Food

Mario Batali Wheels in His Most Extensive Bar Program at La Sirena

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You won’t find chef Josh Laurano’s plump, homemade burrata — bursting with tender cubes of cream-soaked butternut squash — offered at the central bar dominating Mario Batali’s latest restaurant, La Sirena (363 West 16th Street, 212-242-4300), now open at the Maritime Hotel. The same goes for the briny aroma of linguine with clams, also relegated to twin dining rooms situated at opposite ends of a Portuguese tile floor. Such flavors are discreetly consumed behind sliding barn doors, while aperitivi fans are already flocking to Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group‘s first foray into cultivating its own cocktail scene. It’s only been a week, and it’s working.

Meaghan Montagano, formerly of Brooklyn’s Extra Fancy, now oversees a bar team of nine. The team stirs Negroni cocktails and uncaps bottled mezcal stingers garnished with fresh mint. Meanwhile, a manned antipasti cart cruises wall to wall until last call — bar and tableside service for hungry, hailing drinkers.

“We’re sourcing the best of Italy for the perfect little bar snack,” says Laurano, who created the restaurant’s mobile bar menu of perfectly aged parmigiano-reggiano, creminelli salami, and olives. Laurano says the olives are “the best of Staten Island” — the product of his wife’s aunt’s sugar, vinegar, and celery marinade. The cart menu will change with the seasons, so expect a vegetable cart with bagna cauda come spring.

The drinks have been evolving for months now, since before Montagano even accepted La Sirena partner Jeff Katz’s unexpected offer last summer.

“He was a guest at Extra Fancy — it was a total happenstance. I took care of him. He gave me his card and says there’s an opportunity,” recalls Montagano. “I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ ” But after considering the offer through the fall, while traveling around the country for drink weeks and competitions, a menu started to take shape for Montagano.

The resulting list has something for everyone, as Montagano has come to realize there’s no pigeonholing the bar’s patronage: a mix of Batali loyalists, High Line tourists, and hotel guests, plus more raucous Meatpacking regulars.

But Montagano’s biggest challenge so far has come from satisfying what hotel bar patrons crave. For example, her greatest accomplishment has been making vodka cocktails. “It’s very challenging, but we have specifications to our menu,” she explains. “There are certain relationships that have to be satisfied, and I’ve had to make five vodka drinks.”

Among those are the Superstitious, which Montagano describes as “a vodka shandy on crack,” hopping with White Aphro beer, bitter Gran Classico, and fresh blood orange. There are also two large-format cocktails that are party-sized and served in weighty copper pineapples: the Ninth Avenue Special, blended with sloe gin and cider, and the Vacanza, with vodka, rum, pineapple, and Velvet Falernum.

It’s no surprise there are plenty of vodka drinks on the menu, since Absolut’s Elyx House moved into the neighborhood last year. There’s also a house bloody mary that makes an appearance on the dining room’s truncated cocktail menu. “In there, the wine and spirit list is on an iPad,” Montagano explains. “It’s so large it would be like putting the phone book in front of somebody.”

While there’s no shortage of winter flavors on La Sirena’s menu — including the tequila Siren Song, with spiced pear, walnut liqueur, and cinnamon smoke — Montagano is already tipping her summer menu. Look out for a fennel-infused Cointreau margarita, which she envisions dominating patio drinking once La Sirena opens up its hundred-seat terrace in the months ahead.

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