Ruka and I left San Luis Obispo with big smiles. What we had seen at Sidecar, SLO was cocktail creativity, unlike anything we had seen since Mariena Mercer’s drinks in Las Vegas at the Chandelier Bar. It takes a big effort, a curious mind, a malleable palette, and a knack for flavors to create cocktails that are completely unique. I would have never in my wildest dreams believe that a cocktail could be made with the tobacco tincture. After all, on my first bartending job you are not allowed to smoke before or during your shift. The manager explained, "we don't want the flavor of tobacco from your fingers in our drinks." Well, fast forward forty years and now tobacco is a tincture. Yoikes!
That was among the many thoughts I had as I drove north along Highway 101. I have traveled many times between Los Angeles and San Francisco and have come to appreciate Highway 101. It is a much more pleasant drive than the interstate to the east. Some things have changed, but many hillsides look the same. Our next destination is San Jose and I'm wondering if I'll be able to find something that has the same degree of extraordinaire that I've already experienced.
Well, it is our good fortune that I have friends who live in Campbell, CA, which is just next to downtown San Jose. When we arrived our friends, Bob and Donna were not home, so Ruka and I spent some time in the Campbell City Park. One thing that Ruka and I have in common is that we love grass. There was no grass where we spent our winter months at Two Springs. Well, it didn't take long for Bob and Donna to find us lounging in the park and then off we went to a place called Paper Plane.
"The massive wall of booze necessitates the use of a rolling ladder. Seriously, I thought I'd seen everything, but it wasn't until I visited Paper Plane, that I saw a ladder behind the bar to reach the inventory of liquor. For me, it lends a whole new meaning to the term top shelf."
The streets of downtown San Jose were quiet on the day we came to visit. I really didn't know what to expect, but when we arrived I was stunned to find such a cavernous space with an entire wall of liquor. To give you a clear perspective the ceilings at Paper Plane are about 20 feet above the floor. The massive wall of booze necessitates the use of a rolling ladder. Seriously, I thought I'd seen everything, but it wasn't until I visited Paper Plane, that I saw a ladder behind the bar to reach the inventory of liquor. For me, it lends a whole new meaning to the term top shelf. When we arrived, there were only a few patrons, once again, because we had arrived shortly after they opened.
What pleased me the most was that this venue is serious about its cocktails and its food. Even though they have a short menu with 15 items you could tell that they had given a great deal of thought to the food they serve. We started out with the deviled eggs. These eggs were not your mother's recipe by any stretch of the imagination. They were made with beets, pistachios, bacon chips and chives and served on a bed of fresh arugula. The hard-boiled yolks and the beets were combined to give this dish a unique flavor I'd never experienced before. As an adult, I became a beet lover, so of course, I chose the Roasted Beet salad as well. It is a confit of golden, red and, Chioggia beets, shaved fennel, orange slices, arugula, pine nuts with goat cheese and a honey balsamic dressing. Well, it's hard to pass up Mac and Cheese on any menu, but Cavatappi pasta and smoked Gouda cheese with artichoke hearts, sprinkled with lemon panko and chives and served with a couple of crostini make this a perfect side dish to any meal. I couldn't resist the grilled 12-ounce New York strip served with a demi-glaze, blue cheese mashed potatoes, and garlic butter broccoli. It was delightful.
But the best part for me is always the magic of the elixir, and at Paper Plane there is no disappointment. Their drink list is conveniently found on the back of their menu. The twenty-six drinks may have some familiar names, but they turn out to be, in most cases, house renditions of similar cocktails. I started out with a drink called Frontier Justice. It is made with Bulleit Bourbon, Bonne Maman strawberry, port, simple syrup, and lemon. Yup, that’s right Strawberry preserves. Well, that was another first for me and the drink was great. My second choice was a drink called Liberal. This one is made with Knob Creek Rye, Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, Paper Picon. Here again, the drink hit the spot. Most venues hire bartenders; at Paper Plane they hire mixologists. Not only are they familiar with the drinks on their list, but when I asked if they could make some of the classic drinks that I had enjoyed at The Good Lion, well, they knew how to make them too.
Once again, I somehow found another great venue that serves great food and awesome drinks. It was especially nice to spend time with my old friend Bob and talk about the past. And, of course, Ruka and Donna met for the first time and seemed like old friends from the start. If you happen to be in San Jose, this is the spot to check out. I know that I’ll be back.
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Author : Neal Murray
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