Page 8 of 10
Cimarusti was also probably the first chef in Los Angeles to treat the bar as respectfully as he did his wine list or his cuisine. His seafood tasting menus always include a course or two matched to a cocktail instead of to a wine — I remember a plate of crab paired brilliantly with a cocktail made with sake, lychee liqueur and fresh tangerine juice — and it became almost a game in the restaurant to see what founding bartender Vincenzo Marianella would come up with when challenged to invent a drink to complement a specific dish. If a Los Angeles bartender ever merited the phrase “bar chef,” it was probably Marianella, who used all the tricks of the modern kitchen — the sous vide, the foams, the process that encapsulates liquid inside delicate sacs of gel — to prepare his cocktails and infusions at the restaurant. (One of Providence’s most notorious dishes is its tasting-menu course of “cocktails”: a mojito, a greyhound, and a gin and tonic willed into quivering alcoholic three-dimensionality.) The house style, which goes so well with Cimarusti’s cooking, generally calls for freshly squeezed juice, an assertive spirit, a spicy spirit and a crack of bitters — the drinks are balanced, cold and complex.
Zahra Bates, veteran of the London cocktail scene who currently presides over Providence’s intimate bar, has perhaps the oddest background of any bartender in town. While crisply shaking a Sazerac, she confessed that her father is from West Virginia, and her mother, who had been decorated as a young girl for her efforts running guns for the Moroccan independence movement, lives in a traditional Berber village near the Algerian border. (Bates grew up in Los Angeles and went to university in London, where she supported herself working at the Long Bar at the Sanderson hotel.) What do her relatives think of her career? “Oh, I dare not tell them,” she says, lowering her eyes. “When I return for visits, there is often a line of prospective suitors spilling into the street, no matter how often I tell my mom that my life is elsewhere. I do not think they’d understand.” 5955 Melrose Ave., L.A., (323) 460-4170.
The Cucumber Aperol Fizz at Riva is an especially nice beverage, the kind of complexly scented long drink you may associate with lazy afternoons by the Mediterranean, exactly the right thing to sip in a restaurant a hundred yards from the Pacific. Another cocktail, a Creamsicle-hued foam of apricot liqueur and jet-fuel-scented grappa bound with egg white, conjures a third, new taste, an illusion of bitter almond that seems to float a few inches above the glass. I probably should have guessed the drinks were designed by the Varnish’s Eric Alperin — he expresses the qualities of beaten egg whites almost on a molecular level — but didn’t until I was dumb enough to try to point him to what I thought was a great bar he may not have gotten around to yet. 312 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 451-7482.
John Sedlar, the godfather of modern Southwest cuisine, has decided to throw his lot in with the molecularists at his new Staples-adjacent restaurant, and the classical French techniques that underlaid his 1980s cooking have been supplemented with a heavy dose of Spanish chemistry-lab stuff. Where his cooking used to be seriously wine-friendly — his restaurant Bikini famously offered Chateau d’Yquem on tap — the tiny, highly flavored bites at Rivera, even the short-rib-stuffed tamales or snips of Serrano ham, lean more into the sweet-sour-bitter snap of Julian Cox’s well-made cocktails instead. A version of Jerry Thomas’ 150-year-old Martinez, sweetened with a hint of maraschino liqueur and herbaceous red Antica Carpano vermouth, tastes more like a primordial Manhattan than like the martini it classically evolved into; the proto-margarita called Rivera’s Cup is spiked with cucumber, and a Donaji, a potent mix of mescal, citrus and pomegranate, is served in a glass whose rim has been dipped in a blend of salt and ground dried grasshoppers. The quiet rear dining room of Rivera is lined with glowing bottles of the tequila custom-distilled for the restaurant, engraved with the names of Sedlar’s best customers. It’s like a Japanese bottle bar translated into Spanish. 1050 S. Flower St., dwntwn., (213) 749-1460.
Technically speaking, Rustic Canyon, the crowded Santa Monica restaurant whose lemon cornmeal cake and sustainable, humanely raised organic-lamb T-bones with baby artichokes make it one of the toughest reservations on the Westside, doesn’t even serve cocktails. It’s a wine bar. You drink Côtes du Rhône. It goes with the food. But Jon Hoeber, who serves as the bartender for want of a better term, does the sorts of things with Prosecco that other creative bartenders do with gin, flavoring it with lemongrass and ginger, mixing it with blood-orange juice and homemade bitters, or serving it on the rocks with salt, chile sauce and wedges of lime, which I can assure you is not how it is done in the Veneto. 1119 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 393-7050.