Posted on November 1, 2019
While it’s true that San Diego’s cocktail lists have undergone quite a renaissance in the last few years, increasingly it is the case that trends dominate and influence permeates, meaning that a lot of lists can look similar to one another.
When it comes to the waterfront’s swankiest newcomer, Animae, rest assured that the cocktail menu is unlike anything previously seen in San Diego. The restaurant, which sits on the ground floor of the soaring Pacific Gate by Bosa building, is the latest effort from the Puffer Malarkey Collective, the restaurant group that runs Herb & Wood and Farmer & the Seahorse. The menu is Asian-inspired and isn’t intended to be authentic, but rather inventive and fresh.
With a lush, Art Deco-inspired interior, Animae is truly a stunner, as it should be after a $5.5 million build-out. But that’s not really the story here. Its bar program is what I’m obsessed with. It’s led by Adam Ono, who is a brand-new San Diego transplant from San Francisco, where he ran the bars at Yeast of Eden and Bourbon & Branch.
Ono takes influence from Japanese cocktail bars that focus on detailed precision, emphasizing the quality and shape of ice, temperature of spirits prior to mixing, shaking technique, aeration and texture, water quality, and more. He also spent the earlier part of his career sourcing rare cask liquors for a San Francisco-based liquor company and uses those connections to source for his bar program today, which includes a special emphasis on sake, single malt whiskey, gin, and Japanese whisky. Ono’s drinks are crafted to pair well with executive chef Joe Manganelli’s menu.
I tried many of his cocktails but my favorite is his “Thai Tai,” which is a take on the Mai Tai blended with Thai iced tea and is sure to be a classic drink that they will never be allowed to take off the menu. This version features Don Q gold rum, Small Hand Foods orgeat, citrus liqueur, lime, and Thai tea. The tea is mixed with condensed milk, as all lovers of Thai cuisine will recognize, then milked-washed, which pulls the tannins and phenols out and ups the aromatics. It’s finished with grated and dehydrated Okinawan purple sweet potato. The result is a creamy but light cocktail with an unmistakable Thai tea flavor and a boozy kick.
My other favorite came in the form of a duo of Martinis called “Yin” and “Yang” — the Yang being the more “masculine” martini with The Botanist gin, Dolin vermouth, and a house-made umami bomb of a dirty mix comprised of mushroom powder, furikake, shiso leaf, koji sauce, and miso. It was so delicious I found myself sipping the dirty mix on its own, treating it as some kind of cold broth. The drink is garnished with sea grapes, adding another salty kick.
The rest of the cocktail list includes riffs on other familiar classics, like the “Animae Old Fashioned” with Koji-washed bourbon and Demerara, and the Spanish-style “Lemongrass Gin & Tonic” — proving that even on a menu with plenty of pleasant surprises, there are still creative classics to return home to as well. 619.432.1226, animaesd.com
Interior: Photo by Dustin Bailey Cocktail: Photo by Chris Costa