Tuesday, October 9, 2012
I didn’t arrive in Venice with any cocktail misconceptions. I knew I was in for mostly spritzes, Bellinis and many glasses of (mediocre) wine to wash down ciccheti. And I did do all of that, and then some.
But one of the highlights of the trip, oddly, turned out to be a purely cocktailian experience. Who knew that some of Italy’s the most exciting and delicious martinis are currently being made in St. Mark’s Square?
Grancaffe' Quadri has a history going back to 1638, when it first opened its doors as Il Rimedio (yes, alcohol was considered a remedy back then too.) The place changed owner and name is the 18th century, becoming one of the chicest coffee houses in town, Grancaffe' Quadri.
But it’s the recent history that I’m excited about. The Alajmo family has taken over and turned it into three separate spaces: the fancy Ristorante Quadri upstairs, the more casual ABC downstairs and the dramatically situated Grancaffe Quadri out in St. Mark’s Square.
Now, I have to admit right now, St. Mark’s Square isn’t my favorite spot in Venice. I much prefer the hidden alleys and empty canals that you can discover by simply getting lost in Venice. St. Marks is Venetian tourism at its most addled. But you can’t really come to Venice and not make it to St. Marks, right? The architecture is timeless, and you still get a sense of history despite the carnival like atmosphere. And who doesn't love those old fashioned bands that play a continuous loop of music making you feel as if you are starring in your own private Irving Berlin-scored film?
But I’m pretty sure I’ll be visiting Piazza San Marco more regularly in the future. If only to sip the miraculous martinis I enjoyed at the Grancaffe Quadri. It was hard to choose from the ‘Collection Martini’ page, but since we were in four, we got to try quite a few.
And to all you martini purist out there, yes, they do have a Classic Dry Martini. I did not order that. You can if you go there. Me, I went for the gold. Literally.
The J Martini combines gin, dry vermouth, saffron and licorice powder. The garnish? Gold leaf. I think gin and licorice is my new favorite flavor combo. And the bits of gold leaf that clung to my lips? I believe I may have started a new fashion trend.
Don't worry, the Laguna Martini does not involve any water from the lagoon. Instead vodka and vermouth are infused with wakame and oyster. And the teeny spoonful of beluga brings the whole sea thing together perfectly.
The Pinzimonio was the vegetarian martini. Cucumber infused vodka is garnished happily with chunks of fennel, tomato, celery and carrot.
The most decadent, and perhaps the strangest, drink we tried was a Dirty Black Truffle martini. Vodka and vermouth, with a dash of truffle juice. Earthy and bright at the same time.
And back to you Martini purist. Yes, I know a true Martini is made with gin. But sometimes I like vodka. At Quadri they not only give you your choice, but also a choice of about 30 of the best gins and vodkas around.
While I foccussed on the Martini side of the menu, I know I’ll be going back to try some of their other cocktails. A Bloody Mary with freshly made tomato juice? Yes, I think I can fit that in between one spritz and another.
Piazza San Marco, Venice