Thursday, May 28, 2009

A (Very) Classic Dry Martini

More often than not, most people nowadays think of the Dry Martini as vodka based, shaken, with lots of ice and maybe just a touch of vermouth. Some bartenders leave out the vermouth entirely, going so far as proclaiming "Vermouth is for Cream Soup," as one well known bartender does here in San Francisco at the Connecticut Yankee. While the above preparation works well for some, it is a far cry from the original Dry Martini.

Historically, the Martini has been gin based, with a much higher proportion of dry vermouth. David Wondrich, acclaimed writer and authority on all things cocktails, discusses this issue in his book, Imbibe! (Penguin Books, 2008).

references an early Dry Martini recipe, originally published in the Hoffman House Bartender's Guide from 1906. This recipe used equal parts vermouth and gin, along with a few dashes of orange bitters. It's important to use a classic London Dry style of gin in order to hold up to the vermouth. While modern and lighter citrusy gins such as local favorites Sarticious and N. 209 are great in their own right, they will not provide the balance necessary in this drink. Use more juniper forward gins like Beefeater, Tanqueray, or Bombay. If you prefer local craft spirits in your drink, Anchor Distilling's Junipero Gin works well. The vermouth should be the dry French Noilly Pratt, and the orange bitters can be Regan's #6. This drink should be stirred, not shaken, with chunks of good quality ice, store bought or made with purified water. Due to the subtleties of the drink, high quality ice is more important here than with a juice based cocktail.

Few bars will likely list this type of Martini on the menu, though most should be able to make it with some guidance. However, one bar in particular, the legendary Pegu Club of New York City, offers a variation of this classic style called the Fitty Fitty.

Fitty Fitty Martini

1 ounce dry gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
Few dashes of orange bitters

Stir with ice in mixing glass. Strain into cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.


Below are several bars in San Francisco where you can drink this style of Martini in worthy historic surroundings.

56 Gold St
(between Balance St & Montgomery St)
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 433-6300

Commentary: Classic styled restaurant in the historic Jackson Square neighborhood. Art Deco styling with columns, soaring atrium, commissioned art work, and nightly jazz or piano music. Try the steak tartare.

Elite Cafe
2049 Fillmore St
(between California St & Pine St)
San Francisco, CA 94115
(415) 346-8400

Commentary: Art Deco roadhouse styling, originally founded as the Lincoln Grill in 1928, and recently renovated back to classic style decor. Check out the unique light fixtures, and try the deviled eggs.

Big Four Restaurant
1075 California St
The Huntington Hotel
(between Cushman St & Taylor St)
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 771-1140

Commentary: The bar has rich wood finishing with dark hues and is in a building constructed in 1922. Good bar menu to accompany the martini. Try the chicken pot pie.

Maxfield's Pied Piper Bar
The Palace Hotel
2 New Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 512-1111

Commentary: This bar arguably contains one of the finest bar murals of all time, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, painted in 1909 by Maxfield Parish. The mural alone is worth a visit. The decor is similar to the Big 4 Restaurant, with dark wood paneling.

Butterfly Bar
Hotel Majestic
1500 Sutter St
(between Gough St & Octavia St)
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 441-1100

Commentary: Though the Cafe Majestic recently closed, the adjacent Butterfly Bar is still open and provides light Victorian styling and unique actual butterfly displays. The Hotel Majestic, constructed in 1904, is one of the only wooden SF Hotels still in existence to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Bar Drake
Sir Francis Drake Hotel
450 Powell St
(between Sutter St & Post St)
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 395-8555

Commentary: Though the bar itself is a new creation, it is located within the lobby of the Sir Francis Drake hotel, constructed in 1928. Unlike the modern Clock Bar at the neighboring St. Francis Hotel, Bar Drake incorporates classic styling with marble and brass. A bar has existed in some form at this location for a number of years.

3200 16th St
(between Guerrero St & Spencer St)
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 552-1633

Commentary: The current owners claim a saloon has existed on the site since 1858, making this likely the oldest drinking location in town. In 2003, the bar was renovated to a more classic styling with stained wood and brass.

House of Shields
39 New Montgomery Street
(between Jessie St & Stevenson St)
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 975-8651

Commentary: Founded in 1908, this bar recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Drink a cocktail or listen to live music in subdued Edwardian surroundings that haven't changed much since construction.

83 Proof
83 1st St
(between Elim St & Mission St)
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 296-8383

Commentary: This is the new kid on the block, though it is likely one of the most straight forward cocktail bars in San Francisco constructed in a classic style. There is no set cocktail list and the bartenders are highly knowledgeable. If you happen to stump the bartender, he may look up the recipe on his iPhone.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Redwood City Revisited

Redwood City is often overlooked among the more upscale Peninsula towns of Burlingame, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and Mountain View. In fact, you're not likely to hear most non-residents say "Let's spend an afternoon in Redwood City", unless they need to visit the San Mateo County Civic Center or maybe grab some cheap Latin food on Middlefield Rd after visiting Costco.

Over the past few years, your host has passed through Redwood City countless times on the Caltrain on the way to the office, and thought it was time to revisit.

Incorporated in 1867, Redwood City is one of the oldest cities in San Mateo County, and has a number of historic sights remaining. Due to a recent downtown revitalization effort, the historic center is now a pleasant place to stroll. Of the old buildings present, the most notable are the old San Mateo County Courthouse and the Fox Theater (See pictures).

