Monday, April 22, 2019

Where to Drink: & New Spring Cocktails @ Alta Adams, Los Angeles (Part 2 of 2)

Last week, I wrote about the delicious avant-garde soul food at Alta Adams, and this week, I’m sharing a recent interview I had with the head bartender, AJ Goodrich, in honor of the brand new cocktail menu that the popular West Adams restaurant debuted, just in time for Spring.

As mentioned in my previous post, I’m a huge fan of one drink in particular here: the Bikini Bottom, pictured below. It’s a vibrantly sweet-and-spicy blend of pineapple, agave, cilantro, fresno chile, and not only tequila, but mescal, too. I love it so much, I’ve hard a time wanting to try anything else. But, hearing Goodrich’s explanation of the new program is definitely tempting me to branch out and try something different, sooner rather than later. 

Read on to hear more from Goodrich as he discusses the inspiration behind the new drinks, how he got into the bar business and his take on the L.A. cocktail scene in general!

Miss Wilson: What are the highlights of the new drink program?
Goodrich: The entire spring cocktail menu was inspired by the city of New Orleans — the drinks are all spins on classic Crescent City cocktails. This menu is our first huge overhaul of the cocktail program since Alta Adams opened last fall. We wanted the menu to be fun, a little flashy, herbaceous, spring-like, energetic and bold. I think what we came up with fits the bill!

We thought designing a drink menu around the Big Easy was a natural fit and perfect complement to our California-soul food. New Orleans’ culture and demographical blend are completely unique; there’s just nowhere like it anywhere else in the country. On a personal level, New Orleans also marks the halfway point of a cross-country trip I embarked on in 2011 while I was making a documentary about the way people talk about same-sex marriage and queer identity in America (this was before same-sex marriage was legalized). I’ve always been struck and am still drawn to the enormous cultural footprint of New Orleans: from music and jazz, to nightlife, festivals, parades and funerals, Louisiana voodoo and so on. New Orleans has a rich and influential history in the world of cocktails, from Peychaud Bitters to the Sazerac, the French 75 to a Vieux Carre and more.

Miss Wilson: What’s one cocktail everyone should try at least once and why?
Everyone should try the Black Magic Woman at least once (last photo at the bottom of this post). There aren’t too many bars where you can get a classic Absinthe drip as it’s traditionally done — and it’s a show-stopper. The cocktail is garnished with a dissolving sugar skull and burning sage. If you have any negative juju floating around, this will clear it out.

Otherwise, if you have a group of friends and are in the mood to get a little boozy, you should try our Gator Bowl punch (pictured below), which is meant to be shared. I like to think of it as stupidly delicious swamp juice.

Miss Wilson: What advice would you have for anyone interested in getting into the bar business?
Goodrich: Three years ago, I had zero experience in the bar business at all. I hadn’t worked in the service industry since I was a teenager; I had really only been working in film production since graduating from film school. It’s been a crazy few years since I’ve started (with zero experience) as a barback to now leading the bar program at Alta Adams as head bartender — and it has been a combination of luck, landing at the right place at the right time, having terrific mentors and working my ass off. I’ve also read everything I can (and still have a lot more reading to do), and have tried to dive deep into cocktail history and culture.

At the end of the day, foster good relationships: surround yourself with good people who have a heart, have your back, and take care of them in return. Soak up everything you can from everyone around you, learn everything you can on your own, and you’ll do fine!

Miss Wilson: What’s your take on the current local LA bar scene? How has it evolved in the past few years and where do you see it headed next?
Goodrich: Prior to a couple of years ago, I pretty much only set foot in gay bars — so much of my experience is based on the gay bars of East L.A., Silverlake and Downtown. If I’m going to go out somewhere beyond work (which I don’t do too often anymore!), that’s probably still where I’d be. However, since diving into the craft cocktail world, my view has expanded quite a bit, as has the craft cocktail world — it’s basically exploded over the last five years. While you used to only be able to get a decent drink at a handful of staple bars, now every restaurant and bar seems to be developing a craft bar program or has a resident mixologist (though I dislike that term — I’m just a bartender). It also shows no signs of stopping. 

This is both a good thing and a bad thing: it’s great that there’s more of a focus on cocktail culture, that people are interested and thinking about it more, and that more places offer great drinks, but I worry that sheer quantity may impact quality. Not everyone has the same level of training. In the end, like most things, I believe that what’s good will stay, and what’s not, won’t. My advice: stick to the good ones and the classics.

