The Cocktail Charade

Is the Clift mucking with its martinis?

Shaken and Stirred On the heels of a lawsuit alleging that the Clift switched valet services in order to present a paler-faced crew, Harry has heard another alarming accusation: An outraged 32-year-old customer claims one Redwood Room bartender confessed he does not put vermouth in martinis for the "younger" clientele because "they don't like the taste." Harry may be partial to Manhattans, but it doesn't take a loyalist -- or an older drinker -- to know the difference between a martini and straight-up gin. Nic Janes, the Redwood Room's bar manager, insists that the omission isn't Clift policy, saying, "We are not trying to change the martini."

Open HousesWhile many local restaurants tighten their money belts and brace for tough times, three new establishments are fearlessly breaking ground in the Bay Area. Cetrella Bistro & Cafe, an upscale 154-seat restaurant, is opening on Sept. 26 in oh-so-quaint Half Moon Bay. Perhaps Cetrella owner Paul Shenkman, who also owns the town's popular Pasta Moon, is hoping to snare customers from the Ritz-Carlton, since the hotel's dining room has received a welcome more chilling than the area's coastal fog. Cetrella's executive chef, Erik Cosselmon, was lured away from his five-year post as executive chef at Rose Pistola to oversee the Northern Mediterranean menu inspired by the coastal villages of France, Italy, and Spain.

At the other end of the bay, good ol' boy Pat Kuleto (the designer/investor behind Boulevard, Farallon, and Jardinière) is opening yet another dining room -- this time in a 1923 building on Spring Street in Napa Valley's St. Helena. The Martini House, slated to start serving in early October, is an ode not to the cocktail (with or without vermouth), but rather to the influential wine family the Martinis. Big guns include Executive Chef Todd Humphries (Campton Place, Wine Spectator Greystone) and managing partner Michael Ouellette, a 12-year veteran partner and wine director at Mustards. Too bad the team is calling the cuisine "Wild Napa" -- right up there with "farm fresh" and "regional" among the vaguest and most noncommittal ways to describe food.

Binge and PurgeAt first Harry didn't understand how an offshoot of Paragon, a SOMA singles bar disguised as a restaurant, could complement the Old World Claremont Resort & Spa in Berkeley. But tennis players and fans of Marina-style singles scenes may find the duo the perfect match. Previously called the Terrace Bar, the new dining room, scheduled to open in mid-September, will accommodate 85. Harry's betting the 50 deck seats will be the hot spots come next spring: Most of the original Paragon crowd has likely married, divorced, and made and lost a million in the interim, and is surely due for a respite.

Bar Baby"Wanted: babysitter" was the e-mail message sent forth from Rosewood and 15 Romolo bar owner Jon Gasparini. The newlywed and his wife, Michelle, are three months into expecting, and Jon's got the word out to his friends. "You guys can run," he said, "but you can't hide. The more aunts and uncles the better."

 
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