Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Cocktails in Florence: Fusion

Fusion Bar

We didn't set out to try cocktails in Florence, but we weren't about to pass up an opportunity. The guys at Ditta Artigianali raved about Fusion, and especially a guy named Marco. After a brief stroll on the river, Noelle and I made our way to Fusion Bar and Restaurant at the Gallery Hotel Art.

Fusion Bar

It's a bit surreal to walk into the hotel. You're immediately bombarded with enormous portraits of American celebrities and a luxury interior. As you enter the restaurant, you find yourself in a nice Asian fusion restaurant with hip jazz music playing. Not what you expect in a medieval city, to say the least.

We arrived early, so it was entirely empty. Over time, though, people began to trickle in. Australians, Americans, and lots of Italians of course. It was never loud, and felt like any luxury hotel bar should feel: easy, relaxed, and comfy.

Fusion Bar

Marco is an absolute beast behind the bar. Watching this guy move is mesmerizing. He's got a kind of natural flair to his movements that you don't see very often. Each motion seems choreographed, but without appearing ostentatious. The casual drinker probably wouldn't even notice.

Fusion Bar

He's more than just moves, too. His execution is spot on. His stirred drinks were never too watery or too boozy, and his shaken drinks were perfectly frothy. Even as orders came pouring in, he never lost his composure. He knocked out drink after drink and still had time to chat with us without breaking a sweat.

Fusion Bar

Fusion Bar, he explained, is a rarity in Florence. Most Italians aren't used to drinking in hotel bars, he said, and those who did were used to Aperol Spritzes.

The Aperol Spritz
Despite the craft part of this craft cocktail bar, lots of Aperol Spritzes still went out.

But Fusion had been around for over a decade, and in that time they'd built up a huge fan base who appreciated the bar's craft approach to cocktails. They were doing fresh juices before it was even catching on in the States.

Fusion Bar

Marco himself was trained as an architect, but his deep love of cocktails put him in a bind. Should he do two things acceptably, or excel at one thing? He chose the latter, and fifteen years later his mastery is apparent.

Americano Twist

Americano twist

I had an Americano twist, something Marco recommended for a warm afternoon in Florence. Instead of Campari, he used Cynar. This helped dry the cocktail out a good deal, and the lemon lingered long after swallowing. Like many Italian cocktails we tried, this was sweeter than the American cocktail drinker would normally experience, but it was by no means cloying. All in all, perfectly executed and delicious.

Grapefruit Rosemary cocktail

We ended with a drink Marco made for a perfume launch party. The perfume was heavily scented with grapefruit and rosemary, so the cocktail matched it by using both a grapefruit infused vodka and a rosemary infused vodka. It was sweetened with a rosemary simple syrup. This drink was dry for the Italian palate, but absolutely perfect for the American palate. Just sweet enough to bring out the rosemary and cut the bitterness of the grapefruit, but one would never call it sweet.

As usual in Italy, Fusion serves snacks with cocktails. They change every day and fit in with the Japanese theme of the restaurant. We had some edamame and kappa maki.

Fusion Bar and Restaurant
Vicolo dell'Oro, 3, 50123 Firenze, Italy
+39 055 2726 6987

Snack: every day, 12.30 - 15.00
Dinner: every day, 19.30 to 23.00.
Cocktail bar: every day, 15.00 to 00.00

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Peek at Dominic Alling's Secret Bird Menu at Beretta [photos]


I imagine that it is within every reasonable person's fantasy to sidle up to a long wooden bar, lean over to the bartender, and whisper hoarsely, "I'll have the secret bird menu." Because honestly: 1) Secrets! 2) Birds. 3) Cocktails. I don't see much not to love here.

Well, it's your lucky day because this can be you, too. Bar manager Dominic Alling offers this illustrated Field Guide to the Birds menu at the much-loved San Francisco restaurant and bar Beretta (which I wrote about a little while ago for Eater).  This selection of 11 drinks is not advertised, but if you ask for it in a low, sly voice (OK, maybe not that part), the bartenders are happy to share it with you.

Just what are you getting yourself into? We took a few pictures to tide you over until you can visit yourself:

[Spoiler alert: Dominic does in fact serve something called a Fernet Branca Jelly. You're welcome, San Francisco. See the last photo.]


Dominic's menu celebrates every detail including this leather-bound menu. Each drink features elegant, intricate bird drawings, illustrated by former Beretta host Melissa Getman.


Dominic (shown below) thought the additional menu was a nice way to introduce some new cocktails without removing some of the popular drinks already on the menu, which have over time become hallmarks for Beretta.


Sage Sparrow. Mint-flavored mezcal, lemon, creme de menthe, velvet falernum, egg white.


