An Unexpected Pleasure

A restaurant where drinking is the great adventure

Sometimes we love attention-getting behavior.

We found the food at Coqueta, Michael Chiarello's new Spanish restaurant, much like the dining room itself: pretty, but without a viewpoint. The drinks in the glass-walled bar, however, are another story.

Bar manager Joe Cleveland moved to San Francisco from Washington, D.C., where he worked for modernist-leaning chef José Andrés. His cocktail list nods to contemporary Spanish cuisine in all its guises and offers high entertainment.

At first sip, Cleveland's murky Revolution ($12) shocks: The "gintonic" is more watery than your standard G&T, and bubble-free. But the emptier the glass gets, the more you appreciate the complexity of the St. George Rye Gin, anise tonic and passion-fruit purée.

And we couldn't stay away from the "Modern Cocktails" section, where the special effects are legion. The Sun Never Sets ($11), for instance, crowns a sweet blend of añejo tequila, citrus liqueur and pineapple juice with a bruléed mezcal marshmallow.

The Pyrénées Snowball ($6), a cider-gin sorbet, is even showier. Frozen with liquid nitrogen, it is slashingly tart, haunted with spice, and oddly chewy. After a few bites, you discover that the crushed candy on top contains Pop Rocks.

It's a party trick too spectacular not to love.