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FOODfare: Holiday Cocktails At Chic Side Bar

Ali Pouladin slings holiday drinks at Side Bar.
Photo by Brandon Hernandez

Ali Pouladin is bound to drive you to drink…if all goes well. The endearing bar manager behind the beverage program at downtown’s Side Bar, Pouladin has slung a soda water sidearm for over a decade and at a diverse array of spots from the sporty Moondoggies in La Jolla to the highest regarded ultra-luxe club in all of San Diego, Stingaree. He knows a thing or two about mixing drinks and, for the first time ever, he’s sharing those tips with the general public in the hopes they can create cocktails that will go over well when they break out the shaker and rocks at their next party.

It’s a noble enough mission, especially during the holidays when get-togethers fly like a herd of tiny airborne reindeer onto just about every open date on our calendars, and recently, Pouladin showed a handful of spirit seekers how to whip up a quaffable quartet, two of which were geared specifically toward the holiday season.

The first of those was a Gingerbread Cocktail garnished around the rim with a sweet layer of dust made from pulverized graham crackers and gingerbread and served with a G-man bathing happily (he was smiling, after all) in its ice creamy goodness. Made with vodka, vanilla ice cream and both butterscotch and cinnamon schnapps, there was every probability it would come across sickly sweet, but, like all of Pouladin’s concoction on the evening, it exhibited a nice balance where nothing was overstated. It was quite the yuletide spirit and one that required little more than a few good shakes and some baked good anger management to put together.

Even simpler to recreate was the Candy Cane Martini, a crimson-hued cocktail made with vanilla vodka, Rumplemintz (Pouladin’s favorite type of peppermint schnapps), Sprite and cranberry juice. These four simple ingredients add up to one mighty powerful winter nip that’s even easier than the Gingerbread Cocktail (need proof…check out the recipes he was kind enough to share). From there, Pouladin and his hospitable group of bar back conspirators turned their attention to year-round drinks from Side Bar’s specialty cocktail list, making up a mainstay, the Irish Exit (Jameson whiskey, peach schnapps, ginger ale and Sprite spiked with a dose of freshness from freshly-muddled citrus.

In all the class was anything but stuffy. In fact, it was so free-form that, for the fourth drink, Pouladin took a poll from the student body, who voted to learn how to make the signature Ultimate Side Bar. On his way through night’s foursome, Pouladin also shared techniques and info like how filling a glass with ice and cold soda water and letting it sit creates the same effect as chilling a cocktail glass in the freezer or that holding a bottle equipped with a standard pourer spout for four seconds yields an ounce of fluid. The tips flowed like soda water and Pouladin’s positive nature (and the cocktail per person included in the registration fee) kept the students smiling and inspired each and every one of them to stay after class.

Pouladin’s next cocktail class will take place Thursday (Dec. 16) from 7-8:30 p.m. The cost is $25 per person or $40 per couple and to RSVP, guests need only send an email to [email protected]. For those who can’t wait to get a taste (or just like getting a good deal), you’d do well to stop into Side Bar from 7-10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday when all of the drinks on the cocktail menu are 50% off. Merry Christmas to you!

536 Market Street, Downtown, 619-696-0946

Candy Cane Martini

Yield: 1 serving

1¼ ounce vanilla-flavored vodka, ½ ounce peppermint schnapps, 3 ounces Sprite, 1 splash cranberry juice, 1 small candy cane for garnish.

Place all of the ingredients in a standard bar shaker along with ice cubes. Place the cap on the shaker and shake for 30 to 45 seconds. Strain the mixture into a chilled martini glass, garnish with a candy cane and serve immediately.

