Very Italian Fourth of July

The Fourth of July was weird this year. Not bad, just a bit unorthodox for my usual Independence Day celebration (commonly spent on a boat, or by a pool and draped in stars and stripes in some way). On the Fourth, all the weather apps predicted a storm, I randomly had four days off in a row as the bar was closed Monday and Tuesday, so I had already been gallivanting around town, drinking and eating, for 48 hours, and my dude was scheduled to work.

What was a gal to do?

Just as I began to settle in to a sullen mope regarding our country’s leadership, my lack of concrete plans and the storm clouds abrewin’, my friend Sam texted to ask if I were “down to clown.” Yeah, I guess I am, I thought to myself. And then, my partner Jamie was told he didn’t have to work. Somehow, we landed at a new, upscale Italian restaurant to toast to our current discontent. Toast, we did, as ROC Restaurant, newly opened in The Highlands, filled our glasses just as we saddled up to the bar and the sun began to peek around the clouds.

ROC Restaurant, owned by Rocco and Stacy Cadolini, who recently transplanted the business from Manhattan’s Tribeca to Louisville, is delightful. From the edgy patio with oversized crimson chairs, to the bright dining rooms outfitted with built-ins covered in artifacts, it was as if we were walking into someone’s chic and worldly home. The bar sweeps through the main dining room, elegantly housing a myriad of spirits in chocolate-colored, canoe-shaped shelving.

When we arrived, Sam had already begun his tour-de-cocktail list, and we dove right in. Our comrade sipped on the ROC, recommended by the bartender as a signature drink — fresh strawberry, vodka, lime juice and brown sugar. I tasted it and enjoyed its lightly-sweet tang, but opted for the house Aperol Spritz instead (Aperol, prosecco, a touch of soda and an orange wedge), served in an oversized pinot glass and delightfully executed. Jamie went for a mule and then a pour of the Weller 107 Antique, only $7. Interestingly, all the bourbons (and a lengthy list, at that) are offered in one ounce and two-ounce portions — a great system for sampling various brands and styles — so the three of us went for a two-ounce pour of Old Forester to kick off our Fourth of July for good measure.

We started noshing on grilled octopus and began perusing the cocktail menu for our next selections, as I noticed one of my old, bar regulars waiting tables in the dining room behind us. He came over to say hello, and we chatted about his newfound home at ROC. He was complimentary of the owner, who was buzzing around the restaurant jovially, greeting people as they walked in and via telephone. My friend then told us of his favorite menu items and offered to take us upstairs to see the third dining room. “A good sign,” I thought, as happy employees often mean well-executed food and libations.

Next up, Sam opted for the Lemon Sipper (Limoncello, mint, lemon juice and prosecco), and I, the ROC Boulevardier (bourbon, Campari, sweet vermouth and Limoncello), while Jamie stuck with bourbon. Both cocktails were excellent, although we were left a bit perplexed when Sam asked for a shot of flavored vodka to up the strength of his drink (he’s a lush, I know). “We don’t carry any flavored vodkas,” said the barkeep, yet moments later I watched her pick up a bottle of Absolut Citron. No harm, no foul, as the Lemon Sipper went down just right, and the Boulevardier was delectably bitter and balanced. Perhaps with just a bit more familiarity with their products, this bar would have endless potential.

As for the food, well, LEO food critic Robin Garr (June 7) already touched on this classic Italian introduction to The Highlands, so I’ll leave that review to the experts. I do know I’m still dreaming of the squid ink pasta, which Jamie and I shared, and a half lobster (goddamn, y’all). The smaller portions left room for a dessert pour of Grand Marnier, and how about another one of those one-ouncers? A very Italian Fourth of July turned out to both satisfy and leave us wanting more.