Drink This Now: The House Old Fashioned at Trou Normand, San Francisco


[Photograph: Lauren Sloss]

Here's the thing about brand-new restaurants. They're exciting. There's that build-up, the anticipation of a new favorite, the breathless excitement of another possible destination when your go-tos are starting to feel a little too familiar.

But then, there's the other side. The hype side that leads to packed rooms, impossible waits, and an experience that just doesn't feel worth it. This was the risk with Trou Normand, the just-opened restaurant from Thad Vogler and the Bar Agricole team. Housed in a recently renovated art deco skyscraper on New Montgomery (also home to Yelp's new offices), Trou Normand promises to be an all-day dining destination for San Francisco's downtown worker bees. And, to be sure, I saw a pretty gorgeous looking charcuterie board whiz by when I stopped by yesterday evening.

But when we talk about Bar Agricole, Thad Vogler, and therefore, Trou Normand, we talk about the cocktails. Bar Agricole's drinks program is one of the city's best, so I was eager to check out the new spot, named for the French tradition of cleansing your palate with a shot of Calvados between courses. The cocktail program has a heavy focus on Calvados, Armagnac, and Cognac. But that narrow focus doesn't feel like a gimmick here, and the new hot spot manages to offer a memorable cocktail experience despite the crowds.

The space is small, and was packed by the time I arrived, just 15 minutes after the doors opened for the evening. It's a stunning little restaurant—white marble, dark leather booths, and soaring ceilings evoke a '20s era Grand Central Station, a Paris museum, or somewhere in between. It's classy without being stuffy.

I immediately directed my attention to that cocktail list. Aged rum and lime, brandy and vermouth, Armagnac and maraschino—the combinations feel thoughtful, even subtle.

Take the House Old Fashioned ($11). It's a disarmingly simple drink at first glance. The ingredients listed: single cask cognac and two bitters. It's simple, as an Old Fashioned should be. But the switch to cognac is inspired.

Vogler has converted many bourbon-obsessed folks with his Dry Rye Gin Old Fashioned, a spin on the classic made with St. George's gin-rye hybird. And this new cognac rendition shines.

This is a real good drink.

Dudognon Cognac is front and center, rich with a delicate toffee flavor and a hint of clove-like spice. The sweetness is nicely tempered with those two bitters, both made in house, one from fresh and dried peaches and nectarines, emphasize the cognac's fruity character. Aromatic bitters, laced with quinine, ginseng, and raisins, act as a needed counterpoint, balancing the drink's headier flavors.

"It's so... refreshing," I said, gently swirling the drink around the oversized ice cube. "It's like an iced tea of an Old Fashioned."

Refreshing and rich, sweet and bracing—the drink's contrasts work together seamlessly. It's a cocktail you sip, but it's good enough that it will go down too quickly, and maybe too easily. Soon enough, mine was empty.

The crowd had grown by then, but I wasn't discouraged. With great, interesting cocktails on offer, Trou Normand seems like a spot that won't be hurt by a little bit of hype.