Monday, December 16, 2013

First Look: New Bar Third Rail Opens in Dogpatch with Culinary Flair

Third Rail exterior

The folks who brought us Range (and its excellent sherry program) opened a new bar last week in the Dogpatch called The Third Rail.  With simple decor that will remind you of a modern living room, the new spot is sure to draw bar-goers looking for an easy going night and some bright, culinary inspired cocktails—not to mention some satisfyingly rich and salty jerky snacks (pork rind, anyone?).

Third Rail interior

For places like the Dogpatch that typically embrace a neighborhood feel, Third Rail strikes a great balance between carefully crafted cocktails and an unpretentious place where you can kick back. Third Rail will fit right in.

Third Rail bartender

We tried a few cocktails here, and they were exceptional. This is the Mt. Tam cocktail: St. George's terroir, Dolin sweet, Gran Classico. For a stirred drink, it wasn't too heavy. It was deliciously earthy from the terroir. I love drinks with St. George's terroir gin:

Third Rail cocktail

The Harvest Moon is similar to a margarita: tequila, pear, absinthe, lime. Bright and refreshing with a healthy tequila kick. The absinthe is a great touch that brings it all together.

Third Rail cocktail

Finally, the Double Date cocktail. This was Noelle's favorite. Old Fashioned lovers will love this riff on that classic cocktail. The date added to the richness of the cocktail and gave it a holiday feel.

Third Rail cocktail

Check out the full set of pictures on our Flickr album:

Third Rail
628 20th St.
San Francisco, CA 94107
Every day 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Old Drinks and the New Tosca: Q&A with Bar Director Isaac Shumway


Since San Francisco mainstay Tosca Café closed its doors earlier this year, how many of us have peered longingly into the darkened North Beach Italian bar, its iconic, larger-than-life fluorescent sign dim and dark? Lucky for all of us, Tosca—which first opened in 1919—is seeing a second life and will soon reopen its doors. After a near closure, April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman—the team behind the Spotted Pig in New York—took over the bar’s lease. But how much will this new Tosca be like the old one and what can we expect? Isaac Shumway, Tosca’s new bar manager, gave us a sneak peek.

You might have seen my article earlier this week with Eater. Here's more of what Isaac and I talked about. No more looking into dark windows! Here are some excerpts.

Joy: So what is the new Tosca going to be like?

Isaac: The whole goal of the place is to keep it simple but done right—with an emphasis on doing everything, well, perfectly. We’re going to take things old school. Like, when’s the last time you saw an after dinner drink that’s old school?

I think there was a backlash on sickly sweet after dinner drinks during last nine years. There was a dark period in cocktail history during the 70's and 80's when products like Kahlua, Baileys, and things like Crème de Noyaux were popular in after dinner drinks. They’re not great products. They’re very manipulated and very sickly sweet. Now we have brands like Tempus Fugit going back and looking at these old recipes. Their Creme de Cacao is amazing. Or St George does a Firelit Coffee liquor using local coffee in it. You can come to Tosca and expect us to go back in time and do it right. It’s kind of like what you see now with 3D movies. Now we have the means to do it right.

Joy: Wait, so when you’re talking old school, are you talking like Prohibition or Pre-Prohibition? There are a lot of those bars. I think you used to work for one.

Isaac: Yeah, so for instance, I'm attempting the famous Cafe Brulot from the 1890's a lost and forgotten iconic drink of it's time and the Keoke Coffee, a drink that probably our grandparents were drinking. But I’m interpreting these drinks in a current and playful way. I think it's about taping into our memories or ideas of generations before us.

Joy: So those are like 70s drinks. But you’re thinking of redoing those drinks with other techniques from like Prohibition and today.

Isaac: Tosca was started in 1919, so there’s a lot of history—we’re going to be wearing the classic white jackets that we have always had. This makes me think back to the showmanship days of (19th century pioneering bartender) Jerry Thomas and the famous Blue Blazer. So for Tosca, we are trying to reinterpret and be playful. For instance, I'm really excited about attempting the Cafe Brulot. I’m thinking of a spice- and citrus-peel-infused brandy, using chicory-infused Sightglass coffee. And I’m hoping to involve a show of fire. Sightglass is a great local coffee company, and they’re helping us make us our own coffee blend—because when I think of Tosca, coffee definitely comes to my mind.

