Winter Cocktails at AQ Restaurant and Bar

It really can't be said that San Francisco doesn't have seasons.

Sure, the city's east cost counterparts boast the full blusters of winter and dramatic fall displays of color and leaves. And even Midwest cities, like Chicago and Minneapolis, may claim seasons intense enough to freeze your tears and melt your skin and all of the earned bragging rights in leathered character.

But thin-skinned and soft-hearted San Franciscans may be, it cannot be said that the City on the Bay does not have seasons. You really only have to look to what San Francisco devotes so much of its pomp and circumstance: the food. In city that puts events like farmers markets at centerstage, eating with the seasons is an important part of San Francisco living. Home cooks and professional chefs kow-tow to fresh catches and seasonal harvests.

AQ Restaurant is the perfect example of this. The restaurant, which just opened in November to a flurry of accolades (including a nomination for the James Beard Award's best new restaurant), changes every aspect of its service with the seasons. The interior transforms from the warm colors of fall to stark winter white. The staff rotates its garb from flannels to pressed whites. And, of course, the food and drinks shift to reflect the particular season's bounty.


If the concept sounds quaint, it is. But it avoids becoming gimmicky simply because, well, the cocktails are good.

What's cool is that many of AQ's cocktails give a strong nod to the classics. In fact, a whole section of the drink menu is devoted to "seasonal classics," common drinks that are tweaked here and there to make it the restaurant's own.

AQ also features some of its own drinks, too. They're not cocktails you'll necessarily find in the gentlemen's companion—but they were definitely delicious enough to make up a modern cocktail book!


We went to AQ during its winter menu. I was particularly pleased with my Manhattan, which featured orange-peel-infused bourbon, sweet vermouth, winter bitters, and angostura bitters. It was a really lovely spicy take on the old classic. It managed to taste enough like the original but took on its own distinct mood—kind of like visiting the same place at different times of day.


Next I ordered a New Amsterdam Variant #2: raisin-infused bols genever gin, maple syrup, old fashioned bitters, topped with apple cider. It was a sweet drink that ran thick with the maple syrup. The taste of raisins and cider tasted familiar and made me feel warm on a cold winter's night. Completely appropriate drink for fall (apple season!), as well.

The drink somehow become reminiscent of raisins and of hot cider. It was the perfect spice to warm my insides on a cold winter's night.


Josh asked the bartender for a recommendation on a scotch drink, and she whipped up a super tasty Bobby Burns—a deep and smoky drink that usually includes scotch, vermouth, and Bendictine.

Our companion Kasey, on the other hand, ordered a Bison Rose, and it came in this really cool cup! (Standby for low-quality pictures in a dark, dark bar.)


Overall, we were most impressed by the drinks featured on the menu (opposed to ones whipped up off-menu), and the bar takes a really fresh take on well-loved cocktails. Drinks were really well-balanced and very accessible for food-minded folks looking for deep flavors in their cocktails. These are California cocktails at their best!

[For the interested, here are dark, dramatic photos of the AQ winter cocktail menu, which has since been swapped out for the spring menu.]



AQ Restaurant & Bar

1085 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94103 415) 341-9000

Crossposted on The Joy of Drinking.


I have this theory that you know a place is really good when you go twice—once, to try it out, and then second, to fulfill the craving the first visit left. This past weekend was a weekend of seconds. :-)

We returned to Plant Cafe on the Embarcadero with my visitng friend (and, incidentally, second cousin!) Crystal. It's a super healthy cafe on the Bay that specializes in organic foods. It's the perfect place to take any guest to San Francisco—they get a full Bay view and can satisfy their stereotype of healthy Californians. 

We all thought we'd try their fresh juices. You only need a little glass because it's so potent!

They also have a delicious breakfast bowl with cinammon, apples, young coconut, and pecans. 

We also returned to 15 Romolo. I had promised myself that I wouldn't get the skillet this time, even though it was so delicious last time. But this time they had pork belly in the skillet! What's a girl to do?

Pork belly skillet

We also stopped for a drink at old favorite Heaven's Dog, where Trevor whipped up a lovely Trinidad Sour.

Trinidad Sour - Heavens Dog

Cheers to the seconds!

