Considering I'm only 20 minutes away from downtown LA and its ever-burgeoning cocktail scene, going O.C. isn't really on the top of my mind when I feel like checking out drinks. But, as chance would have it, I had a (not-so) little road trip between going-ons in Huntington Beach and Culver City this past weekend and had some time to kill, so I decided to take a little pit stop in Seal Beach to swing by 320 Main, a newish restaurant & bar that Rumdood heartily (and repeatedly) recommended for some great sips.
More reassurance came when I checked out its cocktail menu. Sorry, beach tourists and college students -- you won't find the likes of appletinis or frozen-blended daiquiris here. The list here is a good mix of longstanding classics, both familiar (Mint Julep, Old Fashioned) and a bit more esoteric (Tequila Daisy, Rum Swizzle), alongside with complex & contemporary creations.
Being no stranger to most of the classics, I opted to try one of their signature cocktails, Sweet Bricia ($12,) named after the fun-loving Bricia Lopez of Pal Cabron. Made with mezcal and tequila, creme de cassis, apricot liqueur, citrus and nutmeg - shaken and served over crushed ice, it was a provocatively delicious cocktail, with so many different flavors working together: the citrusy tang, a fruity fragrance from the apricot and currant liqueurs, with a smidge of nutmeg spice against a slightly-smoky foundation of the mezcal-tequila base. And at the same time, even with so many diverse components, it didn't feel like there was too much going on in there ~ as a matter of fact, it was so simply refreshing and quaffable I sucked the entire cocktail down in a matter of minutes. And yes, I totally forgot take a photo of the drink itself -- but at least I did get one of owner Jason Schiffer preparing it.
Next, I asked Jason to choose my next drink, and he opted for The Devil's Own ($11,) a sinful concoction made with Zaya rum, Fernet Branca, Gran Gala, vanilla syrup, absinthe and lemon essence. Sweet smelling and heavier bodied, this drink tasted good but I felt iffy about it in the middle of a summer afternoon... the richer texture and the warmer flavors gave the drink manhattan-ish quality that makes it more appropriate for an evening cocktail, perhaps before dinner or as a nightcap.
Picking up on that hint, Jason made me a Mai Tai ($10,) with their housemade orgeat and based on Trader Vic's recipe. So refreshing and way more in tune with the beach season, and definitely better than the one I tried at Don the Beachcomber's on a recent urban hike.
To help me wash down all that alchy, I also got their happy hour bruschetta ($4) - three long and thick slices of garlic-rubbed and grilled French bread topped with chopped roma tomatoes, basil and parmesan cheese shreds and a balsamic drizzle. Just like the two cocktails I wound up drinking, a warm-weather appropriate bite that's flavorful and not too heavy (though I would've actually ordered something more substantial if I wasn't already planning on a Le Saint Amour dinner shortly later that day.)
And as I settled my bill (and discovered Jason comp'd one of my drinks, thanks!) and took a stroll down Seal Beach, I'm already making a mental note to come back to check out more from their food and drink menu. From what I had so far, 320 Main definitely holds its own against the cocktail-forward bars of L.A. (and I even say better than some of them) and maybe with time, O.C. can carve out its own unique drinking (and dining) identity and not be thought of as L.A.'s second fiddle.
What Do Others Say?
- LA Times' Daily Dish considers it a "new address to remember for anyone interested in cocktails."
- OC Weekly's blog calls it " great place to get both the classics from the Age of the Cocktail. . . and new inventions created by mixologists with good palates."
- The Press-Telegram found "the service at 320 Main was excellent and enveloping . . . prices are a bit high for this area, but . . . they're reasonable for the quality of food and service."
- Thirsty in LA highlighted the Bricia-inspired drink here & at other local bars.
320 Main Street
Seal Beach, CA 90740