DOTW: Cloister

Posted by Anita on 03.23.07 6:07 AM

cloister (c)2007 AECAnother citrusy drink from last week’s visits to the Pegu Club. Although the original recipe calls for 1/4 ounce of simple syrup, Nate made it for us without — and it definitely tasted plenty sweet from the Chartreuse. On paper, it feels like a Friday After Five, but the missing anise and green-herb notes prevents the similiarity.

1-1/2 oz. gin
1/2 oz. yellow Chartreuse
1/2 oz. grapefuit juice
1/4 oz. lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice, and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist, preferably grapefruit.

Drink of the Week, drinks, recipes


Bitter apple

Posted by Anita on 03.22.07 12:02 PM

mosaic (c)2007 AECOh, how we longed for this New York City escape! Being in separate cities most of last month, we didn’t manage a proper Valentine’s Day celebration, so we decided to combine a business trip and a family visit with some top-notch dining a month later. Alas, it was not to be. Oh, to be sure, we spent plenty of cash, and ate at places that everyone raves about. But good food? Not so much.

Now, I know better than to make pronouncements about the general state of New York City dining based on a few nights out. But I will say that, by the end of the week, I was downright despondent that we hadn’t had a good meal to show for our efforts (or our substantial credit-card expenditures), and hungry to be back in San Francisco.

Tuesday evening, I landed at JFK, hopped a cab to meet Cameron at his hotel, and unpacked at a leisurely pace. After all, he’d already eaten dinner, and my body told me it was 5pm, not 8. A bit later, we hailed another cab up to The Carlyle Hotel, where I’d dreamed of having a world-class cocktail (and the ground-to-order hamburger promised by the online menu) at Bemelmans Bar while Cam kept me company with a drink of his own.

We were a bit surprised to find the bar overwhelmed by a jazz trio, but not nearly as surprised as we were when a waiter slapped a “$20 per person cover charge after 9:30pm” sign on our table just as our butts hit the banquette. Huh!? Doing a little quick math — $20 per drink, $40 in covers, and another $20 for the burger — I quickly realized this round of drinks would happen some other night, before the cover charge kicked in.

B. Cafe (c)2007 AECBack out on the sidewalk, Cameron remembered that a co-worker had mentioned a “pretty good” bistro on the Upper East Side that had an impressive Belgian beer selection. A quick online search turned up B. Cafe, and a quick stroll led us to their door.

The beer selection was nice, if not as stunning as some sources would lead you to believe — I think my time in Seattle has forever spoiled me into expecting too much when someone says “beer selection is without peer” — and the food was good, in an unambitious sort of way. I got my burger, at least, alongside properly made frites.

Del Posto salumi (c)2007 AECWednesday night, we met Cameron’s sister and bro-in-law for dinner at Del Posto. Arriving a touch after our 9pm reservation time, we were asked to wait in the bar. Where we waited. And waited. And waited. No offer of drinks, no apologies, no checking back to assure us we hadn’t been forgotten.

As 9:45 rolled around, we eventually were escorted to our table. After all this wait, the food — with the exception of a mind-alteringly delicious risotto and a solid salumi platter — turned out to be no better than fair to middlin’. Lowlights include bitter foie gras, lobster spaghetti al dente to the point of some serious crunch, squishy pork, so-so desserts. But the true terror was the service.

Despite having no fewer than four people theoretically serving our table, we were constantly ignored, offered one another’s food, and generally given the bum’s rush. The grand finale? Our waitress announced after our mains that her “partner” (and let’s be real, he’s a busboy) would be taking care of our desserts. Honey, darling — is it our fault that we’re the last ones in the place? (And, while we’re in question mode: Why does it look like a Cheesecake Factory in here?)

cookshop (c)2007 AECWhen all else fails, aim lower. And earlier. We arrived at Cookshop on Thursday night a hair before our 6:30 seating call, and were ushered promptly to our table — where we sat, and sat, and sat for close to 20 minutes without so much as a “can I get you a drink?” Gadzooks.

