1760’s Christopher Longoria on the San Francisco restaurants he loves

Christopher Longoria, bar program manager at 1760 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo credit: Daniel Morris.
Christopher Longoria, bar program manager at 1760 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo credit: Daniel Morris.

Hometown: Galveston, Texas
Occupation: Bar program manager, 1760
Years worked in hospitality: 14
Years lived in San Francisco: 16
Awards/Accolades: The 1760 cocktail listed on the “50 Cocktails to Try Before You Die” list, 7×7 (2014)
Best Creative Cocktails in San Francisco, San Francisco Bay Guardian (2014)
Best Newcomer Restaurant, 7×7 (2013)
Best Bartender to Confess Your Sins to, San Francisco Bay Guardian (2007)

Go to Christopher Longoria’s shortlist

What do you love best about San Francisco’s food scene?

The use of California’s native bounty. So many ingredients I still learn from and get exposed to every time I eat out. Its international appeal is really important to me, too. I can eat really well-prepared food from all corners of the globe. Love 1601 Kitchen, that’s really well-prepared Sri Lankan food!

What are some of your favorite ingredients to use in a cocktail, and what’s your personal favorite cocktail at 1760? 

Mint is great in everything. Love pineapple! Love cinnamon! Maldon salt. Gin. I like watermelon a lot, also. Campari. Green cardamom. Absinthe. Is that too many?

One of the new spring cocktails coming out mid-March [is my favorite]. Mint, kaffir lime, coconut, cinnamon, pineapple, Jamaican rum, crushed ice. Pretty much everything I listed as my favorite ingredients. It’s so refreshing, light, complex. The crushed ice is a great aesthetic as it creates a frost around the glass. Cinnamon on the nose. Definitely my fave right now.

What’s your favorite dish-cocktail pairing at 1760? 

Kumquat-Coconut cocktail and lobster ceviche from 1760. Photo credit: Daniel Morris.
Kumquat-Coconut cocktail and lobster ceviche from 1760. Photo credit: Daniel Morris.

It would be between our Kumquat-Coconut cocktail and the lobster ceviche. Similar mouthfeels because coconut is in both, but I think the acid of the kumquats help bring out the acid over the coconut in the dish. I think the kaffir lime in the dish adds to bright notes of the cocktail. I think the cinnamon in the cocktail adds a small touch of unexpected spice to the dish. I have yet to see someone not enjoying the pairing.

Or the Garam Masala-Toasted Cardamom cocktail with the fried duck sandwich. The richness of the duck confit is cut by the lemon in the cocktail, but the cocktail maintains its relationship with the sandwich because of its spice combination. A light note of garam masala and aioli in the sandwich are pretty spectacular. The savory notes of fresh pinched thyme adds to earthiness of the otherwise bright, rich duck confit. Chef Suzette [Gresham of Acquerello] loves it.

Your cocktails have received a lot of attention in the press, but what other cocktail bars in the area have impressed or inspired you?

I’m inspired by Elmer Mejicanos’s program at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in North Beach. He’s not afraid to reach out with ingredient-driven cocktails, but he still maintains a foot in classic cocktail culture. Pretty difficult move to pull off, all while being charismatic and skillful. Ask for his tarragon gin fizz!

I was also really impressed with the cocktails at Third Rail in the Dogpatch. I really like how they divided their cocktail menu up by Aperitif, Seasonal, Citrus, and Spiritous. Speaking as a bartender, that’s a pretty smart move because it allows the guest to guide themselves through the menu, allowing them to focus that one extra second on cocktail making. I’ve been there a few times and each time, I’ve had a cocktail where I say to myself, “Wow, that’s tasty, another please!”

Let’s get into the food scene now. Name the top restaurants and dishes that you think every visitor to San Francisco should try. 

1601 KitchenTraditional egg hopper. What is this fantastic thing!? It’s basically similar to a crepe formed into an edible bowl, so savory, but still light. I love spice, so the sambol, which from my small understanding is a mix of mashed peppers and possible shrimp paste. I love eating for texture and this fits that bill, too. It’s a great dish, lots of flavor, texture and spice without leaving you heavy.

New Eritrea Restaurant and Bar: This is one of my favorite hideouts in San Francisco. When I first moved to San Francisco, I lived with my brother in the Inner Sunset. He took me here. First, it should be said that this is a family-run restaurant and they are extremely hospitable, humble and warm. It really makes for a warm neighborhood experience. Their lentil sambusas are amazing!! I usually eat two orders of them. They word it rather simply on the menu: “East African style, prepared with onions and Eritrean spices” but I have a feeling they’re safeguarding a treasured family recipe. The dough is perfect. Flaky, slightly chewy closer to the center, and envelope the soft and delicious lentils. Eat them with a side of their “hot sauce.” I usually sit at the bar with a couple of these and a beer.

