Sobre Mesa's namesake drink is smoked with cinnamon and nutmeg essence, and presented beneath a cloche for maximum drama. Photo by Eric Wolfinger. All images courtesy of Sobre Mesa

Dish By DishSan Francisco

A Guide to Downtown Oakland’s Sobre Mesa, in Six Cocktails

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Oakland  

If you haven’t already, say hello to Sobre Mesa, one of the most stylish and energetic bars to hit Downtown Oakland in a minute. The project comes care of chef Nelson German, of the nearby seafood-centric Alamar Kitchen and “Top Chef” fame. At Sobre Mesa, Nelson creates Afro-Latino small plates/tapas to pair with a fun array of specialty crafted cocktails.

In addition, the bar has created its own signature rum, a collaboration with Berkeley’s Mosswood Spirits, called Sobre Mesa Day Rum. It’s a mix of five rums from Florida, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Trinidad, and New Orleans. “It truly reflects who we are, and goes great with our cocktails,” German says. The rum is appropriately found in their signature cocktail, the Sobre Mesa; but they also offer nearly every other spirit to suit your spirit — see below for the full beverage breakdown.

The Sobre Mesa Day Rum, paired with roasted bone marrow.
The Sobre Mesa Day Rum, paired with roasted bone marrow.

1. Chan Chan

“The Chan Chan is a collaboration between bar consultants Susan Eggett, Alex Maynard and myself,” says Sobre Mesa chef/owner Nelson German.

A tropical highball inspired by the Canchánchara (a traditional Cuban cocktail made with aguardiente, a sugar cane distillate, stirred with honey and fresh lime), this version, with the addition of banana and spices, is shaken to lush, foamy perfection.

“Each ingredient is there to represent not just the Canchánchara, but one of my favorite desserts — rum cake with caramelized banana, cinnamon and honey,” German says.

As for the name of the drink, “Chan Chan” is a 1984 song by Cuban composer Compay Segundo, popularized in the 1990s when Segundo and other veteran Cuban musicians recorded a new version of the song as the Buena Vista Social Club. “Chan Chan” would go on to become the group’s signature song.

2. Sobre Mesa

The bar’s namesake cocktail is based on Mama Juana, a traditional drink from the Dominican Republic thought to have curative and aphrodisiac qualities. Although recipes vary, most include rum, red wine, and honey, steeped with “an incredible amount of leaves, roots and aromatics,” German says.

The tiki-fied version here starts with two types of rum (which includes the aforementioned collaboration with Mosswood Spirits), spiced honey, Yerba Mate (a spiced tea popular in parts of South America, made with the leaves and bark of the yerba mate plant), and ginger, “for sharpness to wake you up.”

Yet, few would sleep on this drink: it’s served in a tiki mug, topped up with ginger beer, and is presented beneath a glass cloche, as the drink is smoked with cinnamon and nutmeg essence for maximum aromatics — and drama.

“We bring it to the table and open it and spread the smoke around, it’s a ritual,” German explains. “The smoke bubble garnish is a nod to the tradition of enjoying Mama Juana with a cigar, and the tobacco smoke that would be in the air if you were sipping in the islands.”

3. El Tesoro Tequila Highball

While Toki Highball machines dispensing Japanese whisky mixed with carbonated water have become staples at many U.S. bars, Tequila highball machines aren’t yet standard issue.

“We have the only El Tesoro machine on the West Coast, with our partnership with El Tesoro and the parent company Beam Suntory,” says German. (Of note, Beam Suntory also is parent company to Toki.) “Pushing one button makes the perfect highball, it’s super fizzy, extra cold, and has the perfect amount of Tequila. You taste the Tequila, but it’s not overbearing.”

The machine creates a consistent, extra-chilled, “super refreshing” drink, which is then garnished with a straightforward grapefruit peel. “This is ideal for people who aren’t into fancy cocktails and who don’t want a lot of sugar,” German says. He likens the finished drink to a paloma or a hard seltzer.

The Chan Chan.
The El Tesoro Tequila highball.

4. Naked & Shameless

Created by bar lead Ashlee Costello, this smoky cocktail involves a collaboration between bar and kitchen.

“We do a fusion of the mezcal in the kitchen using the sous-vide technique,” German explains. “We infuse mezcal with fruit that comes in that’s bruised when it arrives from the farms.” The fruit changes with the season: at present, it’s sour cherry, but quince, mango, and green apple have been previous features. “We rotate the fruit often because we sell a lot of it.”

In addition to the fruit-infused mezcal, the aromatic drink includes sweet-tart passion fruit and spiced tiki bitters, giving a tropical feel.

“We want to showcase the sourness and sweetness of the ingredients,” German says. “The tiki bitters adds complex spices for the nose and finish, which has guava essence, coconut, allspice, vanilla, and cinnamon.”

5. Nutella Coquito

A decadent mash-up between a rum-based Caribbean cocktail and hazelnut spread, this drink channels a beloved holiday drink, but also a candy bar.

The drink starts with a mix of aged rums — Bacardi 4 year and a Puerto Rican rum, for caramel and vanilla notes —plus lime, coconut, allspice, nutmeg, and of course, Nutella, blitzed in a blender, and served in a coconut cup.

Lime isn’t a part of the traditional drink, German notes, except in Haiti. “Coquitos can be very sweet and heavy, we wanted to lighten it up,” he explains.

While lime makes it different from most versions, it’s the blend of coconut – a key ingredient to make the drink a Coquito – and Nutella that really makes the drink shine.

“Nutella Coquito really reminds me of enjoying Baby Ruth bars as a kid (almonds, coconut, chocolate),” German says. “When I drink this cocktail, it totally reminds me of my childhood love to Baby Ruth bars.”

6. Zombie Reviver #2

“This is a cocktail you want to have by the beach,” German says. Inspired by the classic Corpse Reviver cocktail, this fun variation has been on the menu since Sobre Mesa opened. Compared to the original Corpse Reviver #2 (gin, Lillet, lemon juice, Cointreau, plus an absinthe glass rinse), this is a tiki twist on the classic.

“Instead of Lillet, we go with a cream sherry,” German explains. “We use lime juice instead of lemon, pineapple to go tropical, and overproof rum.” Garnished with lavish amounts of mint, pineapple, and dried citrus, the end result is drink with “an island feeling to it.”