Our holiday travels took us through Madison WI this week, which gave us a a chance to dine again at Harvest. The restaurant has a small and elegant bar, with a cocktail list that matches the kitchen’s reputation for interesting flavors and careful presentation.  The house cocktails are all designed by proprietor Tami Lax; some are new inventions, some personalized expressions of the classics.

This time I sampled the Amargo Cocktail, one of Lax’s originals. Given its name, it is not surprising that this is a Campari and tequila drink, with a heady dose of citrus to top it up.

Amargo Cocktail, Waterford Lismore glass, photo copyright © 2010 Douglas Ford. All rights reserved.
Tequila and Campari—the Amargo Cocktail

Harvest makes this drink with Corralejo Blanco tequila. The Corralejo seems to be unavailable in my region right now, so I used El Tesoro Platinum, which substitutes very nicely. I haven’t tried this recipe with aged tequila, but I suspect that the young blancos are the proper choice for this drink.

The Amargo Cocktail
(Tami Lax, Harvest Restaurant, Madison WI)

  • 1 oz. Tequila (El Tesoro Platinum)
  • 1 oz. Campari
  • ½ oz. fresh lime juice
  • 2 oz. fresh grapefruit juice

Combine ingredients and shake with ice until very cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Express and garnish with lime.

The hefty dose of Campari assures a delightful pale red color. The nose is lime from the garnish.

As for the flavor, Harvest’s version is all about lightly smoky tequila and Campari, with the citrus taking a very quiet ride in the back seat. The version I make with El Tesoro lets the lime come forward more prominently; perhaps it’s the tequila, perhaps it’s the limes themselves that make the difference. I like the drink either way, but I prefer the more Campari-and-tequila-forward version, so with the fairly pungent limes I have available currently, I’m cutting back the lime portion a little, closer to a quarter ounce.