When you go to London, if you’re at all interested in the mixological arts, I recommend you bring an ample supply of cash, a large bottle of milk thistle, and a suitcase full of bubble wrap. Dear reader, they have so many wonders across the Pond that we only dream of Stateside.
First among these treasures is a plethora of eye-poppingly gorgeous (not to say purse-poppingly pricey) cocktail establishments. The exchange rate is lately favourable to the American drinker, as much as can be possible. But a list of cocktails priced at £16, or £18, or even a heart-stopping £26 a sniff is bound to set even the hardiest of world travelers back on her heels. It was only the Christmas holidays and the attendant closure of many of the Capital’s top watering holes that saved us from coming home skint.
One of the key reasons for the allure of said establishments — apart from their five-star decor and their world-class staff — is the ability for a colonial to sample libations that simply never make it to our shores. Rare malts! Esoteric liqueurs! Cuban rums! The mind reels at the possibilities of the drinks that could be shaken, if only one had access to such wonders. (Happily, one does. Although London’s spirits emporia are small in number, they’re rich in merchandise, easily discovered, and more than happy to abuse your charge card in exchange for some very fragile cargo for the return flight.)
One of the best drinks we enjoyed while in London married both of these two alluring elements, the fantastically beautiful bar and the enticingly rare ingredient.
Aided and abetted by another London treasure, Jay Hepburn — proprietor of the spectacular blog known as Oh, Gosh! — we spent an evening taxing the hospitality of not one but two of London’s luxury-hotel lounges, the Bar at The Dorchester and Connaught Bar. Though our night at The Dorchester will forever remain a highlight of our London trip (due in no small part to the extraordinary welcome we received from our gregarious barman, Stefano, and his flawless drinks that kept us so enraptured that we missed the last train of the night!), the Connaught was a stunner.
It’s an opulent space, somehow embodying both splendid beauty and undeniably comfort. The staff are impeccable, gracious to a fault, and thoughtful to the utmost detail, from the first greeting to the last farewell. We were welcomed with a complimentary sip to enjoy while we perused the menu, then presented with a sheaf of recipes for the drinks we’d enjoyed at the end of the evening — an enchanting gesture that I hope will be the start of an international trend.
Though we savored many wonderful drinks that night, the final nod must go to the very first I tasted at Connaught Bar: a complex, spicy bit of exotica known as the French Sin. It’s not a simple drink to make, requiring a flavoured sugar, a barely seasonal fruit, a rare vermouth, and a carbonated tea infusion. Nevertheless, the rewards, as they say, are in the glass.
The French Sin also makes a perfect candidate for this month’s Mixology Monday: New Horizons, hosted by the anonymous Scribe of A Mixed Dram. Encouraged to sample a new spirit (amber vermouth, check!) or a new technique (carbonating tea — check again!), the French Sin covers all the bases. But if for some reason, you can’t be bothered to fizz your own tea, procure a bottle of rare vermouth, or infuse vanilla beans into sugar, never fear: The gentlemen of the Connaught Bar will be happy to oblige.
- Connaught Bar, London
1/2 fresh fig
1/2T to 1T vanilla sugar
1-1/2 oz Armagnac
1/2 oz amber vermouth
3/4 oz lemon juice
3/4 oz rooibos spiced soda water
Muddle the fig in the shaker with the vanilla sugar, then add the rest of the ingredients — other than the spiced soda water — and shake with ice. Double-strain into a small goblet and top with rooibos spiced soda water, and stir briefly to combine. Garnish with a quarter of a fig.
If figs are out of season, look for the freshest dried figs available. Rehydrate them in a small amount of hot (not boiling) water until soft enough to muddle. For garnish, use a lemon twist or a yellow flower, reminiscent of a vanilla orchid.
Vanilla sugar can be purchased in gourmet shops or spice stores — Penzey’s makes a nice one, as does Nielsen-Massey. To make your own, grind a half of a dry vanilla bean in a spice grinder or coffee grinder with a small amount of granulated sugar. Add this vanilla powder to 1 cup sugar and let sit at least 24 hours (and preferably up to a week) before using. In this recipe, you can use the sugar as-is, since you’ll be straining the shaken mixture, but in baked goods or as a general sweetener, use a fine sieve to remove the larger pieces of vanilla pod after the infusing is complete.
To make the rooibos spiced soda, steep 4 tsp spiced rooibos tea (or 1T pure rooibos tea plus a few cardamom pods, whole peppercorns, and cloves) in a quart of hot water for 5 minutes. Strain, chill thoroughly, and charge in a soda siphon.
What do you do when one of your favorite foodies comes to town, and specifically mentions wanting to stroll through The Mission? Why, you plan an itinerary that takes you past some of the neighborhood’s favorite places to buy delicious treats!
