Cocktail, food on the side: What to eat when you're sipping around town
APPETITE In my endless treks 'round the city for the best partnerships of drink and food, here are a few notable current menu offerings.
Easily one of our city's best bars, Comstock Saloon maintains historical reverence to SF's Barbary Coast days without being stuffy. Old World decor, live jazz, and bartenders who know how to make a proper cocktail make it one of the most blessedly grown-up watering holes, particularly in partying North Beach. If this weren't enough, it's a top notch restaurant. Chef Carlo Espinas churns out dishes better than your typical gastropub "upscale comfort food" fare.
Mostly classic cocktails ($8-12) are often best ordered as a "Barkeep's Whimsy" option (let the bartender decide how to make it, $12), like a gorgeous Smith & Cross Sour, showing off the musky-elegant-spicy notes of Smith & Cross rum with lemon, sugar, and frothy egg white. Another "whimsy" from the talented Ethan Terry: a stunner of smoky mezcal weaving with Firelit Coffee liqueur, Oloroso sherry and orange bitters. Menu classics remain, like an ever-drinkable Cherry Bounce: bourbon, cherry brandy, lemon, Angostura, Champagne.
Eat: I can't resist melting soft, mashed potato fritters ($9) dipped in "loaded baked potato dip" (essence of bacon and chives in sour cream — I had to ask for more). Salads are refined yet comforting, whether the austere green of raw kale ($9) tossed with little gems, Parmesan and watermelon radishes in bright lemon dressing, or chunks of fresh crabmeat and smoked trout in a lentil, baby chicories salad ($12). Good thing I can contrast that healthy eating with bacon-wrapped meatloaf ($16), bearing a caramelized "skin" of ridiculously fine house ketchup (of brown sugar, tomato, chili, and more) alongside dreamy coleslaw.
Comstock Saloon 155 Columbus Ave., (415) 617-0071, www.comstocksaloon.com 
Consider leisurely Brasserie S&P, inside the Mandarin Oriental hotel, your gin and tonic haven. But not just any G&T. Though cocktails fall on the pricey side ($12-16), beverage manager Priscilla Young oversees a robust gin collection, blends tonic waters in house, and presents mix-and-match G&T options via iPad. Her sommelier's palate ensures tonics align with botanical profiles of gins like local Old World Spirits' Blade Gin, its Asian botanicals dancing with Young's citrus-tinged Sensei #1 tonic, orange, and Thai chilies. There's an earthier G&T of St. George's Dry Rye Gin with Sensei #1 tonic, orange, black pepper. In a "Dirty" G&T, Scottish Botanist Gin flows with celery brine and Q Tonic, decorated with salt-pepper rim. Outside of G&Ts, Fresno chilis and bacon make the Diablo's Whisper a refreshingly savory cocktail of Don Julio reposado tequila, blackcurrant hibiscus, and lime.
Bonus: A new (and genius) offering is mini-martinis available all day at $5, like First Word, a twist on a classic Last Word cocktail, with Beefeater Gin, Green Chartreuse, lime and grapefruit. Imbibing guilt free, the diminutive size makes you want to order another.
Eat: Conveniently open 11am-11pm, the Bar at Brasserie S&P is an all day, downtown drink option, though it's also a smart, non-trendy power lunch spot. Light, clean kanpachi crudo ($17) nods to Hawaii with Kona fish and macadamia nuts, drizzled in sesame oil and Fresno chilis. Also light yet laden with Dungeness crab is a Louie salad ($19) stacked with butter lettuce, sieved egg, avocado. I often glaze over chicken, but Mary's chicken paillard ($18) is a highlight breaded in anchovy garlic crumbs over marcona almond pesto.
Brasserie S&P Mandarin Oriental, 222 Sansome, (415) 986-2020, www.mandarinoriental.com 
Rock-star cool and sexy describe Chambers' record-lined dining room, one of the most striking in the city. Cocktails ($11) are improved from early days when it opened in 2011. Straightforward and unfussy, the drinks are well-made and thirst-quenching. Playing off one of the greats, a whiskey sour, the Whiskey Cider Sour combines house-made cider, whiskey, egg, and fresh-grated nutmeg. A garden-fresh cilantro daiquiri blends silver rum, Cointreau, and lime with plenty of muddled cilantro.
Eat: Appreciating executive chef Trevor Ogden's unique presentation of smoked fish (salmon) in the past, now it's tea-smoked tombo tuna ($15), slowly smoking over a grate tableside. Despite pork belly burnout years ago, I hadn't tried smoking pork belly ($13) until recently, soft fat releasing its aromas as it burns before you, accompanied by Early Girl tomato kimchee. How could I resist? But salads unexpectedly steal the show. Winter is exemplified in an artistic display of fuyu persimmons ($10) happily partnered with burrata and toasted oat toffee, dotted with Angostura bitters (you heard right), olive oil, sea salt, and garam masala spices. Salade Lyonnaise ($12) is artfully deconstructed: grapefruit wedges, pork biscotti, lardons (thin strips of pork fat), and candied pomelo splay out spoke-like from a sous vide egg resting atop a mound of frisée in the center.
Chambers 601 Eddy St., (415) 829-2316, www.chambers-sf.com 
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