Trattoria Carina is all about simplicity, especially when it comes to its drink program, which is minimalist, to say the least. It offers just a few Italian wines by the glass – and even encourages customers to bring their own bottles. But it makes the most of the aces in its liquor cabinet, a well-chosen handful of Italian-themed cocktail classics, including a spritz, a pair of Negronis (a classic and a white version), and my current favorite for these colder months, the Boulevardier.
The Boulevardier, credited to Erskine Gwynn (who was, in fact, a renowned boulevardier and journalist in 1920s Paris), is basically the Negroni's whiskey cousin, swapping out bourbon or rye for gin. But it has a distinctive swagger all its own. The whiskey's interplay between the opposite poles of this simple drink's two other ingredients — bitter Campari and sweet Carpano vermouth — swirls with notes of barrel vanilla, cherries, and pipe tobacco spice that take each sip to a deeper, more amber place that buffers against the winter's chill (instead of the summery juniper lift of a Negroni's gin). Of course, not all Boulevardiers are equally dashing. Carina adds some extra class by using a 13-year-old Knob Creek single-barrel bourbon that's exclusive to the Carina's older sibling, Pub & Kitchen, blending its chocolaty, smoky notes in the measured old-style fashion, in equal parts with the the other ingredients, as opposed to the boozier proportions typical of many modern Boulevardiers. As with most things, Trattoria Carina chooses to keep it simple, and it's a beautiful thing.
– Craig LaBan
The P&K 13-year Boulevardier, $12, Trattoria Carina, 2201 Spruce St., 215-732-5818.