APPETITE For those who have been following my Guardian Appetite column , you know I've been there since the beginning of 2009, reviewing food and drink, cocktails and wine, restaurants and hole-in-the-walls, both in the Bay Area and on my travels. I am delighted to share a myriad discoveries with you each week here, from my daily meals, tastings and adventures, ranging from whisk(e)y releases to stand-out dishes at new restaurants. Here are four intriguing tastes this week:
One of my favorite openings in recent weeks, and my top wings spot in San Francisco, is Hot Sauce and Panko (1545 Clement St., (415) 387-1908, hotsauceandpanko.wordpress.com). Not only is the hot sauce collection — reaching from the deep South to Japan — about the best around, but its blog reveals the owner's quirky hilarity. As a chicken wing take-out shop selling a wide range of hot sauces, a good 20-plus are available to sample at any given time, so prepare for some serious heat (and note that they sometimes sell out of wings early in the day).
I walk away with a tub of cooked-to-order wings for $19.99, or plenty for two at $14.99. What makes me giddy is they let me choose as many of their appealing preparations as I want in one order. There's a regular menu offering classic buffalo, honey mustard, or kuzu salt and pepper wings. Wings and waffles come together as a combo ($5.99) or just add a waffle onto your order for $1.99. The specials menu gets crazy with tequila-chipotle-raspberry jam wings or one-week-aged cognac-habanero-lime-bitters wings(!) These aren't typical menu offerings. Favorites are creamy Thai peanut sauce wings, KFC (Korean fried chicken wings), and a "Pucker Your Mouth" special of wings in lime, fish sauce, garlic, blue agave, and red pepper flakes. A side of spicy slaw ($1.99) further pushes your heat tolerance.
St. George Spirits (also Hangar One) consistently wears the crown for renegade inventiveness. Master distiller Lance Winters and distillers Dave Smith and Chris Jordan lead the way in out-of-the-box creativity. Never have I seen the like of their test tube apothecary of experimentation where they'll try anything, from foie gras and beef jerky, to carrots and Dungeness crab, to see what works as a spirit.
I love all three of their brand new gins, including Botanivore to Dry Rye Gin. If I had to choose a favorite, however, it's the Terroir. A true Golden State tribute, this gin reflects the glories of Northern California, with hand-harvested juniper berries, Douglas fir (from Mt. Tam), coastal sage, fennel, California bay laurel, cinnamon, cardamom, lemon — to name but a few of the ingredients. Plus, a portion of sales go to support California wilderness, preserving our mighty state's nature as the gin reflects its diversity. To me, this is the most striking of the three, with a fresh, pine-y essence... a unique expression, unlike any other spirit out there. You can purchase online at www.stgeorgespirits.com . By the way, Bar Agricole (www.baragricole.com ) is making beautiful cocktails with St. George Gins, including a Dry Rye Old Fashioned and Botanivore with Riesling and stonefruit bitters.
It was a privilege recently to have lunch with Franco Luxardo, a sixth-generation member of the Luxardo family of the famed liqueur company. In Northern Italy, Luxardo facilities are surrounded by 20,000 cherry trees from which the company makes its legendary Original Maraschino Liqueur. What particularly stood out over lunch was sweet-yet-dry Cherry Liqueur Sangue Morlacco, made from their Marasca cherries. Full and round, it expresses sour cherry tart while remaining smooth. Michael Mina's lead bartender Carlo Splendorini crafted exquisite drinks for each of our courses, utilizing Sangue Morlacco. He serves it in a wine glass with VSOP cognac, Old Potrero Rye and his own pinot noir gum syrup, flaming off the alcohol for a whisper of Islay Scotch peat. With the look of deep red wine, it is tart, smoky, lush. Splendorini just added this cocktail to the menu and I helped him name it. Ask for the Potero Pinot. You won't be sorry.
On Sunday, October 2 at 6 p.m., CUESA's Sunday Supper Fundraiser (proceeds go to CUESA's Ferry Plaza Farmers Market) starts with a pre-Supper reception and guests as noteworthy as Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and Cowgirl Creamery's Peggy Smith and Sue Conley. Following is a four-course dinner at communal tables upstairs in the Ferry Building under white lights. The chef line-up is stellar, including Michael Tusk of Quince and Cotogna. Chefs like Frances' Melissa Perello and 4505 Meats' Ryan Farr carve sustainably raised whole beasts (beef, boar, lamb, etc.) tableside. $200, tickets and full chef line-up: www.cuesa.org/events/2011/sunday-supper  *
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