Pacific Standard Brings Thoughtful Cocktails to Little Italy
Dino Balocchi’s menu has something for everyone, including some unexpected twists
Pacific Standard's Cantalupo cocktail. | Photo: Audrey Ma
Everything told me I shouldn’t like Pacific Standard: 1.) The Little Italy restaurant and bar is located in a Hilton hotel—and rarely are chain-hotel bars cool. 2.) The owners brought in a dude from L.A. to create the cocktail menu.
Shame on me for jumping to conclusions.
True, Dino Balocchi, who came up with Pacific Standard’s menu, lives in L.A. But he has solid cocktail-making cred, having honed his skills at Longman & Eagle, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago, before moving west to help open littlefork and Dirty Laundry in L.A. He got the Pacific Standard gig through a friend, Paul Pruitt, founder of L.A.-based restaurant consulting firm New School. Balocchi had worked with Pruitt on a couple of other projects, so when Pruitt was looking for someone to come up with a cocktail menu, he asked Balocchi if he’d be interested.
A key challenge for any cocktail consultant is making sure the bartending staff can execute that menu. I’ve seen enough instances where a restaurant spends a lot of money on a consultant, but the staff can’t pull it off. That’s not the case here. Balocchi’s team includes bartenders from respected spots like Seven Grand and Kettner Exchange. His lead bartender, Ryan Baldwin, is a former chef who decided to take a break from the kitchen and give bartending a try.
“He’s really stepped up his game and brought that [culinary] knowledge to the bar,” Balocchi said.
Balocchi’s goal was to create a menu with multiple entry points—and he’s definitely succeeded. There are easy-drinking options like the Cantalupo, one of Balocchi’s favorites. It’s a tequila-based cocktail that, as the name suggests, includes cantaloupe purée—a flavor you don’t often find in cocktails—plus Punt e Mes sweet vermouth and fennel bitters to add depth and dimension.
The menu’s also filled with unexpected twists: in the Oaxacan Old Fashioned—my favorite—Balocchi replaced the usual agave sweetener with just a touch of Green Chartreuse and, instead of mole bitters, a chocolate-y creme de cacao liqueur. The Dock & Tai, a take on a Mai Tai, includes a tasty housemade pistachio orgeat instead of the traditional almond orgeat. It’s served in a milk jar and topped with a generous sprig of mint that’s spritzed with absinthe. The scent’s almost as intoxicating as the drink.
“We wanted to make sure we touched different bases without losing the fun of it,” Balocchi said. “It’s got to be interesting to me before it’s even an interesting concept. That’s probably one of the biggest challenges—trying to balance where my interests are and then also making sure that people who are just now starting to become curious about [craft cocktails] aren’t left out in the cold.”
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