A gem of a Ballard spot, Rupee opened about a month ago, unveiling Sri Lankan and Indian flavors through food and the cocktails with equal creativity. We stopped in recently to get an early-ish view, grabbing stools at the bar, a position I suggest, to watch cocktail creation—you might just hear a friendly bartender singing Billy Joel while making them, too.
One seating note: It is a small spot. Just 11 bar stools at the beautiful wooden bar and a row of two- and four-tops (also with wooden tops), full of neighborhood dwellers and travelers when we were grabbed a seat. I love bars and restaurants this size, due to the intimacy with dining and drinking companions, as well as staff, food and drink. If in a big group, probably not your best bet. A couple? Perfect.
Sharing cocktails sips with a single companion is easier, anyway—and you’ll definitely want to taste each cocktail. The drink list (from Patrick Thalasinos, co-owner with Joe Sundberg and Rachel Johnson, all of whom own Manolin) is tight, but covers the bases with sections for “cane” (rum and underutilized cane juice-based arrack), whiskey, gin, agave, brandy and two Rupee tonics.
It might not currently scream G&T or S&T (sherry and tonic), but their house-made Indian and Mediterranean tonic make these ideal starting points. The former is a little more robust on winter spices and quinine, the latter airier, leaning lemongrass-y and floral. We went sherry, but the right gin would be a treat. Both were flavor rich—standing up to current wintery-er weather. They match particularly well with house-pickled veggies: tangy carrots, beans, radish, and red onion.
From there, the flavorful drinks keep coming. The smooth, lush Last Night in Negombo was a hit, and a rare cocktail utilizing turmeric. The spice bands with gin, coconut milk, lime and black pepper—and it’s pretty, too! King Coconut is a yummy daydream of bourbon and a little beach echo coming via coconut, sherry, star anise, jaggery (thick, Southeast Asian sugar) and an absinthe rinse.
The food menu also isn’t expansive but everything we tried was tasty. The sumptuous yellow lentil Dhal Curry topped with curry leaves was delish, and the Tandoori Cauliflower was perfectly charred atop creamy eggplant and zingy currants.
Definitely save room for traditional Sri Lankan charmingly dense pistachio Love Cake, topped with passion fruit curd and spiced whip. Accompany it with one of the many herbal digestifs on the bar shelves above enchanting colorful tile. The pine-y, bitter, Italian Amaro Alta Verde’ is a solid pick for the adventuresome. At Rupee, tasty adventuring is the right tactic.