David Rossoff has been one of LA’s foremost sommeliers for decades now — so if he’s telling Angelenos it’s time to start drinking vermouth on the rocks, it’s time to listen up. With stints at culinary institutions like Michael’s, Campanile and Nancy Silverton’s quickly expanding Mozza empire, Rosoff established his wine lists as essential companions to this city’s dining culture. Now, he’s focused on vermouth, including a venture into making his own, Vermina, and serving it as a stand-alone drink at the third-time’s-a-charm version of his Spanish-inspired restaurant Bar Moruno, which just (re)opened in Silver Lake.
After traveling through Europe — Spain and Italy in particular — and soaking in the vermouth drinking culture there, Rosoff and fellow Mozza alum Chris Feldmeier initially teamed up to create the Spanish-inspired Bar Moruno concept back in 2016. Launched at the Farmer’s Market in 2016, then moved to a stall at downtown’s foodie hub Grand Central Market, the concept struggled to connect with the right patrons in both locations. Shuttering the second outpost in early 2017, Rosoff and Feldmeier have been biding their time, looking for a location that suited their laidback tapas, tinned fish, sherry and vermouth offerings.
Now they’ve locked into what appears to be a perfect location, the former Kettle Black space right near Sunset Junction, with a tiny aperitivo and grocery shop, Rápido, tucked in next door. (There are plans for a third sit-down restaurant, Causita, to round out the trifecta on the other side.) “It’s not often that you get a second chance at something like this, and both Chris and I are extremely grateful,” Rosoff tells InsideHook. “This is the home that Bar Moruno always deserved to have, and it’s the right location. I live right up the hill, and we opened the restaurant that I would want to go to if I didn’t own it myself.”
Backtracking for a quick moment for any novice drinkers among us: Vermouth is simply an aromatized, fortified wine. The base wine is infused with botanicals and then fortified (read: made more alcoholic) with the addition of spirits, usually a neutral liquor like grape brandy. It will drink a little stronger than a glass of wine or a beer, and slightly less boozy than a full-on cocktail, though obviously vermouth is an ingredient in plenty of cocktails. The Vermina version is a gorgeous take on the Italian classic, made in California in partnership between Rosoff and Steve Clifton, the steward, owner and winemaker at Palmina Wines in Santa Barbara. Witnessing the way drinking culture in Europe paired vermouth with salty snacks — and served as a stand-alone beverage on the rocks — informed how Rosoff and Clifton engineered their own take on the classic. After dubbing their experiment “Vermina” — a mix between “vermouth” and “Palmina” — a friend pointed out the name’s proximity to the word “vermin” might scare people off. Instead, Rosoff and Clifton leaned in and slapped rats on the label, further twisting their tongue-in-cheek take on upscale vermouth.
“At that time in Madrid, you’d see people spilling out of bars with olives and anchovies in one hand, and a glass of something in the other hand, big smiles on their faces,” Rosoff told InsideHook. “I wanted whatever that magical elixir was. I wanted to drink it, then I wanted to make it when I got back. We made Vermina after originally seeing it consumed on its own in Spain and Italy, so it was really engineered to taste as a stand-alone beverage on the rocks with olive and orange.” Those garnishes are so effective because they further bring out the botanicals used in each flavor: the Meyer lemon and basil in the white, the blood orange and rosemary in the red.
But if you press Rosoff for a recipe featuring his signature vermouth, he’ll give you that most simple setup: A generous pour of vermouth on the rocks, two Castelvetrano olives and a juicy slice of orange. That’s the way it’s served up at Moruno, and quite literally how it was designed to be served. Still, for those who are hoping for more standard fare to mix their own drinks up at home, Rosoff recommends a lighter take on the Negroni, which comes courtesy of Clare Ward and swaps Campari for Aperol.
- 1 oz Vermina Blanc Vermouth
- 1 oz Aperol
- 1 oz Gin
- Pinch salt
Build the drink over ice, stirring until combined. Garnish with a grapefruit peel.
To pick up some Vermina of your own, grab a bottle at Rápido, or swing by Bar Moruno and grab a glass from one of the bartenders there. While you’re at it, pop open some tinned fish and pretend you’re in Spain for the afternoon.
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