The Richmond Cocktail Tour: Salute E Vita Ristorante


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Richmond isn’t exactly known for its cocktails. We’re working to change that. There are hidden gems around the city offering some great cocktails served in unique ways, and our cocktail tour is unearthing them.

The RFR team took on Assemble Restaurant last time, and now we’ve set our sights on the popular Salute E Vita Ristorante. 

Menbe Akilulu became the owner of the Marina Bay Restaurant 15 years ago and focused on bringing authentic, hand-crafted Italian cuisine to Richmond. During this time the restaurant and its alluring owner have become renowned for offering a fine dining experience in a welcoming, intimate environment as well as serving a lavish Thanksgiving meal for the homeless and veterans.

Salute has an extensive wine menu, but their cocktails are lesser known. We put their Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Sazerac to the test to see how their whiskey cocktails stand up to the competition at Assemble. 

  

Salute’s Old Fashioned:
-2 oz Makers Mark Bourbon Whiskey
-2 dashes Angostura Bitters
-1 oz simple syrup
-1 splash of water
-1 slice fresh orange peel
-1 maraschino cherry 

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Seated in the restaurant’s bar room, with views of the docked boats gently rocking in the marina, a classic Old Fashioned cocktail was the perfect drink for the scene.  

Salute’s take on the cocktail came out with a big chunk of orange peel and —oddly —small, half-melted ice cubes. Old Fashioned cocktails are best served neat or with a single, extra-large ice cube to keep the drink cool, since smaller cubes tend to melt quickly and make the drink watery. As a result the drinks were diluted and left us yearning for more whiskey. Fortunately the flavors of the Makers Mark carried through and made the drink palatable. The cherry, however, was a big disappointment as Salute uses the same bleached and dyed maraschino cherries found in every neighborhood watering hole. 

  

Salute’s Manhattan:
-2 oz Ridgemont Reserve Kentucky Bourbon
-1 oz Martini Sweet Vermouth
-2 dashes Angostura Bitters
-1 maraschino cherry  

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The drink came served in a tumbler rather than the traditional martini glass with a bit of bubbly froth on top, showing that it had been shaken, not stirred. 

Compared to their Old Fashioned, Salute’s Manhattan was perfectly chilled and the ingredients were well balanced. The bourbon and vermouth gave depth and complexity to the drink. The bartender was clearly well experienced in making this drink. Once again, the grocery store-quality maraschino cherries were disappointing to see from such a high quality restaurant. Overall the drink itself is a strong contender in the competition but Assemble’s wins out for their high quality ingredients and authentic Italian cherries.

 

Salute’s Sazerac:
-2 oz Whiskey, Bulleit and Knob Creek
-3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
-2 dashes Angostura Bitters
-1 oz simple syrup
-Spray of French Absinthe 

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This drink was the winner of the night. A peachy, amber color with a thin slice of lemon curled into the glass, Salute’s Sazerac matched the color of the sunset sky over the marina. We ordered two sets of the drink: one with Bulleit bourbon whiskey, and another with Knob Creek rye. Each whiskey uniquely influenced the other flavors of the drink.

The Bulleit meshed well with the absinthe spray, resulting in a cocktail that held spicy and sweet notes with a slightly tart aftertaste from the bitters. It was complex and flavorful —a drink for those who like the hearty whiskey taste.

The Knob Creek Sazerac was my personal favorite. The sweetness of the rye whiskey highlighted the flavors of the lemon peel, making it a fruitier drink than its bourbon counterpart. The typically spicy notes of the spirit were pushed to the back of the drink, leaving a warm aftertaste that carried notes of the bitters. 

  

Final thoughts:
Salute is known for flavorful, high quality food served in a gorgeous and intimate setting and though their cocktails mostly delivered on flavor, they didn’t quite meet our raised expectations. The Sazerac made the night. The drink held the most dimension in flavor and quality of ingredients. However, the memory of the odd maraschino cherries endured, bringing down the overall quality of the experience. Salute E Vita Ristorante rightfully remains a beloved destination in Richmond’s culinary scene but we recommend they apply the same emphasis on quality to their bartending, starting with adding Luxardo or Fabbri Amarena cherries and large cocktail ice cubes to their bartending toolkit. If you’re looking to pair a cocktail with your dish, try to keep it simple. 

  

 

Salute E Vita Ristorante
1900 Esplanade Drive, Richmond
Phone: (510) 215-0803 

Business Hours
Monday - Saturday: 11 am to 10 pm
Sunday: 10 am to 10 pm

By: Sean Pyles and Felix Hunziker

Photo courtesy Bella Beer

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