We finally flagged down a waiter and inquired, diplomatically we hoped, if perhaps we’d been seated without the host letting our server know…? (Waiter stage directions: Mumble, stammer… slink away.) Gosh, would “Oh, sorry! I’d be happy to get you a drink while we sort out who will help you” be too much to ask?

As we scanned the wine list, a strange pattern emerged. Seeing as Cookshop trades heavily on its locavore cred, we were puzzled both by the absence of New York wines — is a single Finger Lakes Riesling all one can expect amid a sea of Italian and French bottles? — and the relative scarcity of American vintages at all.

The food? Again, flawed. The best part of our meal was a plate of fried hominy we ordered to nibble with drinks: Golden-crisp, dusted in salt and tinged with just a hint of lime. Oh my-my-my! Gorgeous pork — a small chop and a big sausage — was burdened by undercooked black beans and an odd, sweet pineapple relish. The saddest part, though, was our inedible finale: a pair of sorbets — banana thyme and ginger pear — that were grainy, gluey, and not the least bit tasty. (And bear in mind, ginger + pear = delicious, in my book.) We took one bite of each, screwed up our faces, and left the rest to melt. When our waiter asked what was wrong, we told him that not only were the textures quite un-sorbet-like and the flavors beyond bizarre, but both scoops had the gummy texture of dessert left too long in the freezer. He told us that simply couldn’t be the case, and brought the check. With the sorbet on it, of course.

Blue Hill NYC (c)2007 AECThe next night, a much-anticipated meal at Blue Hill off Washington Square got off to a surreal start, as our cab drove verrry carefully down Lexington Avenue, almost alone; a freak snowstorm had dropped six inches of snow on the city after a 72-degree high the previous day.

In fairness, I can’t lay all of the blame for our terrible evening at the kitchen’s feet — that honor goes to the pompous gentleman to our right who was enjoying dessert as we came in, and yet persisted in ordering glass after glass, extra course upon extra course, as he lectured at great volume the couple to his other side about French politics, the trouble with today’s parents, the moral imperative of naming one’s children with grace, and a dozen other topics he apparently held quite dear.

Dear lord, his braying was almost enough to distract us from the fact that every last thing we ate was criminally over-salted, from the emerald-green lettuce broth supporting a bevy of Disney-adorable baby mushrooms beneath “this morning’s farm egg”, to the too-enthusiastically brined Berkshire pork loin (which was almost redeemed by angelic creme fraiche spaetzle).

We decided to pass on dessert, in favor of after-dinner drinks when I spied Chartreuse VEP on the menu — I’ve always wanted to try it, but blanched at the $100+ price for a whole bottle. Was I crushed when they didn’t have it? Not so much as I was unsurprised, as this was the third beverage we’d asked for during the course of the meal that they’d “just run out of”. Uh-huh.

Pegu Club bar (c)2007 AECThe bright spot in our week was, undeniably, the cocktails: We passed two happy evenings at Pegu Club, where the lovingly crafted drinks, chipper bartenders (yo, Nate and Alister!), and cozy atmosphere reminded us of our favorite bar.

We also popped into Flatiron Lounge on our way to Del Posto, and had a couple of rounds of vintage-esque libations that were a touch off-balance, but on the whole rather tasty (especially as we were seated at a table, not the bar).

Bemelmans Bar (c)2007 AECAnd we did finally make it back to Bemelmans Bar on Saturday evening. Yes, we still ended up spending the $100 we balked at paying before, but it bought us five drinks, a table for four, and brilliantly attentive service. It was a lovely scene, drinking our spendy cocktails surrounded by Ludwig Bemelmans’ dreamlike murals, served by white-jacketed waiters under a rosy light. It simply oozed five-star, old-school cocktail charm… my only quibble is the nasty fake maraschino cherries in their otherwise stunning Manhattan.

B. Cafe
240 E. 75th Street
New York, NY 10021

Del Posto
85 10th Avenue
New York, NY 10011

156 10th Avenue
New York, NY 10011

Blue Hill NYC
75 Washington Place
New York, NY 10011

Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle
35 E. 76th Street
New York, NY 10021

Flatiron Lounge
37 W. 19th Street
New York, NY 10011

Pegu Club
77 W. Houston, Second Floor
New York, NY 10012
212.473.7348 (PEGU)

bar culture, drinks, family, NYC, restaurants, travel


DOTW: Friday After Five

Posted by Anita on 03.02.07 3:38 PM

Friday After Five (c)2007 AECWe’re all down with eating seasonally here in the Bay Area. But how about drinking seasonally?

