Thursday, December 18, 2014

Reflections on 2014: The 1st New Year Day

Looking back on 2014, a year of change, anticipation, success, and reward. I spent most of it perusing restaurants, bars, cafes and concerts. Shooting tweets and Instagrams and LinkIng them to my Facebook feed. All surrounded by my best friends and family, both old and new. Looking at this collection of events from this year, I can't help but feel humbled and proud. Besides eating fantastic food and experiencing all sorts of great music, I started a new job and developed life long friendships and relationships.

It is an incredible experience to be with people who share this history. On this past New Year's Day 2014, I got to be with some of the best people I know. We strolled into the newly renovated Fog City for brunch. After much debate, a very long service and endless amounts of food and drink, we were able to still look around, smile, and feel thankful to have one another. I look at that picture I tagged and posted with a since of pride. We got more than the gifts from the kitchen and the gifts from the bar. We got that time together.

That afternoon, I had a chance to pause with my dogs on top of Bernal Hill and look at the sun setting over this city.  I get to do that a lot living here, look at the city.  Eat and drink all of it's options. I get to watch it, as if it's a endless motion picture. Read it, in 7X7 which  I can never put down. Listen to it, like a day at Outside Lands. I think what gets me most excited is the ability to Share it and Store it as memories in the "Cloud".  This was one of those days and reflections.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Making Friends & Rockin' Out at VASCO

I asked for "The Gypsy" when I walked in the door at Vasco.  It was on the Saturday of Mardi Gras weekend,  in Sydney.  The streets were already getting filled with people and the partying had begun. "The Gypsy" a.k.a. Luke Ashton, knew Dr. Phil from The Roosevelt had sent me.  I was greeted as if I was an old pal. I knew this was my kinda joint. Then I met Max Greco, the owner of this incredible rock n roll inspired bar/restaurant. These boys instantly took a shine to me and had me sample as much of their playlist (menu) as I could.
Max stems from Eau-de-Vie, where he was their head bartender and one of the reasons it got slated as one of the "World's Best Bars."  He opened Vasco toward the end of last year. You can tell, from his endearing smile, that he is having the time of his life.  I looked around the bar, as I sipped on "Eagle Rock," the 1st cocktail Luke had me try on the Vasco Playlist.  It was a great opening track with lairds applejack, punt e mes, dom Benedictine, fernet branca, angostura bitters.
I loved all the music paraphernalia that hung on nearly, every element of the bar.  Max had drumsticks above his head and started wailing on cymbals, that hung along the top of the bar.  He asked me, which band was his favorite, based on his bar design.  After a few guesses, he pointed to his Foo wall. There, hung Dave Grohl's legendary Gibson. Apparently, Max's mates had all chipped in and bought him this rare gift.  It was then, that I mentioned my friend, Bob Mould, who had written a track with the Foo Fighter's on their latest record. Max told me to open the playlist and look at the third song (cocktail) down.  Their was the "dear rosemary" listed as one of his specialty's. I explained, that Bob was en route to Sydney, at that very moment. He had tour dates to play throughout the country.  Max didn't believe me, when I said, I would bring him by.  Little did he know.
By this point, I was munching on some arancini and sipping on Max's Rye cocktail, called the "Judas Kiss." I knew my bar friends at home would appreciate his recipe. The Kiss called for cynar, branca menta and honey water. Max decided to break out a very special coaster, when he veered off the menu, to make me a finale, before sending me back to the Mardi Gras madness. This cocktail concoction had Valdespino Pedro Ximenez Sherry, some Calle 23 Tequila Reposado, a little Yellow Chartreuse, Fernet Branca and Herbsaint.  It really showed off his skill set and made me eager to return.
A few days later, I asked my date to meet me for a drink before dinner at Porteno. Vasco happens to be across the street a little ways down. I arrived first, and began with a Tequila Highball to get things started. Also, I got to catch up with my mate, Max. I had bumped into him, only the night before, at Eau De Vie, his old stomping grounds.
He was on a date when we bumped into each other. So, I found it only fitting, to bring my date to Vasco. Max decided to move me into a classic daiquiri, (Havana Club, house made vanilla syrup and lime juice) for my 2nd round. And then, when my plus-one arrived, I decided to get the "Man on Fire." At that point, I was pretty fired up, so the ingredients only fueled it more.  The drink had both mezcal, scotch and tequila.  There was also lemon, agave, some of that honey water and both chicken salt and smoked salt along the rim of the glass. Woo-Wee!
I returned the next afternoon, with a very special guest. Max about dropped to the floor, when Bob Mould entered the building. They both were impressed with one another.  Bob was gazing about and shooting pics to text back to his buddy Dave Grohl. Max was simply beside himself. Thank goodness my drink orders were a distraction for him. I went back to the playlist for my 1st selection. A "daiquiri no.6" (havana 3,  house made coconut falernum,  fernet branca,  lime) seemed to be the refreshing opening act.
I found it fitting, that I was listening to and drinking a "dear rosemary,"  for my next cocktail. I wanted to hold out for this drink, until I brought Bob along with me. Max uses strawberry beefeater, rosemary, mandarin syrup, fresh apple and fresh lemon in his composition.
Bob and I got to sample some gifts from the kitchen as well. We had bites of lasagna, some arancinis, a little frittata and some pickled eggplant. Max decided to use David Wondrich's recipe and make me an "el presidente." It called for Cointreau, noilly prat dry vermouth, house made grenadine and havana 3. It was very different. from the classic I drink, at Bar Agricole. But, equally as delicious. I had to remember the moment and the three of us posed for a pic.  It was one of this year's greatest moments.
I did a whirlwind tour, on my final, full day in Sydney. I came up to Vasco to bid farewell to my mates Luke and Max before heading off to a footy match at the Allianz Stadium. I had already consumed quite a few cocktails, so I decided to have something from Vasco's kitchen to help coat some of the alcohol. I finally got to try Max's mother's sausage recipe and ordered "lucy's" italian-style hotdog & chips. Once again, it proved to me, that this was one of the most impressive bars and restaurants in Sydney.  From every aspect of my experiences there, I walked away with such joy.  Man, I miss those boys.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Waffles and Coffee, my new addiction...

