Friday, May 16, 2014
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Open every night 6pm-1am, food all night.
Thursday, May 8, 2014
The Coachman's bar program opened with huge shoes to fill. After Heaven's Dog closed down last year, we honestly figured that whatever became Heaven's Dog 2 wouldn't live up, and we'd come to peace with that. After tasting bar manager Johnny Codd's drinks and hanging out at the SOMA spot for awhile, I realized that The Coachman didn't try to fill Heaven's Dog's shoes at all. Instead, Johnny just did his own thing. Which happens to be a super creative and quite delicious bar program.
There's a lot to bring people to The Coachman, Charles Phan's new project modeled after a British steakhouse. First, the vibe is fantastic. The architectural redesign made the space more open and lively. The back wall has been knocked down to make the dining room more spacious, and the wall separating the former lounge from the dinner bar has been removed as well and turned into an elegant dining room.
Second, everyone is incredibly nice and hospitable. You can roll into The Coachman and expect solid, warm service.
Third, the food is not what you'd expect from a British themed restaurant. The crudité is light and elegant, as is the watercress soup. If you want something heavier, the prime rib is incredible (and a good deal) and is incredible with a side of mash. For dessert, the sticky toffee pudding will bring you to religion.
Most importantly (for this blog), the drinks are mind-blowing. Historic cocktails have become a cornerstone of bar programs these days, but while many programs have looked to Prohibition and pre-Prohibition cocktails—now a well-worn concept—Johnny has chosen to inspire himself with early 19th-century British cocktails. More often than not, he executes these drinks with creative flair, respecting the original drink but often bringing touches that are unique to the bar industry.
Every time I go to the Coachman, which is now often, Johnny is working on something new and interesting. After you try the cocktail within a cocktail (Wall-E-Bear), the ever-changing ice-wine cocktail (Cardinal), and the stirred citrus drink (Clarified Flight), ask Johnny what he's working on now. Pro-tip: Ask for the best cocktail in the world (Johnny's loving nickname for his recent creation, a blended negroni). You will not be disappointed (though, by the time you read this, Johnny might have come up with an ever better one that the cocktail I'm referencing).
OK, let's get down to brass tacks: the drinks.
Pineapple Julep: Bols Genever, roasted spiced pineapple, maraschino. I love a mint julep, but for some reason, most of the variations I've tried have sucked—either too dry, too sweet, or too weak. This one makes the short list. The roasted pineapple keeps the drink both rich and sweet like a mint julep, but adds pleasant tartness and citrus. Beware: The drink is easy to drink dangerously fast—a good and a bad thing.
Wall-E-Bear: Rum, sherry, yellow Chartreuse, Negroni reduction. This is a cocktail inside a cocktail. How the hell has no one thought of this before? The kitchen takes a classic negroni—gin, vermouth, and campari—and simmers it down until it is a syrup. On paper, it looks overly rich and too complicated. But when you taste it, all the ingredients come together to make a cohesive whole. It's luscious, bitter, spicy, and nutty all at once. I love the heck out of this drink.
California Milk Punch: Brandy, rum, Batavia Arrack, clarified milk, spiced syrup. Like the Wall-E-Bear, the California Milk Punch points to the creativity of this bar program. Though milk punch it technically a very old drink, it takes quite a bit of talent and guts to put it on a menu. Loyal barman Erik Ellestad, who has been at The Coachman since the early Heavens Dog days, put in epic work to perfect the recipe. It's worth a trip to The Coachman just to taste this drink, if you haven't had clarified milk before. It's got the creaminess and sweetness of milk without the, well, milkiness. It may sound weird, but it tastes delicious.
Heidelberg Cup No. 9: Diep 9 Belgium Genever, Lemon, Nahe Riesling. A great way to enjoy a legit Genever, the Heidelberg Cup No. 9 is light, refreshing, and dangerously drinkable. It's not at all sweet, which you might expect from the Riesling. The maltiness from the Genever mixes with the funk of the wine nicely.
