Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

Andrew Steinthal and Chris Stang from Immaculate Infatuation set out to explore the world of fine dining and bourbon pairing. First up, they go Bay to breakers, gobbling bone marrow, prawns, lobster juice, and all the bourbon in their path.


Here's what happens when Gizmodo calls and asks you to travel to a few cities with the sole purpose of eating excellent food and drinking excellent bourbon. You say yes, and you immediately pack a suitcase with several pair of elastic-waist pants, an extra large bottle of Tums, and a toothbrush. You know…the essentials.

San Francisco is home to some of the best chefs and best restaurants in the world, so it was a no-brainer for us to put it at the top of our list for this trip. We chose five of the most acclaimed and respected establishments in town (and one just outside of town) and booked reservations for three epic days of eating. Here's a taste of what we got into.


Click through the gallery above or check out individual restaurants via the links below:

AQ | Park Tavern | Mustards Grill | The Alembic Bar | Wayfare Tavern | The Four Seasons

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

AQ

In just their first year in business, AQ has been showered with more praise and adoring attention than Ryan Gosling out in public in a loose-fitting t-shirt. Whether it's Bon Appétit, The New York Times, the James Beard Awards, or that one really excited dude on Yelp, this place has had good press coming at it from all directions. AQ's ambitious concept, in which the restaurant changes completely with every season, most definitely has something to do with all of that buzz. It's not often that you find a restaurant that's willing to completely rethink everything from the menu to the furniture four times a year. But AQ does exactly that, and ambitiously attempts to execute high concept food for a fairly large dining room of people every night of the week.

Here's what we can say about our experience at AQ. First of all, the drinks were incredible. The bartender made us a few different bourbon cocktails, including his spin on the classic Manhattan, and a really good drink with bourbon and some apple stuff. The Manhattan was the perfect way to the get the meal started, and that fall flavored apple drink was really nice with all of the fall seasonal ingredients on the table — particularly the Brussels sprouts. As for the food, some dishes were bigger hits than others. We loved the lamb tartare, and the beef poached in mushroom tea was a nice spin on a classic steak dish. Both of those also paired particularly well with a neat bourbon. Read on for a full food rundown, but it's safe to say that AQ is a very interesting restaurant with an interesting concept, but it's also not for everyone. This is highbrow eating at the highest level.

Food Rundown
Brussels sprouts, local apples, beer cream & cured ham

Pretty much every place we visited on this trip had brussels sprouts on the menu, but only one of them came served with "beer cream." We're still not even sure what that means exactly, but they were good.

Lamb tartare, wheat berries, manchego & caramelized pear vinegar

Hands-down the best thing we had at AQ. This dish was impressive not only in taste, but also in presentation.

Chicken "Crispy & Poached," autumn squashes, coffee & sage

We're down with pretty much anything that's "crispy & poached," but this was essentially just chicken two ways, and neither of them were all that impressive.

Beef poached in mushroom tea, horseradish, bok choy & scarlet turnips

This is a nice cut of meat, and the mushroom tea adds a nice rich flavor. Eat it with a neat rye or bourbon and you should be happy.

Slow Cooked Potato

This is a $25 baked potato. Really.

Drink Rundown
Manhattan

Bourbon, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

The AQ Manhattan.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

AQ's lamb tartare.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

AQ's beef poached in mushroom tea.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

Park Tavern

This was the pleasant surprise of the trip, as we didn't have Park Tavern on our initial itinerary. While we were on the ground in San Francisco, we heard some good things about the food from a few locals, and also heard they make a mean drink. After cross-referencing that intel with a positive review we found in the San Francisco Chronicle, we added it to our schedule. And boy are we glad we did.

Park Tavern is a big, slick-looking restaurant with an attractive clientele and a lively atmosphere. You can tell when you first walk in that people come here for a good time, often in big groups. It's a bit sceney, as much as that can be a thing in San Francisco. Our first item of business upon arrival was to order a round of Country Lawyers, a cocktail made with bourbon, Zucca amaro, vermouth, and bitters. It's a fantastic drink, especially if you're someone that likes amaro. Next up was an obscene order of food that included everything from smoked deviled eggs to prawns wrapped in lardo, to lobster bisque shooters, to a whole roasted chicken, served standing at attention like it's in bird boot camp. It was an incredibly tasty meal, and one that we didn't expect to like as much as we did. Park Tavern is perfect for people who aren't fussy about their food. It's simple in execution and presentation, but everything is really good.

