At Alfama, diners can feast upon traditional Portuguese favorites with modern twists. The eatery (214 East 52nd Street) — previously in the West Village — now has a cocktail menu at its new location, to complement these plates. We chatted with Tarcísio Costa to get a sense of the restaurant’s drink program. Costa talked about the link between Magellan and booze, as well as his long-distance Twitter relationship with a Spanish siren.
How did you come up with a beverage menu to go with such a unique cuisine?
At the old location, we only had Portuguese wine. It was funny, because people would walk in and ask for a Chardonnay or ask for a Cabernet Sauvignon. They exist in Portugal, but they’re not typical. In the new location, I decided to open up the wine list to have represenation from around the world, including the United States. So, for example, I have a great Hungarian Chardonnay on the list. But the list remains primarily Portuguese — 97 percent of the wines are from there. The vision has always been to represent the flavors of Portugal.
How does this play out with cocktails?
Portugal, by and large, is not a culture that is as cocktail-driven the U.S. is. As you know, there’s been a cocktail resurgance in the last 20 years — where New York and San Francisco have really been the leading cities in the U.S. for creative mixology. I’ve always taken an interest in creating new cocktails, either a reinterpretation of a classic and adding my own twist, or creating something entirely new and tying it to Portugese history or culture.
For example …
One cocktail, the Route to the Indies, is inspired by Magellan the navigator — when he was looking for the Spice Islands in the East. It’s Bombay Sapphire gin, spiced orange anise liqueur, Madeira wine, and fresh lime and curry on the rim. It’s one of my most inspired creations, and I think it’s very representative of the thought process I like to put into my cocktails: The spiciness of the ingredients plays really well against the botanicals of the gin and the lime and the curry.
How do you drink it?
I rim half of the cocktail glass with curry. I suggest that they nose it and drink from the uncurried side, so they taste the spirits. Then, I tell them to turn it around and lick the edge and chase the cocktail with it. The spices of the curry along with the spicess of the gin work out well together.
Anything new in the pipeline?
I am currently obsessed with a Spanish black woman. She’s a singer — she’s fantastic. Her name is Concha Buika. She’s coming to Carnegie Hall on January 8, and you will see me there. I adore her for many reasons. She grew up in a really poor neighborhood in a Gypsy community in Mallorca. When she sings, she has a very raspy voice. Anyway, I tweeted and her fans tweeted me back, because I asked what she likes to drink because I wanted to create a cocktail to honor her. I found out that she liked dark rum and was like “ooh.”
What’s the drink?
It’s called “El Ultimo Trago” — the last sip. It’s dark, aged rum, fresh grapefruit juice, cream of coco, fresh lime, Angostura bitters, and a dash of cayenne pepper. So it’s inspired by her — dark, seductive, and deliciously spicy. I’ve given it to several people to try, and they really like it, so I’m launching the cocktail in February. I invited her to come try it when she’s in town!
What else is part of your creative process?
I try to have a story behind every cocktail. I don’t just throw shit against the wall and see if it sticks — I put a lot of thought and love into every cocktail I create. People say: ‘Oh, you’re a mixologist.’ I say: ‘No’. I don’t think of myself as such. I think of myself as somebody who loves cocktails and loves cocktail culture. The fun thing about tending bar for me is that you’re taking care of people. Whether you’re serving them a glass of soda, or a water, or a Scotch, or a Scotch on the rocks, if that’s the drink they want, if that’s what they need at that particular moment — that’s great, and that’s a great cocktail. So it’s not about coming up with fancy or weird or exotic concotions to soothe one’s ego.