With Amaro on the rise as an ever-popular Italian digestif, there’s a kindred French spirit worthy of the spotlight, but yet to be discovered: Chartreuse. And in San Francisco, the place to become acquainted with the centuries-old liqueur is at Potrero Flats restaurant, The Morris. Originally intended for medicinal use and eventually adapted as a beverage for its delicious taste, Chartreuse is an obsession for veteran sommelier and owner Paul Einbund. In fact, he stocks one of the largest collections in the country. That’s why, throughout Resy’s Off Menu Week, Einbund and his chef Gavin Schmidt are getting creative, incorporating it into limited-run dishes and demonstrating the spirit’s range in all manner of beverages.
Famously produced by Carthusian Monks in Voiron, a town in southeastern France, Chartreuse comes in two strains (yellow and green) and is most commonly enjoyed as an after-dinner digestif. Einbund first fell in love with the vegetal spirit just over 20 years ago, but remembers that first sip like it was yesterday: The now-retired President of the Chartreuse liquor company, Jean Marc Roget, paid a visit to Los Angeles’ Water Grill, where Einbund was working as a sommelier. “Back then, you’d be hard-pressed to find even a cocktail with Chartreuse. It had faded from our collective memory,” he says. But when Roget gave Einbund a taste of the VEP, which stands for Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolongé and translates to “exceptionally prolonged aging,” he was astonished. “I made him repeat the whole story about how there are only two monks that know the recipe, there are 130 herbs and plants, [the monks] thought it was a Fountain of Youth, so they took it very slowly…” Einbund recalls, excitedly. Chartreuse improves with age, and this extremely rare batch had been barrel-aged for almost fifteen years, creating a soft, rich, and complex spirit.
Not long after, Einbund was on a trip to Europe when he found a Spanish bottling of Chartreuse—sparking an insatiable curiosity by the sommelier to discover even more about the elusive spirit: “The more I learn about Chartreuse, the more I want to learn about it. I think that’s why I love it so much, there is always something new; there’s no one that knows much about Chartreuse,” Einbund says.
Fast-forward to 2016, and Einbund was opening his first restaurant, The Morris, with chef Gavin Schmidt. The duo had set out to craft a menu that complements the unique collection of wine and spirits that Einbund had amassed over the years—but including his favorite spirit, too. The result is dishes that are flavor-forward and at times decadent, yet still approachable. “It’s what we envision a neighborhood restaurant to be,” Einbund shares. “Casual and comfortable, with big plates of tasty food that’s super wine-friendly,” he adds. At The Morris, there’s something for everyone: house-made charcuterie, brioche served with various types of caviar, hearty nibbles like fried pork cracklings and mains inclusive of smoked whole duck, plus inventive vegetarian offerings—all thoughtfully developed to work in concert with Einbund’s 61-page beverage list.
The beverage program is The Morris’ “X factor,” as Einbund puts it. Due to his extensive experience as a sommelier in acclaimed restaurants, such as Frances and Coi, Einbund is keen on offering a global selection of wines at all prices, organizing his menu with a friendly dose of guidance (as in “crazy bright, crisp, mineral-driven burgundy” or “medium-bodied, spicy, earthy wines”).
To round out the beverage offerings, the menu also encompasses an array of spirits and digestifs, including a noteworthy selection of Madeira, and, of course, Chartreuse—his self-proclaimed ‘desert island’ drink. Thus, diners at The Morris have a wealth of opportunities to enjoy it: as a frozen slushy, in mixed cocktails, and his personal favorite—chilled, served from a Zalto glass, for sipping post-meal. For guests who decide to enjoy Chartreuse as a digestif, there are over 30 varieties to choose from, including a VEP Green infused with black truffle. “Some friends in the industry [warned] me: ‘Yeah, yeah, put your collection on the menu, it’ll be a curio, it’ll be fun, but you’re not going to sell it,’” Einbund remembers. In reality, The Morris sells vintage Chartreuse almost every night.
Much to Einbund’s delight, the liqueur has even seeped into The Morris’ food menu. When the restaurant first opened, he pitched Schmidt on incorporating booze into the cooking. The chef politely declined, but eventually warmed up to the idea. A signature dish is a grilled quail number that Schmidt finishes by deglazing the pan with Chartreuse, adding an herbal note. The Morris is offering it for Off Menu Week, along with an olive oil cake served with strawberries soaked in the liqueur, plus whipped cream infused with it.
Another Off Menu Week experiment, sans the beloved spirit but still appropriately original, is a lamb pate that Schmidt creates using massaman curry from nearby restaurant, Kin Khao. Chef-owner Pim Techamuanvivit recently gifted some to Einbund on his birthday, to enjoy with his team as a family meal. There was so much left over that Schmidt started to experiment with it, ultimately producing a gamey spread that fuses the two restaurants’ strong suits: charcuterie and Thai curry. “It’s so much fun because the idea of community is so huge for us,” Einbund says. “Almost everything in the restaurant comes from within a very small radius of the restaurant; that this curry is actually being made within a couple blocks from [The Morris] and we’re partnering with our good friends to make this completely unique and utterly delicious dish, is really [special].”
The playful dishes offered during Off Menu Week afford diners the opportunity to try the beverage in all its unique applications, in addition to how Einbund believes it should be enjoyed. “Even the regular, entry-level Chartreuse is worthy of sipping and savoring,” the restaurateur holds. Next time you visit The Morris, call for Einbund, ask for a recommendation, and cherish the dedication put forth by the Carthusian Monks of Voiron, France.