Food Rundown
Lobster bisque shooter

All meals should start off with one of these. The bisque is rich and delicious, and you sort of feel like a bad ass taking an $8 shot of lobster juice.

Smoked devilled eggs

We like everything better when it's been smoked, including deviled eggs.

"Devils on Horseback"

These are the lardo-wrapped prawns we referred to, which essentially means they've been wrapped in fat. That treatment doesn't tend to make food taste worse.

"Poulet Rouge"

This is a badass-looking roast chicken, and it's a Park Tavern specialty. We found it to be perfectly cooked and flavorful, though you do have to allow 30 minutes for it to cook. Guess what we did with the time? Bourbon.

Drink Rundown
Country Lawyer

Bourbon, Zucca amaro, bianco vermouth, Benedictine, chocolate bitters

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

Fuyu persimmon, smoked Burrata, spicy Coppa and pickled mustard seed.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

Here's Park Tavern's "Poulet Rouge," standing at attention.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

Mustards Grill

No trip to San Francisco would truly be complete without a quick jaunt to Napa. It is only about an hour away, after all. So we decided that a short road trip to wine country for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants was absolutely necessary. And by the way, just because it's wine country doesn't mean you can't drink bourbon.

Mustards Grill is a mandatory stop anytime we are in Napa, mostly because they have a world-famous pork chop that everyone should eat at least once in their life. All you need to do is look at that picture to know that thing is good. We paired up the chop with a few neat bourbons and enjoyed a leisurely lunch in heaven. You should probably do that someday, too.

Food Rundown
Famous Mongolian pork chop, sweet & sour red cabbage, housemade mustard

This is the pork chop that put Mustards on the map, and if you come here and skip it, you have failed at life.

The ever-popular seafood tostada

This is another dish we love at Mustards. It's a simple tostada piled high with various fresh seafood combinations that change daily, some black beans, and some greens. It's fresh and delicious.

Ahi tuna crackers, wasabi crème fraiche, soy vinaigrette

This is a great two-bite start to any meal at Mustards, and that wasabi burn can be effectively cooled with a sip or two off your glass of bourbon. Order ‘em up.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

Hey now.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

Quite possibly the world's best pork chop.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

The ever popular "Ever Popular Seafood Tostada" at Mustards Grill.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

The Alembic Bar

We find that the best recommendations don't usually come from Yelp or the local restaurant critic. They come from your friends. We found our way to the Alembic because we made a new friend at our very first stop in San Francisco. No, not at the hotel, but at the early evening pre-dinner dinner that we decided to have at Flour + Water in the Mission, one of our all-time favorite restaurants on earth. Flour + Water unfortunately only serves beer and wine, so this stop wasn't on official business. But our waitresses' eyes lit up when we explained to her what we were doing in town. As luck would have it, she happened to be just as enthusiastic about brown liquor as we are, and had the perfect spot for us to eat some excellent food and have a drink or two: The Alembic Bar on Haight Street.

Located right in the middle of the skunky-smelling, weed-peddling action of Haight-Ashbury, the Alembic Bar turned out to be exactly the kind of place that we were looking for on this adventure. We love it when cocktail bars take their food as seriously as they take their drinks, and that's exactly how they get down here. There's a huge selection of whiskey and other spirits behind the bar that will blow your mind, and the things they do with said spirits are obviously equally impressive. The Alembic makes an Old Fashioned like nobody else, so the first thing we did was order one of those with some bourbon. Also on our cocktail list were two other classics, a Boulevardier and a Ward Eight. To nobody's surprise, each drink was fantastic.

What did surprise us was how great the food at Alembic turned out to be. It's easy to take a look at this place and assume it's just a laid back cocktail lounge beloved by the neighborhood. But in reality the Alembic is a sleeper gem of a restaurant that the smart people in town eat at frequently. They have an ambitious menu with really interesting dishes — jerk-spiced duck hearts and roasted beets with sunchoke and huckleberry, to name just a few. Oh, and as our waitress served us our order of bone marrow, she also kindly let us know that some of the Alembic's more enthusiastic customers take shots of their favorite liquor out of the spent bones after they've eaten the marrow, affectionately known as the BONE LUGE. This place is awesome.

