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When it opened in mid-September, La Punta Expendio de Agave instantly became my go-to spot for aperitivo. Mind you, the recently inaugurated Mexico-inspired bar and restaurant doesn’t serve the type of aperitivo that its neighbors in Trastevere sling to attract budget conscious and flavor neutral patrons (ie, troughs of under-seasoned room temperature carbs with a side of watered down mojitos). At La Punta, it’s all a la carte and I love to pop in for a drink and a bite, particularly when I’m flush with cash (more on that later).

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The drinks, which average around €10, are mainly mezcal- and tequila-based cocktails created by the specialists behind the Jerry Thomas Project and Freni e Frizioni. Mezcal, tequila’s moody cousin, has been having a moment in Rome (and indeed across the globe). Just a few years ago, a decent selection was hard to come by in Rome—and elsewhere. But now any liquor store (Costantini is my go-to for the stuff) or cocktail bar worth its salt stocks a wide range of the smoky Mexican spirit and La Punta has built its bar program around it.

Photo courtesy of La Punta

Photo courtesy of La Punta

La Punta’s mezcal-forward cocktail menu is a smartly designed passport; each stamp corresponds to a drink, ranging from bright, light, and deceptively potent cocktails to stiffer Manhattan-inspired variations like the Mex Man (recipe below). The drinks are delicious and perfectly in line with prices you might find at The Jerry Thomas Project, Co.So., or Caffè Propaganda, but if you intend to sample more than one, you’re gonna need some food. This is where things get tricky (but only if you’re on a budget and/or easily offended by €15 tacos).

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In general, Mexican food in Rome is pricey and sad. La Punta has the benefit of not falling into the latter category. Dishes are prepared from fresh ingredients; sides like guacamole and hot sauce are made from scratch. The kitchen serves Mexico-inspired dishes made with ingredients familiar to the Roman palate: cod, a local staple, tops tostadas (€15), while the “ceviche” is mezcal-marinated steak tartare (€18). There are tamales (€14-16), tacos (€14-15), and chicken mole (€15). A couple of drinks and a pair of snacks can easily come to €50 and a full meal quite a bit more.

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If your benchmark for any of these items is Mexico or Southern California, the prices will take your breath away and the food will be very good by Rome standards, but won’t change your life. For the best experience, steer clear of the soggy-crusted fried fish tacos, and don’t sleep on the vegetarian dishes. After eating the entire menu, I’d say the best values and greatest deliciousness are found in the chicken mole and pork tamales. The stellar drinks more than make up for the kitchen’s minor shortcomings. I like the place, so I will continue to spend way too much money there, relying on a mezcal-induced buzz to dull the sting.

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Mex Man

This smoky mezcal cocktail debuted at the Jerry Thomas Project, where I first encountered it, and now appears on the menu at La Punta. Mezcal is combined with Vermouth del Professore Rosso, a fortified wine made in the historic style of Turin. This vermouth, which is now available in the United States, lends a pleasant herbal earthiness to the subtly smoky drink.

Makes 1 cocktail.

1½ ounces mezcal
1½ ounces vermouth di Torino (ideally Vermouth del Professore Rosso)
1 bar spoon agave syrup
2 dashes of chocolate bitters
2 dashes of orange bitters
Mezcal-flavored cherries (recipe below)

Combine the mezcal, vermouth, agave syrup, chocolate bitters, and orange bitters in a mixing glass filled with ice and stir until chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupette.
Serve garnished with a few mezcal-flavored cherries skewered on a toothpick.

Mezcal-Flavored Cherries
Makes 1 ½ cups ciliegie al mezcal

1 ½ cups fresh, pitted cherries
2 tablespoons unground coffee beans
3/4 cup mezcal
3/4 cup rich simple syrup

Fill a medium jar with the cherries and coffee beans. Top with the mezcal and simple syrup. Seal the jar, shake to combine, and store for 1 month in a dark place before using.

La Punta Expendio de Agave
Via di Santa Cecilia 8
Open Monday-Saturday 6:30pm-2:00am
For reservations contact info@agaverialapunta.com or +3906 816665

Mex Man is reprinted from Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City. Copyright © 2016 by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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