California growers coax most popular citrus fruits into year-round abundance, so it’s easy to forget that these tart treats — especially many of the obscure varieties — are truly winter fruits. Specifically, sour oranges like Bergamots and Sevilles have a painfully short harvest each January or February, a fact that oddly endears them to many aficionados. This same scarcity has inspired countless generations of English cooks to put up marmalades, to extend this slice of winter sunshine as long as possible.

I’m so enamored of specialty citrus that we’ve planted a miniature grove in our tiny yard: A full size Meyer lemon, a dwarf Bergamot, and a shrub-size Makrut (kaffir) lime. The bergamots we harvested this week were zested for a micro-batch of bergamocello; I hope next year we’ll have enough to make preserves or at least make a small batch of bergamot orangettes (would that be bergamettes?). But these same few fruits yielded just enough juice for a round of one of my favorite cocktails, dubbed the “Friday After Five” in honor of the eGullet thread that spawned it.

If you can’t find Bergamots, feel free to substitute fresh grapefruit juice. It won’t taste the same, of course, but then — like favas and peaches and sun-ripened tomatoes, in their turn — the drink’s fleeting flavor is part of the charm. If you’re anything like me, the haunting scent of Bergamot may even be enough to make you wish for winter in the summertime.

Friday After Five
1 ounce gin
1/2 ounce green Chartreuse
3/4 ounce bergamot juice
1 dash Herbsaint, absinthe or Pernod

Shake over ice, and pour into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a bergamot twist, if desired.

Drink of the Week, drinks, food boards, garden, recipes


DOTW: Last Word

Posted by Anita on 09.29.06 9:47 AM

last word + murray (c)2006 AECAbout a year into our Great Northwest Experiement, we were both desperately homesick for all of our friends in San Francisco… and utterly sick of trying out restaurants that “everyone” said were great, but that were either nothing special or unspeakably terrible. I think it was Cameron who first started posting on Chowhound’s Northwest forum, looking for better food; I soon joined him, posting reviews of places we tried and hated (usually) or loved (occasionally).

One fine day, a CH poster called MsRamsey sent me an email and told me to check out eGullet. Once we landed on eG, we found a fantabulous crew of like-minded souls — people who knew where to find the really good stuff and weren’t satisfied until they found even more of it. We became great friends with many of these folks over the course of the next couple of years; they became our primary social circle. (The ultimate irony is, of course, we miss the Seattle crew now at least as much as the people we left behind in San Francisco.)

Not long after, three of our foodie friends invited me our for “drinks with the girls” at Zig Zag Cafe, a bar I’d never even heard of, much less visited. Little did I know that I was in for a life-changing experience. I met a man named Murray Stenson that night — a man who would become a friend and a mentor. He made me a drink that night that opened my eyes to the wonders of cocktails beyond plebian Gin & Tonics and Whiskey Sours.

This, ladies and gents, was that drink. It remains a favorite of mine — and retains its place on the Zig Zag menu — to this day.

Last Word
1/2 oz. gin
1/2 oz. Maraschino liqueur
1/2 oz. green Chartreuse
1/2 oz. lime juice

Shake with ice, and strain into a cocktail glass.

bar culture, Drink of the Week, drinks, food boards, recipes, Seattle


A little help

Posted by Cameron on 09.24.06 9:08 AM

PeguIt’s Wednesday, the last night of NYC Without Reservations, and I’m completely ashamed at how relieved I am. Between the time zone difference, a full day in a strange office with heavy deadlines, a couple of late-night social commitments, and the dedication of my free evenings to foodie jaunts, I’m completely exhausted. Cue soundtrack of The World’s Smallest Violin playing, “My Heart Pumps Purple Piss For You.”