Lass O'Gowrie: Hakushu 12 year whisky, honey, Punt e Mes, Peychaud's. A drink to put hair on your chest, the Lass O'Gowrie is a smoky, bitter, slow-sipping cocktail over a large, crystal clear ice cube—perfect for an evening of conversation. Scotch lovers will enjoy this one.
Athol Brose: Whisky, honey, milk, oats, (a dash of) coffee. This drink tastes nothing like what you'd expect. It tastes like a malted coffee milkshake without the heaviness or sweetness. Or maybe a malty latte without the richness. Although this drink is a classic, it's so different from what you'd normally get that it's worth a trip to try it.
Antique Sour: Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, beer schnapps, lemon, egg white. This popular drink came over from Wo Hing, where Johnny first put the drink on the menu when he was bar manager there. And it's easy to see why he did this. The cocktail is accessible but interesting, with bright citrus, richness from the vermouth and beer schnapps, and a dose of spice from the nutmeg garnish. You could drink about 50 of these and still not get tired of it. It's tart, malty, hoppy, and refreshing. What's not to like?
Or, if Johnny is feeling crazy:
Gin Cocktail: Bols aged Genever, gum syrup, Curacao, orange bitters. Simple, straightforward, and delicious. Fans of classic drinks like Old Fashioneds and Martinis will find a slightly funky, but accessible, medium with this drink.
Robert Burns' Hunting Flask: Redbreast 12 year whisky infused with currents, ginger, lemon peel. If The Coachman were to have a signature drink on its menu, this would be it. Two words: hunting flask—a super cool and super theme appropriate way to serve the cocktail. The bartender will get you going with a small pour of the flask over a big, perfectly clear cube, and then you hang on to the flask to pour the rest at your leisure. Slowly pouring the rest of drink is not only fun. It also allows you to fully enjoy the thick drink (almost like a small meal) before the ice waters down the cocktail too much. There is no sugar added, but the infused fruits add a delicious, jammy sweetness to the cocktail. It's perfect for slow sipping.
Sherry Cobbler: Sherries, house made bergamot marmalade, lemon. If I could drink fifty Antique Sours, I could drink a hundred Sherry Cobblers because the sherry is so delicious. As with most cobblers, the drink is bright, fruity, and airy, served over ice. Unlike other cobblers, the sherry brings a savory richness to the drink. Sherry is technically a fortified wine, so the drink, like the Antique Sour, pairs perfectly with food and also works well as just something to sip on. Order this drink if you're in the mood to start light, to end light, or to take a break in the middle of the heavier cocktails.
Cider Cup: Cider, brandy, Pur pear, cucumber, pineapple, lemon. The ridiculously elaborate frozen cucumber garnish alone makes this drink worth ordering. The fact that it's fruity, refreshing, and palate cleansing doesn't hurt, either. It tastes like Fall in a cup.
Knickerbocker: Jamaican rum, strawberry, kina, lemon, sparkling wine. Bright, easy drinking, with a huge kick of strawberry that's light on the palate. The bubbles make all the flavors dance on your tongue. Despite all of this, the Jamaican rum brings some fun funk. This is your summer cocktail.
Cardinal: Barbancourt white rum, sherry, spiced wine ice, lime, cinnamon. Those shards of wine ice are delicious on their own. Weirdly enough, they remind us of tea eggs because both make use of Chinese five spice flavor. I love this drink because it changes with every drink as the ice melts. It starts citrusy and tart, and gradually the drink becomes spicier and funkier because of the spices and sherry. This drink really showcases Johnny's creativity.
Clarified Gin Flight: Come to The Coachman on a right night, and you may be lucky enough to find a flight—hopefully a Clarified Gin Flight. These flights make use of the key ingredient is clarified juice—the result of a laborious and time intensive process of filtering out all of the impurities of citrus juice, leaving a clean, pure juice without too much acid. This allows them to use this juice to make stirred drinks that would traditionally have been served shaken. The first time you have a stirred Aviation, your world will be changed.
Seriously, don't forget to ask Johnny for the best cocktail in the world. Or, if you're not in the cocktail mood, try one of the cask conditioned ales. If you haven't had beer straight from the cask before, it's a real treat.
For more pictures, check out our full album on Flickr.
1148 Mission Street