Batavia Arrack van Oosten, Our Drink of the Week

Photo by The Mexican
Just a sample of the ol' liquor cart...

Every time I visit Hi-Time Wine Cellar nowadays, I buy myself a rum--have I written this already, the last time I wrote about a rum from the Costa Mesa playground of the boozehounds? Maybe. Anyhoo, this time around, I thought I bought a Javanese rum when I got Batavia Arrack van Oosten, whose beautiful emerald bottle I see in the finest OC establishments. But it turns out arrack is its own spirit, a sugarcane-derived drink spiked with red rice. Yum!

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Vieux Carre at Marché Moderne, Our Drink of the Week!

Photo by The Mexican
Liquid courage to confront the maddening crowd

I made the mistake of going to South Coast Plaza for my holiday shopping. The crowds! The parking! The endless Christmas cheer (I make Ebenezer Scrooge seem as jovial as Howdy Doody). But it was worth it--it was for the wifey, after all. And after we were done, we relaxed with lunch at Marché Moderne.

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The Andalusian at Lark Creek, Our Drink of the Week!

Anne Marie Panoringan
It's a what?

The original Lark Creek in Marin County shuttered its doors this year, after a 25-year occupancy inside The Lark Creek Inn. They had little choice, as a furnace fire left extensive damage to the property. Yet their seasonal, sustainable and farm-fresh philosophy continues throughout their many properties up and down the state.

With an evolving menu, this lone Southern California branch of Lark Creek also makes a point of introducing a few new libations every season for good measure. And the one that gets the ol' DOTW treatment this time around is the Andalusian.

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Grapes of Wrath at The Melting Pot, Our Drink of the Week!

Anne Marie Panoringan
This one time, at The Melting Pot . . .

You know that place you'd frequent after work? If you're by John Wayne, that's probably Classic Q. Once upon a time, mine was The Melting Pot. Instead of the most expensive DIY-meal in the county (that wasn't shabu), I'd score their deal at the bar--a salad, drink and cheese course for about half the cost. This is where my cocktail education started, where everything I sipped a decade ago had a pretty, candy hue--sorry not sorry, because I learned well.

Nowadays, visits happen about once a year. Very little has changed, but there's something to be said for familiarity. December is the only month they serve both lunch and dinner, and it shows--the Friday I visited, couples overran the spot, forty-somethings sharing glasses of wine and flutes with rosy bubbles. Narrowly avoiding the Sour Patch 'tini and predictable Lemon Drop, I settled on a hybrid of sorts in the Grapes of Wrath.

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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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