Mixologist: Cocktails are in season at Palio d'Asti 

It’s hard to imagine that Martino DiGrande has spent more than 20 years behind a bar, as he looks as young as his 26 years. But among the first words this San Francisco native learned to read were “Jack Daniels” and “Stolichnaya,” as he fetched bottles at his family’s former restaurant on Taraval Street at 25th Avenue. With just a couple of educational detours — City College of San Francisco, USF and an internship at the Planeta Winery in Sicily — Martino went straight from DiGrande’s in the ’hood to Palio d’Asti in the Financial District, one of The City’s best-reviewed Italian restaurants. As general manager, Martino has led Palio d’Asti’s mixologists in creating an intriguing selection of new cocktails, including seasonal drink specials that come with free pizza during happy hours. If you can catch him behind the bar — he also seats guests and serves as “cocktail sommelier” — he makes a delicious and potent version of this summer’s Green Goblin cocktail. 640 Sacramento St., San Francisco, (415) 395-9800, www.paliodasti.com

This Green Goblin cocktail is very tasty. How did you come up with it? Strega is an herbal liqueur that is often used in Italian pastries, brushed on cakes, so the taste reminds me of Sunday dinners with my family. But when I started working here we had four bottles of the stuff and it wasn’t popular. So I started playing with it and came up with this combination with the fresh basil, which is very summertime. Our chef really likes gin drinks and the juniper of the gin, the herbalness, pairs well with the Strega. I also like that it looks like a witch’s brew, with the flecks of basil floating in it. The word “strega” is “witch” in Italian.

So your seasonal cocktail menu is driven by the available ingredients? Yes, we decided to go seasonal because this way we can really showcase what’s fresh. That’s how Italians think about food: What’s in season? What’s here right now? I like to get in early on Saturdays, go into the walk-in refrigerator and see what’s fresh — the fresh berries, different fruits, herbs. That’s how we came up with the Rosemary Sweet Tea, which is fresh rosemary, bourbon, lemon, topped with a float of muscato. Going seasonal also brings the cost down of the ingredients, so I’m able to offer $7-$9 cocktails.

Your seasonal drinks also have some interesting names. Yes, half of the fun of coming up with the cocktails is coming up with the name. The Veruca Pucker, which is basically a blueberry Lemon Drop, is named after the character from “Willy Wonka” who turns into a giant blueberry. “Bridge on the River Kwai” is a famous movie about British POWs. So the drink has gin, very British; Canton ginger, very Indochina; jalapeno, spicy; and then bitters.

Do you have a favorite spirit? One of the problems with growing up in a bar is that you drink everything. I’m not a gin guy, I’m not a vodka guy, I’m not a scotch guy — I will drink everything. Also, if you want to learn it, you’ve got to taste it. You need to develop an appreciation for each type of liquor so that you can use it and understand how the guy who’s drinking it is going to look at it.


Green Goblin

 

  • 1½ oz. gin
  • ½ oz. Liquore Strega
  • ¼ oz. simple syrup
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 2 leaves fresh basil
  • 1 brandied cherry


Muddle the basil leaves with the Strega, lemon juice and simple syrup and ice. Top with the gin; shake to combine. Strain into a martini glass and drop the cherry to the bottom.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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