Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
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
Friday, August 29th, 2014
Finally, a drink I don’t have to begin describing by saying “we worked backwards on this one.” Andrew and I first tasted a new organic coconut-rum months ago and immediately knew we had to use it – it’s delicious. We also immediately knew it would fit perfectly with crushed ice and plenty of Matusalem rum in the “seasonal patio cocktail” slot on the cocktail menu. These have typically been fruit-driven, beach drinks: refreshingly easy and a bit of a guilty pleasure.
Seeing no reason to deviate from this model, I went straight for the guava, which has proven to pair well with coconut in our most popular agua fresca. Next came the kaffir leaf, which pairs well with guava, but had the unintended effect of making things taste like Thai food – tom kha gai soup specifically. We pulled the ginger element, dialed back the kaffir and went back to the drawing board. I tried various teas and pineapple juice to cut the guava’s thickness, but it wasn’t until I saw the pan of watermelon scraps in the prep kitchen that everything sort of clicked.
I try and re-appropriate anything the kitchen is using in their dishes whenever possible and this seemed like a no brainer – blend the scraps, save the juice. Lime and Falernum provide the brightness element with a touch of tiki on the back end.
Remembering a conversation Andrew and I had last summer about a salted melon garnish, we ended up using our marinated watermelon cubes from the salad as they’re dressed with all things delicious: lime, mint, chile arbol and salt.
Monday, July 21st, 2014
A question popped in my head as I watched Rene make the al pastor marinade in the prep kitchen one day. Could one make a cocktail using virtually every ingredient used to my make favorite taco? Though it never occurred to me previously, it did made sense: red chiles, orange, pineapple, smoke, agave. It took a few weeks to divide the components in a way that made sense for a drink. Guajillo is infused into a syrup with cinnamon, bay leaf, allspice and clove. I wanted a caramelized flavor component so Rene & I took a gamble: we infused Matusalem rum with carmelized onion and it worked – sweet/nutty/burnt.
The last 2 pieces of the puzzle came from familiar sources. The last time that Scott Baird was in for dinner, I pitched my idea but needed a liquor component. Scott suggested a spicy liqueur like Ancho Reyes, which made sense as the drink needed more back end heat and some roundness through the mid. So we made an ancho liqueur with agave-steeped orange peels and the same spices in the syrup to act like a spicy curaçao for balance/depth.
And I was on the Perfect Purée website looking for papaya to use in something else when I saw they had just released caramelized pineapple & tangerine/mandarin purées, which provided our fruit components.
Still contemplating salted piña chunks and escabeche garnishes, but for now it’s lime wheel, radish and guajillo dust.
Thursday, March 20th, 2014
Chief Barman Matthew Campbell has been busy as of late. Recently added cocktail “Summer Camp” is a big hit, and fast on its heels is his latest: Knock on Wood. The name is a reference to the wood barrels used for aging the Zaya twelve-year rum that is the centerpiece of the drink, but we believe that consuming this cocktail will likely preserve good fortune much like the age-old superstition from which it derives its name.
Without further ado, Matthew’s notes:
This drink is the product of a hypothetical question: Could chile/heat/spice be incorporated into a stirred cocktail to good effect? We’ve had success with spicy cocktails of course, and with agave-spirit stirred drinks that act like our favorite whiskey classics. The two did not seem mutually exclusive; we just hadn’t gone down that road yet.
Ancho (roasted poblano) seemed the perfect chile as it had a mellow heat and smoky, cooked sweetness reminiscent of whiskey. Apricots and orange peels were added to round out this house-made ancho liquor as I wanted the finished drink to have a depth of mid-palate that often comes with Curaçao.
We recently added Zucca Rabarbaro Amaro (rhubarb bitters) to our pantry because it’s delicious and we knew it would find a home in one of our cocktails before long. Dolin blanc is a dry vermouth with a floral nose and a dry sherry-like finish. It adds front-end brightness and long oxidized, nutty finish.
I have loved Zaya since they began distilling in Venezuela some years ago. Now produced in Trinidad, the Gran Reserva is aged 12 years on American oak (bourbon barrels) – toasted, caramel, vanilla, etc… All in all, a perfect spirit for a whiskey-esque stirred drink with Mexican accents (heat).
Thursday, March 6th, 2014
One of the motivations that many have for becoming a chef is a strong appreciation of sense memories. Certain smells or tastes can trigger a flood of memories from a certain time and place. My love of Mexican flavors is certainly enhanced by fond recollections of meals shared during my childhood with my family at our favorite Mexican restaurants.
One scent that stirs up particularly happy memories for me is the smell of fennel pollen. I was raised in Southern California, and each summer, my sisters and I spent a few weeks away from home at summer camp in Malibu, just across highway 1 from the famous surf spot, County Line. For those not familiar with the flora of coastal Southern California, wild fennel grows in profusion, and in the summer, their overgrown stalks are bursting with pollen, perfuming the air for miles around.
Like many adolescents, I looked forward to these few summer weeks throughout the year. Camp was a safe place, away from my parents, where I made new friends, and saw old ones each year, found romance for the first time, and was free to re-invent myself to others in a way that was different from how I was perceived at home during the rest of the year.
Matthew Campbell, our lead bartender, has created a cocktail that captures for me this time and place in a glass. “Summer Camp” makes its debut this evening on our cocktail list. Put away your umbrella and let the scents of summer take you back to a sunny place and time; perhaps you’ll even meet a summer crush.
Matthew C’s notes:
The basic idea started with toasted coriander syrup (made previously with no specific drink in mind) and peak-of-season Meyer lemons. In keeping with the traditional sour model, egg white was then added for body. The Salers apertivo (gentian) was the next piece to fall into place. When I tasted it initially I knew it could be the earthy, stabilizing force to offset the floral coriander/Meyer combo.
I’ve had a bag of fennel pollen since the summer and now seemed the perfect time to incorporate the aromatics over the egg white foam. Ground with lavender and dusted atop, the botanicals are then keyed in to both taste and smell.
The finishing component was the base spirit. We often build drinks “backwards”, where the spirit is the last thing considered. Somewhat atypical, as most folks set out to make a “bourbon drink”, then work from there. Tony had brought in a bunch of freshly picked bay leaves and we infused them on highland tequila (green, vegetal, minty). At this point I realized we had (similar to our botanical gin) designed a drink featuring a lot of local plants and winter aromatics from the East Bay hills. Probably no surprise, as Tony and I spend our free time tromping around regional parks with packs of dogs…