Drawn & Quartered

A short while back, we made mention of chef Michael Liotta taking over Quarter Kitchen at the Andaz San Diego Hotel. He’s only two months into his tenure, but already he’s looking to make his restaurant the place to be for downtown diners, regardless of whether they’re stopping in for a quick bite or making a night of it. For the former, Quarter Kitchen now features Happier Hour (5 to 8 p.m.), which gets its extra dose of elation courtesy of a down-to-earth apps menu stocked with pulled pork po-boys, a double Kobe beef burger, QK cheesesteak and, of course, $5 top-shelf specialty cocktails (The Diva, The Tease, The Hook-Up, etc.). Meanwhile, early birds looking to pick from the restaurant menu, can help themselves to a Fashionably Early pre-fixe dinner for $40 from 6 to 7 p.m., and club-goers can find both taste and value for dollar via the Dine and Dance deal, which includes a three-course pre-fixe dinner and admission to the hotel’s Ivy Nightclub for $55 per person Thursday through Saturday.

600 F Street, Downtown, 619-814-1000

Oh, Baby!

The Best Damn Beer Shop and South Bay Drugs, a pair of inauspicious spots that are well known by beer enthusiasts as two of the best spots in the county to find a mind-blowingly voluminous selection of specialty craft beers from around the world, are teaming up for a good cause this holiday season. On Wednesday (Dec. 15), the beer barons behind the businesses will transport an impressive and stout assemblage of some of their rarest liquid assets to Downtown Johnny Brown’s for their Epic Beer Tasting and Baby Formula Drive, a fundraiser benefitting the Power of Change Foundation, a nonprofit organization helping to provide aid to underprivileged children. Tickets are $35 apiece and include 10 four-ounce tasters and the opportunity to win one of a number of raffles happening every half-hour). Please note that an email RSVP is required to get into the event. For veterans of many a beer tasting, know that this is the real deal. Obscure numbers from locals like Ballast Point, Port Brewing, The Lost Abbey, Green Flash and Stone Brewing Co. will be on-hand as will hard-to-find brews from US innovators like Avery, Goose Island, New Belgium, Ithaca, Firestone Walker and The Bruery. Plenty of imports will be available, as well, but we’re not talking Heineken and Sapporo. Try Les Trois Mousquetaires Weizen Imperiale, a strong wheat ale from Quebec, and Hitachino Nest XH from the Far East that’s been matured in Shocyu sake casks. Drink up, San Diego (so that needy infants can do the same).

1220 Third Avenue, Downtown, 619-232-8463

The Missing Link

Last week, we announced that The Linkery would be reopening this Friday with a number of changes put in place, Since then, we have gotten our hands on the new menu and, of course, want to share it with you. What you can expect are slightly lower price-points—something that’s always welcome and especially good to see as venues like this which pride themselves on using higher cost ingredients find ways to make their edible stock easier for consumers to swallow. There are plenty of “shares” (items custom-built for en-masse enjoyability) including yellowtail poppers with guacamole and “wild and cool” shrimp with pickled squash and house-made hot sauce. A trio of from scratch Italian-geared entrées including whole wheat ravioli stuffed with winter squash and goat cheese and linguine with manila clams from Carlsbad Aqua Farm sit in column three of the menu above fried chicken and eggplant Parm with buttery, earthy Point Reyes Toma cheese. Vegan calzones, pastured lamb stew, house-cured Berkshire ham sliders and bacon-wrapped octopus are among some of the more interesting options, all of which will be on-hand more often than not. The departure from the (often frustrating) “of the moment” menu is perhaps the biggest departure for this inner-city haunt, which is still scouring the County for ways to pay plated homage to our regions’ farmers, ranchers and artisans.

3794 30th Street, North Park, 619-255-8778

Nouveau Français

Though you wouldn’t have known it by patronage over the last two years, many were sad to see Thee Bungalow, a French-themed restaurant that occupied a delightfully homey space on the west boundary of OB’s Robb Field, close its doors last April after failing to flourish following acquisition by the powerhouse Cohn Restaurant Group. 2011 will mark a rebirth of sorts when the space opens as a chic French bistro with upgraded interiors. Not exactly a French revolution, but a promising step toward injecting some joie de vive back into Ocean Beach.

4996 West Point Loma Boulevard, Ocean Beach