Venice: New Cocktails at Hostaria del Piccolo
A few years ago when I was on the Westside more, I frequented the restaurants on the edges of Venice and Santa Monica. We had our routine down and hit up pretty much the same 5 spots. If only this Rose Avenue Renaissance happened back then. I would have happily made Hostaria del Piccolo one of my regular spots.
I checked out Hostaria del Piccolo a few weeks ago for cocktails and dinner. Beverage Director Greg Bryson gave us a few sneak peeks to the new Summer cocktails which are now available.
But first we got some drinks from the seasonal cocktail list. I really liked the Isola which reminded me of Junglebird. Garnishing it with pineapple leaves probably helped this impression along as well.
Isola – Blackwell rum, Campari, lime, pineapple juice
We decided to get a couple of appetizers while looking over the menu. I enjoyed the pig ears which were perfectly crispy. These are healthier than potato chips, right?
To help cut the fat of our delightful porky snacks, something fizzy like the Primavera would work. It’s also a great opening drink to open up your appetite.
Primavera – Fair vodka, rose wine, maraschino, lemon, Prosecco
We wanted to get the fresh grilled calamari but they sold out that night so we went with the grilled octopus. It’s also a great dish. The octopus wasn’t too chewy and there were plenty of legs with suckers, my favorite part.
I took three semesters of Italian in college but in no way I consider myself fluent in Italian. However, I have accumulated almost a working vocabulary of Italian food terms. My new favorite is “mandarino cinese” meaning kumquat. This refreshing cocktail with gin and Cocchi Americano would also be an ideal starting drink or a light beverage with food during dinner.
Mandarino Cinese – Ford’s gin, Cocchi Americano, kumquats, lemon, soda
We also got the shrimp and mushroom pizza with mozarella. I was really interested in the non-sauce pizzas but my friends wanted sauce. I did enjoy this pizza and would order it again. But perhaps I’d also try the porchetta and artichoke pizza. Or maybe I’d get the asparagus and egg one with truffle salt. Hostaria del Piccolo has many, many pizzas with different combinations of toppings. I would be surprised if you didn’t find one you you’d like.
I really like how food friendly the cocktails are. Although the Pompelo is a rye cocktail with a distinctive amaro, it was still a perfect partner for the pastas we had.
Pompelo – Templeton rye, Amaro Montenegro, honey, lemon, grapefruit
I had my heart set on the pasticchio as soon as I saw it. I love layered pastas like lasagna but it’s even better with a rich sauce like bechamel. Hostaria serves theirs with a generous heaping of parmasan as well.
The grilled calamari came with Swiss Chard but since we couldn’t order it as an appetizer, we decided to get the Swiss Chard as a side. Although I love my kale, I do “cheat” on it with chard and other leafy greens. Hostaria serves theirs with pancetta and raisins which was very interesting. The sweetness of the raisins balanced the slightly salty pancetta.
Hostaria has a pasta of the day and this night was linguine and clams. I normally don’t go for such simple pastas but this was very well executed. The broth was light and perfect.
One of the new cocktails is the Mulberry Bend. Naturally I enjoyed the whisky cocktail the most with the blended Scotch, Monkey Shoulder. Contratto Bianco is a new white vermouth to me. It’s not too sweet. I also liked the use of Strega which some think of as the Italian “yellow Chartreuse.”
Mulberry Bend – Monkey Shoulder Scotch, Contratto Bianco, Strega, Castilian bitters
Even with two pastas, we got a pasta side dish. Ditalini was described to be “mac and cheese” like which is all my dining partners needed to hear. Bring it on! I loved the little short tubes of pasta which held the sauce very well.
The Sicilia is supposed to be made with rosemary but the kitchen stole back some of the herbs this night so Greg made this with thyme. I happen to love thyme in cocktails and thought this was great. I’m sure it’s just as fun with rosemary. Now I wonder what Greg can do with mint?
Sicilia – Old Tom gin, Averna, blackberries, rosemary
One of my friends wanted to get the veal. It was an enormous portion. By this time we were groaning about how much food we ate so we decided to take it home.
However, there is something to be said with ending on a sweet note. Of course we ordered dessert. We went with a simple wine poached pears desert with hazelnut gelato. I love nutty and fruity gelatos and ice creams so this was my perfect, simple dessert.
For cocktail enthusiasts, barrel-aging almost seems passe these days but it’s still being practiced and admittedly in the right hands and with the right cocktail, the results are great. Greg had barrel-aged the Little Italy cocktail long enough to meld the bitter Cynar with the sweeter Carpano Antica. The Templeton rye smooths it all together. It’s a great drink made fresh and even better having spent time in the barrel.
Barrel-aged Little Italy – Templeton rye, Carpano Antica, Cynar
Greg also runs the program at the Santa Monica location so you can enjoy the cocktails at both spots. I did like the Venice location more since the dining room seems more spacious and you can’t beat the easy underground parking.
Hostaria del Piccolo – Venice512 Rose Ave., Venice, CA 90291 — (310) 392-8822 © The Minty 2013