Monday, October 05, 2009

A Summer of Pisco Sour

I’ve talked about how the pisco sour is my favorite drink of the moment. It’s partly because of the presentation of egg whites whipped into a foam and partly because pisco was banned in this country until a couple of years ago.

The pisco sour is the national drink of Peru and is pretty popular in other parts of South America as well. I had my first one in Buenos Aires. The main components of a pisco sour are lemon or lime juice combined with egg whites and, of course, pisco, which is a grape brandy. It’s topped off with dots of bitters, usually Angostura bitters.

Pisco also has a connection with San Francisco, which made a once-popular drink called the pisco punch. It’s a fun drink too, but I’m still a pisco sour fan.

So much of a fan that this past summer I decided to go on the search for the best pisco sour in the Bay Area. And luckily, I found a few bars serving this drink up. How many actually served it up right is another story.

Now that summer is over, here’s my list of pisco sours I’ve tried and how they ranked. I should make clear that I’m not an expert on what is a true pisco sour since I didn’t grow up in Peru, but I’m giving you my impressions of which drink was the most balanced and tasty, and in a way took me away to Peru.

I ranked each drink on presentation, authenticity and taste, on a scale of 1 to 5. I found the pisco sour at nine locations, and here they are, starting with the bottom on my list:

Levende East, 827 Washington St. (at 8th), Oakland. 510.835.5585
Cost: $9, Overall rating: 2.5

Presentation: 3.0
Authenticity: 2.0
Taste: 3.0

Notes: This drink threw me off a bit because it was finished without the traditional bitters on top, not even one dot, and it was served with ice cubes. It tasted fine but for some reason without the bitters and with the added ice cubes, it made me feel like I was drinking a margarita, especially with the lime garnish.

La Furia Chalaca, 310 Broadway, Oakland. 510.451.4206
Cost: $9, Overall rating: 2.75

Presentation: 2.75
Authenticity: 2.75
Taste: 3.0

Notes: You would think this Peruvian restaurant would serve up an authentic pisco sour, and if this is how it is, then my idea of a pisco sour is totally off. The drink was served with grated cinnamon instead of the bitters, and I felt the brand of pisco used was especially strong and not very smooth. The multi-colored straws didn’t really say sophistication either.

Absinthe, 398 Hayes St. (at Gough), San Francisco, 415.551.1590
Cost: $9, Overall rating: 2.75

Presentation: 3.0
Authenticity: 2.5
Taste: 2.5

Notes: People raved to me about the pisco sour at the longtime popular restaurant bar, but I have to say the drink was sloppily made, with the bitters drizzled on top without the dots I typically see. Plus, the egg whites dominated the drink and never really separated to reveal the pisco. The pisco also tasted strong, just like whisky. I did appreciate how the drink was served very cold, which makes it a great summer drink.

Five, 2086 Allston Way (at Shattuck), Berkeley. 510.225.6055
Cost: $10, Overall rating: 3.0

Presentation: 2.5
Authenticity: 2.5
Taste: 3.25

Notes: Served in a short champagne glass, Five’s version also had an unusual pattern on top using the bitters, making almost an abstract design. Beyond that, I thought the bitters looked unusually red instead of the typical rust color and the bartender looked like it was the first time he made one in a long while as he went about looking for an egg to whip up the whites.

Pisco Latin Lounge, 1817 Market St., San Francisco. 415.874.9951.
Cost: $9, Overall rating: 3.25

Presentation: 3.25
Authenticity: 3.0
Taste: 3.25

Notes: I had high hopes for the pisco sour at Pisco Latin Lounge. I mean, come on, it has pisco in its name. But it turned an odd twist when the bartender served it with a happy face on top, and then the egg foam never really settled or separated. Also, the particular pisco used was especially strong and didn’t balance well with the overall drink.

Adesso, 4395 Piedmont Ave. (at Pleasant Valley), Oakland. 510.601.0305
Cost: $7, Overall rating: 3.5

Presentation: 3.5
Authenticity: 3.0
Taste: 3.5

Notes: It was served in a really beautiful curved tumbler and the bartender grated nutmeg on top and added the bitters in front of me, which is a nice touch although I wasn’t sure about the nutmeg. The taste was nice and balanced but there were bits of chipped ice in the drink, which I find distracting.

Alembic Bar, 1725 Haight St., San Francisco. 415.666.0822
Cost: $10, Overall rating: 3.75

Presentation: 3.5
Authenticity: 3.5
Taste: 4.0

Notes: The drink was served up in a glass like what you’d serve bear, so not as elegant as others I’ve had, but I thought it was creative how they made a pattern with the bitters (I’m not always totally against unusual patterns with the bitters as long as it looks nice and not sloppy). The taste was a nice balance but overall a bit lukewarm. It could have been more refreshing.

Nopa, 560 Divisadero St., San Francisco. 415.864.8643
Cost: $9, Overall rating: 4.0

Presentation: 4.5
Authenticity: 3.75
Taste: 4.0

Notes: This is one pisco sour I can drink again and again. Nopa puts their own spin with a pattern created by the swirl of the bitter spots, and it’s served up in a martini glass, looking very classy and refreshing. The taste is balanced and quite a bit of a drink, even in a martini glass.

La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, Pier 1.5, The Embarcadero, San Francisco. 415.397.8880
Cost: $5 (Happy hour, 4-6 p.m.), Overall rating: 4.5

Presentation: 4.5
Authenticity: 4.5
Taste: 4.5

Notes: So La Mar is where I found the best version in the Bay Area, looking like what I think a pisco sour should be, with the perfect foam and bitter dashes. This restaurant from Peru serves up its pisco sour in a simple tumbler. The taste was also refreshingly cool with a very balanced pisco and sour combination. It helps that the price is right during happy hour.

Honorable mention: One of my favorite pisco sours I tried this summer was actually in New York when I dined at Eleven Madison Park. This luxurious restaurant also serves up a luxurious pisco sour. What was so unique about this version was the pure frothiness and creaminess of the egg whites and pisco. It was like drinking a smooth liquid custard. I found it very enjoyable even at its high price of $11.


JulieK said...

The happy Face made me...happy

Kim said...

I MUST try Le Mar!! A guy I was dating who introduced me to the drink said he learned to make his there.

Carolyn Jung said...

I had a yummy non-alcoholic version at Bocanova in Oakland today. Well, it was a working lunch so I had to keep my wits about me. ;)

The Pisco Bible said...

Singleguy - if your fave pisco sour was at 11 Madison Park in NYC, then you're in luck. Those pisco sours are made with Macchu Pisco, which as of November has finally arrived in San Francisco. Check out the Indy Expo on Nov 19th to try our single-grape Macchu Pisco (named Spirit of 2009 by Wine & Spirits Magazine) and our blend (named best blend by Food & WIne) in 2008!