Kusakabe: Quite simply one of the best sushi dinners I have ever had. Pristinely clean and flavorful fish. You start with the omakase menu and have the option of à la carte. It’s difficult for me to single out one dish from their omakase. But if I have to, I would have to say their tofu chawanmushi would be my standout dish. Truth be told, I’m not very experienced in many types of chawanmushi, but this one was perfect. Very savory, the broth was so rich without being fatty. I don’t typically like the texture of tofu, which was all the more surprising to me when this dish arrived. The texture was firm enough to not be completely mush, but soft so that it melted well with each spoonful of the broth. It’s not always on their omakase, but if you’re lucky enough to make a reservation when they have it, know that I’m jealous of you. Delicious.

Pho Phu Quoc (a.k.a. PPQ): When it rains, when it’s foggy, when I’ve had a bit too much to drink the night before, when I have a day off, when I’m exploring the city, I will be here with a bowl of pho ga! Undeniably the best pho ga in the city for me. Sorry, Turtle Tower. Pho Ga has become my comfort food while living in San Francisco. But this place cooks the noodles just right: not gummy, not too soft. Their broth, I can smell just driving by. It’s in the Outer Sunset, near the N Judah stop. Easy access from around The City. Their chicken is boiled to perfection; it shreds in the bowl. Add an extra spoon of green onions, hoisin, sriracha and lemon. Best bowl of noodles I could ever recommend.

Describe your perfect dining out day in San Francisco.

I like to start out my day making my own coffee and breakfast. Breakfast always reminds me of home, so I like to make grits with paprika and tomatoes, topped with sautéed spinach, sausage, onions and shallots. On top of that, I add a poached egg seasoned with salt, pepper, and a cayenne. That breakfast with Sulawesi coffee while listening to Preservation Hall Jazz Band or the new D’Angelo record and my head is screwed on straight. I’m ready for the day.

I wander the city quite often, even on my way to 1760. I like to stop for little snacks along the way. I like to hit up a dim sum place in the Richmond on my way out. Pork siu mai? Yes. I’m not really a big lunch person. Lately, me and my bar team at work have been enjoying these Mediterranean shish kabobs with rice and vegetables. But I tend to find myself at Slanted Door with a cocktail and their hamachi snack. Light snack, cocktail, good to go.

Dinner for a perfect day dining out would inevitably end at Acquerello. Why? Because the wine list is superb and the food is delicious and inventive. A perfect San Francisco dinner.

What’s your favorite neighborhood to dine out in?

My mood kind of dictates what part of The City I’m going to dine out in. I feel like getting dressed up, I usually head downtown. I like to wander Hayes Valley and Fillmore for café snacking and light sips of vino. I like going to Green Apple Books in the Inner Richmond and finding some small hidden places. I’m all about finding best kept secrets. I tend to find more of those in the Inner Richmond.

What’s one dish in San Francisco that blew you away and left you wishing you came up with the recipe yourself?

The smoked ocean trout at Cassava. WOW! Such a generous portion of trout, really light crème fraîche, harissa, toast, tomatoes and greens. Not sure if it’s on their dinner menu, because I’ve only had it for brunch.

What are your favorite budget, mid-range and high-end dining places in San Francisco?

Budget: Shanghai Dumpling King for Shanghai dumplings.
Mid-range: Burma Superstar for tea leaf salad and platha with coconut curry sauce.
High-end: Acquerello or Kusakabe.

Since Eats Abroad is geared toward travelers, are there any restaurants or bars at the San Francisco area airports or in the city’s hotels you would recommend?

I am consistently satisfied at the bar in the St. Regis hotel lobby. A nice French 75 on a sunny afternoon. A light snack. A big, open lobby. Perfect. During Christmas time, I like sitting at Scala’s (connected to Sir Francis Drake) eating a small pizza and vino, watching the shoppers go by.

What’s your guilty pleasure and where in San Francisco do you go to get it? 

Aw man, my guilty pleasure? It’s so simple, but so good. I love the fried rice at Hakkasan! It’s so light, fluffy, not oily, with amazing flavors! You wouldn’t believe how tasty and light this rice is! I usually order the rice with a glass of red, some sautéed greens. Easy and delicious. I like a lot of flavor without feeling heavy and this is exactly it.

Do you have any favorite watering holes you like to frequent?

There are so many places in SF for this that I really stay busy just trying to check every new project out. I suppose with all the options out there, if I go to a place three or so times, it could be considered frequenting it. And that would be the Burritt Room. I like just sitting in that room, looking out the window, sipping a cocktail alone, and listening to the 3-piece jazz band. Their cocktail menu is pretty standard, but executed really well.

