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Meet the Bartender: Jade Boyd

Curadero’s lead bartender talks mezcal and her inspiration for the new Mexican restaurant’s cocktails


Jade Boyd behind the bar at Curadero

You might assume Jade Boyd’s lived in San Diego—or somewhere near the Mexican border—her whole life. She speaks fluent Spanish and can talk at length about the nuances of agave spirits. And, as the lead bartender at Curadero, which replaced Saltbox at the Hotel Palomar, she’s come up with a menu that hits all the right notes and pairs perfectly with the restaurant’s coastal Mexican cuisine: fresh juices, lots of spice, and plenty of tequila and mezcal options. But Boyd’s still relatively new to San Diego, having moved here from Columbus, Ohio, three years ago. (“For the weather,” she says, “for the amazing weather.”)

Boyd's A.K.A. Silvestre

Her first gig was at Juniper & Ivy, under the mentorship of Eric Johnson. She left there in January to help launch Curadero, which officially opened last week. The menu’s clever and diverse—it’s a something-for-everyone menu. I loved the Salty Chancho, a tequila cocktail made with fresh mango juice, lemon, and Boy Drinks World’s spicy serrano bitters. It’s served straight-up with a housemade chicharrón on the side. Fans of fresh ginger and creative garnishes will like the A.K.A. Silvestre (mezcal, sweet vermouth, ginger, grapefruit, and mole bitters), served with a dried-scorpion lollipop balanced on top. Boyd’s favorite is the Piña Coquito, made with an addictive pineapple-coconut cordial. And, on my list to try next visit: Seed to Greens (Lustau Fino sherry, Vida mezcal, pecan orgeat, lime, cinnamon, and walnut bitters) and the Juniper Vera (gin, Chareau Aloe, blackberry, mint, honey, and lemon).

I chatted with Boyd last Friday afternoon as she got the bar ready for its first weekend.

What was your guiding philosophy for the menu?

I got hired and it was, OK, you start in three days. So, I started doing as much research as I could on Mexican flavors and looking at the plan for [Chef Brad Kragen’s] menu, what he was going to be using. I really wanted it to be approachable. Being new to this neighborhood and not really knowing what the clientele was going to be interested in, I wanted to keep it fresh, [use] a lot of fruit, and just make sure everything paired really well with the menu. The plan is to grow with the menu and grow with the neighborhood and these first two months, see what everybody’s into. We’re using a lot of great Mexican herbs and greens on the menu, so I really want to incorporate that on the next menu. Hoja santa is one I think is delicious—it’s a green that has anise and pepper notes to it. It’s really tasty.

Did the fact that this is a hotel bar factor into your menu decisions?

It did. I knew that whatever this neighborhood was in the mood for, we’ve also got to take into account that we have guests coming from all over the world. So, we wanted to have a nice mixture of drinks that are approachable and familiar, so, we’ve got the whole agave classics portion of the menu—Tommy’s margarita, palomas, micheladas—things that I know people are going to be familiar with if they’re not interested in some of these specialty cocktails.

What’s your favorite cocktail on the menu?

If I was going to do something sweet and fun, it would be the Piña Coquito. I love piña coladas and this is my ode to that. I’ve made a really nice pineapple-coconut cordial. On top is ground jamaica, so it adds great color. As it bleeds down, the drink will be beautiful.

What’s the most approachable cocktail on the menu?

I’d say the Piña Coquito if you’re in the mood for something tropical and fun, or the 5th Avenue, which is our version of a highball—a little citrus, some soda, some cucumber, vodka, and Luxardo. Very approachable, light, citrus.

What would you recommend to a more experienced drinker?

The Viceroyalty. It’s my play on chamoy, which is a really popular Mexican condiment. It’s used as a hot sauce and a topping on a lot of things. It’s very intense tamarind, so it’s sour, it’s sweet, it’s savory. I tried to pay it justice and I made a tamarind syrup. It’s super-spicy and aggressive and salty and sour. We’re pairing that with Pisco Porton, a little citrus, and then it’s got a fruit roll-up [garnish] made from chamoy and mango. That itself is spicy and sour. The flavor is so different, you really have to be in the mood to try something fun.

What’s your favorite spirit to work with?

All of them. As far as making cocktails, the spirit doesn’t matter to me—what matters is my end result. Is it for a concept-driven menu? Is it something specific for a guest that loves vodka or loves gin? Myself, I love drinking mezcal, neat. Or bourbon neat with a water on the side. I don’t really drink mixed drinks too often. I’m just a straight-spirit kind of girl.

What’s your favorite mezcal?

I would say the Del Maguey Pechuga [distilled with a chicken breast, fruit, and grain suspended in the still]. They’ve got a great Iberico [mezcal] out as well. It’s the exact same concept, but instead of the chicken breast, they’re using Iberico ham. When you drink it, up front it’s kind of sweet, but then as it finishes, you’ve got that same kind of fatty feeling in your mouth that you get when you get Iberico ham. It’s so interesting.

What would you say to someone who’s wary about trying a mezcal cocktail?

Tell your bartender you want something citrus, something lightly sweet. That’s going to give you a nice introduction to the smoke. Or just order a little copita [glass], and just take little sips and have a pineapple juice [on the side]. Here we have verdita and we have sangrita, which you can take little sips of as you go back and forth and it kind of cools and soothes your taste buds.

Just know that all mezcal is not the same and that they’re always going to be very different. It’s the one spirit that’s completely terroir-driven… You can really taste the terroir in tequila and mezcal. You’ll know as soon as you take a sip, did this come from the valley or did this come from the highland. The valley’s going to be richer, smokier; the highland mezcals and tequilas are going to be brighter, more floral, and they’re going to have a great acid that automatically makes your mouth start to water. Just have fun with it.

So, I ask every bartender this question: I wish people would stop asking for _____ and instead try _____.

I wish people would stop asking for my favorite cocktail and just try something they’ve never tried before.

When you’re not working, where would you go for a cocktail?

I like to go to Juniper & Ivy, my old stomping ground. I also like Ironside in Little Italy, Fifth & Rose at the Pendry [Hotel]—beautiful and amazing cocktails. And, of course, Polite Provisions. I was just there last night. The precision and speed that those bartenders work with there is amazing. It’s gorgeous and every single drink I get is always so perfectly balanced and thoughtful.

And when can folks find you behind the bar?

The schedule’s not finalized, but I will be here five nights a week. Generally I’m off on Sunday.

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

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