Hilltop Kitchen releases new food and cocktail menus

By Ron Swarner on October 9, 2013

When the Monsoon Room opened in 2005, the exotic cubbyhole on Hilltop Tacoma ignited a craft cocktail slow burn. Those who drank neon-blue slushy drinks and giant martinis found the Monsoon mixology of Laura Malone and Jeff "Kansas" McIlvain a breathe of fresh mint. All races, creeds, colors, income levels, suits and sandals nestled into the dimly-lit, South Pacific-themed speakeasy, discussing rums and city ruins over old concoctions made new again. Chris Keil, a bartender by way of a crazy story, was tending door at the time. Given three steps, his managerial run was cut short by the Monsoon's closure in 2008. Time warp to March 29, 2009, when the 1022 South opened in the same spot, but with Keil shaking the shaker and inspiration from the Emerald City gastropubs. The rest of the story is cocktail lore: Keil and his Rob Roy Robin Corey Lund go Thomas Edison on cocktails, make a name for themselves, the bar and our drinking town. Today, Keil and business partner, Matthew Schweitzer, stand tall as a cocktail spoon around the corner at the Hilltop Kitchen.

And Kitchen it is, although its Latin-inspired cuisine has been "just a taste" says Keil since its summer opening. This week, the food menu increases tenfold with a complete cocktail menu change, carried out on trays beneath the exposed beams and placed on its the dark wooden tables.

Keil hasn't been tending as much as he's been teetering the past several weeks. He's been in the back playing tag with the kitchen staff, passing cocktail and dish creations back and forth, fine-tuning the next wave.

"Creating the whole new menus from scratch is a lot of work, but we have a lot of fun putting them together," says Keil.

At the end of last week, he looked exhausted and exhilarated in equal parts.

"I'm really excited about the new food menu; it's comprised of more substantial, heartier dishes," says Keil. "Look for more tacos, seasonal soups, a warm salad or two, and a couple more large plates. We'll also change up the snacky bar food a bit as well."

Keil watched me sample an early rendition of The Pear Salad. I don't think he's seen someone scrap at a plate more frantically trying to grasp the last morsel of caramelized pears, sautéed rainbow chard, toasted almonds, and shallots, served over a potato parsnip puree and served with a six-minute egg. Seriously, out of this world.

>>> Rome Plow

I sampled two drinks off the new cocktail menu. The Rome Plow is a dark delight of Jamaican rum, maple crema de mezcal, walnut and Rogue bitters. The second, Indecision, is a bigger drink with Dutch Negroni, bourbon, Punt e Mes and IPA. The IPA is forward. It's what I like to call a long drink, meaning it's something you can sip on for a while.

Hilltop Kitchen, offers more than just cocktails, of course. It has an impressive list of scotches, bourbons and rums. HK also has a rotating list of craft beers on tap, with wine and bubbly by the glass or bottle.

Whether it's the friendly greeting from your bartender, a conversation with a complete stranger, an escape from your daily grind or just a place that makes you feel like you belong, a great bar can be the heartbeat of its community. Hilltop Kitchen is all that in spades ... topped with smoked demerara salt, mole bitters and lime oil.

HILLTOP KITCHEN, 3-7 p.m. $6 drinks happy hour, open to 1:30 a.m., 913 Martin Luther King Way, Tacoma, 253.327.1397

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First bite and sip at Hilltop Kitchen