Ryan Rama mixes beautiful drinks at Cocobolos.
The first time I ever got to spend real time talking with chef Michael Smith was when a mutual friend was driving the two of us to a once-a-week pig roast held in a quiet corner of the Argentine neighborhood.
We bonded over some of the best pork tacos I have ever had. Michael’s passion for Latin American food was palpable.
His latest project, Cocobolos on 135th Street in the new Prairiefire complex, reflects that love in its delicious tacos and ceviches.
I was doubly excited about Cocobolos when I learned that Ryan Rama would be behind the bar and creating his takes on classic Latin American cocktails, as well as developing a large list of tequilas and mezcals. Rama worked with Michael and Nancy Smith at Extra Virgin in the Crossroads District and jumped at the opportunity to work with them again in a new venue.
“We want to make interesting craft cocktails,” Rama says. “While retaining the Latin influence.”
The tequila list is deep, with recognizable top shelf brands like Don Julio and lesser known but equally delicious labels like Milagro. For the adventurous, the mezcal list has several of my favorites from Del Mageuy. The tequilas and mezcals are available straight or in a margarita for an additional $2.
Speaking of margaritas, the house version is outstanding. Made with El Jimador Silver Tequila, it is refreshing and has the perfect balance of sugar and acidity. The freshly squeezed citrus juice is subtly sweetened with Agave Nectar.
My girlfriend and I ordered an assortment of the specialty cocktails, some of which will be seasonal.
“We’re trying to work with house-made shrubs and bitters,” Rama says. “So while some things will be consistent, others depend on the time of year.”
We started with Rama’s versions of two Latin American classics, the Pisco Sour and the Caipirinha. The Pisco Sour is a specialty of Peru and Chile made with local brandy, while the Caipirinha is a Brazilian classic that uses cachaça, a spirit distilled from sugarcane. Rama’s Pisco Sour is a great thirst quencher, using three freshly-squeezed citrus juices, and the texture his staff gets for the egg white topping is remarkable. The drink is topped with vivid burnt orange chili strands. The Capirinha is equally refreshing, and both cocktails pair well with some of the hotter fare on the menu.
The other cocktails we sampled were some of Rama’s tequila-based craft interpretations of classic cocktails. The La Condesa is Rama’s take on the Negroni. He uses mezcal as the base, and the smoky spirit plays well off the sweet vermouth and bitter aperol.
“I like that with big, rich food,” Rama says. “Think hanger steak, ribeye, or pork chili verde.”
We finished our night with a Burro de XoXo (pronounced Sho-Sho) and an El Viejo. The former is Rama’s riff on a Moscow Mule and is even served in the traditional copper mug. Del Maguey’s Crema, a mezcal sweetened with unfermented syrup of roasted agave, replaces vodka in the drink, and the play between the smoke and spicy ginger beer flavor makes for what Rama calls a “doppler effect” of flavor.
The El Viejo was a personal favorite, and perhaps the perfect fall tequila cocktail. Rama’s paean to the Old-Fashioned is a big, booming exuberant drink. The orange aromas leap from the glass. There’s great smoke and sweetness from Mezcal Crema, but the secret weapon here is the Tres Agaves Anejo Tequila. The smooth, oak-aged tequila flavors and texture give this serious tropical fruit and richness.
Rama says the cocktail program has been a big hit so far.
“Some people are just happy to have a beer,” he says. “But a lot of the people sitting at the bar are open to trying new things, and they’ve been pretty excited.”
Cocobolos' El Viejo
1 ¾ ounces Tres Agaves Anejo Tequila
½ ounce Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal
½ ounce agave nectar
2 dashes angostura bitters
2 dashes orange bitters
Combine ingredients in mixing glass. Add ice and stir. Strain into highball glass. Garnish with orange peel.