Bay Area Bar Hop: Maven, TBD, Tonga Room
After Coqueta, we went on a San Francisco mini bar crawl. We started out at Maven in the Lower Haight. It was the day after Christmas so it was a bit slow. We occupied the small bar with one other duo of friends while the dining room wrapped up for the evening.
The tidy back bar had some interesting spirits– I always try to look for things I’ve never tried. But since this was a new bar to me, I also looked over the cocktail menu.
Although we had just eaten at Coqueta, we knew we were grazing along the way so we got the Brussels sprouts. I liked these tangy sprouts quite a bit but my friend didn’t enjoy them as much. I could see her point they could have been crispier as it felt they had been pan fried then oven roasted leaving them soft.
Kate Bolton runs the bar at Maven. I met her when she was in LA for the G’vine competition last year. Then I tried her G’vine gin cocktail with Manzanilla sherry and absinthe. It was a very bold cocktail and I liked it quite a bit but I wanted something a bit gentler as I digested my dinner and the Brussels sprouts. Deciding to go low-proof, I picked out Beauty School Drop Out. My friend didn’t like the bitter quality of the genetian but I quite enjoyed it.
Beauty School Drop Out – Whisper vermouth, genetian, maraschino, lemon, thyme(415) 829-7982
The next night, we headed over to TBD after dinner at Fifth Floor.
I had always wanted to check out its sister restaurant, AQ, but never made it. It’s funny that I managed to go to the new TBD first. They were closing up for the evening so we had just enough time for a drink.
The bar program is run by Timothy Zohn whom I met previously at Wilson & Wilson Private Detective Agency, aka The Wilson. He also created the bar program at AQ.
Tim wasn’t working the bar this evening so I was on my own in picking out a cocktail. TBD’s list is based on “loopholes.” Since they don’t have a liquor license, TBD’s cocktails are made from low-proof aperitif wines and bitters. I chose Vive Vive Vive, a sherry cocktail. The sherry had been infused with star anise and juniper. I was surprised how summery this drink was since I thought the juniper would point me towards winter. It wasn’t a bad thing since I live in almost continuous sunshine — and SF would be only more wonderful with many sunny days like LA. I suspect the Lillet blanc and lemon had something to do with the lightness.
Vive Vive Vive – star anise and juniper sherry, Lillet blanc, lemon
I’d like to come back to try the food and of course, get over to neighbor AQ. I suspect both might be favorites.(415) 431-1826
I heard a lot about the cocktail program changing for the better at Tonga Room while I was at Portland Cocktail Week last year. The emphasis now is on better quality of spirits, fresh juice and properly trained bartenders.
Christine “Tiny” de Lota bartends at Tonga Room and did recommend a gin cocktail for me but I wanted to stick to a Mai Tai since that’s my preferred opening cocktail at a tiki bar. I do trust Tiny though having met her in Vegas and bar hopped all over New York a couple of years ago.
The Mai Tai was very well made and it was lovely to have fresh juice. If we had stayed all night, I know I wouldn’t develop what I call a tiki hangover since I was drinking quality booze.
Mai Tai – Trinidad rum, Jamaican rum, curacao, local handmade orgeat, lime
Although we were extremely full from our dinner at Ichi and dessert at Michael Mina, I have a dumplings and chicken wings weakness. And yes, we did eat some more because after Tonga Room, we had the kale salad, Scotch egg and the Trick Dog burger at Trick Dog. It’s a bar crawl with food.
The dumplings were over-steamed. They were okay though. I was actually a little shocked by the $17 price tag. The wings on the other hand were much better albeit also pricey. Still, Tonga Room is located at the Fairmont and hotel pricing is understandable.
My friend had the Zombie and like my Mai Tai, it was tasty without the artificial stuff. Be careful though, just because it taste fruity doesn’t mean a couple of these won’t knock you down.
Zombie – 3 different rums, lemon, lime, pineapple, passionfruit juice, Angostura bitters
Next time, I’m going to have a gin cocktail per Tiny. I know there are gin tiki drinks but I still fancy rum as more tiki.
The Fairmont Hotel950 Mason St., San Francisco, CA 94108 — (415) 772-5278
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