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Stunningly Bad Cocktails

June 22, 2012

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.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2012 8:11 am

    I understand you’re trying to keep it positive as far as the food goes and that criticizing cocktails is your thing, but I couldn’t care less about cocktails if the food doesn’t draw me in. And there’s nothing about those appetizers that draws me in, and there’s nothing about any of them (except possibly the first and last) that belongs on a menu at an upscale restaurant.

    San Daniele Prosciutto, grilled peaches, gorgonzola, arugula, olive oil & honey: Sounds interesting enough; however, many San Daniele proscuitto brands are actually imported from Canada (but can be very good).

    Assorted vine ripe tomatoes, mozzarella, basil pesto & balsamic glaze: Seriously?!

    Skewer of grilled shrimp: Upscale? Interesting? Creative? Would I want to order it based on the description?

    Italian sausage, broccolini & roasted peppers, red wine reduction: This sounds like it’s just mashing the combinations of sausage and peppers and sausage and broccolini together with a red wine reduction, which doesn’t seem particularly spring or summer-y to me.

    Salad of faro, grilled corn & pancetta: The strongest of the list. I would try this.

    Mezzanotte is a place that I enjoyed a couple of great meals a few years ago, before they acquired their new chef. And, when Steve Barnes broke the news that there was a new chef on board, I thought it was exciting, especially since this is probably the closest “upscale” Italian restaurant to where I live and work. I have been eager to visit. I still have hope, since a past primi menu has much, much more interesting creations (, as does their normal menu.

    But, sorry Daniel, I wouldn’t even begin to think about drinks after seeing a menu like that. (Wine is much more important in an Italian restaurant, anyway.)

  2. June 22, 2012 8:47 am

    Agree that those cocktails are a snooze. I want to see something with cucumber, citrus (fresh, not citrus-flavored bottled stuff), maybe ginger, and of course how about seasonal fruits? I’d be happy to order apps 1, 4, and 5. Just arugula, grilled peaches, and gorgonzola would be happy for me, maybe on a toasty crostini.

  3. June 22, 2012 11:03 am

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. This is easily my biggest pet peeve of dining out around here. When I look at a cocktail list, the first thing I do is eliminate anything with flavored vodka, which cuts out all or most of the options.

    Just for the sake of comparison, I pulled up the current menu of our old neighborhood cocktail bar in Cambridge. They throw a few bones to the vodka crowd, but still have a wide range of base liquors and lots of fresh citrus — all for non-happy hour prices of $5.50-$8.50.

  4. Eric Scheirer Stott permalink
    June 22, 2012 11:13 am

    If I combine cranberry juice and vodka it’s going to be for a classic Cape Codder. The vodka is going to be Stoli, or something similar- a subtle (read Expensive) vodka is not needed here. If cranberry juice cocktail is used it’s going to be Ocean Spray because the cheaper brands are like drinking syrup. Add just enough to blunt the edge of the vodka without killing it. If the vodka isn’t chilled ice is permitted. These are the RULES and I will enforce them.

  5. June 22, 2012 11:25 am

    Funny, those drinks actually appeal to me, especially the Chocolate Torta (though I’m still trying to figure out how espresso + butterscotch = chocolate. Maybe the same way butterscotch + Baileys does *shrug*). For the most part, they sound delicious. Then again, the only kinds of drinks I can tolerate are the “girly” ones.

    However, I fully acknowledge that drinkers like me are not the drinkers that bars and restaurants should be catering to — I have maybe one drink a year, tops, while “serious” drinkers (like you, for instance, or even people who take drinking way less seriously) will be much more likely to buy drinks at a restaurant than I will.

    (Come to think of it, I’ve never bought a drink at a restaurant in my life — only ever at a bar or a wedding or mixed at someone’s home.)

  6. Tonia permalink
    June 22, 2012 11:42 am

    I have learned not to eat Italian in Albany. That menu is dull. And, you are correct on the drinks. Since I grow my own organic heirloom tomatoes, I am spoiled. I cannot eat any tomatoes anywhere other than my home. The taste of them is superior to what you are served in most restaurants, and especially the local ones. [I can’t speak for all.]

  7. June 22, 2012 11:47 am

    I haven’t had a cocktail since college, when I developed an allergy to alcohol (sad but true) but I think those were on the menu at the bars in downtown back in ’93.

  8. -R. permalink
    June 22, 2012 12:35 pm

    I appreciate your observations; I too loathe all things artificially flavored, and am no great fan of sickeningly sweet cocktails. However, perhaps the barkeep and management knows something about their clientele that is unknown to you; have you ever actually been to MezzaNotte during Happy Hour? How are you to judge their saccharine creations without beholding the consumers of such things (aside from the fact that you in particular find them repulsive)? For all you know, the place could be overflowing with irresponsible female 20/30-something boozers, with fake tans, boobs and nails, permanently attached smartphones, all of whom are dumber than a box of rocks. Does that sound like the envisioned demographic for such concoctions? Easy now… If so, I’d say the establishment is being run in a profitable manner (which is the point of having a business, not necessarily to please critics at large). As the old cliche goes, “Money talks and bullshit walks”.

    My point is that one ought not condescend too far, because there’s a market for everything. Stating that one would have to be either an adolescent or a moron to enjoy such cocktails is self-righteous at best, since a lot of very intelligent people enjoy some foodstuffs that make me recoil in horror; some folks eat and drink quite wholesomely only to turn around and stoop to unimaginable lows in other dietary aspects (we’re all guilty).

    • July 23, 2012 10:21 pm

      Note: My reply to -R which follows was originally posted in Ask the Profussor on July 5. But in light of a recent email I received about this topic, I thought it was important to repost here:

      Look. I confess. I got carried away with the name calling. That was wrong. And no, I have never been to MezzaNotte during Happy Hour. The problem is not that I find the drinks to be repulsive, as much as it is they are off-brand. Not that they don’t use brand name spirits, they do. It’s that they are inconsistent with the image the restaurant is trying to create for itself. If they ran a beachside bar and grill, and wanted to run those drink specials, that’s fine. But they are selling themselves as an upscale Italian restaurant, and those are not the kind of drinks a restaurant like that should be promoting. A guest comes in and asks for one, by all means make it. But when you put the restaurant’s name on a drink, that says a lot.

  9. christine permalink
    June 22, 2012 5:03 pm

    I’ve never understood the flavored vodka thing. I have always been of the mind that you start with vodka and then add stuff in to flavor it… juice, lemon, lime, whatever. So, I just don’t know what I would do with a vodka that was already flavored. I suppose I would just drink it straight or on the rocks, if I were into that kind of thing.

    My favorite summer drink happens to be a nice, cold and refreshing gin and tonic. Yum.

  10. maryonhudson permalink
    June 23, 2012 9:06 pm

    Well, just read today’s posting from Albany Jane on Key Lime Pie cocktail from Hooters. Assuming she has pretty good taste, it reminds me that not everything that sound awful is awful.

    • June 24, 2012 12:02 am

      I love Albany Jane. But I’m pretty sure that Key Lime Pie cocktail from Hooters is still awful. For the record, she also loves white chocolate. Did you hear me? WHITE chocolate!

      But she’s getting better. I’ve gotten her to like actual chocolate sauce. And we’ve been finding serious red wines that she enjoys. So all hope is not lost. This cocktail however represents a step backward. It’s my fault for going on vacation. Soon I’ll be back, and I’ll try to find a summer cocktail for AJ that we can all live with. K?

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