ATLA’s Aguas Frescas Boast Texture and Flavor

While their inventory rivals even the best mezcalerias, it's their zero-proof drinks that impress most

At ATLA, the younger sibling of Cosme, in New York‘s NoHo neighborhood, the light fare and non-alcoholic beverages impress most. (Think donut-shaped churros or flaxseed chilaquiles paired with delectable aguas frescas.) While beverage director Yana Volfson is skilled at crafting cocktails, her zero-proof options transcend the expectations usually associated with this section of the menu.

“These are options that challenge the idea of a non-alcoholic drink—they have three dimensions,” Volfson says. “They have texture: froth, tannin, thickness, crunch. These are qualities that have existed in Latin American drinks for a long time.”

On the non-alcoholic menu are five variations of an agua fresca—the pineapple, canela (Mexican cinnamon) and passionfruit, and the palo santo, cucumber, and yuzu are standouts. The first is reminiscent of fresh fruit and is closer to a sangria than fruit-infused water. The latter coats the mouth with notes of wood and eucalyptus—boasting a crunch from added basil seeds. They’re complex enough to warrant several more inquisitive sips.

“Using the term [agua fresca] for these isn’t about watering something down, it’s about bringing flavor to water,” Volfson says. Almost all of the aguas frescas are made from three ingredients; some of them may taste sweet, some sour, some may not be either, and that’s because Volfson hopes to buck the appropriated expectations of Mexican beverages.

“We generally think of Mexican beverages as having a lot of sugar, but that’s not traditionally true,” she says. “It’s really a culture that emphasizes sour—it’s not just limes on the side.”

While the concept of an aguas fresca is by no means new, Volfson’s care for the preparation and attention to detail of those on her menu is commendable and delightfully fresh. They’re surprising, as interesting as a cocktail, and linger much longer than many alcohol-free drinks.

Images courtesy of ATLA