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Behind Trick Dog's Newest Menu, The Joy of Cocktails - July 26, 2018 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Behind Trick Dog’s Newest Menu, The Joy of Cocktails

Jardiniere. Courtesy photo

For Trick Dog’s current menu, in which the world-renowned cocktail bar worked with more than a dozen San Francisco chefs to create drinks based on the flavor profiles from their own dishes, there was one major anxiety: that Traci Des Jardins, David Nayfeld, Gabriela Cámara, and the others would all want to do a whiskey drink.

Or, as Bon Vivants’ creative director Morgan Schick puts it, “We were afraid we were going to wind up with 13 margaritas.”

It didn’t end up that way. If anything, there’s a lot more gin on there than usual — although, as Trick Dog owner Josh Harris tells SF Weekly, the project took a lot longer than the bar’s previous menus. Unlike those art-directed concepts, which include murals, a children’s book, and Pantone hues, this one was more than a year in the making, twice as long as the six months Trick Dog goes between cycles.

“We realized that in order to do it the way we wanted to do it, we needed to have more time,” Harris says. “We had written several chefs probably around the end of summer 2017, the first batch of ones we knew personally.”

But between Hurricane Maria, Mexico City earthquake relief, and the Wine Country wildfires, a lot of chefs were overextended.

“Literally, it felt like all restaurants and bars were engaged in these heavyweight philanthropic endeavors, and people were going all sorts of places to cook,” Harris says, adding that The Joy of Cocktails was “something we were doing to raise money as well, and that coincided with a little bit of anxiety: In order to do this the way we wanted to do it, we should push it out to the next menu cycle. And then we a banged out the Trick Dog Airways menu in two months.”

The chefs got involved in different ways. A conversation with Cámara resulted in a staff outing to Cala, where Cámara “ordered everything for us,” an act of generosity that led to a collective decision about the signature ingredient to pull out of the restaurant: the high-acid, chili-forward salsa she uses on the sweet potato taco. Che Fico’s David Nayfeld told Harris and Schick that he liked fennel, a “tremendous amount of citrus,” and paper plates.

“We were like, ‘Awesome, that’s a great place to start,’ ” Harris says.

Brandon Jew of Mister Jiu’s arrived with a bag full of ingredients in quart container.

“He came down here, and he and I just set up in the kitchen and started cooking, just the two of us,” Schick says. “It started with making the osmanthus-infused Chinese almond milk, which is apparently a traditional Chinese ingredient. As we were doing that, he was like, ‘Oh man, this needs brown rice syrup.’ So he called his wife, who was down the street. He was like, ‘Go to Rainbow right now and get us a quart of brown rice syrup.’ Twenty minutes later, she comes in.”

The eventual drink ended up quite far afield from the original plan. So it was trial-and-error, then?

“We don’t do error,” Schick says, only half-kidding.

The recipes aren’t proprietary, and chefs are free to serve the cocktails at their restaurants (assuming they have full liquor licenses, anyway). Once Trick Dog’s staff is “clear of the initial energy,” Harris hopes to facilitate something where the chefs serve their drinks in the bar — possibly as a fundraiser for La Cocina, the food-business incubator that’s already the beneficiary for the companion book for the Joy of Cocktails menu.

There was one other potential trouble spot: Since vodka has plummeted out of fashion these last few years, they worried that whoever ended up with it as the base spirit might feel slighted.

“But then we talked to Evan and Sarah Rich,” Schick says. “It ended up with the mandarin garnish because we tried [the drink] with mandarin and it didn’t taste good. But with doug fir and shiso, it’s like, ‘That’s a vodka drink.’ And they were OK with it.”

Trick Dog, 3020 20th St., 415-471-2999 or trickdogbar.com