Friday, March 23, 2012


Ammo Cafe on Highland has been open for over 15 years, a discreet restaurant on Highland where locals and celebrities alike enjoy the reasonably priced quality Italian food in an unpretentious and comfortable ambiance.  Earlier this winter, the restaurant decided to raise its cocktail program to the level of its dining room menu by bringing on Jason Robey to consult on their cocktail list.

Robey, who gained notice in Los Angeles for reinventing the cocktail program at Michael's Restaurant in Santa Monica, has created a tasty list that draws on the local produce available at the farmer's markets, which both reflects his style and is a good match for the Ammo culinary philosophy.  Running the bar program is Laila Ayad, who executes Robey's list well and is excellent at the art of hospitality.  I am a fan of Robey's cocktails so was intrigued to see what was in store for me when I was invited to try the new menu.

The Johnny Green Spot (above) made with Tierra's anejo tequila, green chartreuse, meyer lemon juice, grapefruit juice, jalapeno and Thai basil was among the best cocktails I have had anywhere in the past year.  This is a destination worthy drink as the spicyness of the pepper and the tartness of the juices partnered with the herbal chartreuse and the kick of the tequila to just produce a beautiful combination.  Six ingredients can be the sign of too much going on in a cocktail, but I wouldn't lose any of them in this beauty.

Beer cocktails are having a moment right now, and the Belgian Sunrise deserves its place among the contenders as it uses not one but two brews in this cocktail.  Both Allagash White Ale and Lindemans Lambic Framboise mixed with Frambeau Liquor.  It is well constructed and the fruit in the beer mixed with the liquor gave it a sweet edge, which complemented the bubbles from the beer.

The smell of the burnt rosemary is the first aspect of the Maple Leaf Rag to hit your senses.  Black Maple Hill bourbon is a delicious product and mixed with lemon juice, maple syrup and bitters and finished with the aforementioned rosemary was a sensory experience that was both fragrant and delicious.  It may not replace the Japanese Maple created by Damian Windsor at the Roger Room as my favorite maple syrup cocktail, but it is a worthy libation.

At $18, the Grand Rep is the most expensive cocktail on the menu, due to the inclusion of the premium Ilegal Mezcal Reposado.  Ilegal is one of my favorite mezcals so I couldn't resist trying this smoky take on the margarita which also included Gran Marnier, lime juice, vanilla and applewood smoked salt.  Yes, smoked salt.  Because the smokiness of the mezcal was not enough.  Be sure to get some salt in every sip.

Alas even the Willet 5 Year Rye could not salvage the Citrus Fashioned (below) which also included lemon, orange and tangerine zest, maraschino jus and bitters.  I'd stick with a classic Old Fashioned any day over this concoction which did no favors to its similarly named relation as it was a watery mess.

The Highland Fizz (below) is effervescent as the house made ginger soda lightens up the lemon verbena infused vodka.  Nothing to get excited about but suitable for a mellow mood.

When light and bubbly is what you seek the Blood Orange Crush is a better option.  This Belle Casel Prosecco, Aperol, blood orange juice and fresh thyme is served on the rocks in a Collins glass with a blood orange slice garnish.  This is a classic Italian flavor combination and is pleasing as an aperitif or with a meal.

Another favorite, this time of the stirred variety, is the Dominicano, which is made with Citadelle gin and both Dolin Blanc and Rouge vermouths, Aperol and orange bitters.  Crisp and to the point, it was fun to see the incorporation of two Dolins in one cocktail.

The final cocktail on the list is the Sage Martini with Hendrick's Gin, lemon juice, lime juice and sage.

Fortunately there are bar bites to munch on that are great partners for the beverages.  The standouts for me were:

French breakfast radishes with Straus butter and sea salt ($4).  Sometimes simple ingredients with no fuss at all can be better than anything else and these radishes were simply crunchy and fresh.  A little butter and salt; I could have eaten the whole bunch.

The bread and crackers are not to be missed at Ammo ($3).  Apparently these crackers are a signature dish and they are addictive.

Baked Penne with aged white cheddar, fresh thyme and breadcrumbs ($8) is not to be missed.  My companions and I were battling for each forkful.  This puts what passes for mac and cheese in most restaurants in LA to shame.

Bar Manager Laila sent us into the night with some chocolate chip cookies which were really good.  The chunks of chocolate in the cookies were huge and they were a pleasant consistency - neither too soft nor too hard and crumbly.  

The neighborhood is lucky to have a Robey cocktail menu to sip on and Laila there to shake, stir and deliver an excellent experience behind the bar.  That Johnny Green Spot is something special.

Ammo: 1115 N. Highland Ave, Mid City | 323.871.2666 |

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