Espresso Martini

Bar Italia, 13 Maryland Plaza, 314-361-7010

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What's the point of an espresso martini, of coupling a shot of coffee with twice as much vodka? A stimulant and a depressant taken together --kind of a moot point, right? Why not just have a glass of water? (Don't get us started on the vodka-and-Red Bull craze.)

But then, you're no baby, and you're going to be going all night long anyway, so why not take on some speed along with your booze? An espresso martini is much more enjoyable (to most) than snorting crystal meth alongside your Pabst Blue Ribbon. Plus, you love to indulge the taste buds, love to experiment with flavor and texture, love to pit booze and coffee against each other to see which will prevail when the evening's over: Wide awake? Deep asleep?

Those interested in a hands-on chemistry experiment should sprint to Bar Italia in the Central West End, where Temesgen Zerazion pulls a mean shot of espresso and drops it into a nut-flavored, totally erotic blend. The result is earthy, sippable and frothy, as dark and rich as Zerazion's huge Afro. And, unlike a straight shot of espresso, the combination of ingredients mitigates the bitterness.

Zerazion's version (there are many variations) includes a shot of Kahlua, twice as much vodka (though he won't reveal the brand, most include a vanilla-infused variety) and nocello, a walnut liqueur that adds a wonderful depth. He pours the blend into a shaker with ice, then adds the espresso, tosses it (which causes his Afro to bounce) and gently streams it into a martini glass. The dark coffee froth quickly rises to the top, and Zerazion plops a coffee bean on top for good measure.

Caffeine cowards are advised to indulge in the decaf version -- blasphemous on one level, sure, but nonetheless a worthy alternative. Either way, it's a perfect after-dinner drink and a good way to extend by an hour the evening at Bar Italia, where the delicate pastas, entrées and desserts will make you very happy. You can watch the well-heeled clientele -- young, semiurban, gold-hooped and über-athletic -- giggle as they wiggle, drunk but not disorderly, revved up and ready to challenge the night.

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