There is, perhaps, no better test of a bar's cocktail game than the traditional mint julep.
At Basalt, which opened its doors on Napa's burgeoning riverfront this past March, the classic cocktail comes out as it should, but rarely ever does—like an adult snow cone, piled high with finely crushed ice, a generous helping of mint, and a dusting of powdered sugar, made here with Napa's Amador wine-barrel-aged bourbon. It's an age-old way of doing things, but few bars these days have the equipment (or the inclination) to pull it off. Basalt's julep is one big bonnet away from Derby day.
So, it is little surprise that the long, well-stocked bar greets guests at Main Street's newest hot spot, where bar manager Jason LoGrasso, aka Buffalo, practices a true dedication to spirit-driven drinks. LoGrasso has honed his chops at some of San Francisco's most revered places of cocktail of worship—think Alembic, Rickhouse, Bourbon & Branch, and Quince—and he has a real gift for both elevating the classics and trademarking his own. To savor the full breadth of Buffalo's talents, we recommend taking a group and ordering the cocktail menu to share.
Mountain men will relish the pure maple flavor of candy cap mushroom sugar in LoGrasso's Foragers Old Fashioned, while salty types will like the black lava salt rim of the Tommy's Boy margarita. Sheer curiosity, meanwhile, led us to order the hot pink concoction a woman was sipping on the patio. While it may look like an overly sweet, hangover-inducing drink trend straight out of Sex in the City, the smoky mezcal highball with prickly pear soda is a one-two punch you'd never see coming.
Even dessert means drinks at Basalt: Adventurous types might want to give the Milk Punch a go—the classic New Orleans libation gets a spicy high-end twist here with Cognac, sweet cream, Creole bitters, and canela. For hipsters and coffee connoisseurs, the Nitro Cold Brew cocktail provides a winning jolt.
While Basalt could easily stand alone as a bar, it would be a shame to ignore the menu's real sustenance: Chef Esteban Escobar, formerly of SF's Town Hall, masters the season's best ingredients in Californian cuisine with Spanish and Mexican influences. Inventive combinations of fresh fruits and vegetables accompany each artfully plated dish, providing a vibrant contrast to the restaurant's modern, earth-toned interior.
Starters ($11-16) include a dish of red and yellow heirloom tomatoes in peach vinaigrette served with fried squash blossoms and creamy burrata cheese; and ratatouille-stuffed Monterey squid in a pool of black molé. The current summer menu offers seven sophisticated entrees ($23-35), including a pork tenderloin smoked and charred to perfection, topped with sweet-and-spicy peach-tomatillo salsa. While perfectly lovely, you may want to trade your date for the remarkably flavorful quail, whose juices happily meld with a brilliant mix of mushrooms, pluot, green bean ragu, and chorizo. Luckily, entrees are meant to be shared, especially among friends at the long communal table in the center of the dining room.
Reasonable portions promise just enough room for dessert: Don't miss the chocolaty XOCO profiteroles, served with a scoop of banana ice cream, a nostalgic sprinkling of caramelized Rice Krispies, and a gold-flecked goat's milk cajeta sauce for dipping. Hic! // Basalt, 790 Main St. (Napa), basaltnapa.com