FOOD MATTERS | A cocktail with no name

FOOD MATTERS | A cocktail with no name

FOOD MATTERS | A cocktail with no name

Barrel-aged cocktails are a thing in some circles. I’m not a huge fan; I find the bright acidity that makes many cocktails attractive gets lost and muddled when you premix the ingredients and immerse the result in a 15-liter barrel.

To my taste, brown spirits seem better suited to barrel aging than clear gin or vodka, though many classic “brown” cocktails, like the Manhattan, already include an extra ingredient, like dash of bitters, to accelerate (or simulate) the effects of aging. Still, hats off to the barkeeps around town who are experimenting.

Case in point, at Red Cow (1423 34th Ave.), general manager Johnny Violand has put together a signature cocktail that he keeps in a barrel on the bar. It’s a blend, of course, because all cocktails are blends: tequila reposada, two Italian liqueurs (Gran Classico Bitter and an amaro called Montenegro), plus a generous glug of classic, high-end vermouth, Punt è Mes.

The trouble is, Violand doesn’t have a good name for it, except to call it a Tequila Negroni.

I actually posted it on Facebook and got an answer right away from Mike Easton, advocate for all things Italian at his two spots in Pioneer Square, Il Corvo and Il Gabbiano. “I’ve been making these for years,” he wrote. “It’s called a Rosita.” And so it is, but it’s still made with Campari.

The trick is finding a substitute for the Campari, probably the most popular aperitivo in Italy. (There’s even a pre-mixed version called Campari Soda that comes in its own signature bottle.) It gets its flavor (like all amari) from a variety of roots and herbs. The bright red color comes from (yuk!) crushed beetles. (Campari has also become too sweet and syrupy for me.) In any case, many American bartenders are looking for alternatives these days, and fortunately, there are quite a few.

In addition to Gran Classico (from Tempus Fugit), relatively new to the American market, there are also familiar brands like Luxardo and Cappelletti that share northern Italian origins (Turin, Milan, Bologna).

Back to the question of a name for the drink in the barrel at Red Cow: The Negroni, keep in mind, was named for Count Negroni, who asked his bartender (at the Caffè Casoni in Florence) to add a splash of gin to his blend of Campari and sweet vermouth. (Substitute vodka and you’re supposed to call it a Negroski.) The elements are in place: tequila from Mexico, Gran Classico and Montenegro from Italy, Punt è Mes from Spain.

I propose three nominations: the Violand (for its creator), the Red Cow (for its restaurant) and the Madrona (for the neighborhood). Any others? Suggestions welcome.


Around the neighborhood

Also in Madrona, Brian Clevenger remains hard at work. The former chef for Ethan Stowell Restaurants is putting the finishing touches on Vendemmia (1126 34th Ave.). His menu is already on line at and features an early look at the Stowell-style, Morse code menu: e.g. “Morel Mushroom, Snap Pea, Pea Vine, Mint 10.”

Clevenger wants to encourage family-style dining, with a broad selection of appetizers, pastas and main courses. “I want a table to be able to order 10 items and share them,” he told The original plan was to be open by summer, but (news flash!) it looks like Vendemmia will open ahead of schedule. Look for the doors to be unlocked by the first half of May.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Bistro Turquaz has not been sold. Ugur “Uschi” Oskay, who founded the tiny spot at 1114 34th Ave. eight years ago, is taking some time off, leaving the kitchen in the capable hands of her younger son, Tayfun (who’s been the chef for some time), and the dining room in the care of her friend DeAnne Burlison, who’s been stepping in regularly, almost since day one.

Finally, at The Harvest Vine (2701 E. Madison St.), Joey Sirquinia continues to oversee one of the most exacting kitchens in town and one of Seattle’s most pleasant places to spend a summer evening. A big favorite: grilled pulpo (Spanish octopus) on a bed of garbanzo purée. The restaurant buys a dozen 8- to 10-pound octopi a week and goes through maybe 20 orders a night. Another popular item: the potato-and-onion tortilla with aioli.