Nevertheless, duty calls. I’ve been strategizing an assault on tonight’s destination for months. When we lived in Seattle, Anita and I were introduced to the most amazing bar in the world: The Zig Zag Café, where Murray, Ben, and Kacy mix drinks with the same care and creativity that goes into a great meal at a fine restaurant. Seduced by the art of the cocktail, we’re constantly on the lookout for more of the same, although the Zig Zag sets a very high standard.

So tonight I step off the subway at Bleecker and aim down West Houston street. I keep a sharp eye out, and it’s a good thing: there’s no sign overhead, only a glowing logo etched into an otherwise unremarkable smoked glass and aluminum door. Just as I get close enough to make out a vestibule and a man inside, he pulls the door open to welcome me to the Pegu Club.

A short staircase transports me to a tastefully lit place for cocktails. I drift across the main room, drawn by the bar glowing at the far end. About halfway there, the hostess intercepts me. I ask for a seat at the bar, but it’s full. I can sit at one of the knee-high tables lining the banquette on either side of the room. I am vaguely—no, make that seriously—disappointed. A great bar is like a sushi restaurant: the experience depends on being close to the action.

The hostess must see my face drooping like a Warner Bros. cartoon. Before I can get a word out, she chirps earnestly, “I’ll sit with you!” She’s obviously joking, but the oddness of the offer and her bright, matter-of-fact delivery make me laugh as I take a banquette seat.

I decide to start with the namesake drink, the Pegu cocktail. But seconds after I place my order, the hostess re-appears. “Come with me,” she says. I follow, and she tells me that I am to stand just…here. “These folks are getting ready to go,” she murmurs. “I told you that I’d take care of you. Now, you hover.” I make like a hummingbird and, sure enough, two people on the near end of the bar pack up and split. I slide into one of the seats that they leave empty, and it’s showtime.

The bartender nods a welcome. Later in the evening, I‘ll learn that his name is Phil. In the meantime, I watch him work, smoothly swiveling between drinks and chatting with the group on my right: two men and one woman. I wonder if I need to re-order when my Pegu cocktail appears, made by another bartender who appears to be dedicated to mixing for the rest of the room. The cocktail is served in a coupe glass—a bowl-shaped receptacle that you see champagne served out of in old movies.

I sample the drink and am surprised that the complicated ingredient list winds up tasting like a slightly bitter Cosmo. The coupe glass doesn’t help—it funnels the drink right down the center of my mouth instead of allowing it to spread out across my tongue.

I’m definitely having trouble hitting stride tonight. Phil the bartender is working hard and focusing on the people that he knows. When he needs ice for the shaker, he holds the bar’s large ice cubes in his hand and cracks them by hitting them with a bar spoon. At one point he pulls down a few of the bar’s trademark tinctures for a curious couple. I trade a couple of sentences with a man sitting next to me, but he pulls up stakes and heads out, so I focus on my drink and on watching the room.

I’m feeling a little lost when the hostess swoops in with a big smile, happy that she was able to deliver on a promise. “Who’s your new best friend?” she asks, laughing a little. “You are,” I agree, and thank her for the seat at the bar. Her name is Stephanie and over the course of the next half-hour, we chat while she cares for the room. She takes the train into Manhattan. She knits and has a friend in Westchester buy her special yarn for half what it costs in the city. She calls Westchester “upstate New York” the way that Californians call Colorado “back East.” She’s a talented hostess—the awkwardness drains away, and I begin to feel comfortable in the space.

I’m ready for my next cocktail and ask Phil to recommend something with bourbon. “Boozy?” he asks, “And will rye work?” Fine. He starts mixing and I start wondering: Rye, chartreuse, maraschino, lemon juice. One sip and I feel like I’ve dipped my tongue in a packet of saccharine. It’s intensely, unpleasantly sweet.

Phil and I are each equally taken aback at the other’s reaction. “Sweet?” he asks, amazed. “I’ve never had anyone react that way to that drink.”

“Yep,” I confirm, “Way too sweet.” And I’m thinking: you mix two sweet cordials with citrus and an inherently sweet liquor and you’ve never had anyone tell you that it was sweet?

