Friday, July 31, 2009

Dish on Drinks: Pisco Latin Lounge

Trying to Shake Up the Neighborhood
1817 Market St. (at Pearl), San Francisco
Lower Hayes Valley
PH: 415.874.9951
Open Monday to Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight (till 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday)
Major credit cards accepted
Web site

My favorite drink right now is the Pisco Sour, the ubiquitous drink of Peru. I read about it a few years ago when I was first introduced to Peruvian cuisine, but it was difficult to find the drink in the United States because pisco (a kind of brandy) wasn’t widely available.

But in the last year, pisco has made a big return to California (it was popular during the Gold Rush) and now there’s even a bar bearing its name.

Pisco Latin Lounge opened last year right next door to the popular nuevo Peruvian restaurant Destino. (It’s no coincidence; they’re both by the same owners.) I dropped in recently to check out if they had the best Pisco Sour in town.

The long, narrow space had a mix vibe of Latin lounge and neighborhood bar. While the sun is still out, the natural light sparkles near the front where people can lounge on comfy sofas. Towards the back, there’s a tiny platform area called the “pagoda” that provides a more intimate gathering. (You can reserve that area if you have a large group.)

From 5 to 7 p.m., Pisco Latin Lounge offers special $6 drinks. The night I was there they had a special cucumber martini and a mulled cherry drink. But I was there for the Pisco Sour ($9), so that’s what I ordered.

I failed to mention that I visited on a Friday night. I remember now because the photo shows my Pisco Sour—which traditionally made with foam of egg whites and topped off with Angostura bitter—came with a happy face that my bartender made using the bitters. He was so happy that it was Friday.

It was a bit weird drinking my Pisco Sour with the happy face because it was like I was kissing the drink every time I took a sip. (The happy face never disappeared because the foam stayed thick till the very end.) The overall drink felt like it had too much foam and too much Pisco because it tasted strong.

The bar menu contains several interesting Peruvian-influenced dishes, so I decided to order the Camarones ($10.50), which was the tiger prawns with goat cheese salsa. The prawns looked like perfect bar bites when they arrived because each prawn sat on a maseca chip. So you could pick them up and pop them in your mouth. But I have to say that the overall look, while convenient for eating, did seem a bit rough around the edges. It didn’t look refined. And the taste was lackluster, partially because the maseca chip became soggy from the shrimp juices and salsa.

As more people started arriving and the music pumped up, I ordered the Pisco Negroni ($11) just to see if I could find another pisco drink to like. Made with pisco, sweet vermouth and Campari, the drink was definitely pretty in color but packing a lot of punch. Not sure if it was the different variety of Pisco used or the combination of vermouth and Campari?

Service at the bar was mixed. A couple of servers were friendly and engaging, while my main bartender was more flirty with the girls down the other end of the bar than attentive to the rest of the guests. It’s rare that I sit at a bar and not have a bartender ask me if I need another drink, but that’s what happened as I often emptied my glass and not have anyone push another one on me.

Pisco Latin Lounge seems like a fun neighborhood hangout, but the food and drinks don’t provide any sparks to heat up a hot night.

Note: I’m not giving a rating since this is not a full restaurant. It’s a nice place to drop in if you’re in the area, but I wouldn’t go out of my way.

I wouldn’t say Pisco Latin Lounge made the best Pisco Sour I’ve ever had. So now I’m in search of the best in town. Where do you think serves the best Pisco Sour?

Pisco Latin Lounge on Urbanspoon

Another round of bar reviews:
Clock Bar: “Time Stands Still at this Hotel Bar”
Kingman’s Lucky Lounge: “A SOMA Lounge in Oakland”
Nihon Whisky Lounge: “Not Really Tokyo But a Whole Lotta Fun”


Cookie said...

That drink does a lil too cute to drink! :)

foodhoe said...

awww, well doesn't sound exactly like my kind of spot - especially if they don't have much food!

Hungry Dog said...

I am sorry it wasn't more satisfying! For Peruvian food, I like Mi Lindo Peru in the Mission, although I'm not sure if they do pisco sours. I bet they have good ones at La Mar, though, the fancy ceviche place on the embarcadero. I ate there once and thought the food was very good and they have a huge cocktail menu. You should check it out and review it!

Unknown said...

You are right - the quality of pisco used will totally be the key for how good a pisco sour is. Try to look for La Diablada -it's an "acholado" pisco, or blend, that Food & Wine chose as best pisco for pisco sours last year. You can find it in NYC , but I don't know about San Fran. Good luck!

Cultural Chromatics said...

La Mar in the Embarcadero. Their pisco sours are great! and a great deal during happy hour.

jazme said...

They are friendly. Good service and they were so cool and the service was perfect!

Watch a video of