Fresh Eats: Our weekly roundup of SFoodie news

From Bartender to 'Brand Ambassador'

By Lou Bustamante

As a career, bartending has had its ups and downs. It was a genuine profession in the 19th century, an outlaw one during Prohibition. And until recently, tending bar was a gig you held down because you either owned the joint or smoked a lot of them.

These days, the best bartenders have an unnatural ability to connect with regulars, strangers, and the just plain strange. They can make you feel comfortable while mixing that perfect drink, something with an uncanny ability to lift your mood. But some of San Francisco's best bartenders have left the stick in recent months to become "brand ambassadors" for big liquor companies.

Brand ambassador has quickly become a necessary position for marketing any spirits brand. At this year's Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, Simon Ford, the director of trade outreach for Pernod Ricard USA, described the position as a bridge between marketing and bartenders. In other words, ambassadors translate a company's marketing bullshit into information working bartenders actually want to hear. Brand ambassadors travel to bars across the country, teaching their former peers about cocktail making and organizing promos. A popular bartender excited about a particular spirit can have an enormous impact on a brand's popularity, boosting sales.

Following the notable departures of Nopa's Neyah White to become brand ambassador for Suntory Japanese whisky, Rickhouse's Erick Castro for Plymouth and Beefeater gins, and Heaven's Dog's Jackie Patterson for Lillet and Solerno, we set out to answer the question many in S.F.'s bartending community have been asking: Are liquor companies stealing San Francisco's best bartenders? And if so, what is it doing to the quality of local cocktails? To read more, and find out what motivates a bartender to take an ambassadorship, go to http://bit.ly/a1qUuE


EAT THIS: Atoles at Antojitos Salvadoreños Aminta

By Jonathan Kauffman

A few months ago I was sitting at the counter of Antojitos Salvadoreños Aminta — the open-air stall in the Mission Market Food Mall, the place with the plastic hanging gardens and big-screen televisions — when the cook brought a gourd bowl of atol to the guy sitting next to me. In the time it took me to polish off one of my pupusas, he downed the cornmeal porridge, alternating spoonfuls and sips, then gave a polite nod to the server and left. I looked over the menu to find it, and spotted a sign taped to the pillar next to my stool. I resolved to return some wet weekday for a liquid brunch.

When a friend and I took our places at the counter recently, we asked the server which of the atoles we should order (all $3) — elote (sweet corn), piña (pineapple), or shuco. The question turned into a straw poll of our neighbors, their debate resolving itself in a compromise. We'd order two, one savory and one sweet.

The savory: atol shuco (sometimes spelled chuco) — a bluish-tinged field corn ground fine and simmered in water until the porridge became smooth and custardy. From the bottom of the bowl, we dredged up black beans; the grainy golden purée floating on top was made with toasted pumpkin seeds. It was salty, nutty, and sustaining, and we shook a few drops of hot sauce into the bowl for the vinegary bite as much as the heat.

The steaming, pale-yellow atol de elote had the sweetness and creamy consistency of a shake, punctuated by the sugary pops of fresh corn kernels. It was easy to love, the kind of breakfast you eat before a 10-mile hike, then forget the trail mix you've brought along to keep your energy up. It was the kind of breakfast that keeps a man working outdoors for hours, too much sustenance for us to take in at one sitting. The server brought coffee cups for me to pour the leftovers into, and I took them home. An hour later, before sticking the atol de elote into the refrigerator, I took a sip. It was still hot.

Antojitos Salvadoreños Aminta: In the Mission Market Mall, 2590 Mission (at 22nd St.), 648-4737.


EAT THIS: 4505 Meats' Gigante Dog

By John Birdsall

Since the 1960s, when Julia Child gave rise to the gathering steam cloud of "cuisine" that made the pure products of America seem kitchen-table basic, we've been a nation embarrassed about the hot dog. Oh sure, an establishment tastemaker like James Beard could wax nostalgic about the ballpark wiener, but it was a pleasure fixed in childhood, the Boy Scout uniform you kept for the sake of memory, not something you'd ever imagine slipping into again, even if you could.

Leave it to San Francisco — the city that built an outdoor festival around ass spanking — to remove shame from the hot dog. The genius of 4505 Meats' Ryan Farr is to take the meaty things the nation had doomed to the industrial grind factories and hand-make them, only without the "gourmet" preciousness that damned them in the first place. Prime specimen: 4505's Gigante Dog, an all-beef link sexed up with cheddar and bits of jalapeños. Actually, "sexed up" is wrong: This is a weenie that doesn't shrink from the hulking, animal taste of beef; cheese and chiles serve merely to harness it, keep the taste from lumbering off into coarseness.

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