Jason Kapela of RoCA makes a Smoking Gun cocktail at the new restaurant on Court Avenue in downtown Des Moines.
RoCA, an acronym for "restaurant on Court Avenue," has quickly become a hot spot in downtown Des Moines' Court Avenue district. The food menu focuses on small plates or tapas — dishes that are modestly portioned and intended to be shared among dining companions.
After glancing at RoCA's cocktail menu, you'll notice that options are concocted with special and unexpected ingredients. The Slippery Slope includes Tito's Vodka, Pimm's No. 1, lemon juice, strawberry syrup, pineapple juice, plum and Peychaud's Bitters and egg white, while the First Impression features House Aquavit (an herb-infused spirit), strawberry syrup, lemon juice, arugula, onion and vinegar.
The Smoking Gun ($10) is another such unique drink. Hand-crafted with Bulleit Bourbon, maple syrup, Angostura Bitters and wood chip smoke, the cocktail was a familiar favorite among several guests seated next to me at the bar on a recent Friday evening.
The Smoking Gun is a sort of variation on an Old Fashioned. Instead of being sweetened with sugar, it is sweetened with maple syrup, and the smoke adds a distinctive twist. To make it, my bartender combined and chilled the wet ingredients. Then he used a hand-held food smoker to add smoke to a bottle and secured the cap. He eventually poured the chilled ingredients into the smoke-filled bottle and shook it. Right before dropping an orange peel into a lowball glass with ice inside, he caramelized the peel with a flame to release its natural oils and rubbed the rind around the glass's rim to give the drink an aromatic quality. The bartender recommended that I pour half of the cocktail into the glass and screw the top back on the bottle, then open it to pour the remainder only when I'm ready. This ensures that the second half is just as smoky as the first.
This cocktail tastes like a sophisticated Old Fashioned — with the addition of a campfire aroma and taste. It is especially memorable and impressive because of the multi-sensory experience: There's the dramatic presentation, the fragrant scent of the smoke and the complex flavor of the drink.
Find it: 208 Court Ave.
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., closed Sundays and Mondays
Info: 515-282-3663, www.rocadsm.com