After shopping our way through the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market together, we left Laura to explore on her own for a few hours. (We hit Rainbow Grocery for a few staples, then headed home to put our perishables in the fridge.) We met up at high noon at 16th Street BART. Seeing as how it had been ages since we stuffed ourselves with Mexican breakfast at Primavera, we decided a traditional San Francisco burrito was in order. We stopped at Taqueria El Castillito — an old favorite, but definitely not local, sustainable, or organic in any way — and fortified ourselves with burritos and a torta, and a few bottles of Mexican cane-sugar sodas.
Back out into the bright sunshine — it’s always sunny in The Mission, but Saturday was unseasonably hot — we trekked down Mission to 18th. Trying to keep to the shady side of the street, we pointed out the retaurant row that is 18th and Guerrero (Farina, Tartine Bakery, Delfina, and Pizzeria Delfina) but did not stop to join the monster queues. We’d really just planned to peek into Bi-Rite Creamery, but the short line — full of surprisingly happy ‘No on 8‘ protesters — and list of fabulous flavors tempted us. We couldn’t let Laura leave San Francisco without a taste of the famous Salted Caramel ice cream, could we? (Cameron also sampled the malted vanilla with peanut brittle, just to make sure we’d covered all the bases.)
Across the street, Bi-Rite Market was sampling their Thanksgiving offerings from a catering station on the sidewalk. We smelled the heavenly aromas, but couldn’t even consider a nibble. We pressed inside the store along with everyone else in the entire neightborhood, taking a peek at all the fabulous local produce and the justifiably famous deli case. (I still don’t understand how Sean and DPaul lived around the corner for years without weighing 300 pounds. I’d never cook!)
Backtracking to Valencia Street, we strolled past Range — where we’d enjoyed a fabulous dinner the previous night — and popped into Lucca, one of the last remaining vestiges of the Mission’s Italian heritage. We browsed the aisles, admiring the terrific assortment of goodies, then headed back out into the street. I think I always knew that Lucca makes their ravioli on the premises, even noted the minuscule factory visible through the picture window along Valencia, but I’d never timed it right to see the process in action until this week. We stood with our noses pressed to the glass for what must have been half an hour, watching as a pair of flour-dusted pasta makers heaved giant wads of dough through an industrial sheeter, then picked them up like so much dirty laundry and magically unfolded them along a table the size of most San Francisco living rooms. (I could descibe the whole process, but Laura’s slideshow does a much better job.)
We picked up the pace and continued down Valencia to 23rd, then down Mission to 24th. After a quick stroll through the Mexican produce stalls and flower shops, we stopped into Philz to let Cameron caffeinate himself with a fine Turkish-style fiter-drip blend, while Laura and I rested our eyes and feet in the cool, dim surroundings.
Our last stop took us to a rendezvous with some of our fellow bloggers at Mission Pie. We were nearly stuffed, but somehow made room to share a slice of double-crust apple pie and another of pear-raspberry galette. When Jen arrived, she showed us the error of our ways, generously offering nibbles of the godly walnut pie (with a gooey center like pecan pie); I now understand why people drive across town to buy a slice. We sat at a big table together in the now-waning afternoon sun, marveling at all the shop’s gorgeous, quirky details — a map of the farms that sell their produce to the pie-makers, a collection of antique egg scales, and some of the coolest light fixtures in the city — chatting about everything from Yves St. Laurent to antique tractors to …well, food, of course.
If we’d only had an extra stomach, we could have kept walking all day.
Taqueria El Castillito
2092 Mission Street (x17th)
San Francisco, CA 94110
3692 18th Street (x Dolores)
San Francisco, CA 94110
3639 18th Street (x Dolores/Guerrero)
San Francisco CA 94110
Lucca Ravioli Company
1100 Valencia Street (x 22nd)
San Francisco, CA 94110
3101 24th Street (x Folsom)
San Francisco, CA 94110
2901 Mission Street (x 25th)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Happy St. Paddy’s Day!
A wee bit early, you say? Nae, says I.
Although St. Patrick’s Day is usually observed on March 17, this year — with Easter coming so early — a bit of liturgical arcana has moved mountains. Because Catholic rules prohibit the celebration of saint’s feasts during Holy Week, the Church has actually moved St. Patrick’s Day to March 14. (For those of you keeping score at home, the last time this ecclesiastic clash occurred was 1940, and the next time will be 2160… so we’ve got a few years to plan.)
Most bishops are none too happy about drunken revelry during the holiest week of the year, and the clever ones are supporting the official shift by offering dispensation to their flocks, absolving them of the sin of carousing on a Lenten Friday, which is traditionally a day of abstinence. As you might expect, this once-in-most-lifetimes rescheduling has plenty of civic celebration-mavens in a tizzy — apparently, not everyone got the memo, and most cities (and nearly every bartender I’ve asked) will still be trotting out barrels of green beer on Monday.
