The quasi-Francophiles that we are, on the occasion of Bastille Day, we made haste down the carpeted stairwell of the historic Villa del Sol that leads to the subterranean The Cellar Restaurant — known widely for their decadent and authentic French cuisine. With luxurious escargot and lobster bisque on our minds, we were delighted to discover that cocktails inspired by The Quarter in New Orleans were also being featured.
Behind the counter, we came upon guest bartender Ricky Yarnall who was already setting up his prep and accoutrements at the early supper hour of 5pm. Properly suited in the mode of attire so de riguer in mixology circles, he shunned all our preconceptions of snobbery as soon as we began chatting with him. Although his favorite drink is a Classic Martini (stirred not shaken; made with gin not vodka, vermouth and bitters) he assured us that he is not one of those uptight, pretentious purists that are oftentimes so utterly insufferable.
I’m here to make you whatever you want. I don’t care what it is, I have no judgement whatsoever. You want a vodka cranberry? I’ll make you the best vodka cranberry you’ve ever had in your life.
Completely jovial and affable, he introduced us to the libations he was presenting as an homage to Tales of the Cocktail happening this week in New Orleans. He described the event as the industry equivalent of the Oscar Awards. However, this huge convocation involves not only the best bartenders across the nation, but those from all over the world. Since he was unable to attend this time around, Yarnall thought to bring some of the festivity’s flavors to The Cellar.
Here are the three beauties that we happily sampled:
La Louisiane - Rye, Cognac, Benedictine, Absinte and Peychaud’s bitters
At first sip the pastis bathes your mouth with a licorice warmth, then as you swallow the rye hits the back of your tongue nicely with a hint of the bitters. This southern belle is rich and voluptuous with cascading layers of complexity mixed with sin.
NoLa Sour - Rye, Benedictine, Lemon Juice, Egg White and Peychaud’s bitters
The perfect affair of sweet and tart. The frothy, foamy texture from the egg white renders this flip smooth on the palate. Peychaud is meticulously eye-dropped to create a beautiful webbed effect on the milky canvas.
Dandy Redux - Cognac, Benedectine, Champagne, Lemon Juice
Every now and then you want to flirt with the fancier side of life. This champagne cocktail is bright and effervescent with an undeniable air of sophistication. A kissing cousin of the French 75, it sings prettier with the added depth of Benedictine, a venerable herbal liqueur.
Prior to meeting Yarnall that evening, it was unbeknownst to us that he is somewhat of bartender royalty. A bonafide statesman of the OCBC (Orange County Bartender’s Cabinet), he convenes regularly with such mix and pour hotshots as Jason Schiffer, Gabrielle Dion, and David Valiante. Clearly, he’s come quite a way from his amateur days participating in cocktail flair competitions in Las Vegas.
Having started fresh at Matador Cantina, he navigated the cocktail circuit in both Orange and Los Angeles counties. His steep ascent has included such notable stints at Broadway by Amar Santana (Laguna Beach) as well as Bar and Kitchen, La Descarga, Harvard and Stone, and The Parish (all in Los Angeles) to name but a few.
This month Yarnall has come full circle to return to his former stomping grounds of Downtown Fullerton. Gracing The Spirit Room in The Cellar just one more time this Sunday, make sure to come by and welcome him home before he bids us adieu again. Don’t miss the opportunity to treat yourself to his themed libations above or any of this legendary establishment’s many classically crafted gems.
All photography: Brian Feinzimer of Feinzimer Photography
The Cellar Restaurant
305 N. Harbor
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