Romana Black Sambuca

Trattoria Strada Nova, 21 North Ninth Street, Columbia, 573-442-8992

We have been to Columbia and back on quite a few occasions in our short and reasonably exciting life -- perhaps as many as 300 times. This is the result of the constant to and fro of home and school, of friends and lovers, of boredom and adventure, desperation and desire. Last week on a whim, we raced to Columbia through highway snowstorm tunnels and landed at the Regency Premier Hotel downtown, within walking distance of virtually everything.Within hours were we drinking black sambuca and engaged in lovely, easy conversation at Trattoria Strada Nova.

It is a pleasant surprise, a reminder that our little brother -- and former home -- is a mere 75 minutes -- but a world -- away. You Ivy Leaguers, community collegers and dropouts who missed the whole Mizzou college experience can be forgiven for not caring about Columbia. But that doesn't mean it's not an excellent weekend getaway, especially considering the quality of the food in Strada Nova's kitchen, the budget-friendly hotel rate ($60 for a Saturday night) and the joyous vibe of studentless (winter-break) college town.

Trattoria Strada Nova is located in a storefront next to the Blue Note and serves a rustic brand of cuisine, replete with stuffed quail, basil-pesto pizza, antipasto, an ace calamari and, although we didn't try it, a drool-worthy free-range chicken. We went Asian at the trattoria and got the sesame-encrusted salmon with wasabi potatoes. It was the perfect specimen.

For dessert we ordered what appeared to be a fancy Ding Dong. This low point of the meal was salvaged by the arrival of a snifter of Romana black sambuca, the most popular brand of this Italian staple. Black sambuca is a tarantula of a drink, often debauched and/or dismissed as a throwback but perhaps worthy of reconsideration. Consumed as a shot, it's harsh and flammable. If you're feeling feisty, you can do it the old-fashioned way -- chomp on the couple of coffee beans that Trattoria Strada Nova has tossed into the snifter, light the thing on fire and shoot it. Or go the fearless frat-boy way and employ it as an ingredient in such concoctions as the Black Widow (Absolut Citron and black sambuca), a Flat Tire (tequila and black sambuca), a Boot in the Head (whiskey and black sambuca) or -- get this one -- a Black Death (Bacardi 151, chartreuse and black sambuca). Yes, black sambuca is a hammer, and perhaps a little poisonous.

Consumed as a digestive, however, it's something else, a big-ass jolt of licorice-and-witch-elder liqueur with more backbone, and less viscosity, than Jägermeister. Sipped, it still packs a wallop, but a diffused and clean one that slides down the esophagus with the soothing sensation of a licorice tea. And if you're like us and have been on a licorice bender for most of the fall and winter, then black sambuca seems the perfect extension, the perfect cap to a whimsical, spur-of-the-moment mid-Missouri adventure.

 
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