The courthouse was constructed in 1910, and though smaller, rivals San Francisco City Hall in opulence. Inside lies one of the largest stained glass domed rotundas in Northern California. The building currently houses the San Mateo County History Museum, which has several interesting exhibits, as well as a restored courtroom with its own stained glass ceiling. Mosaics line the hallways and rotunda floor. Fronting the courthouse is a new downtown plaza. In 2006, the County removed a building that occupied the sight, and restored the original columned facade.

Across the plaza from the courthouse is the Fox Theater, a venue constructed in 1928 as a Vaudeville house in the Moorish art deco style. It currently houses the Fox and Little Fox theaters and supports numerous live acts throughout the year. One can occasionally wander into the ornate lobby and theater outside of performance times.

Bisecting the Plaza is Broadway Street, which travels the length of Downtown. At the Intersection of Broadway and Main to the East lies a collection of several historic commercial structures including the Sequoia Hotel and the domed Fitzpatrick Building, constructed in 1899. Upon construction, the Fitzpatrick Building housed the first bank between San Francisco and San Jose. Notice the ornate late Victorian design elements of the building. The whole district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

At the other end of Broadway past the railroad tracks lies a collection of interesting stores and restaurants including the City Pub, with good burgers, and the Gourmet Haus Staudt Gifts and Cafe, a great German store and eatery. In business for over 25 years, the owners have recently added a pub and beer garden to the back of the store. Try a sausage or two with your stein of beer.

Near the railroad tracks on Broadway, there is a re-creation of an historic Redwood City sign with the slogan "Climate Best by Government Test." There were originally two signs that stood at either end of the city on El Camino Real, but were removed in prior years.

A number of parking garages offer cheap parking in the vicinity, including the Marshall Street Garage on Marshall between Jefferson and Main, where the history museum validates for a few hours.

Locations Mentioned:

San Mateo County History Museum (Courthouse)
2200 Broadway Street
Redwood City, CA 94061
(650) 299-0104
Tuesday – Sunday,
10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Fox Theater
2215 Broadway Street
Redwood City, CA 94063
(650) 369-4119

City Pub
2620 Broadway Street
Redwood City, CA 94063
(650) 363-2620

Gourmet Haus Staudt Gifts and Cafe
2615 Broadway Street
Redwood City, CA 94063
(650) 364-9232

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Bitter in Seattle

Your host returned from a great Memorial Day Weekend in Seattle, one of the few times when the weather has actually been more agreeable than in San Francisco. This past weekend served as a great opportunity to visit several cocktail bars in the Emerald City, and try drinks based on the bitter liquors of Italy and France.

First up was the Zig Zag cafe, of Pike's Place Market. Reasonable prices, gin braised prawns and lamb burgers, and unique drinks. The decor is dark and artsy, with a nice patio on the Pike Place Hill Climb. In particular, the Trident Cocktail is tasty. Concocted by cocktail guru (and MSFT Director) Robert Hess, the Trident balances the bitter flavor of Italian Cynar (artichoke based liquor) with Aquavit, peach bitters and sherry. Apparently, Zig Zag goes through more Cynar in a year than all the bars combined in the State of Washington. Enjoy a cocktail or two here in a relaxed environment. Most cocktails under $9.

Next up was Vessel, decidedly more upscale and modern. Though located in an historic building next to the 5th Ave Theater in Downtown, the interior is very minimalist, with high ceilings and clean lines. The drinks are very good, though pricier at $12. They made an excellent rendition of the Widow's Kiss, a bitter cocktail from 1895, utilizing apple brandy and three types of bitters, including the French Chartreuse and Benedictine. The bartenders here wear vest and tie, reminiscent of several San Francisco spots. Though the cocktails are on the small side, they also tend to stir, rather than shake most drinks, which leads to a less diluted end product.

Finally, we head to Sun Liquor, located on Capitol Hill. Asian decor, friendly vibe, and reasonable prices ($7-$9 per cocktail). There is a seasonal cocktail list, but the knowledgeable bar staff should be able to mix most drinks up. Our bar tender made an excellent Toronto Cocktail, essentially rye whiskey, Fernet, and bitters. Again, the tendance here is to stir rather than shake most drinks.

Seattle Cocktail Bars:

Zig Zag Cafe
1501 Western Avenue
on the Pike Hillclimb
Seattle, WA 98101
(206) 625-1146

1312 5th Ave
Seattle, WA 98101
(206) 652-0521

Sun Liquor
607 Summit Ave E
(between Mercer St & Roy St)
Seattle, WA 98102
(206) 860-1130

Bitter Cocktails:

The Trident
1 ounce dry sherry
1 ounce Cynar
1 ounce aquavit
2 dashes peach bitters

Garnish: Lemon twist
Stir with ice in a mixing glass . Strain into a cocktail glass.

Widow's Kiss
2 ounce calvados or apple jack
1 ounce yellow Chartreuse
1 ounce Benedictine
1-2 dashes Angostura bitters

Garnish: Lemon twist
Shake with ice in cocktail shaker. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Toronto Cocktail
2 ounces rye whiskey (100 proof or greater is best)
1/4 ounce Fernet
1/4 ounce simple syrup or other sweetener
2 dashes Angostura Bitters (or other high quality aromatic bitters)

Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel, or orange twist. Use more or less sweetener to taste.


I bring to you the Left Coast Bon Vivant! Random musings on the unique and different for discerning gentlemen (and ladies).

From a home base in San Francisco, CA, your host will cover thoughts on a variety of leisure topics including fine spirits, good food, and great sights up and down the Left Coast. The theme will be to entertain and inform...whether it be to plan a great weekend escape with a lady, or to add that different touch to the evening cocktail party.

Stay tuned and enjoy!