Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
The bar at La Urbana in San Francisco is already stocked with 56 different mezcals, with another dozen or so on the way. The menu offers tasting-note guidance to each bottle. "Mezcal offers such a wide spectrum of flavors," says bar manager Lucas Ranzuglia. His focus is on unaged versions: "Without the interference of wood," says Ranzuglia, "you can taste more of the original flavor of the agave." The mezcals are available in 1 1/2 ounce pours or in flights of half-price tastes. Though Ranzuglia confesses a fondness for the bottlings from De Leyenda and Pierde Almas, he says that favorites "depend on your mood of the day. They all have their own energy."
We stopped by La Urbana, which opened last week on Divisadero, for a quick preview of some of the cocktails—and the bites served alongside. The debut cocktail menu is 7 drinks long, but "there's more to come," says Ranzuglia, who also said they plan to lead informational mezcal tastings for the public, as well.
Mezcal appears in several—but not all—of the drinks. In the martini-inspired Acapulco-Manila, it's stirred with sake. "Both ingredients are very smooth," says Ranzuglia, "and they share similar aromas." In another cocktail, pot-distilled mezcal is mixed with an unsweetened spiced cacao water and served cold. And yes, there are margaritas, too—one with mezcal, and another variation with violet liqueur and orange flower water.
Instead of standard chips and salsa, Chef de Cuisine Julio Aguilera and Chef Ben Klein are serving house-made spiced rice cracker chips tossed with toasted brassicas (such as kale and collards.)
The tortillas start as whole dried blue corn, ground and made into dough, and pressed out each day. A beet and chayote salad is topped with chopped toasted grasshoppers and smoked almonds, cold-smoked crema, and habanero jam.