Kiskade. Tequilla, lemon, vanilla almond milk, cinnamon, and toasted fennel.


California Thrasher. Rum, bacanora, olorosso sherry, chocolate barley, bitters.




Strange Weaver. Gin, rum, lemon, Campari, Cocchi di Torino, orgeat foam.



Siamese Fireback. Rum, lime, ginger, banana, prosecco.


Bohemian Waxwing. Gin, lemon, Campari, aloe, egg white, rose.


Magnificent Hummingbird. Pisco, popcorn, lemon, candied sour apple syrup.


And, yes, the perfect SF menu item:

Fernet Branca Jelly. Made into a silky solid and served in ginger syrup with orange zest. SF, you are ready for this jelly. (Hashtag obligatory Beyonce reference.)




1199 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA
(415) 695-1199

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Petit Crenn Opens in Hayes Valley Tonight

Petit Crenn _ Spirit Life Studios (12 of 14)

Star chef Dominique Crenn opens her highly anticipated sophomore restaurant, Petit Crenn, tonight in Hayes Valley. Unlike her other avant garde two-Michelin restaurant Atelier Crenn in the Marina, Petit Crenn will focus on dishes from Crenn's home in Brittany. This means the kitchen will serve up mostly vegetables and seafood, using local California produce with French techniques inspired by her mother and grandmother's cooking.

There are no cocktails at this cozy new spot, but the menu will feature a curation of French and local ciders, as well as natural wines from France. You can see the menu here and here.

Bon appetit!

Petit Crenn _ Spirit Life Studios (8 of 14)

More photos from the media preview:

Petit Crenn
609 Hayes St.
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 864-1744

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Where to Drink in Italy: Ditta Artigianale, a surprising gin and coffee bar in Florence

Ditta Artigianale

I went to Florence because it was the birthplace of the Renaissance. I wanted to see Brunelleschi's famous and world-changing dome. I wanted to walk the medieval streets and take in some art. But then I stumbled on Ditta Artigianale: a coffee roaster and, for some reason, an epic gin bar. Sorry, Michelangelo's David, I've got some gin to imbibe.

Ditta Artiagianale

The funny thing about Ditta Artigianale is that, on the surface, it seems like any speciality coffee place in San Francisco or Austin. They roast their own beans and sling pour overs—the works of which you'd find at any self-respecting hipster coffee shop in the States.

And while we might find that every three blocks in San Francisco or Austin, it's extremely rare in Italy. In fact, it's the only one we saw in the 12 days we spent in the country.

Ditta Artigianale

From the outside, the place reminded both me and Noelle of our favorite coffee shops back home, so we rolled in primarily for espresso. It was bustling and smelled delicious, full of coffee accoutrements, and staffed by know-it-all but friendly baristas—just how we like it in the States.

We ordered our espresso and took a look around. The usual hipster markers laid in place: a turntable, big open windows, community advertisements pinned to the walls, and shiny, glass Hario coffee accessories for sale on wall shelves. The wooden seats were crowded with people sipping artisan coffee and chatting.

That's when we noticed the gin.

Ditta Artigianale

And oh, such gin. Entire shelves of gin. Gin from America, from Italy. Gin from France and England. The shelves were laden with labels that are not currently distributed in our parts of the States.

It was a bit early for alcohol, but when in Florence, right? We awkwardly approached the barista and asked about the gins. Surprisingly, the fellow was more than willing to recommend his favorite gins and even pour us a few samples.

Ditta Artigianale

This Old English Gin by Hammer and Son was more than your average gin. It tasted of a perfect, text book London gin: heavy juniper, good bite, tiny bit of citrus, and of course delicious.

Ditta Artigianale

G'vine is a French gin (that a French producer would create what's classically British? Miracles!), and the cute name comes from what the liquor is made of: grape spirits. The result is a more viscous gin, which can be off-putting if you're used to a London Dry. It might give you the illusion that the gin is sweet, even if it's not. Just give yourself time to get used to. It's worth it.

Ditta Artigianale
Drink more gin, indeed.

It seems the shop was just as proud of their gin collection as they were of their coffee. It makes sense, too, why shouldn't coffee people also be booze people? This coffee shop / bar showed us the potential of such combinations in the states. It is easy to imagine that the place is packed from open to close, the crowds gradually shifting from morning coffee drinkers to evening G&T sippers.

Ditta Artigianale
The entire gin list.

On the way out, the barista recommended we try Fusion, Florence's one and only craft cocktail bar. Check that out in a future post coming soon.

