For this week’s recipe, we stopped by Potenza—a new Italian restaurant in downtown DC—and chatted with the director of wine and spirits, Elli Benchimol. A native Californian who moved to Washington four years ago, Benchimol cut her teeth in the local scene overseeing the drink program at Rasika before leaving to open Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak in Miami. Benchimol returned in the fall of 2008, taking over general-manager and sommelier duties at Zola Wine & Kitchen—a job she’s more than happy with: “My original background is making cocktails—I worked as a bartender in San Francisco for about eight years—but I’m more interested in wines. Italian wine is actually my specialty.”
Given her knowledge, Benchimol was an obvious pick to manage the wine-and-spirits program at Potenza, a sister restaurant to Zola, owned by the Stir Food Group.
“The wine program here is set up to be very unpretentious,” she says. “Our menu is very descriptive, so you can confidently pick out a varietal you’ve never had before. You can try something new without feeling discouraged, and hopefully you won’t be disappointed.”
Also interesting, if somewhat smaller in size, is Potenza’s cocktail list, which is designed to play up the restaurant’s Italian cuisine. Classic cocktails have been updated with Italian wines and liquors such as grappa. The Vespa ($8.50), for example, is Benchimol’s take on the sidecar, substituting cherry-infused grappa for brandy and blood orange and Prosecco for Triple Sec. The cocktail is topped with orange bitters and served with an orange-sugar rim.
There’s also the Capriani ($8), a variant of the Caipirinha, Brazil’s signature cocktail, for which Benchimol combines muddled grapes with grappa, Cointreau, and kaffir-lime syrup.
“Our focus when it comes to drinks is seasonal ingredients,” says Benchimol. “As produce goes in and out of season, we want to make sure our cocktails stay fresh.”
Check out Benchimol demonstrating how to make the thirst-quenching Capriani, and make sure to get the recipe after the jump.
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Elli Benchimol, Potenza
3 lime wedges
5 red grapes
5 green grapes
2½ ounces Nardini grappa
Splash kaffir-lime syrup (made by cooking equal parts water and sugar with a few leaves from a kaffir-lime plant. Kaffir lime leaves are available at some local thai stores.)
Splash soda water
Squeeze lime wedges into a small glass. Add red and green grapes. Muddle the ingredients. Add the grappa, Cointreau, and lime syrup. Add ice. Pour ingredients into a shaker. Shake. Top the mixed drink with a splash of soda.