May 15, 2009

Are Eastern-inspired cordials the new frontier in cocktails—or a flash in the pan?Some new arrivals are making us wonder. Ty Ku is a sake-based liqueur that contains yuzu, plum, pomegranate, and ginseng; sip it over ice at Simon Kitchen & Bar (4455 Paradise Rd.; 702/ 693-4440) in Las Vegas. Qi Black Tea Liqueur, distilled from cedar-smoked Lapsang souchong tea from China’s Fujian province, has made a splash in San Francisco, where bartenders at Solstice (2801 California St.; 415/ 359-1222) mix it with bourbon, bitters, and fresh kumquats. And Soho, a lychee liqueur made from the fruit indigenous to southern China, sweetens up the lychee martini (white rum and sake) at Chicago’s Japonais (600 W. Chicago Ave.; 312/822-9600). Fine, but we draw the line at seaweed Cosmos.

Solstice

Located on California Street at Divisadero, the Solstice Restaurant & Lounge beckons diners with its name lit up in the window and a sun emblem. Inside the bustling restaurant, there are a high ceiling with fans, lots of windows, and bistro tables with chairs and round ottomans grouped on a hardwood floor. Chef Jorge, a native of Honduras, has crafted a seasonal Californian menu with touches of Latin America; popular items include the gorgonzola mac ‘n cheese with Granny Smith apples and chicken prosciutto. A cocktail menu has such options as the Solstice Margarita, made with cointreau, fresh lime, and el charro blanco.

Simon Kitchen & Bar

Japonais

Upon entering this modern Japanese restaurant, patrons are wowed by a Jeffrey Beers-designed interior adorned with a water wall, oversize mirrors, red leather chairs, and an undulating wooden ceiling hung with copper chandeliers. Visitors can dine at the sushi bar or head to the couch-filled lounge which opens onto a seasonal patio overlooking the Chicago River. As impressive as the restaurant's setting is the menu of traditional and contemporary Japanese dishes from executive chefs Jun Ichikawa and Gene Kato. Signatures include the lobster spring rolls and Le Quack Japonais: house-smoked duck with hoisin sauce, mango chutney, and moo shu wraps.

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