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The Lure of House Made Drinks

February 8, 2011 By: Jack Robertiello


SpassoAt La Silhouette, a French restaurant recently opened in NYC, the wine menu gets most of the attention, but there are specialty seasonal cocktails available as well, including the signature La Silhouette (Ciroc Red Berry, rosé Champagne and Canton Ginger liqueur). At Spasso (Italian for “amusement”), a new, rustic restaurant in lower Manhattan, the drink program is designed to complement the menu and features classic Italian cocktails and spirits, with a particular focus on vermouths, aperitifs and digestifs; there are, for instance, the Carcciofo Americano made with Cynar, sweet vermouth and a lemon twist, and the Sage & Old-Fashioned, made with Elijah Craig 12-year Bourbon, sage-infused simple syrup, Angostura Bitters, orange bitters and an orange twist.

So what, you say? These two examples are types of restaurants that even five years ago would have probably opened with a cocktail menu written by a distributor, filled with drink names that had no relation to the concept. Operators of restaurants like these were once content with a list of flavored Martinis, Manahattans, Old-Fashioneds, Cosmopolitans, even Fuzzy Navels and the odd Godfather or some other relic of the 1970s, all having nothing to do with current trends or the restaurant’s place in the market – theme, cuisine, cultural ties and creativity, all ignored. That’s how thoroughly the cocktail has taken its place at most restaurants, and there are dozens of examples in my inbox each month of restaurants focused on a national or regional cuisine with little or no traditional cocktail culture that are grafting drinks onto their menus.

As new places open, very few with any wish for media coverage or buzz creation do so without house created cocktails whether they are any good is another story, of course, but the effort deserves some recognition. (I’m suspicious when reading a press release announcing a new place when it mentions cocktails in only one or two sentences, but at least they’re trying.) Most importantly, the bars at these places, while often a resting place for a bartender awaiting the next high-income gig, are also the training ground for the next generation of the curious foodservice professional who suddenly discovers an aptitude and a fascination with all things drink.

In that vein (international drinking), a recent re-opening in New York deserves a shout out: the folks from Ward III have resuscitated the Times Square area Rum House with an extensive whiskey collection and cocktails with an emphasis on, what else, rum - Dark & Stormys, Mai Tais and Rum Old-Fashioneds. Also in the mix are drinks employing the range of Italian amaros now showing up more and more on menus in the trend-setting cocktail geek joints. At Rum House, it’s the Cohan (Johnny Drum bourbon, Cocchi Americano, orange juice, egg white, bitters) and the Diego Rivera (Chinaco Blanco, Meletti, Bonal Gentienne and fresh lime), plus others employing Ramazzotti and even Branca Menta, the minty cousin of the bartender’s favorite Fernet. These ingredients offer a solution for bartenders who want to expand their bitter palate, but aren't interested in creating any more of their own ingredients, and they also offer true consistency in flavor and quality. Not a bad trade-off.


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