It isn't easy to gulp down a drink that is literally designed to punch you in the face, but it is always so very worth it. Cocktails like the Negroni have introduced me into this entire new world of drinking, even if I did have to choke down the first three hundred or so. If you're looking for a more delicate entree, go to Gemma, and order the Passionate Peruvian.
Sitting and drinking at the bar at Gemma is one of Dallas' most beautiful, simple pleasures. Good luck getting a reservation at one of the hottest spots in town, but you can wander up to the bar on most nights and easily grab a few seats. The bartenders here can be a little hit or miss, some more green behind the well than others, but the cocktails are incredibly simple. In this new era of fancy dranks, it's nice to occasionally have a drink that isn't made with fourteen ingredients that you've never heard of.
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Pisco is impossibly trendy, available on menus everywhere even though (white) people had no clue what it was just a few years ago. It's a weird spirit, more related to brandy than tequila. On its own, pisco tastes sort of like diesel fuel and grapes. Mixed into a cocktail, though, it is smooth, with a lot of punch on the finish. At Gemma, that punch is mellowed a bit by soaking Texas strawberries (from Poteet) and Thai basil in Pisco Porton for two days. The resulting infusion is slightly sweet and herbaceous, and really, really delicious.
The strawberry-basil pisco is then simply mixed with both lemon and lime juice and a few dashes of bitters before being garnished with a fresh leaf of Thai basil and a few artistically-placed drops of bitters. Before throwing the leaf on top of my glass, the bartender slapped it between her hands to release its oils. The basil flavor in this cocktail is extremely prominent, so much so that maybe those strawberries could soak in the pisco a little longer to really drive that flavor home. That minor tweak may be the only way that this cocktail could be any better.
Ultimately, though, it is one of the better cocktails in Dallas. As the craft cocktail trend starts to boil over to the point of annoyance, a really great, simple drink is such a refreshing change of pace. The infused pisco is really the only fussy element in this drink, and that only involves dumping in fruit and herbs and waiting until it's all right. It is that patience and simplicity that makes Gemma special as both a restaurant and a bar.
Gemma really doesn't get much credit for having great cocktails. Maybe that's because it's hard to get a reservation or maybe it's because we're too busy oohing and ahing over Stephen Rogers' equally simple-yet-beautiful cuisine. Either way, save up your pennies and get thee to Gemma -- the Passionate Peruvian isn't the only solid cocktail on this menu, and you're going to want to be prepared for the sticker shock of all those $12 cocktails on your credit card bill. Even if you spend all your rent money, you'll leave thinking that it was totally worth all the stuff you'll have to sell to afford your new habit.