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East Meets West: Kevin Diedrich, The Burritt Room, San Francisco, CA

Posted on  | May 1, 2011   Bookmark and Share
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Last year, funky boutique hotel Crescent San Francisco opened in Union Square, adding another bar to the city’s already dynamic mixology landscape. However, The Burritt Room stands out for bar manager Kevin Diedrich’s cocktails and quality entertainment to boot. With a pedigree spanning PDT and Clover Club in New York City, Bourbon Steak in Washington, D.C. and the Ritz-Carlton, Bourbon & Branch and Clock Bar in San Francisco, Diedrich brings creativity and operational know-how to his drinks.

The Beverage Network: You’ve experienced the bar landscape from both the east and west coasts now. Have you seen differences among the cocktail movements in say, New York and San Francisco?

Kevin Diedrich: Nowadays there are so many traveling bartenders, there’s not going to be much of a difference in techniques—only available ingredients.We have bountiful fresh amazing citrus that enhances the cocktails. Our guests are all foodies and have advanced palates, so when strawberries are out of season they know there won’t be much flavor if they are used in a drink.

TBN: What else are your guests drinking?

KD: Day to day and week to week it differs, but a lot of people come for a cocktail experience. In general, more women and younger people are drinking Manhattans and Sazeracs. Four or five years ago you had to introduce them to something on the sweeter side to get them in the bar, and now they are coming in and calling for whiskey. Recently, two ladies drank Manhattans while a gentleman in his 30s ordered a Woo Woo. Some of the trends are reversed now.

TBN: You have a lot of interesting cocktails on the menu that are rooted in the classics but have modern appeal, like the “Japanese Drowsy Girl.”

KD: For the “Japanese Drowsy Girl” I combined elements of two classic cocktails. The Japanese cocktail has brandy, orgeat, Créme de Cacao and bitters; The Drowsy Girl has cacao and brandy. So I put them together by cutting down the orgeat and adding egg white for silkiness.

TBN: As the weather warms up what will you be adding to the menu?

KD: A lot of bright drinks. I’m starting to look at sours and swizzles; I love daiquiri-style cocktails and Rhum Agricole. One cocktail, with shiso, Rhum Agricole and Yellow Chartreuse, is minty and herbaceous.

TBN: While The Burritt Room celebrates the craft cocktail, the fact you have frequent live entertainment also means you’re dealing with two types of crowds.

KD: Live jazz on Thursdays and different bands makes the bar what it is. It’s a great space in the back, and I just want everyone to come and enjoy what they are drinking. A lot of the cocktail dates are on Sundays through Thursdays, when guests come in and order cocktails off the menu and punch bowls.

TBN: Punch bowls are making waves?

KD: Sometimes groups will gather and get two or three. At just $48 a pop for four to six guests, everyone has a drink in hand. Sometimes it’s hard to do punch bowls in volume when you’re two or three deep, but people expect it at a serious bar.

TBN: How did working for someone as legendary as restaurateur Michael Mina impact you at the bar?

KD: The operation side is very streamlined and the training is very intense. I learned a lot of kitchen techniques there from making syrups to gums, and brought them to the bar.

TBN: First there was the Fernet Branca craze sweeping San Francisco, and now it seems pisco has acquired cult status in the city. Are you seeing more pisco on menus?

KD: Definitely. I was at a fundraiser recently and instead of guests asking for vodka sodas, they wanted Pisco Sours. Right now it’s a drinking environment where people are ordering Corpse Revivers and asking what kind of unaged whiskey is available, and pisco fits right in.


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