** Sotto Restaurant in West L.A. debuts a brand-new fall cocktail menu tonight. From 8pm to 11pm, the new cocktails will be specially priced at $9**; regularly they’re $12. Unlike the menus in the past this one is a more focused, “back to Italian” list and a complete rehaul, meaning they got rid of all the old drinks and replaced them with new ones.
But you’ll still be able to get drinks off the old list like the Brownsville with genever, London dry gin, Cynar, Meletti amaro and orange bitters and the Midnight in Napoli with rye, Faretti Biscotti Famosi, Benedictine, Angostura and mole bitters.
For this fall menu, bartender Julian Cox handed over the cocktail stirrer to Sotto Bar Program Director Nick Meyer, thus the completely new list. Nick then worked with his staff (shout-out to bartender Brynn who came up with many of the drink ideas) to figure out what they wanted to showcase in terms of fall flavors, looking to Italy in the autumn as well as what ingredients were available in the chef’s kitchen. “We wanted to put drinks on the menu that were Italian. That were either spin-offs of Italian or used Italian elements, like amaros, a bunch of Italian liqueurs,” said Nick.
Sotto’s New Fall Cocktails I Drank Last Night
Inspired by rosolio, a rose petal-derived Italian liqueur and “feminine version of amaro,” La Vita e Rosa is not the perfume-y girl drink it appears to be. Rather, it’s got backbone — intense, dry and comes across like a martini. The rose from the specially nitrogen rose-infused gin is so subtle that it only pops up faintly midpalate before it’s taken over by a bitterness. “A lot of times in cocktails, I like to be more subtle,” said Julian. “Too many people are just going to blast your palate, so I just want it to be nice and easy…I don’t want to mess with any of the food.” Not that this is a cocktail to pair with a dish. “It’s aperitif-ish, you have it before dinner,” Julian recommends.
Walnut Sidecar, a riff on the classic, is made autumny with its use of a stellar Nocino walnut liqueur from Monteverdi Spirits in Napa. “The Nocino really makes that drink. It’s able to impart fall flavors like cinnamon and the walnuts so well,” said Nick. And because this cocktail isn’t as dry as the traditional one, they went with a light dusting for the sugar rim, except using dehydrated lemon powder, superfine sugar and grated cinnamon to echo the flavors in the drink.
Now before you get all excited, you vegan and/or lactose-intolerant drinkers out there, the “almond milk” in this Italianate bourbon milk punch is actually whole milk macerated with toasted almonds and not actual almond milk. So you still have the strong flavor of almonds with the richness and creaminess of milk. And since they wanted to keep their bourbon milk punch traditional, despite its use of amaro, and the drink already had “so much going on,” the bar staff decided against the whipped cream. “So it’s not totally milk punchy, it’s more like a dessert cocktail…but once people try this they’re going to want to drink more than one of them,” said Julian. And it is rather light, a bit bitter and not too rich, making it conducive for machine-gunning, I mean, enjoying one right after the other. “It’s in the dessert cocktail realm, but if you’re pairing it with something acidic or have had an Aviation or two, it cuts that acidity very well,” said Nick.
The Kill Bill cocktail, inspired by one of Nick’s favorite cocktails “The Art of Choke“ and named after actor David Carradine, ahem, sounds like it has a lot of things going on with its use of Cynar (an artichoke liqueur), orange and mint. But Nick said that even though Cynar is artichoke forward, it’s made with 13 different elements, with citrus peels being one of them. While the mint leaves stirred in the drink, not muddled mind you, add a subtle complexity, elongating the finish. This was my favorite of the ones I tried (hosted) off the new list. Potent and aromatic, you can have this before or after dinner, with a pork chop if you want. And even after I left it sitting, it was STILL drinkable if not slightly mellowed.
The Fly by Night (in the lead photo) — with its use of Sheep Dip scotch, Saler’s aperitif and King’s Ginger liqueur — is an aromatic scotch cocktail with an interesting mix of smokiness with slight heat from the ginger liqueur that will make you want to pull up beside a roaring fireplace. (Video of Nick mixing it up here.)
The new 12-drink list debuts tonight. The guys don’t anticipate it being a crazy event considering Sotto has been under the radar as a cocktail destination, overshadowed by Picca upstairs. But if you have overlooked the restaurant for cocktails in the past then you’re doing yourself a huuuge disservice. Especially when they have a “Sosta Napoletana” cocktail-and-pizza happy hour of sorts where, from Tuesday to Friday 5:30 to 7:30pm at the bar, you can get any cocktail and pizza of your choosing for $19 (regularly about $26).