Amaro Nonino

I Fratellini, 7624 Wydown Boulevard, 314-727-7901

Oct 15, 2003 at 4:00 am
If you're lucky enough, while dining at I Fratellini, to be fluent in Italian, the Hustler of languages (to French's Playboy), you could probably impress the heck out of your lady friend with a few witty tongue flips and a suggestive eyebrow maneuver. Such is the feel at this Clayton dining gem tucked within a Hanley-and-Wydown business villa. Because, however, you speak with a Midwestern nasal honk and couldn't seduce your way into a whorehouse, you'll have to let the accoutrements do the heavy lifting, relinquish control to the ambiance, lighting and overall fanciness, allow them to prop you at the point where you usually begin your dull conversational plummet.

Lucky for you I Fratellini has ambiance in spades, and the food and drink to back it up. You can relax: A sweet night of deliciousness and soft, candlelit romance await, especially right now, when the overcast fall palette outside resembles the later-evening lighting within the trattoria with its early stages of rust, burnt orange, gold. This is a restaurant that screams, "Autumn!" And as such, you should maybe eat. Eat food! Order some bruschetta. Drink a couple glasses of Falesco Vitiano, an ace cab/sangio/merlot blend. It's frickin' fall! Drink lots of water. You should always drink lots of water. Smile! Order some dessert.

And then, take it higher! Order an espresso. Then, higher! A digestivo -- named as such for obvious reasons. Then, halt, and ponder this digestivo, Amaro Nonino, an Italian grape brandy served at I Fratellini in an exquisite glass the shape of a shotgun shell. The liqueur is burnt brown, comes in a stunning rustic bottle with a cork and a label that screams Italy archetype; you can almost imagine a crotchety old Italian stooped over a barrel in a barn, rubbing his knuckles and sniffing his backwoods creation.

Herb-infused Amaro Nonino is a bit easier on the nose than a bitter grappa, the latter an acquired taste that we've yet to fully, er, acquire. Amaro has much more backbone than a sweet Muscat; it sits somewhere in the middle there, and, truth be told, the digestivo has much in common with Jägermeister. Wait, don't run away; it's a similarly created liqueur, and you can definitely taste some anise within the Italian elixir. But unlike its German ally, Amaro Nonino is subtle and multidimensional, with a delicate flavor of burnt vanilla and molasses. And don't shoot it. It's a perfect drink for languishing, for recovering, as a complement to the tingle that accompanies a good meal. Consider: It's always important to exit such a heavenly space feeling nice, warm, happy and humming.