More Details on Charles Phan's and Erik Adkin's New Project

Learning about Charles Phan's and Erik Adkin's new Embarcadero restaurant had the curious effect of making Josh and me very excited and very thirsty. And so we found ourselves, only moments later, dashing down to The Slanted Door, one of Mr. Phan's and Mr. Adkin's tried, true, and institutionalized restaurants in the Ferry Building. After all, we wanted to end the three-day weekend on a celebratory note.

And as it happened, Mr. Adkins was there that night behind the bar! He shared with us a little more about the new spot, which is set to open just a little ways down from The Slanted Door at Pier 3.

The new restaurant will take on a New Orleans flare in fare and in cocktails. The drinks, specifically, will draw inspiration from the the book Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix 'Em, an artifact from the '30s and one of the few pieces documenting drinks from that place. For Erik, that means being able to do a lot of what he enjoys—stirred drinks and the like.

It's a very neat direction to go. New Orleans drinks are celebrated for some very significant contributions to the cocktail menu—the Sazerac and the Ramos Gin Fizz, just to name a few. But I don't know of very many bars that have chosen to thematically embrace New Orleans. And with the growing number of New York-style, Charles Baker, tiki, and tequila spots, it seems that Phan and Adkins might carve out a very unique spot.

The new place won't be solely about the cocktails and actually the cocktail menu won't be "seasonal," as I had previously thought. Instead, we are encouraged by with what we know about Mr. Phan's other spots—both great food and great drink. There's not much not to complain about that.

And so we wait with more anticipation! 2012 will, indeed, be a very good year.

Crossposted on The Joy of Drinking.

New Cocktail Bar for Charles Phan and Erik Adkins (Sound the trumpets!)

Holy moly! San Francisco cocktail world, rejoice! We're about to witness a supernova.

Earlier I had mentioned that the super fantastic Erik Adkins was stepping back from managing the cocktail menu at Heaven's Dog to usher in the super talented Trevor, formerly of Rickhouse. And now I'm wondering whether it has anything to do with this happy piece of news: Charles Phan (famous proprietor of Slanted Door, Wu Hing General Store, Out the Door, and Heaven's Dog) is opening a new spot on Pier 3 on The Embarcadero—and the restaurant and its food are all centered around Erik's drinks, as Eater SF reports!

Details are few, but the restaurant is set to feature Creole food to compliment a "creative seasonal cocktail program" created by Erik, describes Eater SF. 

I could not be more excited.

One of the distinguishing marks of San Francisco cocktail culture is that much of it is invested in food establishments. Restaurants, it seems, have an easier time acquiring liquor licenses or taking over places that already have them, and so you have a frequent interplay between food and cocktails. But I am incredibly excited to see what happens when cocktails take centerstage, and the food follows—and led by one of the most awesome bartenders.

It's going to be a great year for cocktails.

Crossposted on The Joy of Drinking.

Heaven's Dog: Valentine's Day Cocktail Adventures

It was a kind of spur-of-the-moment decision on Valentine's. Though we had planned a classy, classy home Valentine’s dinner, Josh and I decided to capitalize on a celebratory mood and dash out for a quick happy hour. After all, one of our favorite bars, Heaven’s Dog, was not so very far away—and Valentine’s Day comes only but once a year! With hurried justification, we threw on our jackets and headed right over.

Josh and I have been going to the SOMA spot ever since it opened in 2009. Opened by Charles Phan of Slanted Door fame, the restaurant features some kind of Chinese American fare—fancy xiaolongbao, onion pancakes, spicy dumplings, and other “high-end” stir-frys. But what keeps us coming back are the cocktails. Originally managed by the incredible Erik Adkins—who is not only super talented but also the nicest guy in the world—the cocktails always took on his warmth and attention to detail, refined classics with high-quality ingredients. We recently learned that Trevor, former bar manager of Rickhouse, has since moved over to Heaven’s Dog, which is great since Rickhouse is another city favorite.

We noticed that Trevor had made a new cocktail menu. Looks yum!

New Cocktail Menu at Heaven's Dog

I started with a Nothing But the Brave, a stiff cocktail featuring armagnac, lemon juice, All Spice, and Ginger.

Nothing But the Brave

And Josh had the Oaxacan Firing Squad. The drink really became the star of the night, with its savory, smokey mix of Mezcal, lime, Small Hands grenadine, and angostura. Delicious! (Sorry for the dim photo—the place was so dark at first.)

