Category Archives: Spirits/Cocktails/Beer

What I’ve Been Drinking of Late, Part 17

La Crema's Brut Rose is the perfect sip for a romantic dinner.
La Crema’s Brut Rose is the perfect sip for a romantic dinner.

La Crema Sparkling Brut Rose

A lovely pale pink-salmon in hue, the La Crema Sparkling Brut Rose Russian River Valley ($45) epitomizes Valentine’s Day in a glass.

Girly yet sophisticated, it fairly bursts with bright strawberries and raspberries with just a twinge of ginger on the finish. Crisp and zingy with plenty of acidity, it’s a blend of 65 percent Pinot Noir and 35 percent Chardonnay.

This nonvintage sparkling wine, of which I received a sample, is right at home, be it at a romantic holiday dinner or a casual backyard get-together. It’s sure to make any occasion feel that much more festive.

It’s available on the La Crema site, Safeway, and Marketview Liquor.

Cheers: Did you know that La Crema was founded in 1979 in Sonoma County, when most wineries in California were focusing on Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and turning a blind eye to Pinot Noir? It took the late-great winemaker Jess Jackson and his wife Barbara Banke, founders of Kendall-Jackson Winery, to shine a spotlight on Burgundian-style Pinot Noir with a cool climate, single-vineyard focus with their La Crema wines.

Lagunitas Hoppy Refresher

What has hops, brewer’s yeast, but no alcohol? And isn’t beer or even non-alcoholic beer?

Meet Lagunitas Hoppy Refresher by the clever folks at that legendary Petaluma brewing company.

This uncanny, clear beverage pours with a thick foamy head just like beer, as I found when trying sample bottles. But it doesn’t try to mimic the taste of beer whatsoever.

It's made with hops, but isn't beer at all.
It’s made with hops, but isn’t beer at all.

Instead, it is its own thing — akin to sparkling water in texture and weight on the palate. It’s quenching and refreshingly dry, with a moderate hoppy bitterness on the finish and unexpected bursts of mango, orange and grapefruit on the palate.

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Dining Outside at Mago

A hearty wheat berry porridge finished with mustard greens and bottarga at Mago.
A hearty wheat berry porridge finished with mustard greens and bottarga at Mago.

If you’re on the hunt for a relatively reasonably priced tasting menu full of soulful flavors, where you don’t have to get dressed up fancy, and can sit comfortably at a heated outdoor patio, look no further than Oakland’s Mago.

Its name is Spanish for magician, and Chef-Owner Mark Liberman and his staff of just five certainly perform wizardry with such a small crew.

Opened in 2019, it’s Liberman’s first solo project, following his stint in San Francisco at the shuttered AQ restaurant.

Last week, I was invited in as a guest of the restaurant for dinner. There’s only one tasting menu offered each night, though vegetarian and vegan versions are always available on request.

It’s $75 per person for about eight courses, which are moderate in size, but all together will definitely leave you sated at the end. Because Liberman takes a vegetable-focused approach to his rustic, Colombian-meets-California dishes, you’ll leave plenty full yet still feeling buoyant.

Chef Mark Liberman manning the live-fire grill.
Chef Mark Liberman manning the live-fire grill.

With the tasting menu lasting about two hours, I was pleasantly surprised at how many diners were indulging in it on a school night (Wednesday). Ease-dropping, I could tell quite a few were regulars, too, which is always a good sign.

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What I’ve Been Drinking of Late, Part 11

A Japanese craft gin that celebrates the bounty of spring.
A Japanese craft gin that celebrates the bounty of spring.

Roku Gin

The lovely aroma of soft citrus, grassy leaves, and green tea wafts gently from a bottle of Suntory’s Roku Gin.

It’s no surprise that this Japanese gin, of which I received a sample, evokes the lightness and freshness of spring. After all, “roku” means “six” in Japanese, and this gin is crafted with six Japanese botanicals that were harvested at peak season in spring. They include: sakura (cherry blossom) flowers and leaves, Sencha tea, Gyokura tea, Sansho pepper, and yuzu peel.

