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Meeting friends at Copa d’Oro, I was introduced to Santa Monica’s “Godfather of Cocktails” Vincenzo Marianella. He is tall, Italian and was stylishly dressed as he served a tray of cocktails made with grappa to our hightop table. With one sip, the fragrant grape pomace (skin, pulp, seeds and stems) based drink was smooth and offered a pleasing flavor. Even though grappa contains anywhere from 35 to 60 percent alcohol by volume (which is 70 to 120 proof), Marianella told us, “grappa, like that of wine, depends on the quality of grapes used, as well as the distillation process.” We also learned grappa is primarily served as a digestivo or after-dinner drink to aid in the digestion of heavy meals. “In Italy we drink grappa, and I’m making it popular in California,” Marianella said.
After one cocktail, we strolled two doors down to The Independence on the corner of Broadway and 2nd in Santa Monica to enjoy more of Marianella’s creative mixed drinks and dinner. He’s the head barman here too, since both are owned by restauranteur Jonathan Chu.
A long bar is the centerpiece of the restaurant and big windows offer people-watching views as they walk by on their way to the Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica Beach or to the Third Street Promenade.
Sitting at a table near the bar, Marianella paired each course with chef Ben Golub’s new summer menu.
We started with a Mulholland cocktail made with Glenlivet single malt, Amaro Montenegro Cynar, and Jerry Thomas bitters offering a dried fruit aroma with a hint of cinnamon. It went well with the grilled focaccia and a plate of spicy beef and pork meatballs on soft polenta and tomato sauce. The drink also paired nicely with a thick toast layered with creamy burrata and topped with diced spring vegetables, arugula and a splash of lime oil. Another starter I really enjoyed was the chili crusted jumbo prawns enhanced with lemon.
The next cocktail we sipped was a Melrose, a tequila-based drink made with a splash of Aperol, agave, grapefruit bitters, fresh grapefruit juice and squeeze of lime juice. These citrus notes paired nicely with Golub’s two salads. The chopped kale and quinoa salad with smoked egg, sliced grapes, snap peas, candied walnuts, chopped avocado and feta was delicious. The second was a grilled radicchio and romaine topped with chicken, prosciutto, chopped dates, faro, green onion and a Parmesan vinaigrette with a lemon crumble.
For the third course, Marianella switched to wine and served us a big glass of Bread & Butter pinot noir to pair with an organic roasted half chicken with a zesty caper-Dijon jus and a plate of sautéed salmon served with an English pea and couscous salad. The best entree was the 8 oz. grilled hanger steak served with smashed celery root and potato. It went well with a morel mushroom risotto, jumbo asparagus with black garlic and the roasted cauliflower that was glazed with a spiced Greek yogurt, green onions and gold raisins.
For dessert, the warm, dark and rich chocolate cake was a winner around the table, as was the banana-hazelnut bread pudding with a Nutella ganache and McConnell’s caramel ice cream. A newer summer dessert is the strawberry-coconut panna cotta with fresh strawberries, vanilla whipped cream, and shortbread.
After a day at the beach, walk two blocks up to Copa d’Oro and The Independence for Happy Hour specials. At The Independence from 3 to 6 p.m., on Tuesday through Friday, special cocktails and well drinks are $6. During the weekend brunch at The Independence, they offer a two hour bottomless mimosa special for $18. 205 Broadway, Santa Monica, (310)458-2500.
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