Category Archives: Spirits/Cocktails/Beer

Hankering for Hawaii Part II: A Taste of Rum

The tasting bar at Koloa Rum Co. in Kauai.

The tasting bar at Koloa Rum Co. in Kauai.


KAUAI, HAWAII –When the future of the last of the island’s sugar plantations turned uncertain, a group of investors got together to try to figure out a way to save them.

Their idea?

Rum. Distilled from Kauai rain water and home-grown sugarcane made into raw crystal sugar.

Producing the 80 proof-and-over spirit did prolong the life of the last sugarcane plantation, but couldn’t save it from eventual closure.

Still, Koloa Rum Co. has proved a success story.

Established in 2009, it remains the first and only licensed distillery on Kauai. Its award-winning rums are now sold in nine states, as well as inf France, Australia and Canada. In San Francisco, you can pick up bottles at Cask stores.

With 22 employees, Koloa Rum now produces seven different rums.

If you fly Hawaiian Airlines to the islands, too, you can even enjoy a Koloa Breeze rum punch for free — even in coach — in a promotion by the airlines and distiller.

Moreover, when you’re on Kauai, you can visit Koloa Rum’s tasting room at the Kilohana Plantation. Free tastings are offered every half hour. You must be 21 years or older to partake, of course. And yes, IDs are checked.

That’s just what I did on a trip a few weeks ago to Kauai, courtesy of the Kauai Visitors Bureau. I’ve enjoyed many a wine tasting. But never a rum tasting, which will definitely jolt you awake at 11 in the morning, which is when I did it.

Making my Mai Tai shot.

Making my Mai Tai shot.

By Kauai law, each person is allowed tastings of only 1 ounce of rum per day. In this tasting, you’re basically making your own Mai Tai shot. Your guide first pours a little Koloa Mai Tai mix into one shot glass for you to taste. Next, a pour of the Koloa White Rum into another glass. Take a small sip to taste the crisp, clear rum that has a slight tropical pineapple finish. Then, pour it into your Mai Tai mix glass. Next, you get a pour of the Koloa Dark Rum, which tastes of molasses, coffee and toffee. The darker rum has more caramelized sugar added to it, hence its color. To create a classic Mai Tai, carefully pour your Dark Rum down the side of the shot glass with the Mai Tai mix and White Rum. You end up with a float of the Dark Rum on top. After you’re done admiring your handiwork, slam it back in one chug for a quick buzz.

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A Perfect Valentine’s Day Pairing, Dessert For Dinner, and More

A Valentine's Day gift that keeps on giving. (Photo courtesy of Eden Canyon Vineyards)

A Valentine’s Day gift that keeps on giving. (Photo courtesy of Eden Canyon Vineyards)

Eden Canyon’s Perfect Pair

Sure, I’m biased, but I do think that Eden Canyon Vineyards has come up with the perfect pairing for Valentine’s Day.

It’s a signed copy of my cookbook, San Francisco Chef’s Table (Lyons Press), along with a bottle of its 2010 “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon, which won a gold medal in the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

The $55.95 “Perfect Pair” gift set is just the ticket to set the mood. Uncork the wine, and cozy up to one another as you leaf through the book together to plan your next cooking adventure or the next Bay Area restaurant you most want to visit.

The winery, the only estate-owned Filipino-American one in the country, is in the Paso Robles Appellation. The wine is made by Danny Villamin and his daughter, Elaine Blackaby.

Presidio Social Club Cocktails To Take Home

If you’ve visited Presidio Social Club in San Francisco, you know they make a mean retro cocktail.

Now, they’ve bottled two for you to enjoy easily at home.

All ready to take home. (Photo courtesy of the Presidio Social Club)

All ready to take home. (Photo courtesy of the Presidio Social Club)

Choose between the Barrel Aged Negroni made with gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari; or the Barrel Aged Reasons Rye, a blend of rye, punt e mes, Cointreau and orange bitters.

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Time to Enjoy Holiday Teas, Christmas Ales and More

Afternoon tea hits the spot during the holidays. (Photo courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton)

Afternoon tea hits the spot during the holidays. (Photo courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton)

Holiday Tea Time at The Ritz-Carlton SF

If you need a respite from all that holiday shopping, head to the swank Ritz-Carlton San Francisco for some soothing tea.

Take a load off at the 3 p.m. afternoon tea in the lounge, available daily through Dec. 24.

