Terrine and Scarpetta both closed in surprising fashion in 2016. Important pieces from both L.A. restaurants remain at The Ponte, an Italian restaurant in Terrine’s shell. Key players include Scarpetta co-founder Scott Conant, Terrine’s front of house partner Stephane Bombet, former Scarpetta chef Freddy Vargas, and Terrine lead bartender Ryan Wainwright.
Wainwright built his reputation at Terrine, Faith & Flower, and Viviane. At The Ponte, a mostly female bar team is mixing Italian-leaning cocktails beneath chandeliers that resemble Midcentury spaghetti, which makes sense given the preponderance of house-made pasta.
Wainwright’s menu includes categories like Classic Cocktails, Modern Cocktails, Award Tour, and Negroni. That’s right, they’ve devoted an entire category to the Negroni, an Italian classic that balances gin, Campari, and vermouth and dates to 1919, when Italian count Camillo Negroni instructed the bartender at Florence’s Caffè Casoni to embolden his Americano.
“The Negroni is the king of Italian drinking culture,” Wainwright said. “It’s hard to talk about digestivos without talking about this classic. My hope at The Ponte was to celebrate its strength while also highlighting versions of it throughout time.” Toward that end, he offers a Flight of All Three Negronis ($15) featuring 2 ounces of each version.
Campari Mixte is a textbook version featuring Occitan gin, Bombay dry gin, Campari, Alessio Vermouth di Torino. White Negroni is the albino of the Negroni world, crafted with Occitan Gin, Bombay dry gin, Contratto bianco vermouth, Bordiga extra dry vermouth, Kina L’Avion, and Salers Aperitif. Mezcal is a smoky, spicy Negroni that combines El Silencio Mezcal, Campari, Alpe LYS, Punt-e-Mes, and Cocchi Dopo Teatro.
Wainwright explained his approach to each Negroni. “For the White Negroni in particular, I really wanted to make it more subtle and nuanced,” he said. “The original version Wayne Collins came up with was rough and quite sharp, and my hope was to layer flavors to create a clean, nuanced version. To accomplish this, I use 2 different vermouths and 2 different bitters: instead of one ounce suze or a bittering agent I use half Salers and half Tempus Fugit l’Aero d’Or; and instead of an ounce of Lillet or other type of vermouth I do half Bordiga Extra Dry Vermouth and half Contratto Bianco Vermouth. The effects are layered and quite deep.
For the Mezcal Negroni I wanted to play off the vegetality of the mezcal while using its smoke as an accent. First, I split the bitters—half Campari and half Alpe LYS Bitters. Then, I split the vermouth with two very bitter vermouth amaros – Cocchi Dopo Teatro and Punt-e-Mes – to stand up to all the big flavors. I’ve had both of these Negronis many times but always felt that they were out of balance. The bitters in the white always was yelling down my throat and the mezcal was always so sharp and out of place. My goal was to round out the edges while drawing from all over to create very complex and elegant variations.”
Of course, no matter how detailed Wainwright gets, trying the drinks are still vital. Head to The Ponte for a three-Negroni tasting and receive a nuanced master class.