Thursday, June 02, 2011

cocktail hour: amor y amargo

"Without the bitter, baby, the sweet aint as sweet."
- Vanilla Sky
A few months ago, Zoe, Amanda and I went on a quest to get chummy with bitters. During olden times, these alcoholic herbal infusions were used as folk remedies. In today's cocktail world, these spirits give your aperitifs and digestifs a bit of flavor and dry zest. Over at a tiny bar in the East Village called Amor y Amargo, bitters are the star of the show.

I had a flashback to a boozy evening with Zoe in 2010 as soon as I saw the countertop of the bar. Formerly Carteles, this was once a good spot for procuring Cuban sandwiches before heading up the hidden staircase for a rum punch at Cienfuegos. In typical New York fashion, this tiny 8-seater joint has turned into a bitters bar less than a year since my last Cubano in the same spot.

Our education in bitters started with a sampling of the Bittermens Very Small Batch bitters sold at the counter. We were told to rub a drop between our hands and smell it before tasting another drop. I thought it was amazing how much flavor is packed into such a very tiny amount of liquid. Then we put in our orders for some small bites and drinks. I was quite pleased with my order. The crispy garbanzos with crumbled morcilla ($6) packed a nice little kick and a satisfying crunch. The Americano cocktail on draft was pretty delicious. Yes, you read that right: they have a cocktail on tap. The Americano is a mixture of sweet Vermouth, Campari and soda. It was refreshing and had a lovely mixture of the bitter and the sweet.
My memory fails me on what exactly Zoe and Amanda ordered for drinks but I'd hazard a guess and say Zoe had the Bittermen's House Gin & Tonic ($12) with her artichoke salad ($8) while Amanda paired her white bean and oil poached tuna salad ($8) with À L’Ancienne (Cognac old fashioned with Bittermens Spiced Cranberry Citrate).
The truth is, I can't recall their drinks too well because I really preferred mine! I quite liked my second drink, too: the Mud Season, a mixture of zucca amaro (a rhubarb bitter), mirto (an Italian liqueur made out of myrtle berries), sweet vermouth, rhum agricole & Bittermens hopped grapefruit bitters. It had a caramel-like sweetness to offset the bitters, which I liked. I would definitely come back if only for a taste of the sweet vermouth on tap described on the menu as "an adult version of sangria" and dubbed life-changing by more than one fan.

I would recommend coming here with cocktail enthusiasts as it is definitely bar geek territory and bitters aren't for everyone (yet). Please don't force an appletini-loving friend to take up precious space at the bar. Leave that chair to me and my sweet vermouth.

Amor y Amargo is located at 443 East 6th Street (between 1st Avenue & Avenue A), New York, NY.

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