Cocktails


Readers, several weeks ago, on a whim, I embarked on a research project about the classic cocktail called the French 75, named for the World War I-era artillery piece. I have been trying French 75s in bars and restaurants all over town; my research culminates in a series of articles for my Restaurant Insider column that runs in the Saturday Memphis News. The first part occurs this Saturday, July 23. In the meanwhile, because I have swallowed mainly “house versions” of the French 75, including a bizarre rendition that not only contained far more gin than sparkling wine but — sacre bleu! — a healthy pour of grenadine, I decided to make some at home for LL and me. I followed the recipe in my favorite bartender’s guide, the snappily written, perceptive and persnickety Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century (Viking, 1998), by Paul Harrington and Laura Moorhead.

4 ounces Champagne
1/4 ounce gin
1/4 ounce Cointreau
1/4 ounce lemon juice

Shake gin, Cointreau and lemon juice with cracked ice; strain into a chilled flute. Top with chilled Champagne and garnish with a lemon twist. (Harrington and Moorhead permit a variation with cognac instead of gin, which makes a very different cocktail, you bet.)

The quality of the sparkling wine makes a difference. Most of the French 75s I have sampled lately in local bars have been made with inexpensive California or anonymous French sparkling wine. At one place, a young bartender used Mumm Cordon Rouge by mistake; it certainly made a superior cocktail (though she used too much lemon juice). I employed the Champagne Duval-Leroy Brut — I paid $35 locally — and that was even better. Tanqueray Gin, naturally, not a gin that’s too assertive. I thought I had an old bottle of Cointreau gathering dust in the back of the liquor cabinet, but that was not the case, so I had to buy one of those too, about $27 for a 375-milliliter half-bottle. This was beginning to be not a cheap cocktail, but if you’re going to do something it has to be done right. And of course after we had our excellent cocktails — and they were excellent, the best — we drank most of the rest of the Champagne. And Cointreau lasts practically forever. Gin, not so long in our house.

If you’re going to emulate my efforts, remember that 1/4 ounce equals 1 and 1/2 teaspoons. And, no, you don’t have to pour real Champagne, but do make certain that it’s a good-quality sparkling wine. Use a good peeler to render a very thin strip of lemon peel for the garnish.

A great French 75 is actually easy to make, and it’s a perfect cocktail for summer, light, delicate, effervescent and a little piece of cocktail history.

Last year I extolled the virtues of Fever Tree Tonic Water, which we liked so much in our gin and tonics that I bought a case.

This year it’s the turn of Fentimans Tonic Water, which I discovered a few weeks ago at Fresh Market. The company dates back to 1905 and has long been known in Great Britain as a producer of superior, quite gingery Ginger Beer, of which I am also very fond, and other soda-type beverages, including a Dandelion and Burdock variety that I wish were imported to these shores, and if it is, let me know. Tonic water is a late addition to the roster, but you must, if you’re now in gin and tonic mode, search it out. Fentimans is unlike any other tonic water I have tried, being actually rather savory as well as spicy and paradoxically slightly sweet/peppery/austere; besides quinine, it contains lemon oil and lemongrass, all combining for a piney, bitter, uplifting quality that both sustains the gin and cuts through it like a blade.

The squat brown bottle holds 9.3 fluid ounces, compared to the 6.8 fluid ounces of a bottle of Fever Tree, yet each costs $5.99 for a four-pack. (Fever Tree is available at Whole Foods.) Fentimans is obviously designed to fuel two tall drinks, while Fever Tree is perfect for short drinks the way I make gin and tonics for LL and me. Do we prefer one over the other? Not really. In fact, I’ve been alternating on the days when we have time after work to sit on the back porch with a gin and tonic and a bowl of something snacky, so one time we’ll have a drink with the more elegant, acerbic, high-toned Fever Tree and the next time with the more earthy, savory Fentimans. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.


