Drink of the week:
Aperol Spritz at Quartino
, 626 N. State.
The damage: $8.
Thousands of bars in Chicago, why this one? It's easy to fall in love with dining in Italy—from the blistered-bottom pies topped with gooey mozzarella in Napoli to the perfectly al dente pasta served in trattorias nationwide. But on a recent trip to the country, I found the local drink left me even more enamored with la dolce vita. Sure, I swooned over house red wines served by the liter for a mere 7 Euro; they had robust flavors that would outshine most bottles you'd shell out 30 bones for at a Chicago restaurant. Oh, but it was my dear friend the Aperol Spritz that left me giddy before I could even crack open my menu.
Though the aperitif has been around since 1919, it's become particularly trendy in Italy in recent years; a commercial depicts young, sexy Italians rolling up to a party in a chauffeured car and popping up out of the sunroof to call out their Spritz drink order. Aperol has been available in the States since 2006, but since most Euro trends tend to take a while to catch on stateside, I'm predicting it'll be the hot new drink sometime around 2015. Until then, you can find the gentle spirit in a few inventive drinks served at bars around the city, but to keep it classically Italian, head to Quartino.
How it went down: Just as the Italians use ice sparingly to ensure their drinks don't become watered down, Quartino's bartender fills a wine glass with just a quarter of ice. He then adds two ounces of Aperol, five ounces of Carpene Malvolti Prosecco and tops it off with a spritz (get it?) of club soda, garnishing the tangerine-color blend with an orange slice.
The resulting concoction showcases a subtle balance between bitterness and sweetness. That's the beauty of Aperol. Compared to Campari, an aperitivo that has some similarities, Aperol rings in at a substantially lower proof (22), making it much less intense and more smooth. The sparkling wine adds the perfect finish of effervescence, and the aftertaste leaves you with the delicate flavors of citrus and rhubarb.
Would I want to become a regular? You'd have squint to transform Quartino's massive, bi-level space into a quaint osteria in Campania, but its menu does honor classic Italian fare with rich pastas and a build-your-own antipasti menu that sports an impressive selection of cured meats and cheeses. The portions are billed as being small and meant for sharing, but the sizable mounds are quite hearty—all the more reason to order an Aperol Spritz before diving in to kick-start your hunger.
Dana Kavan scours the city for drink deals so good you'll offer to buy a round and creative libations that outshine your average on-the-rocks concoctions. Want to give Dana tips on where to rack up a bar tab? Share your finds before her next night out.