Fall is officially here and the flavors of Autumn are on full display if you go around to some of the Bay Area's best restaurants. My wife and I headed to Flea Street Cafe in Menlo Park on Sunday, a place that once paid me to consult with their spirits department for two months and train their staff on all things liquor. They took much of my advice to heart, but they also ignored a lot of it. Looking back, I'm glad they didn't listen to me about the cocktails because I didn't understand their vibe back then as well as I do now. Flea Street is all about fresh, local produce in their food, so it makes sense that would transition over to their cocktails. I tried to steer them towards the whole pre-Prohibition schtick, but that didn't suit their clientele. Jesse Cool, the owner, is also less pretentious than other restaurant figureheads, so she didn't want to lose the element of fun in place of my more serious school of thought. I tried to get her to ditch the cocktail caddy on the side, but they kept it intact and my wife thinks it's the best thing ever. Shows what I know (very little sometimes).
I dropped in last night to see where Eloy (their humble bartender) had taken the menu and I was blown away. The list featured a number of classic drinks with only a slight variation. Rather than change the spirits or tweak the sweetener, Flea Street just added a bit of seasonal spice. Take the Lavender Lemon Drop for example. The lavender makes the entire drink.
Or the beet-infused mezcal margarita. Eloy boiled fresh beets in a broth of lime juice and sugar to create a beat/citrus simple syrup. Coupled with the smokey tang of the mezcal, it drinks like a harvest time dream.
Mixing cocktails with fresh produce can be as simple as just macerating fresh ginger into your tonic water before adding it to your gin. The Ginger Gin & Tonic was outstanding (because I switched them over to North Shore #11, I will take some credit) and it was just what I felt like sipping on mid-meal. By the way, if you've never eaten at Flea Street you're missing out on one of the Peninsula's great institutions. I've never had a meal there that was anything less than jaw-dropping. Besides the booze, we gorged on wild salmon crudo with fresh slaw, fried green tomatoes with a summer corn salsa, butternut squash soup, and all kinds of other subtle delights. I consider Flea Street to be Chez Panisse West. Jesse Cool is our Alice Waters.
And, of course, sitting around the house I'm just draining this bottle of Singani 63. I've drunk three bottles now in total and I'm still searching for a way to mess it up. It's like the ketchup of the bar. This is the only cocktail I've mixed so far that didn't work--a floral take on a Pimm's Cup that was totally out of whack. Too much soapy violet with the Pimm's in conjunction. But one drink out of fifty-seven isn't so bad! Singani continues to dominate my attention right now.