Here, readers, is a picture of a Pisco Sour, which is not only the National Cocktail of Chile but probably the National Tree, the National Bird, the National Flower, the National Corner Grocery Store and every other National Thing that a country can commemorate. All it took was one of these and two glasses of a very nice Cousino Macul Riesling between 1:30 and 3 this afternoon to knock me on my weary butt. When the group returned to the hotel, I crawled into bed, because, guess what, there’s more eating and drinking to be done tonight. One manfully bellies up to the bar, as it were. The governments of Peru, where pisco originated, and Chile take the Pisco Sour seriously enough that its composition is officially legislated, and Peru has a Pisco Sour Day, the first Saturday of February.

Fortunately we were eating (and drinking, oh yes) at a terrific Peruvian seafood restaurant called La Mar, packed on a Sunday afternoon, where everything we ate was excellent, from the dried vegetable chips and savory dips with which we began to the traditional desserts — rice pudding, “three milks” cake and dulce de leche — with which we ended. Best, however, was a selection of the restaurant’s ceviches, the cleanest, freshest, brightest, most vibrant I have ever tasted. I could have eaten a whole meal of these alone.

You know how it is. It’s gin and tonic season, and you go to the grocery store and pluck a bottle of the usual tonic water from a shelf and there it is. One day, however, I was in Whole Foods, and I saw, on a bottle shelf, a four-pack of little bottles of Fever-Tree Tonic Water, so I bought a set and the next time I made gin and tonics of LL and me, I used it. Wow, what a difference! More effervescent, sharper, tangier, drier, chastely medicinal, great balance; tonic water for grown-ups. Next time I was at Whole Foods, however, the store was out of the Fever-Tree Tonic Water but had Fever-Tree Bitter Lemon. This is slightly yellower that the pale tonic water and a little cloudy from pieces of lemon pulp. It too contains quinine, the basis of tonic water, but the lemon component seems to lend more body and a citric tang that jazzes the dryness and slight bitterness without being puckery. I suppose one cannot call the cocktail of gin and bitter lemon (with a squeeze of lime juice and a slice of lime; a sprig of mint is good too) a gin and tonic, but it’s one of the most refreshing and summery cocktails around.

Fever-Tree was launched in 2004 by Charles Rolls and Tim Warrilow; Rolls ran the Plymouth Gin company. Fever-Tree, which is based in London, also makes ginger ale and ginger beer that I would dearly love to try. Fever tree was the name given to the cinchona tree from which quinine is derived. British officers in India began mixing quinine with water and sugar in the 1820s to ward off malaria, and it must work, because I’ve consumed about a billion gin-and-tonics in my lifetime and I’ve never had malaria. Fever-Tree products contain no preservatives, artificial sweeteners or coloring agents.

A four-pack of 6.8 fluid-ounce bottles is $4.99 at Whole Foods.


Yes, friends there’s the eternal battle between Good and Evil, and then there’s the martini, dispensing its chilly balm with the chaste aplomb of a wordless nun. Here’s the end of the workweek and the end of a day on which nothing bad or embarrassing happened (not speaking of the world at large), and obviously it was the perfect time for a dose of the purest, most radiant of cocktails. The formula is five parts Tanqueray gin to one part Noilly-Prat vermouth. What you see floating in the drink is neither twist of orange rind nor goldfish but a sliver of kumquat skin.

We have been enamored of the kumquat, smallest of citrus fruit, for several days. Thursday night, LL made a sauce for seared tuna with sliced kumquats and jalapeno peppers, and I tell you, that made the taste-buds jump and jive. And last night, in addition to the kumquat twist in the martinis, I squeezed about 10 of the little suckers to get enough juice for a vinaigrette, by-passing the usual lemon.

I had taken a grass-fed, organic ribeye from the freezer, thawed it and then marinated it in soy sauce, Worcester, red wine, salt and pepper for a few hours. I cooked it in the simplest manner possible, in olive oil and butter is an ungodly hot cast-iron skillet, about four minutes per side, so it came out a rosy-colored medium rare. I had also sliced fingerling potatoes fairly thinly, doused them with olive oil, salt, pepper and minced rosemary and put them under the broiler, and guess what I discovered, guess what revelation was granted unto my grateful spirit? If you use parchment paper under a broiler, it will catch on fire! No harm done, though these tiny moments of drama do spark up a life, so to speak.

