Saturday, November 25, 2006

Bourbon and Branch

I recently, and belatedly, checked out the new speakeasy everyone's been talking about, Bourbon and Branch. Visiting the bar at 10pm with my roomie and a dapper bartender friend who's newly remodeled Luau has just reopened under the name Mercury (with the owners of Zebulon), we were escorted through the heavy wooden door and into the red-wallpapered room for our reserved seats at the bar. (FYI, the bar can't usually be reserved but Restaurant Girl has friends behind many bars in the city, and it was a pretty slow night in the Trender-loin). (photo unwitting courtesy of SFGate)

Bourbon and Branch is like a bartender's wet dream. First, guests can't just walk right in the door. They're viewed through the eye of a camera, which immediately makes them more docile (according to our bartender). If the potential quaffers look like a bunch of jerks, they aren't necessarily let in. A reservation is a must (even if the place is empty), so there's no bar-hopping.

Second, the bar features all kinds of esoteric bourbon, which for some reason is always a bartender's favorite drink (barkeeps, please weigh in here: tell Restaurant Girl why y'all love the mash so much!).

Third, on the back page of the hefty menu (for sale: $500) are listed The House Rules, two of which include, "Do not order a Cosmo," and "The bartender is always right." More of a rule follower than a rule breaker, Restaurant Girl felt inherently comfortable in this purposefully clandestine setting (a speakeasy) at which the parameters are defined, and immediately ordered the Rouge #10. A delicious concoction of house-infused pepper gin (Tanqueray number 10) muddled with fresh strawberries and lime juice and decorated with a few drops of Pastis on the surface of the drink (served up in a martini glass), it was probably the best cocktail I've ever had, hands down (and I don't throw around superlatives like that on a regular basis).

Brandon drank an old-fashioned (he's a bartender, so he likes bourbon, of course!) and although I egged my roommate on mercilessly to order a cosmo (she really does drink them sometimes, but she's not in the industry any more so we'll forgive her that), she followed the rules and ordered some sort of orangey-vodka drink also in a martini glass.

Another round followed, and was a little blurry, as second rounds are wont to be. I allowed the impeccable Neyah to choose my drink (actually, he offered, which was a huge weight off of my mind, and he's such a good bartender that I trusted him to pick something that would be the logical progression), and it was a salad-flavored martini, which is a lot better than it sounds. Probably something like Hendricks gin and very thin cucumber slices, with a tincture droppered over the top (they take their mixology very seriously at Bourbon and Branch; drops are dripped, alcohols are painstakingly stirred until they achieve just the right temperature from the ice cubes that drop down, impurity-free, out of the special ice machine that delivers them nine degrees colder than regular ice), and perfection is achieved.

After gentleman Brandon hailed roomie a cab and put her in it, he and I headed over for a late night snack to Farmer Brown, on our bartender's recommendation. DUD! Our bartender had told us it could be give or take, and this night it was definitely take. The joint was empty at 12:15, the bartender energetically sucking face with an off-duty waitress on the patron side of the bar. He grudgingly threw menus at us and sullenly made his way to his side of the bar, staring us aggressively down until I timidly asked what was better: the fried catfish or the chicken. Without an apology, he announced the kitchen stopped serving at midnight and B and I rushed out the door to Globe, which although not the oh-so-hot-spot it was a few years back (so I hear, this was actually my first time dining at Globe), was an oasis of good food and impeccable service in the middle of a foggy San Francisco night.

We had martinis (Stoli for him, Tanqueray for me; sadly, Globe does not have a sassy cocktail menu, nor esoteric alcohols) and some delicious snacks. The macaroni and cheese was bechemel-y and delicious, the salad lardon with just the right amount of bacon grease to wilt the frisee (and two little poached eggs, perfect for sharing), and the white-truffle mushroom pizza gave off heavenly odors. B let me take charge of the menu and discourse with the waiter and order whatever I wanted (what a guy), and the waiter was knowledgeable and friendly, something that's not so easy to find to find at 1am.

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