You’ll enjoy a pot of tea, savory finger sandwiches, scones, macarons and other sweets while live music entertains.

Price is $65 per person.

The little ones are sure to love the Teddy Bear Tea, available 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Dec. 14-15 and Dec. 20-24.

Children can bring their favorite stuffed animal to the Terrace Room to meet Stretchy the Elf, Holly Berry and the giant Ritz-Carlton Teddy Bear. They’ll also get to partake in holiday story-telling, sing-a-longs and a photo session with the Ritz-Carlton Teddy Bear. Holiday treats will be served, too.

Aww,  how cute is this Teddy Bear Tea? (Photo courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton)

Aww, how cute is this Teddy Bear Tea? (Photo courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton)

Price is $110 per person. A portion of proceeds benefits the Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area foundation.

For reservations to either tea event, call (415) 773-6168.

Winter-Christmas Ales at The Trappist

The Trappist in Oakland is celebrating Kerstbier, a two-day Bacchanalia today through Saturday that spotlights a bevy of winter-Christmas ales, including a tap take-over with 25 featured beers.

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Brewski Time at Steins Beer Garden & Restaurant in Mountain View

There's a new beer joint in downtown Mountain View.

There’s a new beer joint in downtown Mountain View.

A temple to stir-frying has morphed into a bona fide beer garden in downtown Mountain View.

The former Golden Wok on Villa Street has been transformed into Steins Beer Garden & Restaurant, which opened late last month.

The large space has been broken up into several that includes a beer hall with flat screens, main dining room, two private dining rooms, a main beer garden with a glass two-way fireplace, and a private beer garden.

Owner Ted Kim has helped open Paris Baguette branches in the Bay Area. But Steins is the first restaurant Kim, a beer aficionado who even brews his own at home, has owned. Executive Chef Colby M. Reade has worked in the past at such landmark San Francisco restaurants as Square One and Hawthorne Lane.

Last month, I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant to a pre-opening dinner. Some of the dishes noted here may have been tweaked since then, as Reade said he was still fine-tuning a couple of them.

Hitachino White Ale with pickled veggies for nibbling.

Hitachino White Ale with pickled veggies for nibbling.

House-made pretzels.

House-made pretzels.

The public beer garden.

The public beer garden.

The beer list is extensive with offerings from around the world, including 30 on tap. A fun one to try is the Wells Banana Bread Beer ($7 per glass), which, yes, does smell and taste like a baked loaf of banana bread.

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The Big, Bold Flavors of Namu Gaji

Pickled, seared beef tongue at Namu Gaji.

Pickled, seared beef tongue at Namu Gaji.


As my friend Mark and I sat down at the slender bar at the equally shoebox-like Namu Gaji in San Francisco, he started to look nervous.

When I heard that beef tongue was a special that night, I asked if he was game to try the restaurant’s rather unique preparation of it. Mark hemmed and hawed, squirmed a bit, and recounted the times he had tongue at other restaurants, only to find the rather toothsome, pebbly texture thoroughly unappealing.

Then, he looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “But if you really want to order it….”

So, we did. And when Mark speared a chunk, and took his first bite, I watched his trepidation turn to surprise and awe. It was the first tongue dish he’d ever relished.

Namu Gaji’s food will do that to you. It’s familiar yet not. It’s full of big, bold, sometimes fiery flavors — the kind you find yourself craving again and again after just one encounter, as I found after being invited in a as a guest of the restaurant a few weeks ago.

The restaurant also operates a food stand at the farmers market on Thursdays and Saturdays at the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace, as well as at the market at the Marin Country Mart in Larkspur on Saturdays. Later this year, it also plans to start selling its own line of kimchee at the restaurant and Bi-Rite Market.

The award on the bar.

The award on the bar.

The chef's counter/bar may be bare bones, but it has the best seats in the house.

The chef’s counter/bar may be bare bones, but it has the best seats in the house.

Founded by three Korean-American brothers, Dennis Lee (the chef), Daniel Lee and David Lee, the restaurant (Korean for “tree branch”) serves Korean fare. But also, Japanese-inspired ones and pan-Asian ones all their own like the beef tongue dish that is not Korean at all. Dennis Lee just decided to try pickling the meat for a week, then searing it to order. The pickling breaks down the tough cut, making it as tender as short ribs. It also adds an unexpected tang to the rich meat. The composed dish is beautiful to behold, looking like a zen garden of sorts.

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