Photos By Emily Cohen, Words By Ashley Wright
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I sat down for Don Ciccio & Figli’s liqueur tasting event on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Ripple is a gorgeous, modern space with a mid-century feel that I love in my restaurants but am not sure what to think about in my drinking establishments. I also like whisky and beer you can eat with a spoon, so I didn’t think my palate was quite up to the task of appreciating what I initially perceived as a more delicate array of flavors.
However, the 7 liqueurs Francesco Amodeo of Don Ciccio & Figli showcased at the tasting event pleasantly surprised me. Usually used as an aperitif after a meal, the Italian liqueur has been transformed into an approachable building block that can be used as the base for cocktails, for cooking, or on its own.
The first glass on offer was an example of the liqueur’s use in cocktails: a sour-sweet mix of hibiscus liqueur, prosecco, aperol, and Peshod’s Bitters dreamed up by Ripple’s Beverage Director, Caroline Blundell. The first sip was a shocking hit of sugar from the hibiscus and a strong bitter aftertaste due to the aperol and Peshod’s, but in a few sips the flavors mellowed out and it was more of a pleasant melding of opposites than a jarring discordant flavor combination.
Though the cocktail arrived on its own, the rest of the tasting consisted of Amodeo’s liqueurs paired with delicious small plates made by Ripple’s Executive Chef, Marjorie Meek-Bradley, and pastry chef Vanessa Ochotorena.
The Finocchietto was the first of the liqueurs. Described by Don Ciccio & Figli as “an infusion of hand-picked wild fennel, fennel seed, anise seed and dill,” the syrupy liqueur was heavily reminiscent of licorice, but the herb-heavy aftertaste highlighted the fresh flavors of Meek-Bradley’s cured salmon and smoked yolk plate beautifully. This liqueur would be a fantastic addition to any brunch menu – it tastes like your new Sunday morning hangover cure.
The thick, bittersweet Nocino was paired with what is possibly the most delicious rice ball in DC. Meek-Bradley’s take on saffron arancini made me wish I could sneak into the kitchen after the event and collect any extras they had lying around. This combination is the sophisticate’s version of tater tots and rum.
Amadeo’s version of limoncello is made with real lemon peels as opposed to lemon powder, which gives this traditionally too-sweet liqueur a lovely tart flavor reminiscent of real lemonade while still managing to convey that confectionary sugar sweetness. Paired with Ochotorena’s almond honey marshmallows – marshmallow puffs with bits of almond throughout – this combination is probably best enjoyed while sitting on a deck chair and enjoying a summer sporting event.
The Mandarinetto and Fico D’India liqueurs were both pleasant but were outshone by the last liqueur of the tasting, the Concerto. Amodeo declared that no one else in the United States makes this combination of espresso, barley coffee, and 15 herbs and spices. There are other producers on the Amalfi Coast, but Amodeo got this recipe from the Convento di Francesco di Tramonti in Italy, who guarded it closely for 300 years. (I do love a good romantic story.) It’s amazing, and paired with Ochotorena’s rich, deep, dark, indulgent chocolate hazelnut truffle, it’s the perfect choice if you’re in the mood for a boozy dessert.
Blundell ended the tasting with a float made of vanilla ice cream, seltzer, ancho chili syrup, and Ibisco liqueur. It was bright pink and looked like it should be clutched in the bejeweled hand of a weaving bachelorette, but it was delicious – the chili syrup cut the sweetness of the ice cream and made it pleasantly sugary instead of devastatingly sweet.