For more information: 

This interview has been condensed and edited for readability. Second and fourth photo, courtesy of Becca PR; third photo from Instagram

Monday, April 15, 2019

Where to Eat: Avant-garde Soul Food @ Alta Adams, Los Angeles (Part 1 of 2)

The Eats: Soul food with a modern, creative twist

The Location: West Adams

The Vibes: Soulful, cozy, earthy

Good for: Alone, dates, groups (small and large)

When-To-Go: Weekend brunches, 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; daily dinner, 5 p.m. until close (Sunday closes at 9:00 p.m.; Monday – Saturday closes at 10:30 p.m.)

The $$ Factor: Snacks, $4 - $8; Starters, $10 - $18; Plates, $18 - $31; Sides, $6

The Names behind the scenes: Chef Keith Corbin

The 4-1-1: Alta Group, a restaurant management and consulting company based in the Bay Area, operates Alta Adams and six other dining / drinking establishments in Oakland and San Francisco: Aster, Besharam, Coi, Dyafa, Kaya and Plum Bar

Parking Situation: Limited street parking, valet parking

I’ll Be Back…: For the Collard Greens!

Alta Adams may have only been open for six months, but it’s already caught Los Angeles by storm. My sorority sister excitedly declared I had to check out this brand new restaurant. The bae, who always has a pulse on the latest and greatest, planned a surprise visit here. And girlfriends who have quite the high standards on restaurants gave me the ultimate praise after I suggested dinner and drinks here: “Job well done,” they coolly proclaimed.

What Alta Adams has done so well is that it’s brought a hip, high-end dining experience into an area that historically hasn’t this type of establishment for quite some time. With Delicious Pizza opening in 2015 nearby and construction for Cumulus off Jefferson Blvd. underway, I’m sure we’ll see another wave of upscale restaurants, but for the time being, there are only a handful — now including Alta Adams. In the meantime, the neighborhood has seemed to wholly embrace Alta Adams, its often-packed patio, bar and dining areas a testament to its popularity.

Personally, I love the vibes, which feel more New York than West Coast to me. Black walls and various shades of wooden browns and tans enwrap the space. Pillows adorned in colorful African prints elegantly grace benches. Photos of foodstuffs like vegetables and nuts, and black people proudly wearing funky hairstyles grace the walls. It feels so warm, so earthy and a lot like someone’s decked out Afro-centric home rather than a restaurant.

According to the website, Alta Adams brings a “distinct interpretation of soul food that draws the connection between traditional West African food and California cuisine.” From my perspective, it feels like Alta Adams is experimenting with a ritzy, boughie rendition of soul food. What you’ll find here is probably not what you’ll find at your uncle’s backyard cookout…unless of course, your uncle just so happens to be a renowned chef. My point is, don’t expect traditional soul food; instead, be prepared for more of a creative take on soul food.

Here’s a look at a few items that have caught my attention so far: 

The Black eye pea fritters aren’t how you’d typically find black-eyed peas traditionally cooked in many soul food recipes, i.e., accompanied by rice and infused with meats like ham hocks. Instead, these fritters comprise mashed black-eyed peas encased in batter and fried to a golden brown. They’re great to share, quite filling and vegetarian friendly, too.

The first time my friends saw the Collard Greens with vinegar and smoked oil, we were confused. We looked at each other like “what in the world is this?!” While these greens may very well not look like any collard greens you may be used to, they are truly special in their own right. Tightly wrapped together, they’re tender and bursting with tangy, rich flavors.

A unique take on traditional yams, the Candied yam gratin with spiced cashews are thinly sliced and all kinds of delicious sweetness, complemented by a smoky flavor from the charred edges. The crunchy cashews add a nice balance between sweet and savory. If I could change anything, I’d definitely make the portion larger; it feels like it’s gone in literally two bites!

The Grilled bone-in pork chop with chow chow hands down is my favorite from Alta Adams so far. The pork chop itself is perfectly tender and juicy, and oozing with all sorts of incredible spices. The chow chow, a blend of various peppers, onions, fresh herbs and spices, kicks it up a notch, as a simultaneously sweet and tangy topping.

And of course, we can’t forget about the cocktails. I’ve only enjoyed one drink — the Bikini Bottom so far (pictured below), because I seriously love it so much that I can’t seem to order anything else. It’s another item that has a sweet-and-spicy aura, fusing pineapple and agave with cilantro and fresno chile, and not only tequila, but mescal.

And lucky for you, I’ll actually have more to say about Alta Adams’ libations, as next week, I’ll share my interview with Head Bartender AJ Goodrich when we connected over the newest Spring Cocktail menu.

So the next time you’re looking for an elevated soul food experience, in a vibrant setting, head over to Alta Adams.