Are there any foods native to San Francisco that you particularly like?

I really enjoy my Philz mint mojito coffee! I don’t believe you can find that in other parts of NorCal or outside SF. But it’s something that is uniquely San Francisco and delicious.

Finally, what would you say any visitor must see or do before leaving San Francisco? 

In this order: have a cocktail at the Burritt Room, walk through the Stockton Tunnel through Chinatown, get to City Lights bookstore for a poetry reading, step out, grab a cocktail and snack at Comstock Saloon (tip the band!), walk down Broadway to the Embarcadero, enjoy the view, make out with your lover, catch a cab to 1760 for cocktails and dinner. Cab it back to your hotel. Awake to a French 75 at the hotel bar, Katz Bagels, depart. Cheers!

Christopher Longoria’s Shortlist:

1760, 1760 Polk Street (Nob Hill); new American, dinner daily, brunch Saturday-Sunday.

1601 Bar & Kitchen, 1601 Howard Street (SoMa); Sri Lankan, dinner only Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.

New Eritrea Restaurant, 907 Irving Street (Inner Sunset); Eritrean, dinner only daily.

Kusakabe, 584 Washington Street (Financial District North); Japanese, dinner only Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

PPQ Beef Noodle House, 1816 Irving Street (Outer Sunset); Vietnamese, lunch and dinner daily.

The Slanted Door, 1 Ferry Building, #3 (Financial District North); Vietnamese, lunch and dinner daily.

Acquerello, 1722 Sacramento Street (Nob Hill); Italian, dinner only Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday-Monday.

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, 1570 Stockton Street (Telegraph Hill); Italian, lunch and dinner Wednesday-Monday, closed Tuesday.

Third Rail, 628 20th Street (Dogpatch); cocktail bar, open daily.

Green Apple Books, 506 Clement Street (Inner Richmond); bookstore, open daily.

Cassava, 3519 Balboa Street (Outer Richmond); modern Californian, breakfast and lunch Wednesday-Friday and Monday, dinner Wednesday-Saturday, brunch Saturday-Sunday, closed Tuesday.

Shanghai Dumpling King, 3319 Balboa Street (Outer Richmond); Chinese, lunch and dinner Wednesday-Monday, closed Tuesday.

Burma Superstar, 309 Clement Street (Inner Richmond); Burmese, lunch and dinner daily.

Lobby Bar at The St. Regis San Francisco, 125 3rd Street (Financial District South); new American, open daily.

Scala’s Bistro at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, 432 Powell Street (Downtown); Italian/French, breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

Hakkasan, 1 Kearny Street (Downtown); Chinese, lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.

Burritt Room + Tavern, 417 Stockton Street (Downtown); new American, dinner only Monday-Saturday, bar and lounge open daily.

Philz Coffee, multiple locations; coffee shop, open daily.

City Lights Books, 261 Columbus Avenue (Financial District North); bookstore, open daily.

Comstock Saloon, 155 Columbus Avenue (Financial District North); bar, open daily.

Katz Bagels, 3147 16th Street (Mission Dolores); bagels, breakfast and lunch daily.


About the Bartender: From learning the art of cocktail making from greats like Scott Beattie, to heading the cocktail program at renowned Aziza, Christopher Longoria has come a long way from his early experimental days in college. “I would turn my bookshelf around to make a makeshift bar top. I would sloppily slang simple drinks. Mai-Tais with pre-made mix, completely unbalanced Salty Dogs, all kinds of crazy college stuff. So bad!”

Longoria received an MFA in poetry and he performed at poetry slams across the country; in 1999, he made his first visit to San Francisco. He realized that performing poetry wasn’t as sustainable as he would have liked, so after attending a birthday party at Rohan Lounge, Longoria reached out to the owner and landed his first job behind the bar. He worked his way up from bar-back to manager, and while there, he realized the potential that bartending had in being a new form of expression for himself.

“POETRY IS THE BEAUTIFUL SMUDGE THAT BAFFLES THE STRAIGHT-LINED MINDS, A BALANCE AND MUSIC IN WHAT’S OUT OF ORDER. IT’S NEVER ESCAPING JAZZ. IT INFORMS EVERYTHING I DO AND HOW I INTERPRET THINGS. AND, OF COURSE, EXPRESS THINGS.”

When crafting a cocktail, Longoria carefully investigates individual ingredients, figuring out their greatest use in a drink. Many of the colors, aromas and ingredients he enjoys using now are those that are connected to childhood memories, whether they be spices he smelled often from his parents’ and grandmother’s kitchens, or fruits like cantaloupe, which he remembers his brother eating regularly during family road trips. Longoria says he’s grateful for the encouragement he receives from the San Francisco community, which keeps pushing him to perfection.

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