The lights were low, the seats cozy. A black-and-white clad waiter came to the table and her question always threw me into an existential panic.
"Would you like a cocktail?"
My mind would go blank. I'd feel dizzy. Cocktail? Um…
Wine and beer, no problem. I could order with the best of them. But a cocktail? It was terra incognita. All the bottles in my parents' liquor cabinet would swirl around in my brain, out of focus. If I was lucky I'd remember gin and tonic. If the waiter was kind and saw my panic, she'd suggest a few choices. Or whomever I was with make a suggestion or, better yet, would order for me.
Even when I got a little more familiar with the territory, there were moments. Again, the waiter with the questions. "Martini, yes ma'am. Up? Dry? Shaken? Stirred? Olives?" Another panic, a smile frozen on my face. "Uhhh…"
But now, well, now it's another story. I quiz the waiter on the gins available, look disappointed if they don't have Plymouth or aren't familiar with the proper recipe for a Negroni. Oh, and could you ask the bartender not to pulverize the mint in the mojito, just bruise it gently? Thanks.
Though there are areas I'm not familiar with. Recently I've been expanding the repertoire to include Manhattans, which always remind me of the drinks my father made, the ones requiring not much beyond ice and maybe a spoon to stir them with.
Last night, Dave, who's always scouting for drinks to add to the list, suggested a sidecar. He'd read a piece by Eric Asimov in the Times extolling it as the perfect cocktail. Made with bourbon or brandy and lemon juice, it has the appearance of unfiltered apple cider when served in a martini glass but has that classic cocktail taste, at once bright and warming.
Asimov describes it as refreshing and "good any time of the year, but especially in the warmer weather." Until those temps get here, I'm thinking we may need to do a test of several recipes to determine our favorite. Here's Asimov's version to tide us all over.
More Perfect Bourbon Sidecar for Two
4 shots bourbon (he advises a sweeter style like Maker’s Mark)
2 shots Cointreau
Juice of 1 lemon (or Meyer lemon) to equal two shots
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add ingredients and shake. (Asimov says he tries to count to 100 but will stop short if the shaker gets too cold.) Strain into two glasses and serve.