I opened a bottle of the Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Oakville District. This is available at retail for a range of about $30 to $48; I paid $60 at a silent auction to benefit a dog rescue group. (A different silent auction than the one I’ve been writing about recently.)

Many wine consumers know the story of the Robert Mondavi Winery, how Robert Mondavi quarreled with his brother Peter about the operation and goals of the family’s Charles Krug winery, and Robert split away from the family and started his own winery in 1966; how he achieved remarkable success, building Robert Mondavi into one of the Napa Valley’s great wineries and brands; how he collaborated with Baron Philippe de Rothschild, owner of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, in the creation of Opus One; how lofty ambitions and lavish spending began to chip away at the family’s wine empire, forcing the family to take the private company public; of conflicts among the father and his sons, Tim and Michael; how the winery, at the end of 2004, was sold to Constellation (which still uses the image and words of the late Robert Mondavi himself in advertising and on the website). This chronicle is related in sometimes brutal detail in Julia Flynn Siler’s highly readable and cautionary The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty.

While the winery produces often excellent wines in a variety of genres — the Fume Blanc 1 Block is one of the best in sauvignon blancs in California — the reputation mainly rests on its Bordeaux-style cabernet sauvignon blends, especially the reserve bottlings. This “regular” Oakville cabernet is a blend of 89 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 6 percent cabernet franc, 3 percent petit verdot and 1 percent each malbec and merlot. The wine aged 18 months in French oak barrels.

At a bit over four years old, the Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Oakville, rests in a state of perfect equilibrium among all qualities and functions. This is a sleek, polished wine, smooth and savory and packed with spice, black currant and black cherry flavors, graphite-like minerals and the dry, slightly briery character of dense, chewy tannins. A few minutes in the glass bring up classic notes of cedar and tobacco, black olive, potpourri and bitter dark chocolate, finishing with a beguiling hint of mint and iodine. The wine embodies a gratifying sense of unassailable vitality and unshakable purpose. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. It was wonderful with the steak. Excellent. About $30 to $48.

LL was working on dinner last night — the subject of a subsequent post — and said, “You know, I really feel like a gin and tonic, but I don’t think we have any tonic water.”

I said, “You’re right, we do not.”

And she said, “Do we still have any of those French sodas?”

She was referring to the Lorina sparkling lemonades that come in different flavors. We keep a few bottles on hand for guests who don’t drink alcoholic beverages. They’re quite pleasant in a mildly effervescent, delicately fruity, slightly sweet manner.

“I think so,” I said, and went to check the drinks refrigerator, where I found a bottle of Lorina Sparkling French Berry Lemonade.

“O.K.,” I said, “let’s see what we can do with this.”

I filled a tall glass with ice, poured in some of the pale pink, fizzy berry-lemonade and added a couple of caps-worth of Amsterdam gin. LL had just squeezed a lime for a cucumber-lime salsa, and she said, “Put a little lime juice in. It probably could use the tartness.” So I did that and also dropped in a couple of pieces of lime peel.

Voila! A very tasty, refreshing and uncomplicated cocktail, light, pretty to look at and easy to drink.

Now — what shall we call it?

What can I do with this “press release” I received by email today except to reproduce it here the way it was sent to me? Perhaps no comment is necessary. Well, one comment: I promise that whoever wrote this “press release” really did spell “muddle” as “muttle.” And one more comment, actually a question: Can “Platinum Bruno’s Martini” actually cost $38? And notice that it’s no longer sufficient to be well-dressed; “chic attire” is requested.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

From: Katherine Rothman [mailto:info@kmrpr.com]
Sent: Friday, November 07, 2008 10:57 AM
To: undisclosed-recipients
Subject: three unique and sexy drinks from from Bruno Jamais Restaurant Club

For More Information
Please Contact:Katherine Rothman

At KMR Communications, Inc info@kmrpr.com

***If you would like to run this as a contest, we are happy to offer two readers one certificate for any of the drinks below.

