"What Gastón always told me," cocktail director Saul Ranella said of Gastón Acurio, chef and mastermind of La Mar Cebicheria, "is that Peru is color.
The multitudes it contains: the mountain peaks and the Amazon, Japanese and Inca and German and Spanish ethnicities, the astounding variety of its peppers, its fruits; so varied, so colorful. That comes through in the cuisine. I wanted it to come through in the drinks, too.
Indeed, what you'll find on La Mar's menu is a diverse list of cocktails, from the classic pisco sour to a pisco-based take on the Negroni, in ample portions and dressed in vivid hue.
Pisco is having a moment in the States, but to many people, it's still just the stuff of pisco sours and not much else. Spending a summer in Chile when I was 19, I got very well acquainted with the grape brandy produced in that country and in Peru. (Being 19, I can't say I cultivated a particularly nuanced appreciation of the stuff.) Piscola (pisco dumped in Coke) and pisco sours (with citrus and egg white) were refreshing but interesting, mixed drinks just a smidgen better than my college habit of Bacardi and Diet Coke. I loved the way it mixed so easily and went down so smoothly, a spirit I'd never heard of but grew to love.
Of course, others would take umbrage to any appreciation of pisco that began in Chile. Peruvians are very proud of their pisco, claiming all others are but pale imitations. And while I won't take sides as to who can claim pisco as their own, I will say that the staunchly Peruvian La Mar Cebicheria is doing a fine job of getting the spirit appreciated.
Cocktail director Ranella thinks beyond the pisco-and-fruit or pisco-and-egg white standards, with a menu of 12+ rotating cocktails ($12-15) all based on pisco in various forms. Ranella developed the cocktail program at La Mar's San Francisco outpost before he moved to New York; "I've been working with pisco almost exclusively for more that five years now," he told us.
"At a table, I want everyone to order a different cocktail and everyone to have a different color, all spread out next to the food. It's lively. It's vibrant." (Our photographer Alice Gao, though she can make 10 pictures of Old Fashioneds look fascinating, appreciated the aesthetics.)
Click through the slideshow for a look at La Mar's 13 pisco cocktails.