Edit ModuleShow Tags

Pacific Standard Brings Thoughtful Cocktails to Little Italy

Dino Balocchi’s menu has something for everyone, including some unexpected twists


Published:

Pacific Standard's Cantalupo cocktail. | Photo: Audrey Ma

Everything told me I shouldn’t like Pacific Standard: 1.) The Little Italy restaurant and bar is located in a Hilton hotel—and rarely are chain-hotel bars cool. 2.) The owners brought in a dude from L.A. to create the cocktail menu.

Shame on me for jumping to conclusions.

True, Dino Balocchi, who came up with Pacific Standard’s menu, lives in L.A. But he has solid cocktail-making cred, having honed his skills at Longman & Eagle, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago, before moving west to help open littlefork and Dirty Laundry in L.A. He got the Pacific Standard gig through a friend, Paul Pruitt, founder of L.A.-based restaurant consulting firm New School. Balocchi had worked with Pruitt on a couple of other projects, so when Pruitt was looking for someone to come up with a cocktail menu, he asked Balocchi if he’d be interested.

A key challenge for any cocktail consultant is making sure the bartending staff can execute that menu. I’ve seen enough instances where a restaurant spends a lot of money on a consultant, but the staff can’t pull it off. That’s not the case here. Balocchi’s team includes bartenders from respected spots like Seven Grand and Kettner Exchange. His lead bartender, Ryan Baldwin, is a former chef who decided to take a break from the kitchen and give bartending a try.

The Dock & Tai. | Photo: Audrey Ma

“He’s really stepped up his game and brought that [culinary] knowledge to the bar,” Balocchi said.

Balocchi’s goal was to create a menu with multiple entry points—and he’s definitely succeeded. There are easy-drinking options like the Cantalupo, one of Balocchi’s favorites. It’s a tequila-based cocktail that, as the name suggests, includes cantaloupe purée—a flavor you don’t often find in cocktails—plus Punt e Mes sweet vermouth and fennel bitters to add depth and dimension.

The menu’s also filled with unexpected twists: in the Oaxacan Old Fashioned—my favorite—Balocchi replaced the usual agave sweetener with just a touch of Green Chartreuse and, instead of mole bitters, a chocolate-y creme de cacao liqueur. The Dock & Tai, a take on a Mai Tai, includes a tasty housemade pistachio orgeat instead of the traditional almond orgeat. It’s served in a milk jar and topped with a generous sprig of mint that’s spritzed with absinthe. The scent’s almost as intoxicating as the drink.

“We wanted to make sure we touched different bases without losing the fun of it,” Balocchi said. “It’s got to be interesting to me before it’s even an interesting concept. That’s probably one of the biggest challenges—trying to balance where my interests are and then also making sure that people who are just now starting to become curious about [craft cocktails] aren’t left out in the cold.”


Got suggestions for a future post? Write to 2kellydavis@gmail.com.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

Owl Farm's Offbeat Beer Styles Attract 'Novice' Beer Drinkers

An unfamiliar brand has a familiar company behind it

Checking in with You & Yours Distilling Co.’s Laura Johnson

The San Diego ‘distillerista’ is creating new spirits and making a name for herself

3 New and Notable Brewery Spots in San Diego

Oceanside adds a brewery and two previous locations are reimagined
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Sponsored

AquaVie: 10 Reasons It’s Downtown’s Best Kept Secret

The best workout and spa getaway around? It’s actually right underneath your nose.

Enter a Drawing You Could Actually Win

There are more than 1,700 prizes in the Dream House Raffle
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Personal Stories are on Display at the Museum of Man's 'PostSecret'
    Frank Warren collects deep, dark secrets for this community arts project
  2. The Best Burgers in San Diego
    These burgers are food critic Troy Johnson's finalists for the best in San Diego
  3. The Best of North County 2018
    Our annual list of what we’re loving above the 56, from bites and brews to shopping, wellness, and arts and kids’ activities galore
  4. San Diego's Best Restaurants 2018
    Dig into the 260 winners defining San Diego’s food scene in 2018
  5. Your 2018 San Diego Summer Bucket List
    Here’s our insider’s guide for Memorial Day through Labor Day
  6. 16 Great Places to Go Camping in Southern California and Baja
    We’ve rounded up sites with the best ocean views, mountain peaks, and desert landscapes
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module