Cocktails From Author Eric Felten At La Forchetta, Coming This Spring
Restaurateur Hakan Ilhan runs nearly two dozen fast-casual eateries around Washington, but La Forchetta, due to open in Northwest D.C. this spring, will be his first foray into the District’s fine-dining scene. Lauded chef Roberto Donna will return from Arizona to run the kitchen at the 116-seat modern Italian, where bar patrons can look forward to sipping the creations of cocktail historian Eric Felten.
Felten is a culture columnist for the The Wall Street Journal and author of How's Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture and the Art of Drinking Well, in addition to other books. Though he’s won a James Beard Foundation award for his drinks writing, he has never before created a cocktail list for a restaurant, and we recently chatted with him to find out more about how he became involved with the project. Read on to find out what to expect, mixology-wise, at the new spot, and check out a couple of recipes you can look forward to sipping.
– How did you come to be involved with La Forchetta?
Hakan and I are good friends. Our kids are in school together, and he has been over at my house several times, tasting drinks I’ve mixed up. I’m really excited for the terrific restaurant he’s putting together, and glad to be able to contribute.
– Though you’ve written about drinks for years, this is the first time you’re consulting for a restaurant. Would you do it again?
I will definitely entertain doing it in the future, if someone asks. It was really fun, trying to come up with original, distinctive recipes.
– What is the theme or guiding concept for the La Forchetta cocktail list?
American-style cocktails made from distinctively Italian ingredients. There will be a mix that includes wine-based drinks, fizzy sips and “up” drinks in the martini fashion.
Many traditional American cocktails from the 1920s and 30s originated in Italy, in fact, such as the Americano (a highball of Campari, sweet vermouth and club soda), which was turned into the currently popular Negroni with the addition of gin when Count Negroni asked for his a little bit stronger.
Another classic recipe that hasn’t yet found its way back into the canon is the Fanciulli. It’s a great — and distinctively Washingtonian — story: Italian composer Fredrico Fanciulli became the commander of the Marine Band right after John Phillip Sousa departed. Despite the popularity of Sousa marches, Fanciulli preferred to have the band play his own compositions, and usually did.
During one important parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, the Commandant of the Marine Corps requested a Sousa march be played. When Fanciulli did not comply, the CMC issued a direct order. Fanciulli again refused, and was subsequently hauled off in irons and court martialed.
However, Fanciulli had become extremely popular around town, and the incident turned into one of the most talked about scandals of its day. Bars created a cocktail to toast the persecuted musician, which was basically a variation of the Manhattan that replaced Angostura bitters with the Italian amaro Fernet Branca.
Eventually, Teddy Roosevelt soothed all ruffled egos by issuing Fanciulli a pardon, but the drink remained. We’re definitely going to serve that one!
– Will there be cocktails for beginners?
All the drinks will be very accessible, even though they’re made with sophisticated ingredients. I’m not a “bar chef,” though I have great respect for those who are. Most of these cocktails feature two or three ingredients that work together beautifully. I’m building off recipes that people already know, just changing up one or two constituents, so there won’t be a big learning curve to drink these drinks.
– How closely are you working with Chef Donna, in regards to the food and drinks complementing each other?
My plan is to adjust the drinks so they are in harmony with the chef’s food. I’m a traditionalist, in the sense that I wouldn’t specifically suggest pairing cocktials with food dishes. However, cocktails do play an important role in the whole dining experience.
At their best, they help set the mood of a meal, especially when you enjoy them beforehand as an apertif. They should pique your appetite. A number of the drinks will also work after the meal, as digestifs, such as several of the Italian amaros.
– Have you ever been to Italy?
I have not been to Italy, which is even stranger than it may seem, since I’m also a jazz player on an Italian music label! I’ve certainly done a lot of touring “via bottle and glass,” however, and I’m excited to put that into play at La Forchetta.
– Can you give us a couple examples of drinks we might see on the menu?
Sure. The first is in the style of a Vesper Martini.
1½ oz. gin
½ oz. Prime Arrance (an Italian aqua vitae made from oranges)
½ oz. Cocchi Americano (a bitter-sweet Italian aperitif wine)
Stir, stir, stir with ice; strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with bit of orange peel.
The second is named after Hakan's wife Margarita. In Spanish, margarita is the word for daisy (and the Margarita we all know today was so named because it was a variation on an older drink called a Tequila Daisy.) The Italian word for daisy is Pratolina, and thus the name for the drink.
1 oz. grappa
1 oz. Averna amaro
¼ oz. Maraschino liqueur
½oz. fresh lemon juice
½ oz. fresh blood orange juice
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
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