Stunningly Bad Cocktails
Greetings again from Providence, Rhode Island. If it seems like I’m doing an awful lot of traveling in June, that’s because I am. But once again Mrs. Fussy isn’t here to protect me from making gramatical errors nor to temper my harsh decrees on local area businesses.
So you are going to have to believe me on this one. I did not seek out this cocktail menu. No. It came to me. For some reason, it popped up in my Facebook feed. And after being scarred by its existence, I couldn’t pretend to un-see it. It’s almost like Mark Zuckerburg wanted to get me all riled up about bad cocktails, so he made sure this restaurant’s post made it through all the algorithms.
The reason not to write today’s story is that I’ve been critical of this restaurant in the past. So yet another dedicated post to its shortcomings, might feel like I’m singling this place out and picking on it when it’s down. After all, they just recently lost their highly esteemed executive chef.
Given that, I’m going to start by saying something nice about MezzaNotte.
I love the idea behind the promotion they are running: 5 for $6 before 7. Where Tuesday through Friday, at the bar and on the patio, you can have a choice of five appetizers, five glasses of wine and five cocktails for six bucks each.
From the looks of it the offerings change weekly. And this week’s appetizers look pretty darn appealing. I could pick a few nits, but for the most part they are light and full of summery flavors. Plus everything looks like it belongs on the menu at one of the most upscale Italian restaurants in the region.
- San Daniele Prosciutto, grilled peaches, gorgonzola, arugula, olive oil & honey
- Assorted vine ripe tomatoes, mozzarella, basil pesto & balsamic glaze
- Skewer of grilled shrimp
- Italian sausage, broccolini & roasted peppers, red wine reduction
- Salad of faro, grilled corn & pancetta
I wish I could say the same thing about their cocktails. These drinks look like they were created by a college freshman who just discovered booze in her sorority this year, and has been drinking on a fake ID. Don’t believe me? Have a look yourself:
- Capri Sunset – Pomegranate Vodka, OJ & Cranberry Juice
- Blue Grotto – Orange Whipped Vodka, Blue Curacao & Pineapple Juice
- Chocolate Torta – Double Espresso Vodka, Butterscotch Schnapps & Cream
- Vanilla Razz – Vanilla Vodka, Raspberry Liqueur & Cream
- MezzaNotte Punch – Bacardi Dragon Berry Rum, Cointreau, Cranberry Juice, Lime Juice, Fresh Mint
What’s my problem with these? On the whole, they are lazy, sweet, heavy handed and unimaginative. They rely on bottled juices and sweet liqueurs. At their core, they all are built on flavored spirits, and mostly flavored vodka. That’s just wrong. And let’s not forget, there is nothing Italian about any of them, except their ridiculous names.
Let’s break it down drink by drink.
The Capri Sunset. For better or worse, vodka, orange juice and cranberry is actually a drink. It’s called a Madras. And as far as vodka cocktails go, it’s not awful. And I’m sure a skilled bartender with plenty of fresh oranges and real cranberry juice (versus cranberry juice cocktail) might be able to make something delicious. But there are great bars which refuse to stock cranberry juice at all, which give them the perfect excuse to avoid making drinks like this and the dreaded Cosmo.
The Blue Grotto. Well that’s a thing in Italy. But even this drink made from orange whipped cream flavored vodka already exists on the Pinnacle Vodka’s website as the Blue Buster. For the record Pinnacle Vodka is French. And if this sweet on top of sweet on top of sweet monstrosity of a drink reminds you anything of the mesmerizing color of the water in Capri, you need to get your eyes examined.
Chocolate Torta. That sounds Italian. Espresso is also Italian. But you are not going to convince me that a drink of espresso vodka, butterscotch schnapps and cream has any place on an upscale Italian restaurant’s cocktail list. When I was in in high school, it was fun to drink Kahlua and cream, because it tasted just like chocolate milk. I imagine this is like that, except only sweeter, and I’m not in high school. Not to mention a sweet and creamy cocktail isn’t exactly what I want to wash down my plate of San Daniele Prosciutto at six o’clock in the summer.
Vanilla Razz. My girl the bar manager must have gotten tired of trying to come up with clever Italian sounding names for her vile drinks, because this is just vanilla vodka and raspberry liqueur. Oh, plus cream. Why! Why would you take something that at least had a modest amount of potential to be a light and summery cocktail and weigh it down with butterfat? And couldn’t you have called it Raspberry Torta just to be freaking consistent? Gah!
MezzaNotte Punch. This one kills me most of all. The restaurant affixed its name to this unholy marriage of a Mojito and a Cosmopolitan that’s built on dragon berry rum. Wow. It must be great. Except it’s not punch. Because punch is a thing. And it comes in bowls. Some bars are bringing back punch service, and that’s fantastic. But at the very least this cocktail or punch or whatever they want to call it actually uses Cointreau and fresh mint. It’s the only thing on the menu to call for fresh anything. But building it on an “Asian-inspired” rum that has “natural flavors” of strawberry and dragonfruit just leaves me scratching my head. This drink is a mess.
These represent (almost) everything I hate about cocktails.
The killer part about the whole thing is that making Italian-inspired summer cocktails that pair well with food isn’t hard to do. Top something off with prosecco. Use Italian sweet vermouth. Add a splash of Campari. What about Limoncello? What about making your own damn Limoncello with organic lemons! For more classic cocktails you can get a bottle of Maraschino (not the red cherry juice but the clear Italian liqueur).
And this of course is ignoring all of the summer cocktails that you could actually enjoy over in Italy. It’s too early in the season for a Bellini, nor do I expect anyone to deliver a decent one for six dollars. But still, there are depths of readily available cocktail knowledge to be plumbed for the task. Those would reveal thinks like the Negroni, Americano and Sgroppino to name just a few.
What a shame this nice place decided instead to offer a selection of trashy girl-drink-drunk cocktails. The good news is that today is the last day for this menu. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the next one improves.