There's waffles in the Mission!  Linea Caffé opened nearly 2 weeks ago and already has created quite the scene. Located next to Duc Loi Supermarket, on 18th  Street at the alley there on San Carlos. The fusion of Andrew Barnett's coffee and Anthony Myint's Brussels-Style food, has already gotten me to try all the waffle's they offer. 

The first time I went into Linea, I drank my typical baby mocha, which had Dandelion Chocolate from the mission. The taste of Barnett's espresso blend was fantastic. He knows a thing or two about roasting. After all, he was the guru that brought us Ecco Cafe in Santa Rosa.

Also at that time, since Anthony was behind the iron, I decided to try his sweet yeasted waffle with coconut jam, gianduia (sweet chocolate) and macadamia. A great 1st impression that reminded me of Hawaii and the island feel of some the local ingredients on Kauai. Once again, Anthony has hit his mark. I was reminded of the lines I used to wait on, to get one of his handcrafted sandwiches as Mission Street Food was just a borrowed taco truck. Fast forward 5 years later as the truck evolved to a revolving chef pop up restaurant concept to the now, world-renowned Mission Chinese, you can see how he still has so many other tricks up his sleeve.

I liked the yeasted waffle simply dressed with butter and Vermont maple syrup as well. The decadent one though, was the yeasted waffle with fresh fruit and yogurt (top picture) and it looks as good as it tastes. But wait, there's more...

I was one of the first to try their Buckwheat waffle with salmon roe, cucumbers and créme fraiche. It was perfect in size and light as air. It had a taste almost  like a savory bagel with lox and cream cheese. I was way satisfied.

Speaking of savory, the potato waffle with pastrami and sauerkraut is a dream realized. It's cooked a bit longer to capture the distinct crunch of the potato and the meat. It comes with some mustard to dip in each bite. It is super yummy. The one that caught me by surprise, was the delightful, egg souffle waffle with chevre and fines herb.  It was equally as light as the other waffles, but with a creamy richness that was very unique.

I think it's obvious, how excited I am, to have, yet another, coffee and good breakfast option, in the Mission. It also excites me, to have Tom, one of the best barista's around town, manning the espresso machine. 

And, Linea Caffe also is open for lunch, with a whole additional menu of green salads,( that I am dying to try. I'll report back, as I make it through that list as well.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gangsta Flavor in Sydney is found at The Roosevelt

One of the highlights of my drinking tour through Sydney was a couple of stops at The Roosevelt.  It's history sounds like a story from Boardwalk Empire.  When it opened in the 1950's, it's owner Abe Saffron was reputed as one of the major figures in organized crime. He had nicknames like "Mr Sin", "a Mr Big of Australian crime" and the boss of the Cross".  When you walk into this establishment you can't help but feel that energy. The current owners have definitely tried to bring the decor back to it's roots. The Bar has an extensive collection of vintage glasses and shakers, in addition to hipflasks, wooden trays and cocktail trolleys. There are also two private rooms. The Monroe Room with Marilyn decked all over it's walls is for banquet service.  Then there is the hidden PDR/ Poker Room with secret doorways. This is truly the ode to the speakeasy and caters to the more intimate experience.