Bourbon and Branch: The Library

Joy: Do you feel pressured at all? Tosca is a historic place.

Isaac: I mean, yeah, I obviously want to make everyone happy. But we’re changing it. It’s going to be a different beast. It was always a simple dive bar and now I want to make it a simple neighborhood bar where you could come nerd out on cocktails—though that’s not what’s going to be the focus.

Joy: So you have a background in food. You went to the CIA and cooked at French Laundry and places like that. We’re all wondering, how does that play into your cocktails?

Isaac: We’re definitely going to try to incorporate ideas behind the philosophy of Italian dining. We are going to have a lot of Amaro. I am trying to get my hands on a lot of Fernets out there. Maybe offer different flights. The details are still being worked out.

Working in kitchens, the one thing I really took away was whoever has the best products will have the best restaurant. If you have two equal chefs and one is using the best ingredients and the other is not, it makes the world of difference. I learned it's about creating those relationships with people doing what they love to do and doing it right. For instance, we contacted a local Chocolate company called Dandelion for our famous house Cappuccino. This chocolate is amazing. We went out and formed a relationship with a small brewery called Mill Valley Beer Works—soon to be called Fort Point—here in the city. They will be brewing a house Tosca beer for us.

I'm also a huge believer in consistency. My whole team and I will be getting together to workshop classic cocktails. We will all be on the same page when it comes to classics.

Joy: That’s cool you’re workshopping classics. It feels like a lot of people in San Francisco are more into workshopping new drinks and seasonal ingredients.

Isaac: I don’t want to get stereotyped into one thing. I have a huge back bar, and we are going to do everything. I think San Francisco is a place where when I say a “neighborhood bar,” to the people who live here it’s a place you always want to come to and get a good drink—strong, basic classics. I want it to be the best Old Fashioned. The best Negroni. The best Manhattans. The best Daiquiris. Classic drinks. I’m old school.

Joy: How is that different from other people doing classics?

Isaac: I just feel like people are more focused on barrel-aged cocktails and shrubs and tobacco tinctures, and I feel like people forget how good a gimlet can be. I’m not saying I want to put a gimlet on the menu necessarily. But we will make great classics by using the best products—the best gin, the best fresh mint, organic citrus, the best ice available using the best glassware—and really taking the time to make sure we’re accurate when we measure and that we don’t skip steps that would make it perfect. We are talking bar spoon accuracy. Doing it right and doing it quickly.

And that’s again where I bring in that French cooking philosophy. That’s where I bring in the best ingredients and but don’t touch them too much. It’s about that simplicity, those three or four ingredients. And I think there is going to be a trend going back to it. Right now we’re in the middle of crazy conceptual cocktails and ideas. I think at the end of the day people want to come back from that.

Joy: In a way, that’s very San Francisco. Like a hearkening back to some history and at the same time going with the small batch, going with the local.

Isaac: It’s the revolt against Walmart. Handcrafted things of quality have died because you can’t compete with cheap pricing. And we have to support paying a little bit more sometimes to get something amazing. We have to support that small distillation on a farm that’s not producing very much, but it’s going to cost more. Or at least we find a balance between the two. And that’s huge. That’s also why San Francisco is so exciting. It’s like people are reaching out and embracing those smaller businesses. So when we say we’re a neighborhood bar, we’re also a reflection of the community.

- Noelle

Tosca Cafe
Anticipated to re-open October 2013
242 Columbus Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 986-9651

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bar Opening: Playful Cocktails and Quirky Environment at SOMA's New Bergerac

Bergerac SF

I remember the first time we sat down with Russell Davis to talk though the possibility of doing a video profile on him (like we did with Victoria and Tony).

“What is one word that you would use to describe yourself?” asked our resident producer Kerry.

