Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Meet the Cocktails: Japanese, European, and American cocktail styles blend at Ramen Shop

It recently came to our attention that we've known Chris Lane for, well, years.

The early days of Heaven's Dog used to have what is now a bygone SF unicorn: $5 cocktails. Chris used to work at Heaven's Dog on Fridays, and as we'd while away the Friday evening, Chris would indulge us with crazy awesome cocktails of his own design, as well as an impressive list of classics and tiki (Scorpion please!). It may or may not have inspired Josh to even pen a blog post in the form of an ode to the Devil's Backbone, a deep, slow, and stirred Scotch drink that Chris eventually put on the Lolinda menu. Let's just say that the ode began with a Dante quote ("Abandon all hope ye who enters here!"). Though I have tried to find that post for publishing, it has mysteriously disappeared.

Today, Chris is heading up an ambitious cocktail program at Ramen Shop, a much celebrated restaurant in Rockridge Oakland that serves up rich bowls of ramen made with fresh California ingredients. It's a logical match for Chris, who has always embraced an impressive attention to detail and to execution with his cocktails.

Chris Lane at Ramen Shop

Ramen Shop is a great dinner stop. The now-famous noodles have caught the eye of Bay Area hipsters and foodies, and waits can be expected, as is typical for a hotspot. The bar until now has served as a happy landing pad where patrons can wait for tables with glass in hand. There may be even more room for the bar in the future when the restaurant expands early next year and brings more tables and dedicated bar space.

The cocktail menu itself is a great amalgamation of Chris's style, combining classic presentation, tiki- and Japanese-style ingredients, and precise execution. If the range seems impressively wide, it is—only made more admirable that this represents a mere slice of Chris's spectrum, with cocktails chosen specifically with the food in mind. For Chris, this meant cocktails that were a bit more savory and a bit lighter.

Ramen Shop

Want to meet the cocktails?

Double Barrel Fizz: Rittenhouse Rye whiskey, fresh lemon juice, cherry gastrique (a sweet and sour syrup), cinnamon, with a float of Rodenbach Grand Cru, served long over ice in a tall collins glass. Though we are often suspicious of beer cocktails, this is one that works beautifully. The Grand Cru brings a nice funk to the lemon and cherry tang, and the cinnamon takes the spice to the end with a nice finish. It's at once tangy and savory, which makes it a good addition to a meal. 

Chris Lane at Ramen Shop

Double Barrel Cocktail at Ramen Shop

Old Golden Cocktail: Fidencio Clasica Mezcal, lemon, honey, ginger, crushed sage, served over ice in a rocks glass. A refreshing drink in which the smokey mezcal and sage combine seamlessly into a light herbaceousness with a honey finish. The ginger is subtle and not overpowering, a common downfall for many Asian-inspired drinks. But not this one!

Chris Lane at Ramen Shop

Old Golden cocktail at Ramen Shop

First and Last: Neisson Blanc agricole rhum, lime, pineapple gum, Velvet Falernum, Sapins Traditional. Texture is one of the cruxes of this light and fluffy drink, whipped up purely from pineapple gum syrup and precise shaking. It require fast shaking to create the meringue without introducing too much water, so an expert hand is required. The result is a smooth, almost creamy, and approachable drink, that washes pleasantly over your palate. The agricole rhum and pineapple together create a delicate profile made from tiki ingredients with classic presentation using Japanese execution. Truly a testament to Chris's range, this felt like one of his program's signatures.

Chris Lane at Ramen Shop

First and Last Cocktail at Ramen Shop

Big Medicine: Herencio Blanco, lime, Bergamot, orange marmalade, gomme (sugar) syrup, and tonic, served long, over ice in a tall collins glass. We love cocktails that introduce marmalade because of the richness bartenders are able to achieve with it. Big Medicine is a very good example of it. Chris introduces a little bit of salt into this long cocktail which turns it savory. The saline tempers the sweetness in the marmalade and pleasantly accentuates the bitter rind and the tonic. The lime and orange taste like natural companions to the tonic and, served long, tastes like a pleasant, highly sippable, distant relative to a classic gin and tonic. 

