Wednesday, October 29th, 2014
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.
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…
Thursday, February 27th, 2014
We are excited to have tapped a new keg from Fort Point Beer Co., a brewery opened late last year in the Presidio in San Francisco by the owners of Mill Valley Beer Works. It’s a delicious, hoppy wheat beer that they call “Park” – brewed with Citra hops and with an ABV of 4.7%, it’s a great session beer. We’ve enjoyed their fine beers at the Beer Works, and are happy to now be able to share them with you at Comal!
Saturday, February 8th, 2014
None of us can say exactly why, but for whatever reason we have been in business nearly two years and have until now not offered that most classic of Mexican “bebidas”, the michelada. Most Mexican restaurants would have gotten on the clue bus by now, but we are just now joining the party.
There are many regional takes on the michelada, but they are generally all built with the same basic ingredients: beer (preferably a good pilsner or lager), lime juice, spices, chiles and in most cases tomato juice – sometimes clamato juice – served in a chilled glass with a salted rim. After a bit of internal discussion about the best way to approach things, we opted for a fairly traditional take, albeit with a couple Comal twists.
To quote our esteemed barman Matthew Campbell:
Ours is a pretty traditional michelada a la San Jalisco – theirs is my favorite ever. Built on the salt-spice-tart platform – same as our sangritas but without the sweet element. Savory comes from Worcestershire. Two kinds of heat: a toasted arbol salsa we did in house and Valentina hot sauce for that bright vinegar spice. Lime juice (of course). Traditionally it should be clamato juice but allergy fears point toward straight tomato juice. Rim will be a salt of guajillo, morrita and kosher. And in a local nod, we’re using Berkeley brewed Trumer Pils as the cervesa of choice.
The “San Jalisco” Matthew references above is San Jalisco restaurant – long a source of fine micheladas and down home Mexican food in SF’s Mission district.
We are also offering several special large format (22 oz. or 750 ml.) beers during Beer Week, including a new special release from Stone Brewing in Escondido (an Imperial Cherrywood-Smoked Saison), Mischief, a hoppy, golden Belgian-Style Strong Ale from the Bruery in Orange County and St. Boltoph’s Town Brown Ale from Pretty Things. There’s more to come, as next week we will feature a brand new Beer Week release from local favorites Calicraft Brewing: The City IPA, made with 9 different hop varieties, blackberry root and Seville orange peel and coming in at a relatively low (for an IPA) 6.4% ABV.
We also recently got our hands on the last keg of SF’s own Almanac Chipotle Smoked Stout just in time for SF Beer Week, and will be pouring that on tap until it runs out.
Hope to see you at Comal during Beer Week!
Monday, December 23rd, 2013
“Punch Royal dates back to the end of the 17th century,” says cocktail historian David Wondrich in his book Punch, or the Delights and Dangers of the Flowing Bowl. “It was drunk by courtiers, pirates and everyone in between.”
Punch in general has a long and storied place in the annals of festive gatherings. As self-proclaimed “Georgian Junkie” Emery Lee points out, “The Georgian era is widely known for its excesses, the least of which was heavy drinking. A typical Georgian gentleman of leisure would spend his days frequenting one of the myriad coffee rooms and his evenings, many times into the wee hours, in a gaming house, tavern, or gentleman’s club roistering with his cronies over a brimming punch bowl.”
Painting by William Hogarth from the mid-1700s
While I don’t expect our NYE party to have a Georgian theme, and we may not have a lot of courtiers or pirates in attendance, I do like the idea of “roistering with … cronies over a brimming punch bowl.”
Barman Matthew Campbell has crafted his take on the classic Punch Royal with winter in mind. It’s called Medianoche, and according to an email from Matthew it goes like this:
Bubbles are a given since it’s NYE. Add Matusalem rum because it’s delicious and clean. The classic recipe calls for raspberry syrup but I made a more seasonally appropriate spiced huckleberry compote. It also calls for orange juice, as many punches do, so blood orange makes perfect sense for the winter – and it adds dramatic color. Passion fruit purée & a bit of mango tea for a slight island kick and also to provide tartness in lieu of lemon or lime. Definitely more fruit forward than winter spiced. Ladle into a flute and start dancing…
JP (with input from MC)