La Palapa began as a question posed to our very busy friend Scott Baird: “banana liqueur in ten words or less.” I’d been trying for two years to get his recipe and it seemed like something always came up, derailing my plans. But the rapid fire approach worked, and what I got in response was more than enough to make a liqueur that’s equally delicious in a cocktail or poured over pancakes: White rum, dark rum, Sherry, sugar, vanilla, coffee bean, banana.
There’s something about Mexican food, an outdoor bar and an open-air patio that makes one crave a refreshing, crushed-ice cocktail. And while it’s easy to bring the tropics in the middle of summer when seasonal fruit abounds, winter has always been tricky to pair with island drinks. Knowing that we had to say goodbye to the Zip Line as watermelons are now hibernating for the winter, having a banana liqueur in our arsenal now provides us with perennial “tiki” possibilities. In this instance I kept it simple and reverted to childhood memories of ‘vacation juice’ and making banana bread: Pineapple, orange, banana and walnut bitters.
-Matthew McKinley Campbell
2014 began for me at the Mercado San Juan in Mexico City. It’s a dizzying maze of stalls packed with the best of all things culinary, and naturally where DF’s top chefs hunt down ingredients. I was being shown around by Iván Saldaña Oyarzábal, a botanist-turned-distiller, and the man behind Ancho Reyes – a new full strength ancho chile liquor (the brainchild of our friends the Bon Vivants).
Ivan had graciously let me tag along as he shopped for his family’s New Year’s feast, which included numerous pit stops for tapas and tiny plastic cups of wine. The ensuing three-hour lunch that followed may have gotten him in trouble with his wife, but I got to pick his brain about all things agave (he makes Monte Lobos mezcal and Milagro tequila as well) as well as the new Ancho Reyes project.
I left DF with a notebook full of ideas and a plan to incorporate Ancho into the menu. It took almost a year for the idea to coalesce, and one of our bartenders bringing in a pumpkin syrup he was working on at home, for the light bulb to go off.
Ancho chiles are deep, savory and almost sweet with a subtle back-end heat. The thought of spicy pumpkin pie immediately came to mind, and the texture from the egg whites made perfect sense.
Though I just compared it to a dessert, it drinks like a traditional sour – bright and acid forward, with accents of heat and spice. We didn’t want to make a caramel-chai-pumpkin-latte, as a certain Seattle coffee company has that covered.
Matthew McKinley Campbell
I recently moved to Oakland, and after many years of apartment and condo living, I was very excited about the prospect of having a yard. I’ve always enjoyed gardening and foraging; the idea of either growing or collecting food I find very appealing. When I first took possession of the new house, it was mid-winter and most of the existing plants in the backyard were barren of leaves, so it was very exciting as spring arrived to discover what had been planted in the backyard. In addition to a citrus tree that was producing both Eureka lemons and Seville sour oranges, my neighbor informed me that I also had a pineapple guava tree along the eastern fence of the yard.
I have to admit that I wasn’t really familiar with this particular fruit. In the spring it produced exotic red and white flowers, and I crossed my fingers that I had one of the self-pollinating strains. Within a month I had received an answer, as the flowers began developing into small, green football shaped fruit. Throughout the summer they swelled and as the first week of fall arrived, the first fruit ripened and fell from the tree.
Not even knowing how they should be eaten, I brought several of the ripened fruit to work at Comal. When Andrew saw them, he exclaimed, “Oh, those are feijoa! My daughter Amelie loves to tear them open and scrape out the insides with her teeth.” Amelie’s mother is Colombian, and after doing some research, I learned that although often called pineapple guava in California, or guavasteen, it is actually not a true guava, and its origins are South American.
Certainly contributing to the confusion, their flavor is often described as a cross between guava and pineapple, or guava and strawberry, with overtones of wintergreen or spearmint. It is a truly exotic flavor that is very difficult to pinpoint. I decided to make a jelly with the fruit, as they are very high in natural pectin, and flavored it with Eureka lemon juice and zest from my other backyard tree along with clove and allspice. The resulting jelly tastes like an exotic lemon lollipop. I started brainstorming ideas for a cocktail with Matt Campbell, our lead bartender, and have come up with what I feel is a truly local seasonal cocktail. Mixing the spiced feijoa jelly with tequila, pomegranate and lemon juices, we ended up with a delicious, tart and mysteriously fruity cocktail.
Last year when Corin brought in a paper bag filled with tiny Santa Rosa plums and asked “Can you do anything with these?” I felt instantly twelve years old again, puckering at their sour taste for the first time. My summers growing up in the East Bay hills were spent building tree forts with friends and pelting one another with the overripe plums that had fallen to the ground. Everyone seemed to have these trees but no one ever ate their fruit. Once we tasted their bitter contents, it seemed wiser to use them as projectiles that had the added benefit of staining the opponent’s clothes.
With no idea of the outcome or what its final purpose in a cocktail would be, I macerated the plums on tequila with an oversized masher and waited. I knew it would be tart, probably enough to act as the sour/bitter component in a drink, and it was. What I didn’t account for was the skin and pit, which created a tannic, earthy finish. In the end, I think it tastes closer to a sour Maraska cherry tequila, but it’s still really delicious and works perfectly in a stirred drink that’s bright and light. Aperol and Cocchi Rosa vermouth lend balance and finish to the tart, fruit-forward tequila. Manzanilla sherry provides a touch of sea salt and brings out the background flavors of the vermouth. Grapefruit zest always pairs well with Aperol as it plays up the fruit components while toning down the bitterness. An easy drinking, apertivo-style cocktail – perfect for the end of summer while there’s still sunshine on the patio…
Matthew McKinley Campbell