Sicilian Martini

Trattoria Marcella, 3600 Watson Road, 314-352-7706

Apr 7, 2004 at 4:00 am
First, a quick geography lesson. Sicily is the cloud of dust that shoots out the big toe of the boot that is Italy. It is but a Herculean stone's throw from Africa and the Middle East. It is theoretically part of Europe, but is its own planet -- kind of like Granite City -- a world unto itself.

Sweet Sicilia, where the god Hades plucked the fair Persephone from a meadow using pomegranate seeds as bait -- it'll work every time -- and sent her straight to Hell. Sicily, the land of rolling hills, miles and miles of olive trees, donkeys, swarthy hunks riding mopeds, and olive-skinned honeys sipping lemoncello. It is surrounded by the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the Ionian Sea; many may know it as the place where Al Pacino, as Michael Corleone, watched his beautiful newlywed bride get blown up, but that's neither here nor there.

Sweet Persephone, goddess of springtime, described best by Swinburne: "Pale, beyond porch and portal/ Crowned with calm leaves, she stands/Who gathers all things mortal/With cold immortal hands."

And while being queen of the underworld has it perks, perhaps Persephone should have passed on the pomegranate and gone for some of Dionysus's orangecello, handmade at Trattoria Marcella, one of the city's most consistently great restaurants. Orangecello is a variation on the excellent lemoncello, which, at Marcella, is also handmade, each stored in label-less bottles and poured into a shaker without any middleman other than Blake Shelton, the Trattoria's bartender and resident sommelier.

Shelton offers a martini he's dubbed the Sicilian, and it's the perfect springtime drink: handmade orangecello, Obelisk mandarin vodka and cointreau, all of which combine to create orange. A sip unfolds like a swath of fine Italian polyester; so silky, so vibrant, so dang hot. It's orangey, obviously, but beyond that, something on the tail end of the sip expands into a touch of sour, which only lasts for a moment but changes the entire experience of the drink, alters it like a lacy cloud passing through a sunset.

Trattoria Marcella. If you've never been there for dinner you are a fool. It's that good, and that crowded, and that worth enduring the crowd. The lobster risotto? Oh! The pastas, the calamari with flash-fried spinach? Yowza. The pine-nut stuffed artichoke, the wines? It'll do you good. If you're in a foul mood, walking in, as we were, the exit will be both graceful and mindful. You will be steady, floating, kind of giddy. You'll follow a dude named Hades anywhere he beckons.