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The New Cocktailians 

The farmers market–loving, sleeve garter–wearing ladies and gentlemen of the bar taking over L.A.'s restaurants one glass at a time

Wednesday, Mar 4 2009
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Page 7 of 10

While a lot of good cocktails in Los Angeles tend toward juiciness — we may not have much in the way of locally made spirits, but the local citrus is the best in the world — Eggleston’s creations take the concept to an extreme, so that his Aviation, made with lemon and juniper-intensive Aviation gin, bursts with the bright freshness of Eureka lemons at the height of their season rather than the sweetly perfumed effects of maraschino and crème de violette, and his cucumber-based drinks sing with the pure, slightly musky perfume of the cucurbit. There must be a trick to his Proper Greyhound, which as far as I can tell is just vodka, grapefruit juice and ice, garnished with a jagged sliver of candied peel, but the buzzing intensity of the fruit makes it qualitatively a different experience from the cocktail most of us have been enjoying since we bought our first vodka with a borrowed ID. 1535 N. Vine St., Hollywood, (323) 462-2155.

 

MUSSO & FRANK GRILL

click to flip through (18) ANNE FISHBEIN - Where there's smoke: Steve Livigni and Daniel Nelson beneath the Shepard Fairey painted mirrors in the greenhouse at the Doheny.
  • Anne Fishbein
  • Where there's smoke: Steve Livigni and Daniel Nelson beneath the Shepard Fairey painted mirrors in the greenhouse at the Doheny.
 

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There may never have been an article on Los Angeles cocktail culture that hasn’t included the Musso & Frank Grill, and it’s not a tradition we’re about to break. Because if a restaurant was once forward-thinking enough to let William Faulkner hop behind the bar to mix his own mint juleps, the rest of us can do nothing but clutch our gin rickeys a little tighter in gratitude. For the past 50 years, the molecular structure of half the livers in Hollywood owes what little integrity it may still retain to the tiny flasks of gin martinis mixed by the maestro Manny Aguirre. 6667 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 467-7788.

 

OSTERIA LA BUCA

La Buca has long been known in Hollywood as a place to drop by for a plate of squid-ink linguine or a slug of gnocchi, an unpretentious trattoria whose cooking is attributed to Mamma. When the restaurant expanded into a slightly grander space, Vincenzo Marianella, the peripatetic cocktail genius who has designed the drink menus at more bars than most of us have probably sloshed out of, took a crack at La Buca too. What this means is that you can get a proper spritz, the perennial Italian aperitif of Prosecco and bitter Aperol. And the annual return of the fizz made with muddled farmers-market strawberries and a touch of Campari is as eagerly awaited as the spring arrival of fresh strawberry doughnuts at Glendora’s fabled Donut Man. 5210 1/2 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, (323) 462 1900.

Even before it opened, Osteria Mozza was legendary for its extraordinary collection of amari, a fleet of bitter Italian digestive liqueurs, handsome bottles arranged on shelves that rise behind the bar up to the high ceiling, real great-grandfather stuff, mostly amassed by co-owner Joe Bastianich on his frequent trips to Italy. The rarer bottles didn’t tend to come with proper papers, so the restaurant can’t actually sell them — the array is a massive display of potential flavors, the way that locked-off library stacks are a display of potential knowledge. Some day a postdoc will write a proposal allowing her to scour the collection in the name of researching late-20th-century gentian use or something, and the syrupy aromas will dance again.

 

OSTERIA MOZZA

Osteria Mozza is yet another restaurant ruled by the antique virtues of Italian wine. But cocktails have always been taken seriously there, and when Bastianich lured Milk and Honey’s Eric Alperin out to Los Angeles to launch the drinks program, the bar quickly became known for things like his Campari-tinted tequila-grapefruit cocktail Sculaccione; the Meletti Smash, a quasi-Old Fashioned made with black rum, mint, Meletti bitters and lime; and the amaro-powered Montenegro Fizz. When Alperin left, Chris Ojeda took up the program before he left to go work at the Edison; these days Jeremiah Doherty is behind the stick, working out the resonances between Prosecco and amari with surgical precision. Will his antique, resinous fragrances, which in Italy are associated with randy old men, catch the Los Angeles imagination? In a way, they already have. 6602 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 297-0100.

 

 

PROVIDENCE

Among the best young chefs in the country, there are revolutionaries, many of whom spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how to make hot ice cream or how to serve hard-boiled eggs with the yolk on the outside, and there are traditionalists, who aspire to recreate Bolzano or Lyon on a plate. Michael Cimarusti, the chef and proprietor of the seafood restaurant Providence in Los Angeles, is neither of these and somehow both, unafraid to introduce a smidge of gelling agent into a sauce when the alternative involves several hundred calories’ worth of butter and cream, but respectful of Los Angeles’ superb farmers-market produce, taking several dozen steps to create a seemingly simple dish of lobster and beets, but knowing when to let a crab taste like a crab. At Providence, an ingredient is rarely forced to do something it doesn’t want to do.

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