Milk Punch. It’s a clarified milk punch, meaning the texture is silky and flavors intense. With a base of dark rum and reserva brandy de Jerez, the rum and sherry are enlivened with green cardamom, nutmeg and clarified milk. It’s ideal during night or day (Romolo’s fab brunch).
2. Dirty Habit’s All Right Hamilton and Loveable Trixter
Let’s call it two sides of the tropical coin — one showcasing mango and coconut, one banana — both unique fall cocktails on Brian Means’ ever-intriguing cocktail menu ($13 each) at Dirty Habit.
3. Whitechapel’s Dutch Nemesis and Holmes Bonfire
Much hype has surrounded the opening of Whitechapel, from Alex Smith, Martin Cate and John Park, and rightly so. After three visits already pre- and post-opening, it is an international gin destination with over 100 cocktails in a leather-bound menu and over 350 gins, including vintage rarities dating back to 1930s.
Set in a Disneyland-level-elaborate space (this comes from Smugglers Cove minds, after all) that evokes a Victorian-era London underground station and gin palace, chef David Murphy’s food is also worth a visit (more on that here).
Whether drinking at the two bars, in the distillery room with “Ginfusion Tubes” housing gin botanicals or in the ornate, 1820’s-inspired Gin Palace room in the back, there are numerous corners from which to enjoy the gin-centric cocktail list.
I tried the majority of the “Original Cocktails” section in my initial three visits. Days before opening, I had already narrowed down to two top drinks, which remained confirmed with subsequent visits: Dutch Nemesis ($13) is my tops. The maltiness of Bols Genever sings with the savory caraway hit of Combier kummel liqueur, two spirits I love, balanced by pineapple gum syrup, Angostura bitters, lime and sparkling wine.
4. Cala’s Super Elegante
Having Gabriela Cámara, the chef and restaurateur of Mexico City’s Contramar, open her first US restaurant, Cala, in SF is a win. Mexico City (MX) is one of the more exciting dining cities in the world right now and her food exemplifies her hometown (more on that here). The bar is all about agave spirits, heavy on tequila and mezcal. Prices read high — $11-17 per cocktail — but remember that tip and tax are included in each price and you’ll find it in line with others of its ilk.
Having tried almost the entire initial cocktail menu over two visits, standouts include a creamy-light Horchata Colada ($11), blending house horchata in Diplomatico Anejo rum. But the most interesting cocktail is quite subtle: Super Elegante ($17) combines Casa Dragones Tequila, apple, lime and celery with chamomile tea clarified milk, resulting in a textured tequila drink that plays silky-elegant (hence the name), rather than bold and bracing.
5. 1760’s Falernum Sour
Christopher Longoria’s cocktails have long made an appearance on my site, being one of the many draws to 1760, alongside the excellent wine list (try current joys like the 2011 Sandro Fay Ca’ Morei from northern Italy, bordering Switzerland) and memorable dishes from new executive chef Carl Foronda (more on that here).
There are lovely newcomers on the current cocktail menu, including the wintery-bright White Grapefruit ($13), tasting like a NorCal winter with a cachaca base, contrasting tart grapefruit with red amaranth, black pepper and Dimmi. But it’s hard not to fall for the Falernum Sour ($13), a Tiki-inspired drink weaving the obvious Tiki ingredients — rum, lime, Tiki bitters, pineapple, egg white, nutmeg — into a seamless, tropical whole.
6. Capo’s Wise Guy
The greatest deep dish/Chicago pizza restaurant in the country (I’d vouch for it in a side-by-side taste test with any deep dish I’ve ever had in Chicago), Capo’s, offers Elmer Mejicanos‘ cocktails at the wood bar in a brick-lined space evoking 1930’s Chicago.
Wise Guy ($11) is a current favorite, spiced and robust with rye whiskey, contrasted by lemon, cracked white pepper, orange marmalade, agave nectar and fresh oregano, resulting in a tart drink with subtly savory undertones.