Drink of the Week: Prince of Jalisco, Sanctuaria

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Dave Pullig, Wikimedia Commons
In less than a month Kitchen Nightmares returns to Fox. British chef Gordon Ramsay will again shout, "This is ah-pooooooool-ing! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" at struggling restaurateurs. About half of those unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of Ramsay's "advice" had a successful career in some other field and then threw their life savings after their dream of owning a restaurant. (No one just assumes that they can set a fractured arm or fly a 747. Why do people think that running a restaurant requires no specialized skill? ) The other half are industry people who have plenty of experience but lack desire: the son who grew up in a successful restaurant but whose heart isn't in it; the chef who built a thriving business but grew bored and complacent.

What you don't see are people who have expertise and passion -- career restaurant people who love what they do and do it well. People who run a place like Sanctuaria, a new tapas bar in Forest Park Southeast's Grove neighborhood.

When we pop in Sunday night for a nightcap just before the 10 p.m. closing time -- the chairs are already up on the tables -- we are warmly invited to join the handful of people sitting at the bar. Our bartender suggests one of their signature cocktails, the Prince of Jalisco, but also offers to make us something off-menu, the Clover Club. The latter predates prohibition. It is traditionally made with gin, raspberry syrup, lemon and egg white. Sanctuaria's version substitutes house-made hibiscus syrup for raspberry. Despite its girly pink color, the resulting drink is surprisingly dry and refreshing, with the velvety texture that egg white imparts when properly mixed.

The tapas and cocktail menus aren't trying to please every palate. Neither is the Day of the Dead-themed décor. The walls are black, broken up by mirrors that reflect the dim light from chandeliers and pillar candles. One elaborate gilt-edged mirror covers almost an entire wall; it faces a huge steel sculpture of a tree that hangs on the wall behind the bar. Our bartender tells us the sculpture came from a studio in Canada and arrived in three 500-pound pieces. Asked for directions to the bathroom, he says to go to the one on the left: "It's prettier. Look at the ceiling." A mural of dancing skeletons, in the brightly-colored Mexican folk art-style, is painted there.

The Prince of Jalisco is the evening's standout. Mixologist Matt Seiter developed the recipe while competing in the Iron Bar Chef competition in New York. (He was one of only six bartenders nationwide to participate). Our bartender begins by muddling some espresso beans. He shakes these, Milagro Resposado Tequila, crème de cacao and fresh orange and lemon juice with ice and then strains the drink into a cocktail glass. The resemblance to a margarita is hard to miss, though this is darker, more sophisticated, with flecks of espresso bean floating on the surface and a whisper of chocolate in the background. In this sense, it perfectly reflects its surroundings: something commonplace elevated with craft and attention to detail.

Alicia Lohmar is a south-city dweller and accomplished drinker, to which she credits her German ancestry and Catholic upbringing.
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