Tag Archive for review



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.


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.


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.


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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Justino’s Rainwater Vinho Madeira

Justino’s Rainwater Vinho Madeira
Madeira, Portugal


The color of this Madeira is beautiful, a sunset invoking autumn leaves and a fire waiting at home. It smells of brown sugar syrup, dates, and grilled oranges. As with most dessert wine, it has impressive legs, though it’s thin bodied. The alcohol heat is mild, nothing the sweet citrus can’t make you forget. My initial impression of grilled citrus holds up upon tasting; the orange notes taste concentrated in their sweetness and profile, giving it nice depth of flavor. In a way, it reminds me of an orange-scented crème brulee. In another way, it reminds me of a moist spice cake. Both images are pleasant.

I could easily see this affordable little Madeira being a return visitor at our house. Thanks to Doc’s Wine Shop in Hayward for recommending it.


Other Bloggers’ Thoughts:

Zilch, zero, nada. There are reviews out there for ones aged 5 years and older—much older—but not for these 3-year upstarts.

Reviewed 22 Mar 14.

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Poetic Cellars 2008 Mourvedre

Poetic Cellars 2008 Mourvedre
Livermore, CA


I found this wine during our recent jaunt through the Santa Cruz Mountains, and I will be forever grateful that I did. The grapes are from Livermore, but the label is Poetic Cellars, which sells their wines with a poem on the back of each bottle. Click on the picture so you can read this one by J. L. Naegle, a partner in the winery. It’s a mood-setter.


Mourvedre is not a grape I’ve come across often, so I once again forgot how much I love it. One sip in that tasting room, and I remembered. One sniff of the cork after opening the bottle I bought, and my eyes rolled back with pleasure. This is good stuff, folks.

The nose is inky, full of pressed flowers: violets and honeysuckle. It smells of dense and rich fruit, raisins and fig tarts, and honey, vanilla, and melted butter. There’s a thin tannic element to the nose, like a linen napkin rather than leather. Shortbread cookies also come to mind.

Drinking it brings a surprising tartness that reminds me of kumquats and would likely lessen with aeration. Cardamom with just a hint of cinnamon for spice. Dark berries needing a few more days to ripen. A layer of smooth nuttiness adds to the depth. Perhaps that’s macadamia, or perhaps that’s my recent familiarity with macadamia liquor talking. Cedar comes up right before the floral presence returns, leaving an aftertaste of roses and honeysuckle to remember it by.


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