Victoria D’amato-Moran is sitting with me in Gigi Fioruccis’s Soto Mare restaurant in North Beach. The ebullient D’amato-Moran is interrupted many times by locals saying hi and hugging her.
She is from the Beach and although she has lived with her husband and son in South City for 15 years, it is still her home.
D’amato-Moran says she got her big break working at Stars for Jeremiah Tower as a cocktail waitress. Seeing her today in her 40s, looking just as hot, you can imagine this petite (five feet tall) Dolly Parton-esqe firebrand gliding around Stars on stilettos serving cocktails and charming the guests.
That was the beginning, and since then she has bloomed beyond serving. For six years she was the bartender at her cousin Mark Nicco’s Tony Nik’s bar in North Beach. This is where her reputation for creating interesting and delicious cocktails began.
There are a lot of places where people drink in North Beach, but try to get a well-made cocktail – fa-gedd-about-it.
D’amato-Moran honed her craft and then began stepping up to the plate and competing in cocktail contests. She won a slew of them.
For some reason in the food, wine and spirits business, the given is that only upper-middle-class people have the talent or are blessed with superior palates.
Of course that is not true, and D’amato-Moran is shining proof of that.
She traces her talent to her grandparents on both sides of her family. One grandfather was a Genovese hunter; even after immigrating to North Beach, venison was often on the table. Her other grandfather was a Sicilian fisherman. Both made wine with grapes delivered to the house. Her Genovese grandfather even made grappa.
For our interview, we’re chowing down at Gigi’s Sotto Mare restaurant in the heart of North Beach. D’amato-Moran digs into a large seafood Louie that includes bay shrimp, prawns and crabmeat on a bed of chopped lettuce. I thoroughly enjoy a Petrale sole cooked on the griddle and topped with a lemon-caper sauce. Gigi and his server Wayne call the griddle the grill, which to me is not the same. The fish is sparkling fresh and the portion (two filets) is quite generous.
Twice D’amato-Moran has competed in the battle of the mixologists in Las Vegas. The first time she came in fifth. This spring she was there again in the Las Vegas Convention Center before an audience of thousands. When it was announced that the secret ingredient would be passion fruit, her heart leapt. She knew immediately what she would make: a combination of Skyy passion fruit vodka, X-Rated mango liqueur, fresh ruby grapefruit juice, lemon, and nutmeg. She realized when she hit the stage that she had forgotten her jigger (measuring “cup”).
“Shaking like a leaf, I decided to just wing it,” says D’amato-Moran. She won the grand prize, $5,000.
These days she is working a couple of days a week at a local bar in South San Francisco, but more important, she is working on her line of specialized mixers formulated for bartenders. She’s been working on these potions since 2000.
One flavor is a strawberry-rhubarb. Another has a kick of hot peppers and is made from roasted jalapenos and agave syrup. The trick is to get a large spirit maker to help her launch.
She hopes to go national with her Cent’Anni handcrafted syrups and also to sell her flavor sachets, which can be added to a shaker to create an interesting drink.
When she isn’t busy with all that, she’ll bring the bar to your party for $25–$30 a head.
And she continues to create inventive cocktails for liquor companies.
All we can say about this chef-bartender is shake on, girl. Cent’Anni Cocktails: Cocktail catering and handcrafted syrups, 650-922-0326, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sotto Mare Seafood Restaurant: 552 Green Street (at Jasper), 415-398-3181, Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m., www.sottomaresf.com