Platinum Martini

BRUNO JAMAIS RESTAURANT CLUB

1)PLATINUM BRUNO’S MARTINI $38.00

muttle four slices of orange in a Boston shaker add two ounces patron platinum tequila image001.jpg

3/4 oz peach schnapps

shaken

served up op in a double martini glass (chilled)

2) This cocktail is collaboration between Bruno Jamais and Sommelier Benjamin Maury. Bruno wanted a signature cocktail using his favorite liquor, patron platinum. He wanted something strong yet smooth. Bruno liked the way orange flavor is often used to complement tequila using liqueurs such as Cointreau or triple sec but to refine the taste Maury suggested that they use fresh orange instead. The peach schnapps was then added, blending perfectly with the orange while adding a hint of sweetness. . Initially this drink was to be served in a rocks glass over crushed ice following the tradition of the caipirinia but in keeping true to New York style they decided serve it up. Thus, creating the “Platinum Bruno’s Martini.”

Crème Brûlée Martini, traps that seductive dessert in a glass and, when topped with that grid of caramel, gently set across the image002.jpgrim, makes a spectacular presentation that leads to an equally spectacular taste.

Then, there’s the Sexy Back, which Maury says was inspired by all the lovely ladies (and their backs) that walk up to his bar. In this one a mix of citrus vodka, creme de cassis and sour mix are topped with a little Champagne for a complex, effervescent cocktail. Stop by next time you’re on the Upper East Side and try one for yourself.

www.brunojamais.com

Ph: 212 396-3444

Bruno Jamais Restaurant Club brings the French Riviera to the upper east side. Where else can one dine in style until 3am with delectable cuisine such as chocolate soufflé and Foie Gras? The service and décor are equally impressive. The restaurant received the “Best Interior Design” award by Hospitality Design Magazine. There is also live entertainment on Monday nights with the best of jazz and soul. On a cold winter’s night, allow debonair owner Bruno Jamais to make you feel at home and beat the doldrums of winter. With Chef Hok Chin at the kitchen’s helm the cuisine is sure to delight even the most discerning palates. Bruno Jamais and Chef Hok Chin have created a unique menu that has an Asian influence without losing its French integrity. Bruno Jamais is also the perfect place to book your private party and can accommodate up to 200 diners for a buffet dinner or 70 people for a sit down dinner. For those upper east siders who are tired of trekking downtime for an evening of fun, this exclusive venue has it all. If you are looking to see stars, celebrity patrons have included: Billy Baldwin, Joan Rivers, Cindy Adams, Chazz Palminteri and even former President Bill Clinton. Reservations are suggested and chic attire is requested. BRUNO JAMAIS RESTAURANT CLUB — The restaurant received the “Best Restaurant Design” Award by Hospitality Design Magazine for 2004.

24 EAST 81 STREET NY NY www.brunojamais.com

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

What’s interesting to me, or, you know, like tragic, is that websites like clubplanet.com and about.com mention these cocktails completely uncritically and even use the language of this “press release,” which has been making the rounds, I discovered, for at least a year. No wonder “journalists” get a bad name.

Man walks into a bar, settles on a stool and says to the bartender: “You know, what I would like at this moment more than anything on earth, what would set matters right in this weary, godforsaken world, what would make me happier than fame and wealth and glory is an ice-cold Tanqueray martini, up, with one olive.”

Bartender: “Comin’ atcha, sir!”

This, thinks the man, will surely be a golden moment in the sordid history of my life, because, for once, the cocktail glass has been kept in the freezer, along with the gin, and the vermouth emerges from the refrigerator, and for once the bartender, ruminating on his time in school, remembers that cocktails with fruit juices are intended to be shaken but all other cocktails are stirred, and he performs this action correctly, and in a few minutes, he places before the man that epitome of elegance and chaste power, that inverted cone of pure, crystalline transparency, with its inviting fullness and astringency — the perfect martini.

Patron: “Thanks, barkeep, that’s swell.”

Bartender: “A great pleasure, sir.”

Patron: “By the way, could I get a little bowl of little snack thingies, you know, some mixed nuts, even some peanuts, or some of that cocktail mix, you know, Chex cereal mixed with nuts, pretzels, chili crescents and wasabi peas? or just a bowl of Goldfish mixednuts.jpg crackers. I skipped lunch today, and I don’t want to pour this perfect martini, perfect as it may be, into a completely empty stomach.”