Ditta Artigianale
Via Neri, 32R Firenze, Italy.
8am-2pm from Monday to Thursday
8am-midnight Friday
9:30am-midnight Saturday
9:30-10pm Sunday

Monday, June 8, 2015

Where to Drink in Italy: Nottingham Forest, molecular mixology in Milan

Nottingham Forest

At a certain point, all cocktail bars start to look (and feel... and taste) alike. Whether you're in London, Paris, Copenhagen, or San Francisco, you can rest assured that there will be a solid array of well-executed classics and a relaxed ambiance. Sure, it's good, but routine.

That's why I didn't expect much from Nottingham Forest, widely hailed as the best cocktail bar in Milan. That is also why I was totally unprepared for the mad molecular mixology taking place there.

The bar describes itself as "a mercurial oasis where you can hear the echo of the world." A place where "Water can become foam, foam becomes air and air can turn into smoke." It seems dramatic until smoking drinks emerge from behind the bar. And then you notice what else is back there. There are all sorts of contraptions and gadgets. That's when you realize that Nottingham Forest is not your usual cocktail bar.

Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest perfume bottle

Walking in, I was reminded a bit of Smuggler's Cove. Nottingham Forest took the British Empire/Robin Hood/Pirate theme very seriously. The bar is wall-to-wall rum and gin. The decor was chaotic, to put it mildly. There were imperial-themed objects packed into shelves, cases, and on every inch of wall space. The bar allows customers to peek through a lower level of gadgets and an upper level of booze at their bartender, who is nevertheless obscured by bottles, tubes, and sometimes smoke. Seating is relaxed but hard to come by.

Nottingham Forest

The cliental is more varied than such a bar would be stateside. An older couple arrived at the same time we did, pounded four molecular cocktails by the time we finished our first round, and rolled out. There were a few ex-pats and a good number of young and hip Milan residents making the Forest their first stop.

Nottingham Forest backbar

The menu is voluminous, and it's extraordinarily confusing in English. It's not Italian custom to ask for recommendations blindly, so forget about asking for the bartender's favorite or his recommendation. Since this was literally our first cocktail experience in Italy, Noelle and I were a bit taken aback when the bartender refused to give a straightforward recommendation. So, we turned back to the confusing menu. Here's what we were dealing with:

Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest

Seriously. Candy caviar? Test tubes? And what the heck is sferification [spherification]? So, we picked two things that seemed the easiest to get into: a negroni-type thing and a martini-eque cocktail.

Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest Negroni

The negroni cocktail was actually two different drinks, one of which came in a test tube. The negroni was fairly straightforward, but the test tube drink was a kind of peach vodka mixture. The two could be sipped separately or mixed together. I tried both. On its own, the test tube was a bit sweet for my taste, but when it was mixed with the negroni I was impressed with how well peach mixed with the drink.

Nottingham Forest Martini

Nottingham Forest Candy Caviar

The martini thing was neat in concept, but I'm sad to say the drink itself tasted like rubbing alcohol with a heavy dose of everclear. Candy caviar, as it turns out, is an almost liquid jelly, encased in a thin film. The moment you bite into the sphere, it bursts. Each caviar was flavored either of anise (probably absinthe or pastis) or Campari. If you burst a sphere in your mouth along with some liquor, the drink was better, but still far too boozy to be enjoyable.

After these lackluster drinks I was ready to leave. I'm afraid I don't have much patience. Noelle, however, wanted to give the place another shot. So we ordered another round, and this time we didn't truck with the menu. "I want something bitter," I told the bartender. Noelle ordered something smoking and light. It was a good thing we stayed.

Nottingham Forest

My drink, which was served in a stone cup (which I now want). It was flavored with rhubarb, and that's wild licorice that you see on top. It was intensely bitter, just a little bit sweet and tart, and was extraordinarily refreshing. It was served with two types of mint: banana mint and oyster mint. Each of them taste like their namesakes, which is a bit off-putting at first. But they really do enhance the drink.

Nottingham Forest

Noelle's drink, in that dope skull cup, was a wine-based cocktail chilled with dry ice. Don't worry, the dry ice is kept in a little cage so no one loses a stomach. The drink was dry as all get out, herbal (especially because that massive parsley garnish), and ice cold for the full half-hour it took Noelle to finish.

Nottingham Forest

A huge perk of drinking in Italy is that all cocktail orders come with food. Free (are you listening, American bars? Now that's a heck of an idea!). Nottingham Forest's food was probably the best bar food we had. I guess it's just a variety of focaccia, but it was better than the chips most place serve!

Nottingham Forest 
http://www.nottingham-forest.com/flashpage.html (warning: sound)
Viale Piave, 1, Milano, Italy
6:30pm-2am, Tuesday-Saturday
6:30pm-1am, Sunday

No reservations, no proper line. Get there early and jockey for position. Drinks are about 8 euro a pop.