Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cocktails on the Small Screen

There are dozens of blogs and media outlets that concern the art of the cocktail. Some of these are featured on the links section of this page. Most of these blogs are run by bartenders, amateur cocktalians, or owned by various liquor companies. However, a few business start-ups have entered the space, including the Small Screen Network (SSN).

The SSN specializes in "niche casting," consisting of short sub-10 minute programs targeted at the cocktail/beverage enthusiast. Their first show, "The Cocktail Spirit," is hosted by Robert Hess, cocktail expert and co-founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail. When not discussing cocktails, Mr. Hess interestingly hangs his hat at Microsoft as a Technology Evangelist. His short videos are a great way to learn how to mix quality cocktails quickly and properly, ranging from well known drinks like the Cosmopolitan to lesser known libations like The Last Word.

Other shows include "Raising the Bar," hosted by Bartender Jamie Boudreau, "Three Sheets," with comedian Zane Lamprey, and "The Liquid Muse" with mixologist Natalie Bovis-Nelsen.

In addition to the videos, the SSN also operates several entertaining blogs. For those of you with money to play with, they're looking for angel investors according to the webpage.

Follow the below link:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Black Pudding and Beer: Gastropubs Move West

Those that live in or frequent San Francisco's Marina District probably have noticed the line that forms outside the new gastropub, The Tipsy Pig, on weekend nights. Conceived by the Vintage 415 gang (Umami, Mamacitas, The Ambassador, et. al), the restaurant is well run and popular. While the food is decent pub food and the beer list thoughtful, the culinary offerings are tame by gastropub standards. For example, there's nothing obscure enough on the menu to make the average Marina denizen squeal. The pork sliders are one of the better menu options.

The Tipsy Pig is just one of several gastropubs to open in the Bay Area over the past few years, as part of a current broader movement. The term was originally coined in 1991 by David Eyre and Mike Belben who operated the Eagle Pub in Clerkenwell, London. A combination of "gastronomy" and "pub", their "gastropub" establishment was an attempt to combine quality dining in a pub environment, thus elevating British dining and pub culture. The movement jumped to New York City in late 2003 with the opening of The Spotted Pig. The general scene has exploded since then, helped by the current economic times as gastropub menus typically feature more reasonable prices and comforting food such as upscale hamburgers and mac and cheese (as well as more obscure Scottish and English specialties like blood pudding).

The Bay Area's gastropubs could be broken into two groups. The former includes classic pubs that have upgraded their culinary offerings, while the latter includes new arrivals such as the aforementioned Tipsy Pig. Good examples of the first group include classic pubs like Liverpool Lil's and The Pig & Whistle, founded in 1973 and 1991 respectively. The latter group is diverse with more traditional establishments with beer centric menus/pub decor like Monk's Kettle, Magnolia Pub, Martin's West, and Tipsy Pig, to ones that have more of a focus on lighter, more California influenced fare and decoration such as The Alembic, Urban Tavern, and the Grand Tavern in Oakland. In addition, one could argue that with the West Coast's focus on fresh and exciting food, many of our local microbrewery restaurants were essentially "gastropubs" before the name became trendy.

Your host recently had the opportunity to visit Martins West, a new gastropub that opened in May in the historic area of Redwood City. The founders include the husband and wife team of Moira Beveridge and Derek Smith, both active in the local restaurant and bar scene, as well as Michael Dotson, former Executive Chef at Evvia in Palo Alto. It's named after the Martins Restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland, run by Martin Irons, a family friend of Ms. Beveridge.

Located in the old Alhambra Theater building constructed in 1896, the restaurant incorporates some of the original design elements of the building including a line of solid wood columns that extend down the middle of the room. Also notice the scorch marks on the back exposed brick walls, resulting from a fire in years past. The proprietors went through great lengths to use recycled materials during construction. The bar is made from an older wooden water tank, and many of the tables are made from old wine barrels.

The menu is adventurous with Scottish items such as black pudding (cow's blood mixed with flour), haggis (sheep's entrails), and herbed marrow bones featured prominently on the menu. This is in addition to friendlier fare like burgers and fish and chips, and several more California influenced dishes like tandoori roasted local halibut. The black pudding is excellent, and not too salty.

The beer selection is U.S. focused with several micro brews on tap, as well as bottled European beers. The cocktail list is thoughtful, and includes options made with rye whiskey and served in mason jars.