Chris Lane at Ramen Shop


Broken Flower: El Tesoro Reposado tequila, Cynar (artichoke Italian bitters), fresh lime juice, fresh grapefruit juice, cinnamon, Angostura bitters served up in a coupe glass. The grapefruit and Cynar come together to create a satisfyingly bitter and rich drink that is at the same time refreshing. You'll find spicy notes from the tequila, Cynar, cinnamon, and Angostura, reminiscent of some tiki styles, but with a light texture and restrained sweetness. It tastes crisp, almost like an apple. 

Broken Flower Cocktail at Ramen Shop

Drop Point: Rittenhouse rye whiskey, Amaro Nordini (Italian bitter liqueur), Cynar (artichoke Italian bitter liqueur), and apricot, served on the rocks in an old fashioned glass and garnished with a large orange peel. This is a stirred drink that is more crisp and refreshing than it looks. Though it is one of the slower sippers on the menu, the apricot uplifts the cocktail in the end and brings together what would otherwise be very serious, bitter, and slow ingredients.


Drop Point Cocktail at Ramen Shop

Grass Cutter: St. George Spirits Shochu, terroir gin, fresh lemon guide, ginger, vanilla, orgeat (almond syrup), pineapple, matcha powder, served up in a couple glass. Along with the First and Last, this is felt like another one of Chris's signature drinks on the menu and one that most explicitly incorporates Japanese ingredients along with some tiki influences. It's a light and airy cocktail that is, like the First and Last, texture-driven with high attention to execution. Though some of the ingredients might feel foreign to some drinkers, the result is something strangely familiar, almost like an adult version of your favorite birthday cake. The matcha introduces some salt and dryness to the cocktail and contributes to an overall profile that is not cloying. You won't find a cocktail like this anywhere else in the city.

Grass Cutter Cocktail at Ramen Shop

Grass Cutter Cocktail at Ramen Shop

Grass Cutter Cocktail at Ramen Shop

Check out the full photo album here.

Ramen Shop
5812 College Ave
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 788-6370

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The World's First Taste of Glenrothes 1992


I don't think that small Asian girls are commonly pegged as Scotch enthusiasts (for shame!), but I have to admit that I do love to enjoy a sip of smokey whisky every now and again, especially with my favorite albums on slow burn at home.

And tonight I had the special delight of a vertical tasting of Glenrothes Scotch—in particular the unveiling of the second edition of the Glenrothes 1992 ($249.99), which was just released into the world this evening.


At 88 proof, it's an elegant Scotch, perfect for a celebratory sip with friends. It's light, smooth, and runny in viscosity with delightful  notes of honey suckle and jasmine, round notes of melon, and a citrus burst at the end like tangerine. The last release of the 1992 was in 2004 before it had fully matured in its refilled Sherry Butts and American Ex-Bourbon Hogshead barrels. This new pour is said to be lighter and less formal. 


Glenrothes, in general, focuses in on a lighter style of scotch that celebrates smooth vanilla, citrus, and spicy flavors in its whisky. 

The 1998 is a light sip, smelling full of honey and dry cocoa. It is less smokey than many scotches with just a subtle burnt note and white pepper on the finish. A nice pour for the beginning of a good conversation. 



The 2001 is a bit richer, with cherry notes on the nose and smooth stone fruit (especially peach) on sipping. It ends with a seaweed-like briny finish which prevents the Scotch from becoming too cloying.  It paired well with ribeye!.



The 1995 was the richest of those we tried, the most structured, and the one that most resembled the typical scotch. With a heavier mouth feel, the 199 brought in sweet notes of butterscotch and caramel and citrus and heavily spiced finish. 



Lastly we had a taste of Glenrothes's ginger liqueur—still a sweet proposition, but with much more spicy bite on the back and nose (compared to other ginger liqueurs out there).


Now all I need is a good record to play. :-)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A brief introduction to sherry

Last year, Noelle and I talked about the emergence of sherry in San Francisco, helped along by Michelin-starred Range in the Mission. Personally, I've been rooting for sherry for a few years now, and I'm excited that it's now taking root in a big way.