Bartender: “Certainly, sir, here’s the menu.”

Patron: “No, no, barkeep, I don’t require a menu, just a bowl of cute little nibbles to absorb some of the alcohol.”

Bartender: “Sorry, sir, we don’t provide bowls of cute little nibbles at the bar. Here’s the roster, however, of what you may order.”

Patron: “But, this is the dinner menu. I don’t want dinner, just a wee snack, a handful of nuts or crackers, bestowed not merely for convenience but for the sake of conviviality.”

Bartender: “Try the pecan-dusted grilled quail with sunchoke puree and mango-radish salad. Many customers find that agreeable, and as an appetizer. it’s not too filling.”

Patron: “That’s $16!”

Bartender: “Well, look at the seared day-boat scallop with flash-fried okra and limoncello beurre blanc.

Patron: “That’s $15! Can’t I get something quick? And another martini!”

Bartender: “Yes, sir, of course, sir.”

The bartender makes and brings the second martini, but for some reason, this one doesn’t seem to glow as the first one did.

Bartender: “All right, sir, people in a hurry often order the Individual ‘Cassoulet’ de Brian.”

Patron: Why is ‘cassoulet’ in quotation marks?”

Bartender: “Ha-ha, that’s Chef’s little joke. It’s actually his version of pork and beans.”

Patron: “So why does an appetizer of pork and beans cost $14?”

Bartender: “Well, sir, that particular dish is outsourced to Mumbai and Fedexed to the restaurant every night.”

Patron: “Look, what’s happened to bars? They used to be nice, friendly, comfortable, welcoming places where you could get a drink and a handful of nuts or a bowl of popcorn and feel, well, maybe not cosseted but certainly taken care of. Now they’re all sleek and slick and chic and ambitious and if all you want is a drink and a snack, you’re here for an hour and it sets you back $40. Now could I just get a fucking bag of Fritos and another martini?”

Bartender: “Sorry, sir, I don’t think I can serve you. You’re getting pretty agitated. You shouldn’t have drunk those martinis on an empty stomach.”

Image of mixed nuts from Wikipedia.

There’s a pretty funny story in The New York Times this morning, in the Business Day section, by writer Harry Hurt III, who attends a class at the New York Bartending School. The instructor, James Bumbery, is described as “tall and lean with round horn-rimmed spectacles and a dark green beret” who has “over a decade of hospitality industry experience.” Over a decade of cartoonbar_01.jpg hospitality industry experience! That’s a confidence booster! I think I would prefer to be instructed by a short guy named Guido who learned his craft in the brothels of Montevideo in the 1950s.

In any case, the article made me wonder what the criteria are for a great bartender, the kind of bartender who keeps you coming back to the same bar.

Of course a great bartender knows the recipes and techniques for preparing many cocktails and highballs, so a meticulous memory is essential, but the same quality applies to any bartender, whether great or ordinary. Any bartender should know the different glasses and garnishes appropriate for the range of cocktails and highballs; any bartender should know that cocktails with fruit juice are shaken, but cocktails without fruit juice are stirred (Are you listening?) No, there’s something more to a great bartender than merely the knowledge of the bright and gratifying panoply of cocktails and other intoxicating drinks. A chemist — or, dear god, a “mixologist” — can turn out a perfect Harvey Wallbanger.

The great bartender, on the other hand, must lightly balance a seemingly paradoxical set of qualities. He — or she, but I’ll get to this issue in a moment — must display tremendous speed and dexterity and power of focus while, at the same time, maintaining an effortless aura of congeniality and engagement that, on the other hand, must never seem too intimate, too confiding or cajoling. A bartender may be conversational, but he must never commit to a topic; a bartender may be sympathetic, but he must also be detached. The bartender is not your shrink, not your college room-mate. And in that sense, the customer must not ask too much of the bartender, must not entice the bartender to step across the line of service into the morass of servitude or, even worse, the skittish realm of Friendship.

The relationship between bartender and patron is cordial but formal; each party knows his duties and the pleasures that attend them. That’s what makes going to an excellent bar with a great bartender such a rewarding part of life.