Russell smiled. “Dangerous.”

Russell Davis at Bergerac SF

And it’s true—though not in the cowboy-gun-blazing sense. Rather, Russell is a person who knows how to keep folks surprised—whether it’s gracing Rickhouse with cowboy hats and flair mixing, blowing fireballs in Rio Grande, or captivating audiences on Spike TV's "Bar Rescue," where he is now featured as a bar expert.

Russell Davis at Bergerac SF

Now his latest bar project, Bergerac, opened in San Francisco’s SOMA district Saturday, and it has a little bit of that dangerous charm as well. As bar director, Russell is collaborating with Chef Randy Lewis (Food and Wine's best new chef in 2001), Speed Rack 2012 champ Yael Vengroff, and owners Bruce McDonald (Foreign Cinema), David Brinkley (Vessel), and Anderson Pugash (Crossroads Nightlife Group). Fun-seekers will find what the bar is calling a "Bohemian setting"—an eclectic, elaborate interior with playful, unpretentious cocktails, making it a relaxed environment for evening drinks. (Those feeling a progression can even hop upstairs to the sister dance lounge, Audio Discotech).

Bergerac SF

Bergerac's decoration makes the atmosphere especially fun. The bar itself is handsome but simple with deep wood tones and classic accent lamps. But the rest of the bar features a delightful mish-mash: half a globe juts out of the table, cow-skin rugs spread across the floor, glass chandeliers hang alongside '60s lamps, and the chairs are plush but don't match. It's fun and makes you feel like you fit right in, no matter how you're dressed or what mood you're in. “I want it to be like your grandma’s house, where you can’t really figure out what time period you’re in,” said Russell.

Bergerac SF Bergerac SF

Ice Nerds Alert: Russell combines hand-cut pieces of ice from a crystal-clear block with a cutting-edge Hoshizaki machine that supposedly creates even colder, purer, slightly smaller ice than Kold-Draft.

Bergerac SF Ice Block

The cocktails draw on Russell's crossbreed of club bartender meets inspired mixologist.

Here are just a few of them:

One of the most creative cocktails from the new menu is Live and Let Die—a disorienting blend that includes coconut oil-washed Pisco, sweet Vermouth, Froot Loops foam (yes, you read that right), and orange zest. The scent of Froot Loops will take you right back, though the Campari adds a nice grown up twist. It tastes like childhood in a glass.


Dirty Work is a bright, airy, and sparkling mix of Reposado Tequila, Lime, Pineapple Gomme syrup (fancy simple syrup), Cardamom tincture, and champagne. Perfect for a hot Indian Summer's day in San Francisco.

Bergerac SF: Dirty Work

The Midnight Hour is another bright, herbaceous cocktail. It is made with Tomintoul, Maurin Quina, Yellow Chartreuse, Lime, Sage, and smoked salt.

Bergerac SF: Red Medicine

With the Croquet Rouge, Bergerac nods to an elegant modern classic, borrowing a cocktail from the famous Milk and Honey bar in New York. The cocktail—a twist on the Manhattan variation called Red Hook—mixes rye, Punt e Mes, Vadouvan-infused Maraschino, and Angostura bitters. The menu calls it "an Indian-inspired, French take on one of America's best cocktails."

Bergerac SF: Croquet Rouge

The Red Medicine was a spicy twist on sangria—easy drinking on a hot day.


Lastly, Russell makes the Fireball Inside Her—a celebratory, old-fashioned bomb of Fireball (yup, that's cinnamon whiskey) in Magners Cider. See video below to see how to properly make enough for a large, soft opening party. And let Russell welcome you there himself. (Shot on a Moto X!)

316 11th St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 255-9440

Monday, September 9, 2013

Where to Drink: Weather Up (Austin, TX)


The Joy of Drinking now has an Austin office! In other words, I moved to Austin and am exploring the cocktail scene. The first place I went was Weather Up.


Here's the menu:




It's a solid mix of new and old, all executed very well. I made it for happy hour and enjoyed an Army Navy.


