San Francisco is a brunch-lover's paradise (with the long lines to prove it), so it's no surprise that many of us enjoy kicking off a Sunday-morning repast with the tomatoey hangover helper known as the Bloody Mary. There are plenty of classic spots to snag one of these tasty treats in the city, from Zeitgeist to Zuni Cafe. (The Bold Italic even created a full rundown of the city's most beloved bloodies, along with diagrams of what's in 'em.) But given SF's concentration of mixology masters, the Bloody Mary recipe has remained somewhat sacrosanct: tomato juice, lemon, Worcestershire, horseradish. Experimentation? We'll save it for dinnertime, thanks.
Luckily for the adventurous, Bar Drake at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel intervened, hosting a "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" competition this past weekend that brought out the inner mad scientist in all of the participants. While there was no shortage of tomato juice and lemons (not to mention Square One Vodka, which served as the base spirit for all the drinks), the resulting cocktails came in a rainbow of colors: light red, dark red, yellow, green, brown, and clear.
Yup, you read that last one right. Arguably the most experimental bloody in the competition came from Oliver Lee of the Four Seasons, whose "Mary's Doppelganger" retained transparency thanks to the addition of on-trend tomato water. Though some purists grumbled about the heresy of a clear Bloody Mary, Lee ultimately won third place from the judges for his originality.
Adding Asian flavors to the mix was also a popular tack: Brian Deconnick of Scala's Bistro added Sriracha, yuzu, and wasabi to his Mary and garnished the rim with ground shiso, while Zero Zero's Tina Marie Brandelli turned in a jalapeno-based bloody with soy, tamari, and sesame oil. Arguably the strangest ingredient came from Matthew Harrison at Delarosa, who added fish oil to his appropriately named "Mare Rosso," or Red Sea. Though the result may sound less than appetizing, it had an appealingly briny flavor; as Harrison reminded us, a classic Mary addition is Worcestershire, which is partially made from anchovies. (And who couldn't use a few Omega-3s to get over a rough Saturday night?)
Many Bloody Mary drinkers consider the garnishes to be the best part of the drink, and the bartenders didn't disappoint. Scott Baird of the Bon Vivants, who took second place from both the judges and the audience, won plenty of fans with a generously filled toothpick of aged chorizo, while Dan Smith (Good Gracious Events) topped his drink with a yellow cherry tomato and a pickled quail egg. The rebel was Vincent Toscano of Rye, who chose to keep his drink both garnish- and ice-free. ("It keeps you from getting to the good stuff," he explained.)
This being the Bay Area, however, it turned out to be the ultra-fresh August tomatoes that stole the show. Smith's drink, made with the juice of yellow heirlooms, was fresh and sweet, while Bret Sylvester of Otis Lounge turned in a Bloody-Mary-as-green-juice drink that boasted green heirlooms and tomatillos. The clear favorite, though, was made by Jason "Buffalo" Lograsso of Cotogna, who incorporated all the right elements: ultra-fresh tomatoes, a funky secret ingredient (syrupy aged balsamic vinegar), a creative garnish (sea beans, whose brackish qualities worked perfectly in the drink), and a little bit of seasonal flavor (purple basil). His drink took both the public's and the judges' crowns, and judging by the rowdy cheers when his name was called, there are going to be a lot of heartbroken brunchers if Cotogna doesn't add it to their weekend menu. Bloody good? We certainly thought so.