I recently had the great good fortune to sample a flight of sherries from Tío Pepe, one of the sherry Spain's sherry bodegas. I was so blown away by the passion of these guys, as well as their lovely sherries, that I wanted to share some of what I learned here. This post is meant to be a basic sherry primer for anyone interested in sherry but put off by the unfamiliarity of it. I'll very briefly cover how sherry is made and introduce you to the seven expressions of sherry: manzanilla, fino, amontillado, palo cortado, oloroso, cream, and Pedro Ximénez. Finally, I'll cover the best way to enjoy these sherries.

For starters, what is sherry? Sherry is a wine from the Jerez region of Spain. In French, Jerez becomes Xérès. In English we call wines from Jerez (Xérès) sherries. Sherry, like port, is a fortified wine, meaning it's ABV is between 15.5-22%. Unlike port, though, sherry is oxidized, giving sherry a totally unique flavor. Additionally, sherry undergoes a complicated and continuous system of blending and aging in a variety of barrels. Different styles of sherry are produced by aging the sherry in different ways, not by varying the grape. In fact, all sherries come from one of three varietals of white grapes, even those deep red sherries that you'll see at the bottom of this post.

The sherry you see below is called "Fino en rama." Let's look at the "fino" part first. Finos have a pale yellow color and crisp, acidic flavor almost like a verjus (the juice of unripened grapes, basically a less sweet, more acidic grape juice). Fino's flavor comes from flor––a yeasty foam that forms on the surface of the wine while it's made. "En rama" means that this fino came straight from the barrel, a means of preserving the freshness of this delicate wine. Finos are similar to manzanilla sherries, but manzanillas comes from one specific seaside town in Spain and, as a result, have a slight brine to them.


Another fino, the wine below has been aged for six years, but the yeast is still active, giving the fino a bitterness to complement its freshness.


If one were to take a fino, add more brandy to bring the alcohol content up, and then age it in another series of barrels, you'd get an "amontillado." After the brandy is added and the wine is put into new barrels, it's no longer protected by the flor, the foam of yeasts that usually protects the wine from oxidizing. As a result of the oxidization, the wine takes on a pinkish hue and develops more nutty flavors. Many producers add some sweeter sherry to their amontillado, but you can fine some dry amontillados if you look for them and ask at your local wine store.

Now, if you were to age your amontillado for a very long time, the wine would take on special characteristics. Aged amontillado is called "palo cortado."  Palo cortado is a unique sherry because it's like a weird hybrid of an amontillado and an oloroso. What's an oloroso, you ask? Oloroso sherries are aged quite awhile, and they are exposed to more oxygen than other dry sherries. As a result, they're nuttier and redder than other dry sherries. Olorosos use pressed juice and more brandy, making them thicker and richer than sherries that used more delicate juice and less brandy. So a palo cortado is dry and delicate like an amontillado, but thicker and richer like a dry oloroso.

Palo Cortado Sherry

The wine below is also a palo cortado, only much older than the wine above. You can clearly see how the aging process adds color to the wine. What you can't see is how much sweeter (but not too sweet, actually) and richer this wine is. These wine start tasting fruitier, especially raisiny. There may also be hints of orgeat and orange flower water leftover from the more delicate stages of the palo cortado. The folks at Tío Pepe have a slightly more poetic way of describing palo cortado. "What is palo cortado? Palo cortado is the wind in the trees. Palo cortado is the sun in the sky. Palo cortado is the wave in the ocean. Palo cortado is life."

Apostoles Sherry

Finally, let's look at Pedro Ximénez. It's rare to find this on its own in the United States, so if you see it on a menu it may be worth a shot––but skip dessert because this wine is as thick as molasses and ten times as sweet. You only need a small amount, because each drop packs the flavor of figs, dates, and jam. It's very delicious, but if you overdo it you'll end up with a wicked headache.

Noe sherry

Take a look at the pictures below and you'll get a sense of the viscosity of Pedro Ximénez.

