Discovering Amaro

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Recently, the L.A. restaurant Sotto invited me in to experience their new cocktail menu. Having been to Sotto before I knew I couldn’t just go there for cocktails, the food is too good. So I made an actual reservation and while the restaurant comped two cocktails (I had the grapefruit-y Modest Mouse with Espolon reposado tequila, Averna, Punt e Mes, Angostura orange bitters, Pamplemousse rose, and grapefruit oil; Diana, my date for the night, had the lovely Swept Away with Martin Millers Westbourne strength gin, Saler’s gentiane, Nardini amaro, Benedictine, and house orange bitters) the alcoholic highlight, by far, was the Amaro they let us try at evening’s end.

Here’s Diana with her Swept Away. Cheers!

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And here’s some of the food that we ate. Excellent bread with HEAD CHEESE:

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Charred little gem salad (little gem lettuce is all the rage here in L.A.):

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House-made pasta with braised lamb:

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Spicy broccoli pizza:

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Now you understand why we had to eat the food too.

Just as we were getting ready to go, one of the head bartenders (was his name Nick?) came over with the three bottles you see at the top of this post. He talked about the restaurant’s “Amaro program” and I just nodded along as if I knew all about Amaro programs, as if I couldn’t fathom a restaurant that didn’t have an Amaro program. But when he asked if I’d ever had Amaro before, I had confess I didn’t think I had.

“A lot of it can be really off-putting,” he said. “Some of it’s really bitter.”

“Oh once I had this really foul stuff called Fernet Branca.”

“That’s an Amaro.”

“Ugh! It tasted like tar.”

“Well Amaro is actually a medicine,” he explained. “It was usually used for its medicinal properties.”

At this point I kind of checked out because I hated Fernet Branca so much. Then he poured us our first glass of Amaro (a tiny little thimbleful) and I sipped.

“Whoah!” I said. “That’s really good.”

Of those three bottles you see at the top, he started with the one all the way on the right, which I think tasted like licorice. The one in the middle I don’t remember. But the one on the left–Zedda Piras Mirto de Sardegna–was my absolute favorite. It had a sharp orange taste; it was just bitter enough but absolutely refreshing, the perfect thing to drink at the end of a meal. In fact, I’m making a mental note to buy a bottle to keep around the house for when we have guests or when we don’t have guests and we’re just watching “Project Runway” on the couch.

“Well thanks so much,” I said at the end of the Amaro program. “I learned a lot!”

“My pleasure,” said the bartender whose name is probably not Nick after all.

I came for cocktails and dinner, but left high on a cloud of Amaro. I’m ready to start an Amaro program of my own.

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4 comments

  1. Fernet Branca is classic her in SF. Have you tried Averna? It’s a little easier going down – more body and sweeter. Cheers!

  2. So can you tell us a bit about each of the amari you offer? Curious which bottle to buy…

  3. Two years ago in Manarola, Cinque Terre we were poured a liqueur called “Mirto” after an amazing meal. We were told it was made from myrtle berries and was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tried. I wonder how much it has in common with this amaro you loved?

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