Culinary website The Daily Meal recently named Adam Fortuna, of Cascina Spinasse and Artusi Bar, as one of their top 25 Bartenders in America. If you've ever sat at Artusi's hexagon-tiled bar or chosen a wine to go with your tajarin at Spinasse, you've probably swooned at his excellent selections on the menu. If not, consider this your notice that you should. Either way, read on to learn a little bit more about his thoughts on cocktails, Seattle, and when we might see the alcoholic slushies back at Artusi.
Where do you see Seattle's place in the cocktail world--only one spot on a list of 25 seems very low for a town that is fairly cocktail friendly--thoughts?
It's funny, I've drunk all over the USA and I feel like Seattle has more great cocktail spots per capita than any other city. Seattle has been at this for well over a decade now, even though the national trend of craft cocktails is still yet to reach some big cities. Because our guests are very educated, it forces us bartenders to always be on top of our game. I could list 25 bartenders just from Seattle who are deserving of this honor.
And you've got quite the challenge with your guests--what is most difficult about creating cocktails for a high-end restaurant (Spinasse) versus a drink-focused bar (Artusi)?
I really love the drastic difference between the two. Spinasse's liquor selection is fairly limited (one gin, one vodka, one bourbon, one rye, etc.), which lets me focus on wine. Guests who know and love Artusi's cocktails can order them at Spinasse. Otherwise, it's mostly negronis, manhatthans, and martinis. Artusi allows me to be more creative.
Are there any drinks you wish you could serve but can't find a place for at either spot?
I'm a sucker for tiki drinks, but it's not in line with what we're trying to achieve as a cocktail program. However, I still try to sneak them in every now and again.
But you have managed to work in the slushy! Your summer slushies were a big hit last year. When can we expect to see them back at the bar, and what flavors will we see?
We tend to roll out our patio and slushy machine on May 1 each year. Our slushy 'water off a duck's back' was very popular last year, so we will probably start with that. It consists of Jamaican rum, Strega (an Italian herbal liqueur), passion fruit, lime, and long pepper. I really hope to follow that with something simple like fernet and coke.
Before we get too excited about the slushies, we're still in the heart of rainy season here, so what's your drink pairing with the sound of rain rolling down the windows?
When Seattle is being 'Seattle' I tend to prefer something that is spirit-driven to warm me up. A high-proof rum Old Fashioned usually does the trick. I also wish eggnog was a year-round thing.
What's your favorite question (or answer) from a patron to help you direct that person to the right drink for them, at that moment?
I think most bartenders love when a guest gives you 'free reign' with some parameters. I tend to give people old classics that they probably have not heard of and which have never made a 'comeback', rather than my own experiments. I rarely give people something that's unproven. The words 'brown' and 'bitter' are always music to my ears.
The classics are great, but what's next? What new or previously neglected ingredient are you most excited about?
It sounds like a cliché because I work for two Italian spots, but I love that people are taking more of an active interest in grappa. I don't necessarily see it fit for cocktail use (save a few exceptions), but as production becomes more focused on single-varietal grappas, I think industry folks are realizing how beautiful it can be. It's not the blended and mass-produced firewater of decades past.