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 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 some part of 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 align 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 day 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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Meet the Cocktails: Drinks for eating at A16 Rockridge

Not too many people know that A16, one of San Francisco's favorite Italian joints, has a sister restaurant in Oakland, walkable from the Rockridge BART station. A16 Rockridge has all the class and atmosphere of the San Francisco location plus one more thing: a cocktail program. The space is beautiful––a sunny indoor spot those of us who want to get away from the foggy San Francisco summers. The bar is primarily a neighborhood bar, which you'll feel when you walk in. The staff is warm and hospitable, which makes you feel part of the in-crowd right off the bat.

A16 Rockridge

A16 Rockridge

A16 Rockridge

Blessed Thistle: Plymouth, Campari, ciociaro, cardamaro, bitters. This is a nice variation on a Negroni, less sweet than the standard recipe and more floral.

Blessed Thistle at A16 Rockridge

Peach + Ginger Fizz: Gin, combier peche de vigne, egg white, ginger beer. The egg white makes this drink creamy and fizz-like, but without the two ounces of heavy cream. The peach is a refreshing touch.

Peach + Ginger Fizz at A16 Rockridge

Rum Rebellion: Hamilton gold, amaretto, cappelletti, grapefruit. The capelletti, a slightly bitter and herbal Italian liqueur, subtly augments the rum. Overall, the drink is meant to spotlight the rum without confusing the palate with other flavors.

Rum Rebellion at A16 Rockridge

The Voyager: Aperol, creme de violette, lemon, sorelle bronca prosecco. The bartender calls this cocktail a vacation drink, and she pretty much hit the nail on the head. It's sweet, bubbly, and easy drinking. The lightness of the aperol and lemon make it an ideal cocktail for those who don't want a heavy, rich cocktail.

The Voyager at A16 Rockridge

The Voyager at A16 Rockridge

Camomilla: Marolo chamomile grappa, gin, honey, meyer lemon. Honey and chamomile is a natural combination, and the meyer lemon adds a lighter, fresher touch than a normal lemon.

Camomilla at A16 Rockridge

Alpine: vodka, salers gentian, combier peche, barrel aged cherry bitters. The potato vodka in this cocktail adds enough interesting flavor to please vodka haters and maybe even convince gin haters to try a nice London dry sometime.

Alpina at A16 Rockridge

Papetier: rye, Pimm's No. 1, amaro nonino. It's fun to see Pimm's in a dark cocktail. This is a good drink for Old Fashioned drinkers; it's herbal, rich, and a touch sweet (but balanced by the rye).

Papetier at A16 Rockridge

Vecchio Stile: Four Roses bourbon, orange shrub, ango. Although the Papetier reminds me of an Old Fashioned, A16 Rockridge's proper Old Fashioned variation is the Vecchio Stile (Italian for...Old Fashioned). This drink isn't for the faint of heart––the orange shrub is pretty intense. If you like sour beers, you may like this cocktail. If you prefer a more straightforward Old Fashioned variation, go with the Papetier.

Vecchio Stile at A16 Rockridge

Negro Oro. I usually don't like dessert cocktails, but the Negro Oro impressed me. It balances lightness, sweetness, and a bit of spice (from black pepper)––it's a much better way to end a drink than a sweet and heavy cocktail.

Negro Oro at A16 Rockridge

A16 Rockridge
5356 College Avenue, Oakland

Mon-Sat 5pm-10pm
Sun: 11am-10pm

Friday, May 16, 2014

Meet the Cocktails: The Dream of the '80s Is Alive at The Square

The Square

North Beach is one of San Francisco's most iconic, historic neighborhoods. When you're in North Beach, you feel like you're in a place with history. And Claire Sprouse's new bar program at the Square––an aptly named new restaurant across from Washington Square Park––it embraces North Beach. Claire didn't shy away from the 1970s and '80s style cocktails that were once (and in some places still are) so popular in North Beach. In fact, she took them in. She specifically designed her program to be a place North Beach locals would be proud to call their own.

(Read more about Claire's philosophy at Noelle's Eater article.)

Claire Sprouse at the Square

Thirsty yet? Meet the cocktails:

White Wine Spritz: Sherry, pineapple, black pepper, bitter lemon. This sweet and savory drink is perfect for a warm day in North Beach. The mixture sounds a bit odd at first, but the black pepper and sherry work wonderfully together, and the pineapple and Fever Tree bitter lemon (lemon tonic water) likewise blend nicely. It's a light, low alcohol cocktail that Claire first created to please the "ladies who lunch," folks like her mom or grandma. You can sip on this drink all night and still be able to stand without swaying.

