The Negroni

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At the bar of Michael Symons’s Lola in Cleveland, Ohio, I first encountered the Negroni.

Michael Ruhlman, who was there to participate in a segment we were shooting for Food Network online, ordered the drink and I asked him about it. “It has Campari,” he told me, “gin and sweet vermouth.” I ordered one too and when it came I assumed, because of the bright red color, that it would be sweet. I was very, very wrong.

Since that moment, when I’ve seen a Negroni on a bar menu, I’ve ordered it. Most people don’t know about it (“What did you just order?” is a common response) but when it comes, they’re usually impressed. Or at least curious. “Is it sweet?” “Try it,” is the proper response to that.

What I’ve grown to really like about it is the complexity: yes, because of the Campari, it’s quite bitter. But then the sweet vermouth cuts that and the gin thins it out. Before a meal, it’s a great palate cleanser: the bitterness is almost astringent, it’s so intense.

If you live in New York, the best Negroni I’ve encountered is at iSodi in the West Village. That’s where Craig took me for my birthday and they have an entire menu of Negronis (if you load up their website, the main image is a picture of a Negroni.) The waiter can recommend one for beginners (it’s slightly sweeter) and one for Negroni veterans (it’s even more bitter). Or, for traditionalists, they have a very traditional Negroni.

Last weekend, our friends Patty and Lauren cooked us dinner, and guess what they served up for cocktails?

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As far as cocktails go, the Negroni couldn’t be easier. It’s equal parts Campari, gin and sweet vermouth. You don’t even have to shake it, you can just stir it together over ice. (Proof: this recipe on Chow.) Garnish with some orange peel and you’ve got one bitter, slightly sweet, deeply complex cocktail to serve to adventure-seeking dinner guests.

I think it’s become my favorite drink.

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