Sayuri Nigori Sake at Kotobuki Sushi, Our Drink of the Week!

Edwin Goei
So kawaii!

Kotobuki Sushi in Laguna Hills is one of those neighborhood sushi bars that reminds me how far along we've come in embracing sushi into our stomachs and our culture. It was recommended to me by a friend who wasn't Asian and when I ate there there were no Asian faces anywhere in the restaurant except those of the people who were cutting the fish.

It's been around 25 years, not exactly in this spot, but a few yards away in the same plaza that also has Break of Dawn. The landlord relocated both of them to their present locations a few months ago to make way for apartments. And here Kotobuki will stay for probably another 25 or until its head sushi chef and owner decides it's time to hang up the knives.

You'd, however, be wrong to assume that Kotobuki doesn't offer omakase (it does). And when you do order it, you should wash it down with what seems to be the house drink: the Sayuri Nigori Sake.

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Gustavo's Top 5 Drinks of 2014!

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Photo by The Mexican
How I start every morning...

Another year, another eighth of my liver gone in the name of good journalism. delirium tremens are setting in, so let's make this one quick!

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Southern Whiskey Peach Smash From Bosscat Kitchen & Libations, Our Drink of the Week

Anne Marie Panoringan
Whiskey a go go

Bosscat is our local multitasker. I drank at the bar with family, celebrated National Hamburger Day there and spent quality time with their expansive collection of whiskey (at over 150 labels, it's probably the largest selection in the county). It's unapologetic, Southern-inspired comfort food-- and eaters wouldn't have it any other way.

In fact, I found myself there again. The man, myth and legend Dale DeGroff was on site to teach a class on bitters. I sniffed and sampled our way through a variety of tastes, learning how a few drops can profoundly change a cocktail. And when it was all over, it was time to eat.

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The Leatherman at the North Left, Our Drink of the Week!

Photo by The Mexican
Delta Force this sucker...

I'm so happy that Aron Habiger is back in SanTana, and not just because I'm always cheering on anyone who can make it out of El Modena. His talents, of course, are almost without peer, but his proverbial 40 days wandering in the desert that was his year-long break from OC also ensured he returned home with maturity, with an understanding that a restaurant shouldn't be a social scene so much as a place to get a square meal and a stiff drink, and that both components should complement each other. And while I loved the daring Habiger exhibited at the Crosby, the evolution of the North Left is even more impressive--especially when it comes to the cocktails.

We'll save the food for our year-end Favorite Dishes listicles, since this is a booze column. The cocktails are manly things, many barrel-aged or relying on whiskey--nothing frou-frou. But there's manly, and then there's the Lee Marvin in a glass called the Leatherman.

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Gran Vino Sansón from Villa Roma, Our Drink of the Week!

Photo by The Mexican
My office, pre-drink...

Villa Roma in Laguna Hills is many things: a fabulous Argentine restaurant, the best place in South County to watch football matches, a great place for a large wedding reception. But only its loyal customers know that this stalwart also offers one of the best selection of South American wines in Orange County, giving even Mr. Hi-Time a run for his money. The focus, naturally, is on Argentina, but the store section of Villa Roma also stocks Chilean varietals along with vinos of the world.

I'm not much of a wine guy, save for the sweet stuff. So I was delighted on a recent visit to find the relatively rare Gran Vino Sansón hidden behind more prestigious labels.

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Italian Renaissance at Canaletto, Our Drink of the Week!

Photo by The Mexican
Not pictured: Awesome bread

Sometimes, I feel bad for Canaletto at Fashion Island. Its take on regional Italian cuisine frequently gets lost to the shopping center's crowd, especially the mock Italians that have their Ferraris and Fiats valeted just in front of the restaurant. The crowds usually want eggplant parmigiana and don't care for the in-house salumi, the rare soups and risottos, or any of the other subtleties. But despite its setting, Canaletto has thrived for years now--and the Italians that work here, from the bartenders to the wait staff, not only speak the language but emote like a real paisane.

You can spend weeks here just going through their grappas and digestifs, but the cocktail program has markedly improved over the past year. Consider their Italian Renaissance.

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Evan Williams Single-Barrel Bourbon Vintage, Our Drink of (Last) Week!

Photo by The Mexican
Hi, Mr. Hi Time!!!

In my time swimming in bourbon, I've split the multiple labels into three categories. There's the high-end ones--your Van Winkles and Willets and Hudsons and other boutique labels that get the hipsters aflutter. Then you got the mainstream ones: Woodford Reserve, Maker's Mark, Bulleit, Angel's Envy and others that middle-class warriors buy when they want to appear in the know.

And then you have the stuff no one boasts of drinking: Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Cabin Still, Old Crow, and Evan Williams. Of these, Evan Williams is definitely the king of the paupers.

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Cocktel de la Louisiane at Juliette Kitchen+Bar, Our Drink of the Week!

Photo by The Mexican

My chica and I have this hilarious The Honeymooners sketch that goes like this: I invite her to go eat with me somewhere; she refuses. A friend of our enthuses about a restaurant; my chica gets mad at me for not taking her there. I tell her I offered before, but she refused my offer then; now, she now wants to go. One of these days, Alice...HA!

Anyoo, that's what happened with Juliette Kitchen+Bar, that fine establishment just off the 73 in Newport Beach. We weren't able to have a full meal there when I finally took her, so we stuck with what mattered: booze. She had the Mexican Firing Squad, a tart flight of fancy; I had the fabulous Cocktel de la Louisiane.

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White Elephant at The Globe Belgian Gastropub, Our Drink of the Week!

Photo by The Mexican
No pink elephants afterward, for sure...

Most everyone that visits the Globe Belgian Gastropub in Garden Grove's perpetually unloved Main Street historic district gets beers, and understandably so. But usually overlooked among the Chimays and craft suds is a full bar, with a cocktail menu that shows promise. And while the current offerings rely on vodka a bit much, the Globe bartenders redeem themselves with the White Elephant, the best dessert booze I've had since polishing off my bottle of Buffalo Trace bourbon cream last month.

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Memphis Stare-Down at Memphis Cafe

Photo by The Mexican
Drink up!

I'm still missing Memphis at the Santora, the pioneering downtown SanTana restaurant that was my neighborhood locale for about a decade and tragically closed down earlier this year. I still haven't made the transition over to the original Memphis Cafe, even though it's just down the street from Weekly world headquarters. Call me a beast of habit: this generation of Weeklings only goes there en masse to bid one of us farewell, or to meet sources in order to scare our enemies...HA!

Nevertheless, Memphis Cafe is stronger than it has been in years. Breakfast is now daily, our own Dave Mau is back to managing the bar, and they're changing up the cocktail list for the better. Consider the Memphis Stare-Down.

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