I mentioned the issue of women bartenders. There’s no reason why women can’t be great bartenders except that most men, being congenital jerks, bounders and cads, won’t let them. Men react to and challenge women bartenders in ways that they don’t react to or challenge male bartenders, and that situation upsets what should be the comfortable dynamics of a bar. It’s rarely the fault of the female bartender; it’s usually the fault of the male patron who tries to impress her. Look, you’re not sitting in a bar to impress someone; you’re sitting in a bar to enjoy a drink, a contemplative moment, a conversation with friends. So no hitting on the bartender!

Guido wouldn’t put up with that shit for an instant.

Cartoon images from topshelfservices.com.

On April 4, I posted on BTYH a piece about the purity of the martini titled “Pas de Martini,” complaining that just about anything that anyone wants to call a martini is accepted as such nowadays and that, now and forever, the only true martini is made with explodingmartini_01.jpggin and a splash of vermouth. In other words: Not Vodka!

On May 1, Eric Asimov, at The New York Times, picked up that post for The Pour, his wine and spirits blog (http://thepour.blogs.nytimes.com), and provided a link — thanks, Eric! — and from there it got picked up all over the blogosphere, which is one of the nice things that can happen on the Internet. I was particularly interested by the reaction on the Coffee Rhetoric blog (“Dark, Robust, and Highly Caffeinated”), written by coffey0072, a young woman evidently deeply immersed in the life of the body and its senses. On a post entered on May 2, coffey0072, besides providing a link to my martini rant — thanks, coffey0072! — bemoaned the fact that martinis, in the classic (and only acceptable) sense, have nothing to do with vodka, since she had been drinking vodka martinis (and thinking herself pretty damned sophisticated) for about as long as she could lift a cocktail glass. Crushed now that she had been deluded all these years, coffey0072 decided that she would have to “re-drink” all those martinis in order to correct her errors, an intriguing concept that could be applied to dating, children, jobs and just about anything else in our lives.

The young responders to coffey0072′s post — they write under names like Bloody Whore, Pookie Sixx and Jessucka, and I assume that none of them is my daughter — refuse to feel abashed. “Who gives a flick?” asks Cat about the supposed place of gin in the martini hierarchy, and as for Amadeo, he gets right to the bone-baring point: “Piss on critics.”

Well, as I’m brushing the warm liquid from my elitist shoulders, let me say that I found these reactions vivid, refreshing, rather cute and fairly naive. Oh sure, I’m a condescending snob — “LOL” as they all say, “:-)” — everybody knows that, but I also hope that Cat and Pookie Sixx and Jessucka will continue to belly up to the bar and drink anything in any combination that their hearts desire. I mean, if young people come to me and say, “Help, how do I learn what wine to drink with what food? It’s all so confusing,” I tend to reply, “Yes, there are general guidelines (not rules) to give you aid and comfort but mainly you need to experiment with drinking different wines with different dishes and see what you like best.” That’s how we learn.

And maybe someday, just maybe, after all the chocolate martinis and apple martinis and lychee and melon martinis and ginseng martinis and, hell, I dunno, black-strap molasses martinis, one of these young people will clamber to a bar-stool after a hard day’s work and say to the bartender, “Gimme a, uh, well, you know, gimme one of those real martinis, you know? Gin and vermouth and an olive?”

And the bartender will carefully craft — stirred, not shaken — such a concoction and pour it into an elegant cocktail glass (a triumph of economical design) and set it, sleek, gleaming, transparent, on the bar on a pristine white square of napkin, and the young person will sip it tentatively, exploringly, and discover how cold it is, how openly astringent yet supple, how complicated in its clean, slightly sharp medicinal citrus, cedary and floral hints but with all edges buffed by the slightly bland herbal nature of the vermouth, and how the faint tang of olive, earthy and comfortable, floats on the surface, and the young person will experience an epiphany and stand up and declare, “Now I have put behind me childish things.”

And we’ll get together and re-drink all those bad old martinis to correct the errors of the past. As long as I don’t have to call her Jessucka.

Image of the exploding martini from trengovestudio.com.

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