Oaxacan Firing Squad - Heaven's Dog

We ended our happy our by splitting a Yankee Clipper, a crisp way to end our happy hour with Beefeater gin, carpano antica, Luxardo, orange bitters, and absinthe.

Yankee Clipper

Heaven’s Dog

1148 Mission St.

San Francisco, CA 94103


Cross-posted at The Joy of Drinking.

Valentine's Day for practical romantics

Pink moscato -- hehe!

Like so many other couples around the globe, Josh and I aren't the type to take ourselves out to dinner on Valentine's Day. OK, maybe we're just resisting the cliche. But, eh, noisy and crowded candlelit restaurants with forced, red-colored prix fixe Valentine's menus just don't appeal to us (it's funny how much you can looove prix fixe menus until someone forces it on you and doubles the price). 

And so we decided to do something at home. 

To me, the trick to a Valentine's Day at home is making the meal feel just special enough without doing so much work that you get into a fight after a long day's work. (The last time we decided to make souffles, and my mom just laughed and walked away saying, "Good luck with that.")

So, imagine my joy as I collected these gems during my regular grocery shopping last week:

Heart-shaped ravioli from Costco

Heart-shaped ravioli - FTW #thankyouCostco

Pink sparkling moscato

Yes -- pink moscato from Trader Joe's #shameless

Combined with a butter lettuce salad and fresh guacamole, it made for a delicious meal. 

Totally cheesy? Yes! Much enjoyed? Definitely. 

Happy Valentine's Day to all!

Midweek Weekend: Rickhouse

Ever have a week so tiring that halfway through you need a little weekend? 

Yes. Yes, yes, yes. It was one of those weeks. So Josh and I headed down to one of our favorite bars in the city: Rickhouse. 

We love Rickhouse for three main reasons:

  1. The cocktails are great.
  2. High-quality ingredients with a passionate staff? Yes, please!
  3. The price is cheaper than most other cocktails in this class. Each cocktail used to be $8, though we discovered yesterday that the prices were bumped up to $9 or $10. 
  4. Two words: Punch bowls!

It was crowded even mid-week—typical, due to bar's location in the Financial District, which draws flocks of suits and high heels for happy hour drinks. Even aside from the business types, however, the drinks attract cocktail enthusiasts from all over. Just last year, Rickhouse won a prestigious award for best high-volume bar at Tales of the Cocktail, and most recently, one of its bartenders, Russell, was named bartender of the year by Nightclub & Bar (if you ever sit at his bar, ask for a daiquiri. It's said to be one of the hardest drinks to make, and Russell nails it!). 

I ordered a Penicillin #2 (pictured above), one of my old fall backs when I want something refreshing after work. It's a smokey mix of Scotch, lemon, pineapple gum syrup, and bitters (a California twist on the New York original—yes, the Penicillin—that uses a ginger honey syrup).

Josh ordered a Improved Gin Cocktail—a class of cocktails that is incidentally one of my favorites, as well. This "improved" breed of cocktails is a simple (and delicious!) twist on the classic Old Fashioned with the addition of Maraschino liqueur and a touch of absinthe. It's a recipe that dates back to the 1880s, the cradle of modern cocktails, when Jerry Thomas and others started adding the then-new maraschino liqueur to drinks. You can use this method with any spirit by stirring your favorite poison with simple syrup (or sugar), Maraschino liqueur, angostura bitters, and a dash of absinthe. Rickhouse, however, chose to spotlight the gin variation on the menu, using, specifically, Bols Genevere gin. This Dutch preparation of gin ages the spirit in casks, which imparts a spicier, smokier flavor—whiskey lovers, rejoice.

We also discovered last night that, in addition to the prices, the Rickhouse menu has changed. The long, lengthy litany of cocktails has been replaced by two simple double-sided cards. Along with the Improved Gin Cocktail, it includes another favorite: the Vieux Carre.

We think the menu change is probably because the old bar manager, Trevor, headed over to Heaven's Dog. I'm not sure, though, who is writing the menu at Rickhouse now.

There's nothing like a midweek respite. Now, back to the work week. And thank the Lord, tomorrow is Friday! 


