Cocktails

Sidebar

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Sidebar is an upscale, Nouveau American joint along the Grand Avenue side of Lake Merritt. Its website boasts Mediterranean, seasonal, local, and comfort foods among its qualifications, so think dressed up French fries, with smoked paprika in Sidebar’s case, and quality meats served with fresh pickled veggies and relishes. I went at lunch. The menu was a shorter version of the dinner one with fewer options not in salad or sandwich form. As it was lunch, that suited me and my companions just fine. Especially because the cocktail list wasn’t shortened at all.

The staff was lax on seating—we had to wave down the barman and a busser to get a table though the restaurant was not busy. But our server was attentive and the food and drinks came out with no delays. The décor was pleasant with whimsical lighting and mostly small tables with one large round booth in back. A central bar divides the space; the other side hosts a communal picnic table. Cherry-red wood abounds.

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Did I mention the cocktails? That is most definitely where Sidebar excels. I believe this beauty is the Locavore ($10) with Crusoe organic spiced rum, Fruitlab organic orange liqueur, house-made ginger syrup, lime juice, seltzer, and mint.

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I say I believe it’s that drink because we didn’t ask particulars—my companions just wanted a cocktail with ginger and that’s what our server brought. Whatever it was, the drink hit all the right marks for a refresher on a warm weekday: light, vivacious from the mint and ginger presences, and enough rum flavor that you don’t forget what you’re drinking. Plus, I’m a sucker for tin cups. Yes, yes, I passionately hate the mason jar drinkware craze for its affected rustic imagery, but I’m all over those cups. I accept my hypocrisy.

My own drink was the Caged Heat ($10) made with B & E bourbon, tamarind, ghost pepper, cardamom, and lemon juice.

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If you don’t like spice, this is not the drink for you. It is absolutely the drink for me. The ghost pepper rose up at the end of every sip, coating my throat with a sensational fire that stopped just short of scorching. Cardamom is also a favorite cocktail ingredient of mine, and it provided the complex sweetness needed to play with that pepper heat. Tamarind grounded it in earthiness, the end result being a well-mixed and memorable drink.
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The Orchard Manhattan

The Orchard Manhattan
Bijou, Hayward
$11

The Orchard Manhattan is an original twist on the classic manhattan cocktail, though I’d say it’s closer to an old-fashioned, actually. It’s made with bourbon, apricot and walnut liqueurs, and black walnut and autumn-spiced bitters. I can’t tell you what the autumn spices are, but I can tell you that I like this drink right from the presentation.

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The cherry garnish divides it into visually pleasing segments. The drink maintains the dryness of a manhattan, although it is sweeter than the standard. The walnut presence makes me think of praline candies, and I enjoy the floral note that probably rides in with the apricot liqueur. However, I miss the little hint of citrus that comes with an orange twist or wheel in an old-fashioned. Somehow, the apricot liqueur doesn’t capture it. Add the citrus back in, and this drink is near perfection.

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Reviewed 11 Jan 14.

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Ridge Distillery Absinthe Blanche

Ridge Distillery Absinthe Blanche
Kalispell, MT
116 proof

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This absinthe is completely clear, as I’d imagine the blanche designation indicates. It has few legs to speak of when swirling it in the glass and is a completely blank slate based on appearance. Its particular anise smell reminds me of the thick, black, candy bites of licorice mixed with a dose of peppermint oil. There is no notable alcohol heat when sniffing, which is a good thing for me.

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Sipping it straight is all cinnamon, a Red Hot without the sweetness. The missing alcohol heat from the nose is in full effect: you taste cinnamon, feel a wave of heat, then feel your tongue tingle. In other words, I would not recommend drinking it prior to the louche unless you’re looking for a stiffer version of Goldschlager.

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After the louche, no color changes occur except the expected milkiness. Thankfully, the anise flavor that was imprisoned by the straight sip has been released. However, all other potential flavor enhancers are now subdued. Almost all I taste is sugar (I used one cube during the louche) and very subtle anise. That’s not enough to warrant this bottle’s price tag for me.  Perhaps there is a difference in style for crafting a blanche absinthe that I need to read up on…and avoid. This was my first.

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