Jessica was our tour guide when my buddy Ron and I arrived for  first time.  She was extremely gracious and "dressed to the nines", like the accompanying staff around her.  Dr Philip Gandevia aka Dr. Phil, was behind the bar and ready to conduct some of his Liquid nitrogen fueled cocktails. I had to start with his version of Jerry Thomas classic, The Blue Blazer,  which he calls The Roosevelt Blazer. His recipe continues the tradition of mixing with 2 silver cups. One to heat the booze, which in this case, was rum instead of whiskey.  The other to heat the water. The rum Dr. Phil uses is the Ron Zacapa which is enhanced with a fruit infusion of Muscatels, figs cinnamon and burnt orange. The rum is then set a blaze and spiked with a dash of coffee and tonka bean bitters. While its still burning, the water and the rum are poured back and forth between the cups without extinguishing the fire.  It's the distance between the mixing that creates the blue flame.  The preparation or performance, I should say, is pretty exciting to watch.  And the drink is really remarkable.  The heat and taste make it disappear quite quickly.

When I mentioned my adoration of Agricole rhum, Dr. Phil presented a gift from his bar.  He made us a version of the French Pearl with Clément Première Canne Rum, Pastis Henri Bardouin, lime and cane syrup. It was so tantalizing, that we had to peruse the Diner Menu. We ordered the Marilyn's Mac & Cheese.  It was probably the most original and tasty interpretations we had ever eaten. The dish is made with broccoli, almond and brioche crumb. The noodles even looks as if their made with broccoli with their gorgeous. green color.
We went from the appetizer to Wednesday Special, "Date with a Steak." A 450g Wagyu steak with a range of Roosevelt signature sauces paired with a 750ml beer.  Jessica made us feel at home when she presented California's own, Bear Republic's Peter Brown Tribute Ale. The malty beer had that sugar and molasses element with just the right amount of hops to blend with beef. It also helped to have frites to dip into those sauces and soak up all this tremendous flavor.

We loved our experience so much, we came back for drinks the following night with another friend to show off our discovery.  I felt like Al Capone when I ordered the Mr. Sin.  Named after Saffron, which explains its Saffron infused Wild Turkey Rock'n'Rye. It also had Tio Pepe and a Bulleit Rye finish. It's served from a  glass gun that pours into a tumbler with just the perfect rock of ice. From gangster to cowboy... Next up, was the very Americana John Wayne. This drink has Bulleit Bourbon, Laird’s Apple Brandy, maple, root beer & cherry cola syrup and a mist of peanut butter bitters. Like most of the cocktails I got to try, this one packed a real punch.

In general, this  was one of the fondest bar experiences.  Impeccable service, thoughtful selections and pure fun.  Jessica and Dr. Phil were also kind enough to offer us a few more sugesstions to add to our growing list. The Doctor encouraged me to ask for "The Gypsy" when we got to Vasco. More to follow...

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Cocktails at Gardel's Bar and a date at Porteno

I had a chance to hit Gardel's Bar and Porteno on my trip to Sydney.  Gardel's is located upstairs from Porteno, an Argentinean Grill located in Surry Hills.  I came upon it one night after a few drinks at Tio's.  It was nice walk and we were greeted with smiles as we approached the bar.  The GM, Michael warmed us up with a highball cocktail called Corn N' Oil. It had Appleton VX Rum, housemade Falernum, some Angostura Bitters and fresh lime. It sure got our taste buds going as we surveyed the Bar Menu for a snack.  It was a great sneak peak of Porteno's kitchen.
I was intrigued by the Pumpkin & Fetta Empanada with Garlic Yoghurt Sauce.  It had both a sweet and spicy texture to the dish.  And it definitely called for another cocktail.  At this point, we had been chatting up Michael about his cocktail style and menu.  He was so gracious to offer us a gift, a Banana Old Fashioned.
Man, was this a great drink.  It had banana-infused Jack Daniels, and house-smoked maple syrup. It was batched and stirred over a distinct ice cube.   The cocktail was sweet and delicious and went down quite quickly. We were munching on the Lamb Kofta with Zucchini Yoghurt, another excellent offering out of the kitchen.  It was everything one would want when experiencing this place for the first time.

I did have a chance to experience Porteno on a date a few days later.  I was with a very handsome lad who had met up with me at my favorite bar called Vasco down the block and across the street.  We checked in for our reservation a bit early, so I could introduce him to my mate Michael upstairs at Gardel's.  We had a drink before the hostess scooped us up and sat us downstairs in the main dining room.  It was the perfect setting and my company was easy to look at as we perused the menu.
Our first dish was the Ensalada Palermo Viejo. This dish was a great opener with this amazing BBQ eggplant that had a smokey finish to it. It was accompanied with Peppers, Cauliflower and a Quail Egg.  It also was dressed a bit with Tahini.
From there, we ordered the BBQ Calamari and that blew our socks off.  It had this aioli that was screaming and I believe there was some chorizo in the dish to give it some pep.
Of course, we had to try some of their famous meat cooked in that beautiful pit of fire.  That and some sides of broccoli and polenta about did us in.  My date was excited to try this place with me for the first time as well.  I imagine he's been back since.  I certainly want to return and see him. ;)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Looking for Mezcal in Sydney? Tio's Cervecería is the answer...