246 Kearny Street  

San Francisco, CA 94108

Essential Cocktails: The Manhattan

Home Manhattan

Ah, the Manhattan—one of the most classic cocktails and one of Josh's and my favorites.

I have so many great memories of this drink and its lovely, spicy balance of wood and sweet.

It was actually one of the first cocktails that Josh and I learned to make. Cramped into the small dorm room in a college music frat, one of Josh's old buddies opened up his clothes closet to reveal an ad hoc shelf made out of two chairs and a few pieces of plywood, a delicate looking structure that held a sophisticated array of spirits that he had collected from online shopping—and, what's more, a home ice machine.

We were enchanted. With old jazz bubbling out of his stereo system (college music majors—go figure), John twirled a mixing glass in one hand and a jigger in the other—and began to show us how to make a Manhattan. John—a slimly built college senior who was fond of sweaters, cigars, rocking chairs, and classical music—was also a surprising, self-taught bartender. He had scoured all the books available at the time and made careful notes in the recipes' margins, honing each through trial and error. Don Lee, who would later teach me all sorts of cocktail wonders, told me that learning to make cocktails in a vacuum was impossible. For ordinary folks like Josh and me, it certainly was. But John had somehow become a self-made man in his exploration of some of the classics. The bar renaissance might have very well have started in that tiny dorm room.

The second memory that comes to mind is actually a work party in DC. On a cold day in February, a coworker and I decided to go in on a dozen oysters. We paired it with a strong Makers Mark Manhattan with more than its fair share of bitters. Somehow perfect.

Enough of this sentimentalism schmentalism. On to recipes!

The key to a good Manhattan, in Josh and my minds, is water content. A lot of people dump everything into a glass, add a couple of cubes, and give it a single stir (or worse, shake). When they pour it out, it tastes bitter and sour. When you stir the cocktail adequately and let it sit, the water pulls out all of the lovely characteristics of the whiskey. It becomes almost floral. The bitters become Christmas spice, instead of pepper spice, and the Vermouth becomes smooth.

So here is how we like to make a Perfect Manhattan (perfect being both sweet vermouth and dry vermouth, which is what we prefer):


1.5 oz whiskey (I went for Buffalo Trace this time, which is on the sweet side—I'll often reach for a Rye instead, like Rittenhouse or Old Overholt)
.25 oz sweet vermouth
.25 oz dry vermouth
2 dashes angostura bitters
1 dash peychaud's bitters


1. Build cocktail in mixing glass filled with ice
2. Pour in all ingredients.
3. Stir, stir, stir. Stir. Add more ice. Stir, stir, stir for 30 seconds. (Stir cocktails with no citrus. Shake cocktails with citrus.)
4. Let sit for a bit.
5. Add more ice, if room. Give it a last stir.
6. Strain into coupe glass with julep strainer.
7. Serve up.

Garnish: cherry (Luxardo cherry, if you can afford!)




Cross-posted from The Joy of Drinking.

Essential Cocktails: The (Tweaked) Aviation

Tweaked Aviation

Josh and I are returning to our abandoned blog to post, among other San Francisco and home adventures, a series about what we consider our essential cocktails—tried-and-true favorite drinks that you can make at home with affordable ingredients.

So when Josh asked for something refreshing this evening, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to kick this thing off and turned right to the Aviation.

The problem? Well, I started to tweak it.

The modern classic version typically calls for four ingredients: gin, maraschino liquer, lemon, and creme de violette (a fragrant purple liquer that indeed tastes like the delicate flower).

Though I had planned to follow the classic recipe, as I built the cocktail in the shaker, I started to recall my typical experience with Aviations—that is, they just taste too sour.

And thus I found my hands deviating from the typical order of things. We ended up with the following:


  • 2 oz of gin (typically, I would use 1.5 oz, but my citrus today was particularly sour. I compensated with more base spirit)
  • .5 oz lemon
  • .5 oz Demerara simple syrup (1:1)
  • .25 oz Luxardo maraschino liquer
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

Rinse: R&W Creme de Violette

Shaken and poured up in a coup glass.

I was actually pleasantly surprised that adding simple syrup compensated for the tartness I've tasted before, and the ango gave a nice balance—a particularly helpful complement to the Creme de Violette which can be too fragrant and overpowering.

Has anyone else tweaked the Avaiation in a similar fashion?

Cross posted from The Joy of Drinking.