The Tasting Panel magazine

December 2011

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Page 79 of 128

Scene One: Rucola in Brooklyn, NY T here's little doubt among New Yorkers that Brooklyn has pretty much usurped Manhattan as the city's coolest place to live since the Beat Generation rocked the East Village. And now it's become the coolest place to play, with an undisputedly hip dining and a bar scene. The cool community vibe is strong here; a small, vegetable-driven restaurant can open on a quiet side street and enjoy near-instant popularity. Such is the happy experience of Rucola, a reimagined Piedmontese- style trattoria, in the heart of a historic Italian neighbor- hood. Named for the bitter green that's a favorite of the owners, Rucola keeps its focus on a locally sourced menu of fresh produce. And that creates the perfect scenario for a menu of amari, of which Montenegro is the clear star. Owners Henry Rich and his cousin, Julian Brizzi, wanted to match the offerings at the bar with those from their kitchen. "Obviously, most Italian restaurants in Brooklyn are traditional, but we were excited about doing food that is ingredient-driven," says Rich. "As a neighborhood restaurant, we're not trying to be esoteric." And with its 40-plus complex ingredients, he says Montenegro is a key component to their philosophy. "It's savory and botanical and goes well with our food," Rich says. The menu, which changes weekly and relies on the day's available fare, favors hearty mountain cuisine from the Dolomites and Alto-Adige regions—rich with earthy ingredients such as pumpkin, kale, beans and Ligurian olive oil. Indeed, a staple of the kitchen is a duck liver paté laced with Amaro Montenegro, which Sous Chef Patrick Miller says is "really the supporting fl avor that rounds the fl avor and minerality of the liver." Mouth-watering menu notwithstanding, Bar Manager Aisa Shelley says Amaro Montenegro is the house amaro because of its balance—"it plays well with others" in a cocktail. "You want it to highlight the fl avor without overbearing the cocktail." He also likes serving it on its own with a twist of lemon. "I don't want to call it a trend, but people are defi nitely coming around to it," he says. Adds Ian Harris, the Front of the House Manager, "It starts as a hand-sell, but once people have it, they ask for it again." Shelley says their philosophy is staying truer to tradition than to trend and borrowing from classic cocktails. But don't look any time soon for Rucola to become another speakeasy or theme restaurant. Says Shelley, "We have a concept for the bar, but we don't want it to be conceptual." The signature cocktail is a riff off the New Orleans clas- sic, the Sazerac, inspired by a recent visit there. Shelley and Rich were stumped for a name, but after some joking about its manly associations—according to Wikipedia, in Italy, the brand is linked to "adventurous, outdoor, manly living and situations"—they decided upon the Fitzcarraldo, after the rubber baron who dragged a steam ship over the Peruvian mountains. That, they concluded, was pretty manly. At Rucola, duck liver crostini is laced with Amaro Montenegro. THE FITZCARRALDO created by Aisa Shelley for Rucola ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ 1½ oz. rye whiskey ½ oz. Amaro Montenegro cube of Demerara sugar in the raw 3 dashes of Peychaud's Bitters 1 dash of Angostura Bitters Muddled sugar cube Anise rinse ■ Rinse a rocks glass with a shot of anise and chill. Soak one cube of Demerara sugar in the raw in the bitters. Mix all other ingredients in tall mixing glass and stir while anise-fl avored glass chills. Muddle and add sugar with bitters. Mix, strain into the glass and rub the rim with a twist of lemon. december 201 1 / the tasting panel / 79 PHOTO: DOUG YOUNG

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