Vibrant and full of laid-back energy, mixologist Carin Larson greets you at Saltbox with the familiarity of an old friend. Chicago-transplant Larson brings sophistication and palate-elevating cocktails to the Gaslamp bar on Fifth Avenue that has a decidedly New York feel,
Along with her killer team of wizard bartenders, Larson curates a mouthwatering list of inventive and -- more importantly -- delicious cocktails for every palate. Whether you are a diehard wine drinker or a whiskey lover, there is a drink to pique your interest.
Larson's lightbulb moment came years earlier at Sable Kitchen, a Chicago location known for craft cocktails. Mixologist Mike Ryan, one of her biggest influences, "made me a daiquiri, and it was one of the best drinks I ever had. He said to me, 'It's all about your ingredients."
Taking that philosophy to heart, Larson embarked on a mission to use the freshest and best ingredients she could find for creating drinks. Working in Chicago for 10 years, Larson sharpened her skills at Sixteen, the Michelin two-star restaurant in the Trump Tower. Under the tutelage of mentor Chrystal Thomas, Larson honed her passion and love for creating cocktails.
The first cocktail she invented was the Caliente Cooler (sounding wonderfully San Diegan) with fresh pressed watermelon and jalapeño, Hendrick's Gin and St. Germain. Today at Saltbox, she continues to use fresh ingredients with palate-perking elements like sage-infused cranberries, maple foam and pinot noir reduction.
Looking for a new start, Larson moved to San Diego and began at Saltbox in April 2014. In her position as lead bartender, she collaborates with her team of four other bartenders. Brainstorming and bouncing ideas, Larson and her colleagues experiment and create, with Larson making the call on the final list.
The Nino Noir, a specialty of Larson's, is a wine lover's dream. A perfectly refreshing poolside cocktail, this nod to film noir is made with gin, aperol, pinot noir reduction and prosecco. Served in a coupe glass with a lemon peel, just put on your Jackie O sunglasses and enjoy on a San Diego afternoon. You will want more than one.
The Outsageous, a truly divine mix of vodka, sage-infused cranberries, and sage liquor, elevates the vodka/cran to all new heights. Seriously, readers, try this. Thank you, Vivian!
For those whiskey diehards, Larson's Bend n Snap is your hands down nightcap cocktail. Made with Buffalo Trace, Snap liquor, amaro, bitters and a whole egg, it is the ultimate way to end your evening out.
(Other recommendations: Sunday in Manhattan and Wake-n-Bake)
If you haven't made your way to Saltbox yet, get your cocktail-loving self over and say hello to Carin. Thank me with every sip you take.
With 15 years in the restaurant and beverage industry and more than 700 reviews under her belt, Laurie Delk is a one-stop guide to all things craft beer, wine and spirits. You can follow Delk on Twitter @100beers30days or Instagram @sandiegobeer. Send ideas for featured drinks to firstname.lastname@example.org.