I have been Mezcal focused for quite some time now.  This past March, when I arrived in Sydney,  and hit The Baxter Inn,  I asked for that very request.   In a Whiskey Lounge, no less.  I am lucky they still served me.  Damien, my very sweet barkeep, led me to Tio's Cervecería in Surry Hills. This was my spot. I convinced my best friend, whom was also my travel mate, to indulge my curiosity. We walked, from our hotel in the CBD, only 12 minutes, before we landed upon it.  Sydney was exactly that, a 12 or so minute walk to most anything.  We arrived early enough to get loads of attention.  And of course, I challenged the bar menu, which was eloquently printed on postcards. All cocktails had tequila. I decided early on, to either substitute Mezcal completely or add it along with.  On the Oso Galoso, for example, I asked for a split between the  Tequila Blanco and some Mezcal.  They obliged and continued their recipe which called for Maraschino, lime and some pineapple juice.  It definitely beefed things up. I guess, the fact that we also ordered some Beef Brisket Tacos, also created that beefy mood.  By the way, the kitchen or pop-up kitchen set-up, that made these tacos, was rather cool.  It was almost like they took over, what once was a coat check, directly across from the bar. 

I moved back over to the bar, to share my tacos and order my second cocktail, a Horchata Fuerte.  I asked to replace the tequila for mezcal.  Boy, did it make for a good mix with rice milk, orgeat and cinnamon. After that solid drink, I had to go back and visit my bud in the taco area. He had a special torta that night.  He called it the Mexican Hamburger.  I called it a success! We were on a roll, as was this hamburguesa.  And so, a third cocktail had to be ordered to complete this first experience.  I ordered a Mezcal version of their El Roberto Especial Cocktail.  This concoction called for a three herb elixir, some fresh apple juice, lime and cucumber. I was completely under Tio's spell and realized, just how special this place was.  

I took a few days off before I came back to try and tackle what I hadn't drunk my first time around.  I could only make it through 2 more, as I was on a bit of a crawl. This time, I went for their La Pinza with Mezcal.  It was equally parted with both Fernet Branca and Averna.  This was a damn good drink. For my finale, I went with the Strychnine Cocktail. I asked to combine both tequila and mezcal with the absinthe, elderflower and lemon the recipe called for. My barkeeps were awesome in allowing me to order this way. My love for this place continued,  it certainly had my name written all over it.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Hinky Dinks for Delightful Drinks!

I had a couple of visits to Hinky Dinks when I was in Sydney, in March. The first was on a “Taco Monday” in late February, toward the beginning of my travels. I met some new friends, who lived close by to the bar.  They were jazzed to try something new.  I had heard great things from the bartenders at The Baxter Inn, where I was earlier that evening. The tacos on deck that night were; a braised chicken taco with a jalapeno mayonnaise and shredded radicchio.  There was also the salt and pepper squid taco with a roquette aioli.  That one was killer!  And then there was a pulled pork taco with a piccante  mayonnaise and shredded cabbage.  

They were perfect complimented with  the House Specialty Cocktail, the Hinky Fizz.  The special comes in the in-house strawberry and prosecco sorbet. They throw a little Bombay Sapphire, grapefruit juice and St. Germain over the sorbet and add a few dashes of peach bitters.  And it’s served in a paper cup with an umbrella and a coffee spoon. Where to go from here, you say?

Well, I got a taste of the Banana Nuclear Daiquiri. The nuclear would be in the Bacardi 151.  I loved it again cause of the other ingredients. An in-house banana sorbet, Yellow Chartreuse, fresh lime, falernum syrup. Served like a frappe. Scrumptious!  My buddies were loving me chat up the bartenders as they got to try it too.  

From nuclear to the undead, the Zombie Cocktail seemed to be a fitting final selection.  There were literally 4 types of rum.  That is probably why you’re only allowed 2 a night. (Hinky’s rules) The recipe calls for maraschino, pomegranate syrup, fresh lime, grapefruit juice and an absinthe flame. I think the barkeeps at Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco would approve.

I had a chance to try one of their House Aged Cocktails on my second visit.  It was called the 21st Century.  I liked the idea that it was a tequila drink and I was curious to taste something a bit more spirit forward.  This drink was that.  Cazadores Blanco, white chocolate liqueur, absinthe and some fresh lemon served on the rocks. Still sweet but very boozy. Like me… ;)