Then I moved on to an experimental drinking the bartender has been workshopping:



It's essentially a port sour with a champaign float, garnished with cinnamon. I hope this drink finds its way to the menu. The port makes it rich and deep, but the champaign dances on your tongue. The port, the champaign, and the cinnamon all makes me think of Thanksgiving.

Finally, a Gin-Aperol Smash:



Look at the crystal-clear ice in this bad boy. Weather Up's ice program is amazing. They use 300lb blocks of ice, cut it up into useful chunks, and break those down to size for each drink. Ice like that makes a beautifully cold drink to enjoy of Weather Up's patio on a warm Austin day:


The vibe at Weather Up is great. I've been there twice so far, and each time I make a few new friends. I love the music there, and I love even more that it's quiet enough to talk.

Weather Up
1808 E Cesar Chavez
4pm-12am every day except Saturday, when they close at 1am.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Exploring Zins, Family Wineries, and Wine Dogs in California's Dry Creek Valley

They call them microclimates around here, which is exactly like it sounds. Go a few miles to the north or south in the Bay Area and it’s the difference between a foggy film noir and A Roman Holiday. It’s especially muted right now for those of us in San Francisco. During these summer months, the fog rolls in like cat fur. While everyone else is out having BBQs, we’re pulling on light sweaters and boiling tea.

But there’s an easy remedy for that. Josh and I have taken to driving north to wine country on those dreary summer days to catch some of the sunlight and warm breeze. The famed Napa has been an easy favorite. But a little while ago, we tried a new getaway: Dry Creek Valley.

Sure, Napa Valley is a landmark destination with famous, brand name wineries and tours. That will always be there. But at Dry Creek Valley, a 9000-acre stretch of wine country, we found a cluster of smaller batch, family-run winemakers, which created a very different experience.

(You can watch our short video tour of the valley above!)

Dry Creek Valley is actually one of the oldest wine regions in California, dating back to the days following the Gold Rush of 1849. Those who had taken part in the frenzy settled in the fertile valley near the Russian River and planted vineyards of Zinfandel, now the region’s most famous wine. During Prohibition, most wine production stopped. But the region resurged in the 1970s. Today, Dry Creek Valley is home to over 70 wineries, most family owned and operated.

The Winegrowers of DCV invited us to visit the region along with a handful of other writers, and we all climbed into a little bus that took us through the city, over the Golden Gate Bridge, and into glorious, glorious wine country! The thing that I love about wine is that wine grapes are like sponges. A little southwestern breeze of vanilla will alter the flavor, as will a winter that’s too harsh or a summer that’s too scorching. Because of that, wine country—Dry Creek Valley included—is always perfectly pleasant. The air smells sweet and the weather is always temperate.


We first went to Fritz Winery, where they led us through an aromatics seminar. A little sniff of strawberries, chocolate, anise, and blueberries to see how it matched up with the wine (a refreshing mix of Sauvignon Blanc, Rose, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon).


Fritz Winery Aromatics Seminar

The wine caves of Fritz.

Fritz Winery

After Fritz, we climbed back into the bus and headed to Mauritson Winery, where we were to participate in soil tasting. As it turns out, for all of the comfortable weather, the grapes don’t necessarily have it easy. For grapes to produce good wine, they must undergo some hardship. They must be pruned to produce good branches and good fruit. And they must live in rocky soil. The rocky soil stresses the plant and causes it to produce chemicals that thicken the skin. For some varieties, skin like that produces better tasting wine. Such rocky soil is one of the pluses of Dry Creek Valley.

Luckily, there was no actually eating dirt in this seminar! It was all about how the quality of soil—rocky or moist or peaty—affects the product.

Mauritson Winery Soil Seminar

Then we went to Quivira, which was an organic vineyard. "Organic" is actually a pretty difficult certification to receive. It requires unconventional methods to make the wine. Our guide slung some cold wines into a cute little sack (see below) and took us through the vineyards, walking through the grass and among the branches. Funnily, the destination was the compost pile, which turns out to be a very innovative aspect of organic grape growing.