But regardless of when you’re celebrating, there’s got to be a better glass to raise than watery, shamrock-colored beer. Please, I implore you: Grab yourself a snoot of Jameson (or Bushmills, if you’re of a Protestant sort), a pint of Guinness, a Black Velvet, or something else — anything else! — that reminds you of the Land of Saints and Scholars.
One of the best of your options, Irish Coffee was brought to America in the early 1950s by the then-owner of San Francisco’s Buena Vista Cafe, Jack Koeppler. Haunted by the drink he’d enjoyed at Shannon Airport before a seaplane flight home from the Emerald Isle, Koeppler and his friend Stanton Delaplane, a travel writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, tinkered and experimented for months to replicate the formula. Koeppler even made a return trip to Ireland — all in the name of “research”, of course — and brought back the official recipe from Joe Sheridan, the bartender who (by most accounts) invented the drink. Even today, enjoying an Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista remains one of the few legitimate reasons for a trip to Fisherman’s Wharf, an otherwise benighted stretch of The City best left to the socks-and-sandals set.
The cafe caused a tempest in a coffee cup last year when word leaked that the recipe had — gasp! — been altered. Although the current owner claims that cost was not a factor, the fact of the matter is that the Buena Vista abandoned their private-label whiskey in favor of off-the-shelf Tullamore Dew. The subtle change is lost on most customers, and the ol’ BV still turns out more than 2,000 Irish Coffees a day to windswept tourists as they toddle off the cable cars at the end of the line. I assure you that, Tullamore Dew or no, it tastes a heck of a lot better than green beer.
4oz fresh, hot coffee
2oz Irish whiskey
Pour hot water into a footed coffee glass to bring it to temperature. Meanwhile, whip the cream lightly, just enough so that it will be able to float atop the drink, but not until peaks form. Pour the hot water out of the glass, and add two sugar cubes. Fill the glass about 3/4 full with hot coffee, and stir to dissolve the sugar cubes. Add the shot of whiskey, and top with the lightly whipped cream, pouring over a spoon to keep the layers distinct.
I made an atypical stop at Starbucks on the way in — oooh, they’re importing Top Pot doughnuts from Seattle! — and got a huge kick out of the array of super-picky orders being called out by the barista:
“Short triple latte extra-hot, extra foam”
“Iced triple tall sugar-free cinnamon dolce”
“Venti half-caf extra-shot soy with-whip white-chocolate mocha”
They were all picked up by people wearing Fancy Food Show badges.
Among Seattleites, Top Pot doughnuts have acquired something of a cult status. When the Seattle Rep coffee bar began offering them a few years ago, for example, they so vastly understimated demand that their entire supply sold out nearly an hour before the curtain went up, leaving not a crumb for late arrivals… much less intermission.
Now we love us some doughnuts, but it took us ages before we managed to get our mitts on a Top Pot. We’d walk by their Belltown location after dinner or a movie, and shake our fists at the darkened storefront — who closes a doughnut shop at 7pm?? (Luckily, the original Capitol Hill shop keeps slightly more-sane hours.)
Ironically enough, it was breakfast time when we finally succeeded in scoring one of these babies. And what an assortment met our hungry eyes: Crullers of all colors, maple bars, sprinkled cake, sugar-glazed…. mmmm. Dense and intense, they’re like the anti-Krispy Kreme: not hot, not fluffy, not angelic in the least. Served alongside custom-roasted coffee, you’ve got yourself a breakfast worth hunting down.
Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts
609 Summit Avenue East
Seattle, WA 98102
Seems like today’s a big food-news day, and I couldn’t resist sharing some of the headlines.
Another hilarious coffee-related news article from Seattle: Baristas having a cow over dairy “thefts”.
The AP latches onto a blogosphere favorite: Waiters get miffed about the unfairness of tipping.
Do we need smart linen? The Chron reports on a new high-tech, E. coli-detecting napkin.
And apparently they’re eating raw crabs in The OC… and getting really sick.
This just in from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer… Starbucks’ original logo causes an uproar:
A Kent elementary school principal, according to a local TV station, asked teachers last week that if they were bringing their daily joe to school that they make sure they get a sleeve to cover the image of a topless mermaid on Starbucks cups.
The Seattle-based coffee giant, as part of its 35th anniversary, this month put its original logo with the bare-breasted mermaid on its cups in stores in Washington and Oregon.
Not that Kent is the most progressive of Northwest communities, but do they really think that elementary-school kids have never seen boobies before?
I feel like a corporate whore, but at least I am a *local* corporate whore: The Scharffen-Berger Mocha Freddo is my new guilty pleasure. That’s not grainy cocoa, oh no… it’s ground espresso. Oh dear god…