The result is a smooth sip with juniper and coriander much more dialed down in favor of delicate yet complex floral and lemon-mandarin orange characteristics that give way at the very end to a subtle peppery pop.

Enjoy it in a G&T or muddled with strawberries or raspberries.

A 750ml bottle is $28.99 at Total Wine & More, $26.99 at BevMo! and $31.99 at Target.

Cheers: Roku Gin comes in a weighty glass bottle etched with cherry blossoms, making it perfect for gift-giving.

Yebiga Bela Rakija

If you’ve never had or heard of Rakija, you’re in good company.

My curiosity about this Balkan fruit brandy was piqued when I received a sample of Yebiga Bela Rakija recently. It’s importer, surprisingly enough, is Bill Gould, bassist for the San Francisco rock band, Faith No More.

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Dining Outside At Be.Steak.A

This is how Be.Steak.A does a deviled egg. With truffle shavings, of course.
This is how Be.Steak.A does a deviled egg. With truffle shavings, of course.

Chef-Owner Jeffrey Stout weathered not only three years of permit approvals and construction, but a worldwide pandemic, to finally open his splashy new Be.Steak.A.

For diners, it was more than worth the wait.

The fine-dining Italian-influenced steakhouse playfully named for the classic Italian steak known as bistecca Fiorentina, initially was limited to only takeout during the pandemic. But now, with both indoor and outdoor seating available, it can be enjoyed in its full glory.

Whereas his Orchard City Kitchen, just steps away in the same Pruneyard complex, presents a casual and eclectic array of global small plates, Be.Steak.A is pure luxe. It’s where 5 ounces of Hokkaido Snow Beef (aka A5 strip loin) with a “snow” of cacio e pepe will set you back $288. And no, that’s not a typo. It’s where food is presented on famed Italian blue and white ceramics by Richard Ginori. But it’s also a restaurant that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s not stuffy in the least, not when deeply bronzed beef fat popovers ($9) with smoky deviled ham butter (like the most elevated version ever of Underwood Deviled Ham) and pickled cucumbers is served under a cloche shaped like a lounging pig.

The inside of a beef fat popover.
The inside of a beef fat popover.
The popovers are served with deviled ham butter and pickled cucumbers.
The popovers are served with deviled ham butter and pickled cucumbers.

When you check in at the host stand, you’re presented with a soothing cup of warm bone broth. As you’re escorted to your table, you pass a huge long window that affords a direct view into the kitchen, all done up in stainless steel with accents of lipstick-red all around. If you happen to time it just right, you might even get to see cooks making pasta by hand at a massive table in front of the window.

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What I’ve Been Drinking of Late, Part 10

Not simply gin, but a gin liqueur.
Not simply gin, but a gin liqueur.

Pomp & Whimsy Gin Liqueur

Think of this as gin 2.0

Pomp & Whimsy is actually a gin liqueur. It’s gin that’s been distilled, then twice-infused with a botanical liqueur, then re-distilled with 16 botanicals, including juniper, coriander, grapefruit, orange, lychee, cucumber and jasmine pearls.

It was created by sociologist Dr. Nicola Nice in 2017, and was inspired by Victorian times. Nice was perplexed that there was no spirit that appealed to women in the same way that men naturally gravitated toward flights of whiskey, scotch or bourbon when they got together to unwind. When she learned that gin was sold in barrels during Victorian times and often blended with sugar or other flavorings by retailers to create gin cordials, she ran with that idea.

Pomp & Whimsy ($34) comes in a stout, bourbon-like bottle. Its taste, as I found when I received a sample bottle, is profoundly of lychees, bitter orange, grapefruit, lime, and honeysuckle flowers. Juniper, which often lends a medicinal quality that turns off some folks, is present, but just barely. There’s a sweet, almost syrupy or viscous quality, too.

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