August 31st, 2006
Try a little bitterness
If you’ve been to No. 9 Park (see Best Boston bars), you’re familiar with the restaurant’s cocktail “flights,” three mini-cocktails served at the same time and based on a particular theme. The current offering, Flight of Heraldry ($14), features three great Italian spirits: the bitter liqueurs Aperol and Campari and the vermouth-like Punt e Mes. Everybody’s heard of the bright red, astringently bitter Campari, and Punt e Mes is showing up in more and more bars lately, but Aperol is little known outside Italy. It’s sweeter than Campari, is a beautiful coral color, and has a mild bitterness and a pleasant orange note.
No. 9 Park bartenders Ryan McGrale and John Gertsen invented a delicious, Aperol-based cocktail for the Flight of Heraldry: equal parts Beefeater gin, Aperol, and Cinzano dry vermouth with a spray of lemon peel. They call it the Contessa — as in wife of Count Negroni. The Count may or may not have had a wife, but he did pour a shot of gin in his Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth, splash of soda, orange peel) about a century ago and thus gave birth to one of the great bitters-based drinks, the Negroni, which lost the splash of soda somewhere along the way and is the only previously established cocktail in the No. 9 flight. (According to the New York Times’ latest Style magazine, “Negroni is the new mojito.” If only.) The third drink in the flight is another McGrale-Gertsen invention, the Patrician, which they named after the Count’s imagined “bitter laborer.” It’s equal parts Beefeater, Cointreau, and Punt e Mes and is actually on the mellow side compared to the Negroni. The Contessa’s the more delicate of the three but has a definite bite. I drank these three exquisite cocktails before a delicious plate of truffled gnocchi and felt like a contessa myself.