Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

New drinks for Sycamore Den, problems with cocktails as such

Winter menu has some successes, but it also illustrates the growing problem of high-minded bartenders and the bars that employ them

Sycamore Den's Wallbanger
Sycamore Den's Wallbanger
Place

Sycamore Den

3391 Adams Avenue, San Diego

In addition to Sycamore Den’s decision to get a few bites of food on the bar menu, the Normal Heights cocktail lounge with the beards-and-shotguns flair has a new series of winter cocktails ($9) rife with Monty Python-style punny names. Some drinks remain from the old menu, but most are brand new, and all are creative. We’d expect nothing less from the mind of celebrated local barman, Eric Johnson.

Obscure and outmoded ingredients (making a comeback?) are a huge part of the nostalgic spirit of trendy cocktails. Allspice Dram shows up in the Sink or Squid, ignoring its thirty-year-old Trader Vic's heyday. Cherry Heering, in the Kentucky Commander, is also a big part of Singapore Slings and the Blood and Sand….both out of fashion before half of Sycamore Den’s staff was born. Such sentimentalities are cool, but the Commander has too much going on. There’s a flavor somewhere in that Collins glass of bourbon, Heering, lemon, orgeat, Peychaud’s, soda, and egg white (which really needs a harder shake than it’s almost always given), but it’s damn near impossible to pick out.

Ditto for The Dozens. The bar goes bonkers with orgeat, lemon, and “orchard pear” in a rocks glass, so it’s only a matter of time before the apple brandy fades straight through the background, runs out the back door, and keeps going until it finds 1932 and a Jack Rose.

Much better is The Affray, which manages to stick to its guns despite a long list of ingredients (bourbon, apple brandy, “orchard apricot,” sweet vermouth, Angostura, and Peychaud’s bitters served up). That sounds complicated, but the clean result highlights delicious bourbon.

The same goes for the Morning Toast, which has whiskey, coffee syrup (from Dark Horse Coffee), mole bitters, and orange rind on the rocks. Each flavor sneaks in around the edge of the whiskey, adding just a little to the overall. It’s good. Because subtlety.

That brings us to the greater point. Overdone bartending isn’t high-concept, it’s a self-indulgent substitute for sophistication. Since when is it cool to be cool just for the sake of being cool? Sycamore Den is far from alone in this extensible critique, but it remains subject.

The reason that Morning Toast is so good is that it’s basically an Old Fashioned, with a subdued and expressive elaboration. The Affray, despite its complications, is little more than a gussied-up Manhattan. Hardly Wallbanger — the bar’s signature cocktail that’s so successful it made the cut for the new menu — would be better called “Really Almost Entirely a Harvey Wallbanger Except It Has Galliano.”

All those drinks are good because they respect the less-is-more principle that makes Martinis, Manhattans, Daiquiris, and all the O.G. cocktails so good.

But, look at the Kentucky Commander, or any other overwrought cocktail from SD’s “craft” cocktail bars. It’s not like the drink sucks. It’s tasty-ish, but it doesn’t satisfy.

Back in the day, sailors would “proof” rum rations to see if ship captains watered down the booze. The test involved gunpowder and combustion, and left us with the word proof to indicate the strength of spirits. Cocktails need a similar test. Try ordering a snooty mixer from a posh bar, drink it, and then honestly answer the following question:

“Would I be happier if I’d just ordered one of the classics made with good liquor?”

80% of the time, the answer is going to be “yes.”

These fancy cocktails don’t always proof, and that’s not right.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Who stole your iPod, FM94's Mike Esparza, Hell's Angels, our Russian yacht, Seaworld sharks, why they leave San Diego

San Diego Reader stories with most clicks
Next Article

Let the wine make itself

“Let’s get cracking. It’s time for racking!”
Sycamore Den's Wallbanger
Sycamore Den's Wallbanger
Place

Sycamore Den

3391 Adams Avenue, San Diego

In addition to Sycamore Den’s decision to get a few bites of food on the bar menu, the Normal Heights cocktail lounge with the beards-and-shotguns flair has a new series of winter cocktails ($9) rife with Monty Python-style punny names. Some drinks remain from the old menu, but most are brand new, and all are creative. We’d expect nothing less from the mind of celebrated local barman, Eric Johnson.

Obscure and outmoded ingredients (making a comeback?) are a huge part of the nostalgic spirit of trendy cocktails. Allspice Dram shows up in the Sink or Squid, ignoring its thirty-year-old Trader Vic's heyday. Cherry Heering, in the Kentucky Commander, is also a big part of Singapore Slings and the Blood and Sand….both out of fashion before half of Sycamore Den’s staff was born. Such sentimentalities are cool, but the Commander has too much going on. There’s a flavor somewhere in that Collins glass of bourbon, Heering, lemon, orgeat, Peychaud’s, soda, and egg white (which really needs a harder shake than it’s almost always given), but it’s damn near impossible to pick out.

Ditto for The Dozens. The bar goes bonkers with orgeat, lemon, and “orchard pear” in a rocks glass, so it’s only a matter of time before the apple brandy fades straight through the background, runs out the back door, and keeps going until it finds 1932 and a Jack Rose.

Much better is The Affray, which manages to stick to its guns despite a long list of ingredients (bourbon, apple brandy, “orchard apricot,” sweet vermouth, Angostura, and Peychaud’s bitters served up). That sounds complicated, but the clean result highlights delicious bourbon.

The same goes for the Morning Toast, which has whiskey, coffee syrup (from Dark Horse Coffee), mole bitters, and orange rind on the rocks. Each flavor sneaks in around the edge of the whiskey, adding just a little to the overall. It’s good. Because subtlety.

That brings us to the greater point. Overdone bartending isn’t high-concept, it’s a self-indulgent substitute for sophistication. Since when is it cool to be cool just for the sake of being cool? Sycamore Den is far from alone in this extensible critique, but it remains subject.

The reason that Morning Toast is so good is that it’s basically an Old Fashioned, with a subdued and expressive elaboration. The Affray, despite its complications, is little more than a gussied-up Manhattan. Hardly Wallbanger — the bar’s signature cocktail that’s so successful it made the cut for the new menu — would be better called “Really Almost Entirely a Harvey Wallbanger Except It Has Galliano.”

All those drinks are good because they respect the less-is-more principle that makes Martinis, Manhattans, Daiquiris, and all the O.G. cocktails so good.

But, look at the Kentucky Commander, or any other overwrought cocktail from SD’s “craft” cocktail bars. It’s not like the drink sucks. It’s tasty-ish, but it doesn’t satisfy.

Back in the day, sailors would “proof” rum rations to see if ship captains watered down the booze. The test involved gunpowder and combustion, and left us with the word proof to indicate the strength of spirits. Cocktails need a similar test. Try ordering a snooty mixer from a posh bar, drink it, and then honestly answer the following question:

“Would I be happier if I’d just ordered one of the classics made with good liquor?”

80% of the time, the answer is going to be “yes.”

These fancy cocktails don’t always proof, and that’s not right.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Lydia Loveless, Frazey Ford Live From The Commodore Ballroom, Conquer Your Fear Of Snakes

Events September 24-September 26, 2020
Next Article

Nathan Fletcher, wife Lorena Gonzalez, and Ben Hueso roll in dough

Faulconer turns off police access to hidden cameras
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close