Sherry tasting

Sherry tasting

There's one last type of sherry that you'll see the store more than any other: cream sherry. Cream sherry was created for the British export market. Essentially, it's just oloroso sherry sweetened with Pedro Ximenéz. There's no regulation on just how much PX the different bodegas (sherry-making houses) use, so some cream sherries will be painfully sweet while others will be more mild.

I hope that this post provided a reasonably clear introduction to the sometimes daunting world of sherry. I encourage anyone reading this to hit up a local wine store and try a nice sherry. Manzanilla, fino, amontillado, and palo cortado sherries (as well as dry olorosos, if you can find them) should be served chilled and, like any white wine, finished within a two or three days. Manzanillas are so delicate, though, that you really want to finish them within two days. Serve these in a wine-sized pour in a white wine glass. These four sherries also pair well with food––especially seafood or fresh, crisp greens.

Oloroso, high-quality cream, and PX sherries are all fantastic dessert wines. Remember, for PX, and some of the sweeter creams, you only need half an ounce to an ounce. PX is also a nice addition to vanilla ice cream, as long as you're not using a $300 bottle!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Glorious Range of Gins Showcased at Bourbon Steak's Juniper in July

Bourbon Steak - Michael Mina SF

There's a day left to do it! For a quick escape this month, Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak is featuring some gorgeous gins in its Juniper in July special.

Located in the classic St Francis Westin in Union Square, the airy, cathedral-like steakhouse with high ceilings, classic arches, and roman columns offers a civilized spot for diners looking for a chance to try expertly crafted classic martinis with a unique selection of gins.

Bourbon Steak - Michael Mina - Bar

Steered by bar manager Adam Reaume, the menu is comprised of martinis ($14) with made from eight different gins, mostly locally distilled. These include Barr Hill, Distillery No. 209, Junipero, Monkey 47, Spirit Works, St. George Dry Rye, Uncle Val's, and Voyager.

I tried the martini with Monkey 47 (an $8 supplement), a high quality German gin with exceptionally big, bold botanicals—one of the most distinct gins I've ever tried. The name is particularly apt because of its 47 botanicals distilled down to 47 proof. This is served the traditional fashion with vermouth and a very untraditional marshmallow grain garnish—a flavor that brings a creamy addition to the rich martini.

Monkey 47 Gin Martini - Part of Juniper in July at Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak

The rest of the menu is comprised of classic cocktails inspired by the 19th-century barman Jerry Thomas that also go well with steak. To add to that, Adam created some whiskey cocktails and specialty cocktails of his own design. It's a cocktail program designed to go well with the food. Seasonal bounty from the local farmers market is often incorporated into the cocktails, and house cocktails are usually inspired by a dish or element on the food menu.

After the martini, I indulged in The Saint of Pier 50, which is made of 209 gin, along with strawberry. It tasted bright citrusy along with strong botanicals.

The Saint of Pier 50 - Bourbon Steak

My friend Tom, meanwhile, reached for Thyme for Smile (he is always one for puns). The drink is made with Monkey shoulder gin, grapefruit, aperol, and thyme—which results in a light, but herbaceous cocktail—a good pairing for food.

Where There Is Smoke - Bourbon Steak

Speaking of food! The drinks are designed to go with a delightfully hearty menu of steak. One of my favorites.

We started by trying their "fresh ricotta gnudi," a delicious take on meatballs, braised dandelion, caramelized parsnip, and parmigiano-reggiano. Bone-marrow rich with tender meatballs make it a perfect bite.

Gnocchi with Meatbals

I also tried their steak tartar, which was part of their daily special: Steak Tartar with Caper Relish, Pickled Mustard Seeds, Pearl Onions, Horseradish-yogurt Puree, Egg Yolk, Squid Ink Beef Chicarones. From the moment I heard of it, I knew I wanted to try it. After all, who doesn't like tartar and squid ink?

Tartar with Mustard Seeds and Squid Ink Chips

Of course, the star of the night was the steak!

The staff recommended the 10 oz imperial flat iron, a wagyu, but one that still has some of the texture of an American steak. Sometimes wagyu can be overwhelmingly buttery and rich. This imperial flat iron was the perfect mixture of texture and richness.