White Wine Spritz at The Square

Apple-Tini: Clear Creek apple brandy, sour apple liqueur, lemon, honey, St. George absinthe, and Ron's fennel from the farm. Claire inherited a whole set of giant martini glasses when she first came to The Square. "The only thing going in there was Martinis," she joked. And so she came up with this playful Apple-tini, a twist on the sticky neon green drink we all know. Part of Claire Sprouse's genius is her playful variants of 1970s and 1980s cocktails. Her Apple-tini is a perfect example. If the name, or the "sour apple" in the ingredients, makes you nervous to try it, you're in for a treat. It's spicy, tangy, and tart, with a beautiful dill aroma that will keep your nose close to the cocktail. The apple pairs well with the fennel. It almost like an akvavit sour.

Apple-tini at The Square

Classic Daiquiri (aka Claire's favorite drink in the whole world): whatever rum suits the weather and mood today, fresh-to-order lime, and sugar. As a "spirits nerd," Claire actually does pick the rum that suits the day, so this drink will vary slightly day to day. She uses a 2:1 simple syrup ratio and the classic recipe, so it's a bit sweeter than the daiquiri you'll often find in San Francisco. All that means is that you shouldn't expect a mouth-puckeringly tart drink.

Classic Daiquiri at The Square

Harvey Wallbanger: vodka, Gran Classico, vanilla-orange cordial, and lemon juice. Mezcal instead of vodka makes it a Freddy Fudpucker. The drink is easy to drink, made to be highly approachable. "A drink shouldn't be so severe," Claire notes. Don't worry, though, there's no hyper-sweet orange concentrate in this drink. The Mezcal variant is fantastic. The smokiness works perfectly with Gran Classico and vanilla, and the lemon dries your palate out nicely at the end.

Harvey Wallbanger at The Square

Muddled Old Fashioned: bourbon, muddled fruit, sugar, and bitters. This isn't the jet fuel Old Fashioneds that you'll get at other craft cocktail establishments. Claire embraces the Mad Men version of the drink from the 60s, celebrating the softer side of the drink brought with muddle fruit. It makes it mellower and a tad sweeter and fruitier than what some of our readers are used to. Think of it like a totally different drink if you want to, but whatever you do, try it. There was a reason this type of Old Fashioned was popular for so long.

Muddled Old Fashioned at The Square

Tequila Sunrise: tequila, cassis, Campari, and lemon. This drink is said to have been popularized by the Rolling Stones in the summer of 1968, a season they spent hanging out at the Trident in Sausalito drinking the cocktail. It became known as the Cocaine and Tequila Sunrise tour or the STP (Stones Touring Party). There are two version of this drink, one with luxardo and one with Cassis, and Claire opts for the cassis version of the cocktail. As Claire's glee below indicates, this is another one of her little jokes. This drink ain't like no Tequila Sunrise you've ever had. There's a perfect combination of sweet, savory, and tart that hits your palate in all the right ways at all the right times. You'll find yourself drinking this guy dangerously fast, so be careful.

Claire Sprouse at the Square

Tequila Sunrise at The Square

Twentieth Century Cocktail: gin, cacao, lillet blanc, lemon. Actually, this drink is pretty straightforward. It's simple and delicious, and perfect for the "choco-tini crowd" because the cacao floats nicely above the other flavors.

Twentieth Century Cocktail at The Square

Claire-ified White Russian: rye or vodka, coffee, milk, allspice. The Dude himself would be left speechless at this riff on the White Russian. You might think they got your order wrong you get the Claire-ified White Russian. The name, however, is not just indicating that this is Claire's version of the drink, but that it uses clarified milk––in fact, Claire's far too modest to name a drink after herself. She was strong-armed into using this name. The drink itself is as playful and incredible as the other '70s and '80s drinks on the menu. It's got all the creaminess and richness of a White Russian, but far smoothers and less heavy. It's a perfect dessert drink.

Claire-ified White Russian at The Square

Wooden Nickel: apple brandy, sweet vermouth, cynar. This is Claire's after-dinner version of a Negroni. If you want to slow down your alcohol consumption for the evening, or have an appetite stimulant before dinner, reach for this one. The name is based off of the many wooden nickels that the staff found when they were building the place out. They used to be tokens that would get you a free drink at the bar.

Wooden Nickel at The Square

The Square
1707 Powell
Open every night 6pm-1am, food all night.