On a Tuesday evening last week I climbed the stairs to the atmospherically funky back bar of 515 Kitchen & Cocktails, to remind myself of life after wine. My writer/existentialist colleague Mari had urged me to join her for some wonder drink involving my all-time favorite libation,
My writer/existentialist colleague Mari had urged me to join her for some wonder drink involving my all-time favorite libation, Fernet-Branca. Armed with a plate of truffle fries as big as Bernie Sanders’ fanbase, we considered the cocktail menu. Something involving grapefruit vodka? Always a good idea. But I wanted to drink outside the box, as it were. Basil? Perhaps. But when I spied something mysteriously named Cantina Band (the name remains a mystery), I let out a discreet yell and got the barkeep’s attention. All of my favorite sophisticated food groups are represented in this stunningly fresh elixir. In addition to the herb-intensive bitters (Fernet-Branca is a favorite digestif in both France and Italy), the drink offers cucumber, the botanically forward St. George Terroir Gin, lime juice, ginger beer, and simple syrup, which I asked for “restretto.” Shaken and poured into a tall highball glass with ice, lime and a straw, it was like a sorcerer’s home brew that had been double distilled, with gorgeous angular flavors that raced between bittersweet, citrus and vegetal. If I weren’t guarding my remaining neural synapses I would have ordered a second one, so refreshing was this complex creation ($10). I plan on another encounter with the upper floor of 515.
Next time I will try that amazing Garden Still, a glowing green concoction awash with two gins, absinthe, Cynar, basil, and lemon. No liqueur is weirder than Cynar (distilled artichoke), so that’s my next order.
Wine of the Week
The “Grizzly” from Big Basin Vineyards 2011, a bold, Rubensesque Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre blend ($11 glass) that made a perfect partner for the equally bold lamb tenderloin kebabs with saffron rice, sauteed squashes and piquant chutneys—dinner at Laili. While I’m on it, I must praise the tumescent aushak appetizer ($8) at Laili. Lovely leek dumplings arrive on a bed of lentils and chard, and topped with yogurt. These delicious starters end up providing a welcome kick—a great way to begin a meal at what has become one of my very favorite dinner spots in the area. lailiRestaurant.com
Route 1 Dinners
Last summer I spent a memorable afternoon—a long one, that stretched sensuously into twilight—sitting with dozens of others at a long table spread out in the Rancho del Oso fields across from Waddell Beach. The land is one of Route 1 Farms’ fabled acres, and the meal was one of only three wine and harvest dinners that take place al fresco. This Route One dinner series begins on July 17, with Chef Brad Briske of La Balena (and formerly of Gabriella Cafe and Main Street Garden) teaming with winemaker Barry Jackson of Equinox. On Aug. 14, join Chef Damani Thomas of Oswald, who will cook at the Rancho del Oso property, with Michael and Lois Sones of Sones Cellars as featured winemakers. The Route 1 dinners wrap up on Sept. 25 at the Ocean Street Extension fields, with foods from Assembly’s Carlos Espinas and Kendra Baker, and wines from Odonata’s Denis Hoey. This justly famous dinner series will sell out very quickly so jump on your tickets right now. $95 for Route 1 CSA shareholders, general public tickets are $120 each (still a major bargain). The price is all inclusive, and there are vegetarian options available. If you haven’t yet pampered yourself with one of these dinners created, served and consumed out in the fields, you owe it to yourself to do it. At least once. Purchase tickets at route1farms.csa.com/store.