Gastropub Recommendations:

Martins West Pub
831 Main Street
Redwood City, CA 94063
(650) 366-4366

The Tipsy Pig
2231 Chestnut St
(between Pierce St & Avila St)
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 292-2300

Liverpool Lil's
2942 Lyon St
(between Greenwich St & Lombard St)
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 921-6664

The Pig & Whistle
2801 Geary Blvd
(between Collins St & Wood St)
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 885-4779

The Monk's Kettle
3141 16th St
(between Albion St & Valencia St)
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 865-9523

Magnolia Pub & Brewery
1398 Haight St
(between Central Ave & Masonic Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 864-7468

The Alembic
1725 Haight Street
(between Cole St & Shrader St)
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 666-0822

Urban Tavern
333 O'Farrell St
(between Mason St & Taylor St)
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 923-4400

The Grand Tavern
3601 Grand Ave
(between Davidson Way & Weldon Ave)
Oakland, CA 94610

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A cocktail book that helped start a movement...

Over the past five years, there has been a resurgent interest in the classic cocktail. Cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, and New York all contain new bars specializing in pre-prohibition drinks.

One of the books that helped spawn the movement is titled "Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails." Originally published in 2004 by Ted Haigh, aka Dr. Cocktail, the book contains a multitude of very interesting cocktail recipes and the histories behind them. Haigh recently re-released an updated and expanded version that contains additional recipes, pictures, and resource sections about the locations of obscure ingredients.

While the recipes provide for hours of bar tending or home mixology fun, the stories are entertaining and provide useful background. The book makes a great read, or a fun conversation starter on an airplane.

Online bookstores such as currently carry the new version.

Of the included cocktails, one of the more fanciful recipes in name and taste is below, supposedly created by J.P. Morgan, of banking fame.

Alamagoozlum Cocktail (for 3 servings):

1/2 egg white
2 oz genever gin (Junipero or other strong gin also works)
2 oz water (melted ice can suffice)
1 1/2 oz Jamaica rum (preferably Wray & Nephew Overproof white rum)
1 1/2 oz Chartreuse (green or yellow)
1 1/2 oz gomme syrup (simple syrup)
1/2 oz orange curacao (Cointreau works)
1/2 oz Angostura (not an error)

Shake, strain into three glasses. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tilted Travels: Sailing on the Bay

For a city surrounded by water, surprisingly few residents have had the chance to sail on San Francisco Bay in a real sailboat. While taking the Blue & Gold ferry for drinks/brunch at Sam's in Tiburon is nice, it's not the same experience as traveling under sail on a boat tilted 45 degrees.

Fortunately, there are several charter services available. One of which is The Ruby, run by Captain Josh Pryor. Your host recently had the chance to take part in a Sunday afternoon cruise.

For a reasonable $40 per person, you get a 2.5 hour sail around the bay, which includes a lunch of deli sandwiches, fruit, snacks, and cookies. A decent selection of beer and wine is available for $4 a glass. Captain Josh is at the helm, and his First Mate, Elizabeth, acts as bartender and helps around the boat. Josh and Elizabeth are great hosts, and will gladly share information about the boat and journey including anecdotes about past voyages. Josh has been running the Ruby for close to 30 years, and Elizabeth has been on the boat for 5. Many passengers return over and over, including one late 20's passenger on our cruise who said she has been coming since she was 7 years old.

The boat itself is interesting, as it was constructed by Captain Josh himself in the late 1970's. The 63 ft long sloop is constructed of steel, and has a handy solid railing around the edge (as compared to a metal cord like many boats have). Considering how much the boat tilts while under sail (see picture), the railing is reassuring, especially after several beers. When not under sail, the boat is powered by a small antique 1940's diesel engine. For those who wish to take refuge from the wind/spray, the interior cabin is large enough to accommodate several passengers and is nicely appointed with white wainscoting. Notice the stuffed turtle head on the wall.Like the boat, its berthing location is also unique, being behind The Ramp, which is a fun, ramshackle, waterside outdoor bar/restaurant in the Dog Patch neighborhood of San Francisco. It's an excellent place for a post-cruise beer or cocktail. In addition, for those interested in historic industrial architecture, there is a very old dry dock with cranes across the inlet.

Captain Josh sails all year round, normally once or twice a day. It's best to call ahead to make reservations, and to learn the day's sailing time(s). Routes can differ depending on the wind and currents. Our route took us out past AT&T Park, under the Bay Bridge, and around Alcatraz to Angel island and return. For those that forget their warm clothes, there are several West Marine sailing jackets available for use on the boat.


The Details:

Ruby Sailing Yacht
835 Terry Francois St
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 861-2165

The Ramp Restaurant
855 Terry Francois St
(between Illinois St & Mariposa St)
San Francisco, CA 94158
(415) 621-2378