So, the whole media trip, the organizers joked about some kind of wine blending "smackdown." I thought they were kidding. As someone with test anxiety, how could I ever come to drink wine under such pressure? Well, to my horror, it turned out to be very true.

We headed over to Dutcher Crossing where we were sat down at white-clothed tables and given glasses, vials, pipettes, and single-grape wines. I looked around. Everyone else was confidently mixing. Josh was talking smack to the other mostly meek-looking writers, making fun of everyone for having it in the bag. The others looked smug. Naturally, I panicked. Taste, panic, mix, panic. Taste, panic, mix, panic. I was the very last person to finish, to the point that the organizers needed to usher me out because I was holding everyone up.

I was sure that I lost. I was so embarrassed to even have anyone taste it.

But in the end, I placed third! Josh didn't even place (that's what ya get for smack talking!).


The finale was a stunning dinner at the personal home of Debra Mathy, the proprietor of Dutcher Crossing. It was May, and we were entering the crest of summer. The evening was bright and warm, and the air smelled sweet from the nearby grapes. We enjoyed plates of cold beets, grilled chicken, and rare slices of beef along with a beautiful array of Viognier, petite verdot, cabernet sauvignon, zinfindel, and sauvignon blanc from Thumbprint, Collier Falls, Amphora, and Dutcher Crossing.




Lastly, we got to meet a bit of a celebrity! Last January, I bought a Wine Dogs calendar for $5 from Silver Oak. I love that thing. And lo and behold, I got to meet one of my favorite dogs from the calendar! Dutchess! She is every bit as beautiful and sweet as she looked in the calendar and more. What an adorable yellow lab. If you go to Dutcher Crossing, you might get to meet her, too.

IMG_0155 IMG_0158

Fritz Underground Winery
24691 Dutcher Creek Rd Cloverdale, CA 95425

Mauritson Winery
2859 Dry Creek Rd Healdsburg, CA 95448

Quivira Vineyards & Winery
4900 W Dry Creek Rd Healdsburg, CA 95448

Dutcher Crossing
8533 Dry Creek Rd Geyserville, CA 95448

Friday, August 16, 2013

Video: How to Make a Classic Martini [recipe]

That darn 007 ruined martinis for the rest of us. Talk about a license to kill (womp womp). If you walk into any hotel bar, any fine dining restaurant, and even some cocktail bars, you're likely to see a people sipping over-diluted and under-vermouthed drinks that taste more like rubbing alcohol than a cocktail.

Ok, so maybe it wasn't James Bond alone who killed the martini. It was also the 1970s and 1980s, when vermouth really started to disappear from the recipe. By the 90s, people were drinking glasses of cold gin or vodka. Ew.


If you hate martinis, hate gin, or hate vermouth, it's possible that you actually hate crappy martinis. Try using a good dry gin, nothing that comes in a plastic bottle. Vermouth is an amazing ingredient, but it does have a short shelf-life. If you're drinking a martini with a vermouth that's been sitting out for eight months, no wonder you think vermouth tastes like a gross foot. Use a good dry vermouth (we love Dolin in particular, but Noilly Prat will definitely do the trick). Taste the vermouth when you first open it and take note––that's what it should taste like. Refrigeration will extend the shelf-life. A lemon garnish will make this drink sing. Olives won't cut it because they don't add the high note that all cocktails need. The orange bitters do make a big difference in this drink. We like to use a spicy bitter, alcohol based bitter, not a sweet one.  If the cocktail doesn't have fruit juice, it shouldn't see the inside of a shaker. We stir (not shake, don't listen to Bond) with cracked ice and whole ice, both of which are big and very cold. The hardest part to making to a truly incredible martini is proper water dilution. We found that cracked ice helps get the drink diluted pretty well, but it's still a hard thing to master.

Ratios vary from person to person. We offer a pretty wet recipe (meaning it has a good amount of vermouth). Some people like them dryer, some even wetter. Experiment to see what you like. If you already have a preference, please share it with us!

