Cesar Sandoval is the bar manager at one of San Diego’s newest and most exciting restaurants, Il Dandy. He spoke to us about directing the Calabrian restaurant’s bar menu, letting the quality and ingredients of the cocktails shine, and working closely with the chefs to make sure the bar menu reflects the values and techniques of Italian cuisine.
Was there any specific moment or experience that made you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in the beverage industry?
It really started with me as a young kid helping my mom set up for parties and dinners that she would host at the house. Eventually, it grew into me “bartending” at high school parties. Very simple two to three-ingredient cocktails, but I always preferred to pour the drinks than consume them. I was always behind the table, bar or anything else makeshift that you see at high school parties. Eventually, at 15 I started my hospitality journey as a host and worked my way up all these years later.
You are a first-generation American and have strong roots from Ciudad Juárez Mexico – does your culture and heritage impact your style when it comes to mixology/bartending?
I think it’s influenced me to care, love, and respect people as much as what you put in the glass. The love factor is just as important as any other ingredient. It has also been the reason why I admire and love agave spirits so much. I already see a lot of cool things that Mexican bartenders are doing, but there is still much more to learn. I hope to be able to make a difference by teaching and learning with my fellow Mexicanos.
What was your approach to creating the bar program at Il Dandy?
The general approach was to keep the simplicity and quality of ingredients, which is what Italian cuisine is all about. All of our cocktails were developed to please all types of moods and cravings.
How are you incorporating the culinary vision of Il Dandy’s chefs into the bar menu?
We are using the same scratch methods that Chefs Antonio and Luca use — incorporating Italian and California ingredients, going with a seasonal menu and using techniques that were taught by Chef Antonio. Modern Italian cuisine, just like the drinks, is all about simplicity and the freshest ingredients. Like in our “Running Wilde” we wanted to add flavor, but not so much sugar so we added rosemary, thyme, dill, a small amount of sugar and water and sous vide it for 2 hours at 65°C. It ended up bringing the whole cocktail together and making it come alive.
Do you have an all-time favorite or go-to drink or cocktail?
Not necessarily. It usually depends on the time of day and what bar or restaurant I’m at. A well-made Daiquiri, New York Sour, and Negroni are always amazing.
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to have a career in bartending?
I would advise to take it slow and master every position that takes to run a successful bar. In society today where everything is about instant gratification, everyone thinks “bartending is cool, I’m gonna do it.” Everyone always wants to skip steps and go straight into it. But, to be a great bartender you first have to be a great barback. I’ve been bartending for 11 years now and there is still room to grow. Take the initiative, learn why drinks work a certain way, read books and ask questions.