The stretch of 28th Street just west of Sixth Avenue is not an area where one expects to find the kind of artisanal, housemade offerings that are now de rigueur in so many downtown and Brooklyn restaurants. Yet Roberto Bellissimo, the chef of Blu Restaurant & Bar in the Hotel Indigo, which opened last fall, will soon be offering house-infused grappa as an after-dinner cap-off to his Italian menu.
Bellissimo grew up in Toronto making grappas with his grandfather, who hailed from Calabria in Italy. In traditional fashion, the chef’s “nonno” would use up extra fruit at the end of a season by throwing it into a batch of the liqueur. “He had a pear tree and a fig tree,” Bellissimo recalls.
About three months ago, the chef took apricots he’d frozen during the summer crop, along with pears, pineapple, and jarred Morello cherries, and sealed them in a grappa bath in oversize mason jars. The resulting four flavors are meant to be ordered after the meal, “like a digestif,” explains Bellissimo.
A taste of each revealed that apricot has a nice balance of tanginess and sweetness, while the pear is a bit cloying, brimming with vanilla from a Tahitian vanilla bean. Pineapple, which also received the vanilla-bean treatment, smells and tastes like a cupcake, making it a possible dessert stand-in if cake is your thing. Morello cherry has the most body and depth and turned out more viscous and tart than the other flavors — a Manhattan drinker might like this one. The liqueurs have just come of age, and the restaurant will start serving them in $12 three-flavor flights beginning in June (individual flavors in two-ounce pours will also be available).
If you’ve been bitten by the tropical tiki bug, you might want to hold out for the upcoming passion fruit, coconut, and mango flavors, which are currently brewing. Though keep in mind that Blu’s chandelier-bedecked, blue-lit interior won’t be adding any replicas of topless hula ladies any time soon.
Blu Restaurant & Bar
127 West 28th Street