Our recipe:
2 oz gin
.75 oz dry vermouth
4 dashes orange bitters
lemon garnish

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Where to drink: Range

Range is most well known for its kitchen––it earned a Michelin Star from 2007-2010––but its cocktails are exceptional. Like Blackbird, Range blazes its own trail through San Francisco cocktail culture. Three things really impressed us with Range. First, Range is attempting to bring European drinking culture, particularly the aperitif hour, to San Francisco. Second, Range takes uniquely culinary approach to the cocktail menu. Finally, Range is going to, single handedly, integrate sherry into the San Francisco cocktail scene in a big way. Below, we'll walk through the entire aperitif menu, take a look at some of the culinary cocktails, and then wrap up with two fantastic sherries.

Spanish Bramble: amontillado sherry, blackberry-mint shrub (a fruit preservation method of old. It's somewhat like a gastrique), St. George Terroir Gin, soda.

Spanish Bramble at Range

Gemstone: Manzanilla sherry, pear eau de vie, lemon, verbena, grapefruit bitters. A clean drink, very light on the palate.

Gemstone at Range

Paris to Milan: Cocchi Americano Rosa, St. Germain, white verjus (unaged, unfiltered grape juice. It's tart and acidic, almost like a lighter vinegar), prosecco. I found this drink to be dangerous––I could drink it all day. Fortunately it's low ABV, so it's not the end of the world if you knock back a few.


Californio: Oloroso sherry, California bay, Gran Classico, soda. The California bay in this drink is incredible. The acidity of the sherry and the herbaceousness of the bay make for a very flavorful cocktail. With this drink, especially, you can see that Range takes a more culinary approach to its drinks.

Californio at Range

Uptown Downtown: Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Noah's Mill bourbon, bitters. This is basically a reversed Manhattan Cocktail. I think this drink is genius. First, it's has that amazing Manhattan flavor profile we all love. Second, because your'e only using a small pour of whiskey, you get afford a pretty nice one. Finally, you can enjoy more than one without the fear of over-indulging.

Uptown Downtown at Range

Third Rail: Buffalo Trace, Lillet, honey, lemon, Fee's orange bitters. I was very impressed with how well paired the flavors were in this drink. Basically it's bourbon, honey, and orange. The Lillet adds depth and the lemon adds acidity, but they serve only to highlight the main three flavors: bourbon, honey, and orange. Delicious.

Third Rail at Range

Sungold Zinger: 209 Gin, sungold tomatoes, agave, lemon. Another very culinary cocktail. It's not as savory as many tomato drinks are, thanks to the agave and lemon. It's even relatively simple for such a complex looking drink.

Sungold Zinger at Range

Sungold Zinger at Range

Braveheart: Monkey Shoulder Scotch, sherry, apricot, moroccan spices, bitters, lemon. The only thing wrong with this drink is that it's not low ABV, so I couldn't put four of them away like I wanted to. The peaty scotch goes perfectly with apricot. The moroccan spices leave a lingering spice that satisfies and stimulates your palate for more.

Braveheart at Range

Agua Fresca: Siete Leguas Blanco Tequila, watermelon juice, cilantro, lime. The tequila and cilantro go perfectly with watermelon juice. This drink tastes as fresh as it looks.

Agua Fresca at Range

Sweet Pea: Tito's Vodka, sugar snap peas, sage, lemon, celery bitters, tonic. I like neither peas nor vodka. Somehow, though, I liked this drink. It's perhaps the most culinary-inspired of the cocktails, powerfully herbal and vegetal. Delicious.

Sweet Pea at Range

La Cigarrera sherry and El Maestro Sierra sherry. These are two pretty standard table sherries. They've got interesting flavors. If you're a wine drinker, they're worth investigating, although they're going to be more acidic than you're used to.

Sherry at SF

I strongly suggest visiting Range for aperitif hour. Look for this guy, Tayler Buffington. He's the bar manager:

Tayler Buffington at Range

View the whole set on Flickr:

842 Valencia
Aperitif Hour: 5-6 every evening
Hours: Mon-Thu: 6-close
Fri-Sun: 5:30-close