Toasty Toasts

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Photo by Anna Wick

Ponche Navideño

Nostalgia knows no borders, but still Midtown’s Cantina Alley’s bar director Oscar Escobar was surprised when a convoy of four Mexican-American couples drove all the way from Galt to sample his authentic Ponche Navideño (Christmas punch) after reading about it on Facebook. The group swooned over the mulled fruit concoction, traditionally served during the holidays in Mexico—virgin for the kids, with a dash of the hard stuff on the side for Santa. “They said, ‘Oh, it’s just how my mom used to make it,’ ” says Escobar. “That’s what we do—we try to serve not just drinks, but journeys.”

The ponche is made by boiling down guavas, apples and crabapple-like tejocotes with dried hibiscus, tamarind, cinnamon and sugar for a comforting beverage with fruit-forward complexity. At the cantina, the spike-able libation is ladled into a clay mug and served with sticks of sugar cane for stirring (and chewing on). Despite its Christmas connection, Escobar plans to keep a 10-gallon pot brewing on the stove through the end of February. “The bigger the pot, the better the flavor,” he says, recommending a shot of tequila or smoky mescal on the side if you want the drink to pack a real, um, ponche. $4-$10 based on choice of alcohol. 2320 Jazz Alley. 916-970-5588. cantinaalley.com Jessica Rine