Tom and I also shared the short rib—a plate of farro verde, beech mushroom, baby carrot, and caramelized onion sauce for two to share.


We finished the night with some beautiful desserts.

Silky buttermilk panna cotta with fluffy citrus sponge cake, rhubarb sorbet, and kaffir lime.


And pillowy beignets, served with cinnamon sugar and macallan caramel custard (dipping the fried doughy pieces into the caramel was as delicious as it sounds!).


Enjoyed, of course, with a drink—this one a classic Hanky Panky from the Savoy Cocktail book, here with Voyager gin mixed with fernet and a Carpano Antica, a sweet, herbaceous vermouth. It's a slow, slightly bitter drink that ends the meal well.


Finished with some house treats.


A classic and elegant San Francisco dinner. :-)

Bourbon Steak
335 Powell St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 397-3003

Posted by Noelle

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Meet the Cocktails: Japanese ingredients, California style at Pabu

Pabu Interior

Though I'm not Japanese, I grew up in Hawaii, a melting pot of people with a unique sway to Japanese culture and food. I spent my "small kid days," as they call them, eating comfort foods like spam musubis (spam laid over a bed of rice and wrapped with nori), melona bars, and oyako donburi (chicken and egg served over hot rice). On hot days, my summer fun friends and I would walk to the nearby Toyo Superette to buy Japanese candies and drinks, like cold Japanese sodas and soft Japanese gum.

There are two times I've been taken back to my childhood in Hawaii while tasting cocktails. The first was when I first tasted Chareau, the new aloe liqueur made in California. The second was tasting the cocktails at Pabu, Carlo Splendorini's new Japanese-inspired program.

I recently wrote a piece for Eater SF about the new bar in the SF's Financial District. See are additional pictures of the drinks and here some extra commentary from Josh:

A highlight of the Pabu menu is the highballs. Although these drinks are simple mixes of soda water and Japanese whiskey, they have a surprising subtlety. Carlo pulls out this subtlety by using house-made, flavored sodas––strawberry, yuzu, and shiso. These flavors complement the tasting notes in the whiskeys. Noelle's personal favorite was the strawberry, which I have to admit blew my mind as well. The strawberry is subtle, so subtle, in fact, that it can be hard to place. Nevertheless, it pulls out some berry notes in the whiskey that you'd otherwise miss.

Whiskey Highball at PABU

Carlo Splendorini at PABU

Whiskey Highball at PABU

The Fuzzy has a nice tart, and the spicy garnish on top of the drink adds a pleasant tingle to your lips. This drink matches nicely with food.

Carlo Splendorini at PABU


Carlo's play on the Ramos Gin Fizz, The Little Green Bag is the definition of instant gratification. The rich coconut fat makes you feel like you're getting all the richness of a Ramos, but without the heaviness of the lactose. The coconut also adds a nice nutiness. Think of a tropical Ramos.

Carlo Splendorini at PABU


Little Green Bag at PABU

Summer Cocktail. Sometimes served in a glass specially designed to spin the cocktail but not the ice, this cocktail is just fun. Not to mention tasty and easy drinking. Sake and strawberries go fantastically together, but what's more impressive is the strawberry vinegar. It reminds me of a shrub, but far less intense. So those of you who like just a bit of sour will love this drink.

Carlo Splendorini at PABU

Carlo Splendorini at PABU

Carlo Splendorini at PABU

Summer Cocktail at PABU

Whiskey Ceremony is a bit pricey, but it's a nice treat for a special occasion. Carlo pairs each whiskey with a different fruit (usually infused with something else. The strawberry below, for example, is soaked in a special creme de cacao). The fruit is then charred and the glass imbued with the smoke. You nibble the fruit and sip on the whiskey, the flavors gradually melding together to create a unique drinking experience.




101 California St
San Francisco, CA
Bar hours:
Sunday-Thursday: 11:30am-10pm
Friday-Saturday: 11:30am-10:30pm

Posted by Noelle and Josh