Italy is, unsurprisingly, a nation of wine drinkers. Sure, there's Peroni, the country's go-to beer. But foreign beers are hard to come by (they bring in Corona to sell to Americans at about $15 a bottle), and complicated cocktails are often lost in translation: It's a place where a bar will guilelessly offer vodka and Yoo-hoo as a daytime drink. (It happened to my sister.)
But Italian-inspired cocktails, now that's something else altogether. Italy's amaros, the herbal liqueurs first used as medicine (well, that's what the monks claimed, anyway) are gaining popularity around the world as bartenders experiment with bold, sometimes even bitter flavors. (Inside baseball: Jagermeister, a German beverage in the same vein as amaro, is making a huge marketing push to bartenders right now.)
Kettle Black in Silver Lake has an interesting bar program that makes good use of herbs, liqueurs and cordials. It has a rotating list of seasonal cocktails, but the main menu is a list of spirits: “vodka cocktail,” “tequila cocktail,” “rye cocktail,” etc. The best and most Italianate is the gin cocktail.
Made with Thai basil, cucumber, lime and a peppercorn cordial (plus tonic, of course), the gin drink is lovely and summery and not too, too complicated, despite the number of ingredients. The elements all come together beautifully for a transporting, summer-appropriate drink. It's reminiscent of a Pimm's Cup, that cocktail that is so emblematic of the European upper crust. Drink it and pretend you're dating an aristocrat. Take it out on the front patio — if you close your eyes, you can pretend the Sunset Boulevard traffic is the sound of the Mediterranean lapping against the rocks.
3705 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake; (323) 641-3705, kettleblackla.com.