See you there soon and come back to the #WilsonsGuide blog next week for more on Alta Adams’ new spring cocktails!

For more information: 

Monday, March 25, 2019

Wilson’s Words of Wisdom: March Round Up (Exploring Oakland!)

In the few months I’ve now called the Bay home, I’ve been trying to explore as much as possible. Specifically in Oakland, I’ve gone on a “black-owned bars” bar crawl, sipped cocktails at bars in Uptown and Downtown, indulged in multiple weekend brunches and joined half of the Town exercising at Lake Merritt whenever the sun has decided to grace us with its presence (which hadn’t been much these past two months).

Of course, there’s still so much for me to see, eat and do, but in the meantime, I’ve compiled a short list of places that have piqued my interest so far. From outdoor havens to delicious Indian street food and cocktails on the lake, here are five points of interest to bookmark.

Where to Be Merry: Lake Merritt

I haven’t been to Lake Merritt nearly as frequent as I’d like (I blame the nonstop rain in January/February), but going there always reminds of why I love going whenever I get the chance. The lake unites all residents, who come to run/walk/jog the three-mile loop around the lake, lounge on blankets in the grass, play with dogs or simply bask in the outdoors. It doesn’t matter your age, where you’re from or what you look like; everyone is welcome here. The views are absolutely spectacular, too — you’ll catch glimpses of sprawling hills dotted with houses, the wide, glistening lake in the middle and the downtown cityscape.

For more information

Where to Drink: Lake Chalet @ Lake Merritt

Tucked away in the historic Oakland Boathouse you’ll find Lake Chalet, a multi-level restaurant with outdoor seating on a deck jutting directly onto Lake Merritt. On bright sunny days, you come here to sit back, relax on the lake and leisurely admire the views, all with a cocktail in hand. While I’ve only (for now) had drinks here, there’s also an expansive menu of American fare — including Dungeness Crab Cakes and Chalet Beignets — that looked quite appetizing as they were whisked to other diners’ tables. Without advanced reservations, snagging a table directly on the deck can be a wait, but a lounge area with couches and tables right behind the deck are up for grabs on a first-come-first-serve basis — you’d just have to order at the bar.

For more information

Uptown’s dosa by DOSA, which serves up Indian street food, can be initially deceiving. At first glance, you’d think it’s a fast casual dining establishment. It has a very laid-back atmosphere and a moderate price point — and you order at a counter, take a number and sit down, before your food is brought out to you. But, I’d argue that dosa is truly so much more; it’s offering a quite steal for the quality and creativity packed into its menu options. The lamb dosa, pictured below, is somewhat like the South Indian version of a French crepe, but with a thin, crispy shell. It bursts with all kinds of flavors, intense herbs and layered textures. The butter chicken street wrap, enveloped in grilled roti (a type of bread), is big enough for two people to share, and the stuffed Bombay potato naan is a nice way to kick off any meal as an appetizer. Plus, dosa has these alcoholic slushies that’s like a tropical party in a champagne saucer, with ingredients like passionfruit, coconut, lime and more.

For more information

Where to Drink: The Payback

Named for James Brown’s 1973 song, The Payback is a downtown bar that recently opened this past Fall 2018. The long, rectangular space has soaring ceilings, two-toned blue/green walls and a commanding black bar smack in the middle of it. The few times I’ve been here, it’s had an easygoing vibe, never too crowded, and sometimes with a DJ spinning R&B and rap hits from throughout the decades. Order specialty cocktails, beers and wines, plus resident chef Terry Braggs is busy in the back, whipping up soul food classics like shrimp and grits. One of the bar’s best selling points is a tiny arcade in the back that has old school games, including a classic skee ball machine. Nothing like friendly competition to round out the night!

For more information

Where to Eat, Drink and Be Merry: Jack London Square

Jack London Square proper is a pedestrian-friendly cluster of blocks hugging the estuary that comprises waterfront stores, restaurants and outdoor areas. What’s great about the square is that there’s something to do for everyone, at every price range. On Sundays, a farmer’s market sets up shop, offering everything from organic produce to Oakland-branded threads and snacks from food stands. On any given day, have a drink at Oakland’s oldest drinking establishment, Heinold’s (pictured above), which also happens to be one of only two U.S. bars that has a slanted floor, according to a bartender’s tale. Farmhouse Kitchen always appears to be packed, not surprisingly, thanks to its deliciously vibrant, upscale Thai food. And, don’t forget to take a leisurely stroll on the Bay Trail, to catch stunning views of the water and colorful houseboats across the estuary, on the Alameda side.

For more information