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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Does Universal Cafe Mix the Best Bloody Mary in S.F.?

Posted By on Tue, Jul 6, 2010 at 3:18 PM

A richer, more nuanced spectrum of flavors than the usual hell guzzle. - RSUN78/FLICKR
  • rsun78/Flickr
  • A richer, more nuanced spectrum of flavors than the usual hell guzzle.
A few weeks ago, we were strapped into a leather seat on an eastbound jet, watching a World Cup game on a television the size of a postcard. Our neighbor, a shy 10-year old, kept leaning over to his left to sneak peeks at the action. We made some small talk. He and his younger brother divided their time between Anchorage and Louisville. His father, a trombonist, occupied the seat in front of us and pored over staff papers for the entire flight. The kid had a sweet, slightly defeated air ― and a cowboy hat he'd purchased at the Denver airport between flights. When the drinks cart came around, he asked for tomato juice. "We don't have that," said the flight attendant. "You can have V-8 juice or Bloody Mary mix." "What's Bloody Mary mix?" he asked. "You should get it," we interjected. "You'll like it. It's a little spicy." It's also better with vodka, but we kept that to ourselves.

Arriving back in San Francisco, five days later, 12 hours late, on the heels of a canceled flight, a delay, and a missed connection, we still had Bloody Mary mix on the brain. At a restorative brunch at Universal Café, we impulsively asked for one to pair with a sauce-drenched shredded-beef sandwich with horseradish cream, watercress, and buttermilk-fried onion rings. Sake, not stomach-searing vodka, flows through Universal's version of the classic pre-noon libation ($9).

Along with alcohol content, heat dips accordingly, clinging faintly to the edge of each sip, a whisper in support of a richer, more nuanced spectrum of flavors: the fresh, acidic tomato, the hint of anchovies, perhaps soy, lemon, and a healthy band of salt rimming the glass. Fantastic house-pickled Cherry Bomb peppers (we think) and neat, shaved baby carrots bob atop the ice cubes. It's a kinder, gentler cocktail, and after downing thousands of unbalanced, dangerously molten and booze-laden renditions at brunches and barbecues over the years, a welcome change.

Universal Café 2814 19th St. (at Bryant), 821-4608.

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Andrew Simmons

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