Virginia Miller

Appetite: An elegant line of tequilas

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Tequila Avión has gained a sort of cult status from a (unsolicited) mention in the show Entourage, but I’m glad to say this tequila holds enough quality to stand on its own. Produced in the Jalisco highlands, in the town of Jesus Maria at the highest elevation of any tequila producer (7000 feet), brings a naturally higher sugar content to the agave plants. Their process is to roast the agave plants at very low temperatures and let them cool naturally which retains more juices and makes the plants less fibrous when crushed.

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Appetite: Exploring 3 wineries in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

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Call it dessert wine if you will, icewine (eiswein in German) is definitely sweet. But winemakers prefer to call it “rich and concentrated,” an apt icewine description, which, when produced well, retains enough acidity to keep it from being cloying.

Icewine’s intensity comes from frozen grapes, allowing greater flavor concentration. Unlike in Sauternes, Bordeaux, icewine is not sweet from botrytis (noble rot), rather from frozen, concentrated juice. Canada and Germany are the largest icewine producers in the world, with most of Canada’s icewine vineyards in Ontario, which I recently visited. Besides attending the annual Niagara Icewine Festival, I spent time with three wineries and tasted winning salumi and cheeses made locally.

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Gourmet fresh (and cheap)

Warm muffaletta, chicken meatball Reubens, fizzy Kvas ... Market and Rye, Anda Piroshki, and All Good Pizza hit the spot

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The hunt for authentic Bay BBQ

FEAST: Join in on a -- successful -- hunt for stand-out sauces and beautiful brisket

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virginia@sfbg.com

For a child of East, West, and Middle America, I have an unexpected and profound affinity for the music and food of the South. Traveling in the region, my love grows. Florida conch and stone crab, Tex-Mex and Texas brisket. But when I dream of the South, I think Deep South. Start talking low country and Gullah cuisine, or Cajun and Creole cooking, and I become brutally homesick for a home I never had.Read more »

Appetite: Jazzy 1950s-era bar in former newspaper printing room? Believe it

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Bourbon and Branch, Wilson and Wilson, Rickhouse... I've frequented (and written about) each since they opened. Though some tire of the speakeasy concept, Bourbon and Branch led that trend, remaining one of the more transporting places to drink anywhere. I value owner Future Bars' emphasis on setting and will always adore a setting from another era or place, whether you call it speakeasy or not. Taste and quality is crucial, but I'm grateful for that rare bar I can escape to, to feel as if I'm in another time or world, preferably with an excellent drink.

Future Bars' brand new bar, Local Edition, opened yesterday off bustling Market Street near Third (in what was the Manhattan Lounge), full of retro spirit. I visited a couple days before opening to check out the space, and again opening day for drinks, when the line to get in wrapped around the block (hopefully not a sign of things to come?) The underground space has a 1950s-era jazz club feel and is surprisingly large (over 5000 square feet), so even after the throngs entered, it was not full. The bar is sexy and candlit with a stage, restored vintage chairs surrounding low tables, and red bench seats lining the walls.

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Two on the rise

The evolution of Bar Tartine and Txoko's European flair -- chilled cherry soup to Basque cider 

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virginia@sfbg.com

APPETITE Age is good thing: for wine, whiskey, cheese, wisdom, sense of self... Age deepens, fills out, matures. In the scheme of things, these two restaurants are youngsters — Bar Tartine has been successful since opening in 2005, Txoko was the new kid on the block in 2011. But they've steadily improved: what was exceptional at times last year is now more consistently so. Read more »

Restaurant 1833

Irresistible spot lights up Monterey with ghosts, Negronis, quality fare -- and tableside Absinthe service  

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Appetite: New bar manager, superb cocktails at Heaven’s Dog

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Heaven’s Dog has been a haven for superb cocktails since it opened, with excellent bartenders like Erik Ellestad (Savoy Stomp) and pre-Prohibition era cocktails ($10 each) from Charles H. Baker’s The Gentleman’s Companion, aka "Jigger, Beaker, and Glass." The bar still serves Baker classics, and with new bar manager Trevor Easter on board, receives a fresh infusion while keeping to its roots. Easter came from some of our city's best bars (like 15 Romolo and Wilson & Wilson inside Bourbon & Branch), and used to trek up from San Diego where he lived prior to SF for cocktails at Heaven’s Dog by bar director Erik Adkins.

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Southern obsession

Comfort comes a-callin': down home delights (and some tasty battered chicken) at Hops and Hominy, Hog and Rocks, and Front Porch

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virginia@sfbg.com

APPETITE Southern food has a profound hold on me. No, I'm not a Southerner — but few cuisines the world over elicit in me such yearning and comfort. Finding the real deal in the Bay Area is tricky, although a recent Southern trend has helped. Aside from my beloved Brenda's and delightful Boxing Room, the following spots fulfill cravings.

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Appetite: The very latest in LA cocktails

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After years of hunting, the day finally came when I could find proper cocktails in LA, even if the scene itselfwas years behind NYC or SF. I’ve covered LA cocktail bars in recent years as the quality has rapidly grown, with my latest visit yielding the most consistent drinks yet. The LA cocktail renaissance is indeed coming into its own.

There have still been a few hyped-up letdowns, like Next Door Lounge in Hollywood, which is a fantastic space: roomy, mellow, old world, with comfy leather couches, friendly service, and classic Powell and Loy movies playing on a big screen. I absolutely loved the environment which it made it even more disappointing in sampling four expensive drinks ($12-14) to find them unbalanced and generally unappetizing.

Perhaps Next Door's execution will improve to match the interior. In the meantime, here are some spots worth checking out down south.

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