Today's post is written by Lou Bustamante. Lou is a contributor to publications including the SF Chronicle, SF Weekly and Wine & Spirits.
Walking into the new sleek and airy version of Ziryab in the Western Addition, a mere block away from the famous bar/restaurant Nopa, you might notice the absence of the hookahs, but you will certainly notice the bar. Bar manager Zachary Brian Taylor has created some seriously interesting cocktails based on Middle Eastern/Mediterranean ingredients that manage to not feel gimmicky. Here’s a glance at the menu:
The Ziryab Manhattan ($10, date-infused rye, vermouth, lapsang souchang infused Angostura bitters, orange peel) tastes like a classic Manhattan with a touch of smoke and some of that dark sugar/caramel flavor of the dates without getting too sweet. The lapsang souchang smoked tea is there without tasting too smoked out. Subtle and a nice use of ingredients.
Their best selling drink is the Pomegranate-Basil Collins ($10, basil-infused Russian Standard Vodka, house grenadine, lime, soda), and it is exactly what you expect: tall, refreshing, and easy to drink.
The namesake gentleman who the restaurant & bar is named after was a North African renaissance guy in the 8th Century who had his hands in everything from music to math and astronomy. The Spanish nicked named him Blackbird or Pajaro Negro ($10, mezcal, Cynar, Galliano Ristretto, orange peel).
The drink has an iced coffee like feel, a little smoky, a little bitter, brightened up nicely with the orange twist. More of a after dinner drink than a starter.
Certainly the most surprising and delicious drink on the menu is the Ostwald Ripened ($10, Arak, Bols Yogurt, Pavan, grated cinnamon). Named after the clouding effect when anise oils in distilled spirits get water added to them and attempt to separate.
Taylor describes this cocktail as a Middle Eastern style Piña Colada, and while it certainly has that sensation, it is anything but tiki. The arak adds sweetness and spice, the Pavan some fruitiness, and the Bols Yogurt tangy texture.
Named after the influence Ziryab had on Spanish music when he added a fifth string to his instrument of choice, the oud, the Fifth String ($10, Bulleit Rye Whiskey, pineapple gomme, lime, fresh mint, arak) is refreshing—not too tart and not too juicy.
A tasty variation on the Negroni with pisco instead of gin. I was a little skeptical seeing Taylor use both Campari and Aperol, but La Relación ($10, Pisco Portón, amontillado sherry, Aperol, Campari, cardamom tincture, lemon peel) has a brandy lightness with sherry nuttiness and only mildly bitter.
About the name, Taylor explained that, “This drink is named after the book that Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca wrote after his journeys to America in the 16th century (the book was sometimes later retitled Naufragios or Shipwrecked in English, which is what happens after 4 or 5 of these).”
A clever ruse to trick people into drinking gin, but also an ingenious way to get people who won’t drink Cosmopolitans to drink one or two. The 1934 Cosmopolitan ($10, Tanqueray, lemon, raspberry syrup, Cointreau, lemon peel) was a recipe that Taylor culled from a book called 1903-1933 Pioneers of Mixing Gin at Elite Bars, and while there’s no evidence that this inspired the modern Cosmo, it certainly resembles it.
Honestly this cocktail made me feel a little dirty for drinking what looked like a Cosmo, especially when some folks from 15 Romolo came in and saw me. In the end it we had no choice but to simply give in the deliciousness.