Phil thinks for a minute and proposes a Corpse Reviver #2. Never had it, but I’m game. He produces a small, chilled glass that looks a bit like a cropped martini or a cordial glass. It catches the attention of the regulars. Apparently when this bit of hardware comes out—Phil calls it a “Nick and Nora” glass—the man is not messing around. The Corpse Reviver #2 is tasty and it packs a wallop. It is definitely not sweet.

While Battle Cocktail has been raging, I’ve fallen into conversation with one of the men in the threesome to my right. While they work on Sazeracs, I learn that they’re out for his brother’s birthday. I mention San Francisco and Seattle, and everyone knows the Zig Zag. We talk shop. I argue educational priorities with his girlfriend. The night spins away.

Except…Phil and I never really get on the same page. My next drink is another citrus-laden number that’s kinda one-dimensional. I ask for a Vesper to clear my palate, and it’s my last of the night. Of all the cocktails, the Vesper is the only one that really works in the coupe glass. For a moment, I feel like James Bond in Monaco.

It isn’t until I’m paying the tab that I realize that at some point Stephanie vanished, having established the correct vibe. I track her down on the way out and thank her for making me feel welcome. At a great bar, what comes in the glass is only part of the magic.

bar culture, drinks, NYC, travel


Range regulars

Posted by Anita on 08.12.06 1:09 PM

range (c)2006 AECWe started out the weekend at one of our favorite restaurants: Range. We’ve been coming here since soon after they first opened, and we — along with half of San Francisco — immediately fell in love with the coffee-rubbed pork shoulder served with creamed hominy. Then we dug deeper into the menu and found plenty of other strengths: a rotating sashimi/crudo selection, various riffs on pasta appetizers, and a bavette so good that I don’t even mind that it comes pre-sliced. (No need to comment: I know it’s supposed to be like that!)

It’s obvious that the bar staff cares a lot about how their creations get built, and comes up with specialty drinks that — although occasionally more perfect in inspiration than in execution — are some of the most creative cocktails in the city. Service is unfailingly professional and helpful, without smothering or being overly familiar — a solid balance.

The environment is half the fun of dinner at Range: It’s a little retro (industrial-meets-Art Deco, especially in the lighting), a little sexy (indirect lighting behind the backs of the banquettes) and a little hip (modern furniture, lots of brown). We like the banquettes in the main dining room quite a lot. The tables in the hallway between the bar and the main dining room, however, are a terrible place to eat: One person ends up staring at a blank wall, and the other has a view of the cooks’ heads, but none of the fun of the kitchen.

Anyway, back to Friday… Cameron started with a cocktail that featured green-tea gin, Lillet blanc, chartreuse, and lemon juice. It had potential, but needed a little something more: Cameron voted for more gin, while I thought more chartreuse. My drink was the night’s special, a mixture of Sun Gold tomatoes, Plymouth gin, elderflower syrup, and lemon juice. It was a lovely combination, and the tomato was a great ‘secret ingredient’ type of flavor, but they hadn’t seived the tomatoes, so the drink was muddied by pulp and an unappetizing layer of seeds gathered at the bottom of the glass.

Since it doesn’t get any better than mid-August when it comes to heirloom tomatoes, I opted for a salad that featured a nice assortment of varieties along with crescenza cheese and crispy breadcrumbs — an interesting contrast to the usual softness. Cameron, as usual, opted for the raw fish; the selection was paper-thin slices of sockeye salmon with avocado.

None of the newer main dishes caught my eye, so I chose the standby bavette, served with slow-roasted tomates, broccoli rabe, and an oddly refreshing horseradish sauce. Cameron’s halibut was perfectly prepared, but its corn-puree sauce was a touch strange-tasting.

To finsh the evening, we ordered the cheese plate: a perfectly ripe Roquefort served with marcona almonds and slivers of dates. The server also brought us an order of crepes with sauteed plums — presumably as an apology for her boss having lightly spritzed us with champagne earlier in the evening — served with a cardamom ice cream that I loved but Cameron studiously avoided.

All in all, we paid about $150, including tax and tip, for a thoroughly enjoyable dinner.

842 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

drinks, restaurants, The Mission
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