My husband had a root canal last week. When he got home, I handed him a couple of Tylenol and told him to put on a collared shirt. I was taking him somewhere that would help him feel better: Realm of the 52 Remedies.
"We are here to craft tonics for your ailments," says the Kearny Mesa cocktail bar’s Instagram page.
I didn’t tell him much about the bar—about the spice-filled, apothecary-like entrance or the interior décor that, in a December post, I described as "part Polynesian, part old Hanoi… something you might see in a classic Hollywood film set in some exotic locale." I wanted him to be surprised—and he was.
We were there to try to Realm’s new "omakase" cocktail tasting. Omakase, which means "I’ll leave it up to you" in Japanese, usually refers to a multi-course sushi meal in which the chef decides what to serve and the meal progresses from lighter to heavier fare.
Here, obviously, it’s cocktails. The concept gives Realm’s lead bartender, Chris Lee, a chance to show off his skills. Lee was trained at Seoul’s highly regarded Bar Old Fashioned, where there’s no menu. Instead, bartenders chat with customers to assess their mood and taste preferences. For the omakase menu, there’s some advance planning involved. You’ll need to reserve seats via email. (There’s room for up to four people.) Options are a four-cocktail tasting ($40 per person) or six-cocktail tasting ($60 per person). You’ll be asked about your likes, dislikes, and food allergies.
(Quick note: For any visit to Realm, reservations are highly recommended, especially on weekends.)
We tried the six-cocktail tasting, which might sound over-indulgent, but the servings are small-ish—just the right size, actually—and not too heavy on alcohol. You won’t be stumbling out of the bar.
Lee will start you off with something light and lower in alcohol—an aperitivo-style cocktail. For us, he made a spritz/Collins hybrid with Italicus (a newish, citrusy Italian liqueur that’s pretty amazing), the floral Ramazzotti Aperitivo Rosoto, dry gin, a Sauvignon Blanc syrup, and orange zest. It was a perfect starting cocktail: Bright, delicate, and fruity, yet with a dry finish.
Lee’s technique is impeccable. It’s a joy to watch him work. He carefully explained the choices he made for each cocktail and how the flavors and textures complemented each other. There wasn’t a bad cocktail in the bunch—each was exceptional. My favorite was probably Lee’s take on a White Russian, an elegant dessert-style cocktail made with St. George Spirits’ Nola Coffee Liqueur and Bruto Americano (St. George’s take on Campari), heavy cream, and Licor 43. Tied for second fave would be our first cocktail and our final cocktail. The latter was sublime, made with St. George California Shochu, Yuzuri—a yuzu liqueur that I plan to add to my home bar ASAP—Velvet Falernum, winter melon bitters, and lemon.
If you’re a cocktail fan, or want to know more about cocktails and interesting spirits, add this to your list of must-try experiences. As I always tell folks, San Diego’s best cocktail bars can compete with San Francisco’s, L.A.’s, New York’s, or Chicago’s, and Realm of the 52 Remedies, with Chris Lee at the helm, further proves this.
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