One reason that Santa Ynez’s S.Y. Kitchen is on the tips of many winemaker tongues as the best place to eat right now is because of bartender Alberto Battaglini, who frequently consults his towering wall of dried fruits, herbs, and spices to carefully concoct craft cocktails fit for the planet’s finest bars. His worldly ways aren’t just coincidental: Born in Italy, Battaglini made drinks for years in Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and London before being summoned to work in Brentwood at Toscana. When the restaurant’s owners decided to open S.Y. Kitchen on Faraday Street last year, Battaglini — like his companion, Verona-born Chef Luca Crestanelli — was given a blank canvas, and he’s been painting with infusions and creative twists ever since.
The goal? “The idea is real simple: fresh fruit, fresh herbs, everything as fresh as possible,” said Battaglini. “My idea is to make a very clean drink that goes well with Chef Luca’s cooking. But we are in 2014, so with a touch of modern. Not too sour, not too sweet, not too strong — make everyone happy.”
Most popular? The Back Garden, made from basil- and jalapeño-infused gin that’s muddled with more basil and cucumbers, fresh lime juice, and a touch of honey. Battaglini is now making the gin himself, too, by infusing vodka with juniper berries and then a wave of botanicals, from coriander to licorice, all by taste. “It’s an experiment,” he said. “Sometimes it’s nice, and sometimes it’s super disgusting!”
The wall of jars? In addition to the spices and herbs — from chipotle and ghost peppers to cinnamon and lemon verbena — Battaglini dries fruit to use later in the year, explaining, “I can use them as a garnish and infusing agent.”
Change of pace for wine drinkers? “The wine is amazing here — the pinot noir is some of the best in the world — but because they keep drinking the wine, they eventually get tired of it,” said Battaglini, who also gets a boost on hot days. “They just want to enjoy a refreshing drink.”
His favorite drink? “An Old Fashioned,” said Battaglini, who also makes his own bitters, called OFT for Old Fashioned Therapy. “I’m a bourbon fan.”
Seasonal hit? Watermelon Martini, with muddled watermelon, elderflower liqueur, rhubarb-infused vodka, lemon and lime juice, and a touch of simple syrup. “The watermelons are just wonderful,” said Battaglini. “This is so amazing, so refreshing that you can actually drink a bucket of it.”