Food Rundown
Roasted beets

This is one of the better beet salads we've had anywhere. Red and golden beets are plated with some labne (a middle eastern yogurt), sunflower seeds, huckleberries, and a black walnut vinaigrette. So good.

Applewood smoked sturgeon

A nice plate of smoked fish with carrot, apple, horseradish and nasturtium, a peppery green that's a bit like watercress. The smokiness of the fish was nice with the light bitterness of our Boulevardier.

Roasted blue prawns

This was a special the night we were there, and we enjoyed it a lot. Not only were the prawns delicious, but they were also awesome props.

Bone marrow

As mentioned above, is bone marrow is so good that the regulars take f*cking shots out of the bones after they scoop out the marrow. Not much more needs to be said.

Drink Rundown
Old Fashioned

Bourbon, sugar, Agnostura bitters, lemon twist

Boulevardier

Rye, Campari, sweet vermouth

Ward Eight

Rye, lemon juice, orange juice, Grenadine

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

Eyeballin' some bourbon. And some popcorn.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

A suprisingly good beet salad from San Francisco cocktail bar, The Alembic.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

A roasted blue prawn enjoying some bourbon.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

"Bone luge" shots after this gets eaten? Only time will tell.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

Yes, we'll have them all.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

Wayfare Tavern

One restaurant that we knew would be on our Taste Experience Itinerary was Wayfare Tavern. A regular stop on our personal trips to San Francisco, Wayfare feels like a little dose of NYC in the Bay Area. It's got that new school version of an old school men's club feel, which we are big fans of, being men and all. There's a fire place, taxidermy decorating the walls, big comfy booths, and a pristine open kitchen so that you can view your food on its entire journey from preparation to the bottom of your stomach. Plus, there's an upscale game room with a pool table upstairs, which is perfect for an evening hang with some friends and some bourbon.

Food Rundown
American Kobe tartare

A nice plate of chopped beef with an egg yolk on top and some garlic popovers on the side. This with a bourbon neat, and you are gettin' real manly and real happy.

Organic fried chicken

This is a very solid fried chicken, topped with some herbs and served with plenty of lemon for squeezing over the bird. Order it.

Wayfare Burger Le Grand

Ok, this burger is kind of silly, what with the brie cheese and fried egg on top. It's also awesome.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

How do we order that?

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Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

Burger kings.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

Burger Le Grand, with egg.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.

Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

The Four Seasons San Francisco

Clearly, no world-class hotel is complete without a world class food and beverage program, so we suspected that the Four Seasons also probably had some bourbon and a decent plate of food to be had somewhere in the building. Sure enough, we got in touch with the in-house Executive Chef, Mark Richardson, and guess what? Dude is from Kentucky. A few hours later, we were sitting in the Four Seasons bar with Mark himself, as he walked us through a special menu of Kentucky inspired eats, paired with a few cocktails that were created with his home state in mind. We tasted a few bites of Mark's interpretation of some real southern food, including the famous Kentucky Hot Brown. Everything we tasted was incredible, and equally impressive were the drinks, including a drink called "Passion Fruit Pudding" that might be the best drink we had in this town. More on that below.

Food Rundown
Hot Brown

In case you aren't familiar, a Hot Brown is a famous sandwich that originated at the Brown Hotel in Lousiville. It's basically a hot, open-faced sandwich with turkey, bacon, and a mornay cheese sauce on top. Newsflash, it doesn't suck, especially when Chef Mark is in the kitchen.

"Kentucky" fried chicken

A delicious bit of moist chicken with a crunchy, flavorful skin. This was also really good, and the sweet Passion Fruit Pudding drink balanced the saltiness nicely.

Braised short rib

This bite of shortrib was tender and delicious, with a nice BBQ-type sauce on top. We loved it.

Drink Rundown
Passion Fruit Pudding

Bourbon, passion fruit puree, lemon juice, sweet vermouth, splash of soda, lemon twist

Bourgeois Farmer

Bourbon, Peychauds bitters, 1/4 teaspoon sugar, Absinthe rinse, orange twist garnish

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Here's How You Turn San Francisco Into a Bourbon-Fueled GorgefestS

The Passion Fruit Pudding.


Full? Never! More from Andrew and Chris's adventures is coming up. Next time, they tackle Seattle, epicurean epicenter. Until then, head to Immaculate Infatuation to check in with them.

Photo by Immaculate Infatuation.