"Do you have a cocktail list?" is one of the first questions I am often asked as a waiter in an upscale restaurant. It is one of the few questions I get to cheerfully answer with a big "no."
"You should really have one," is sometimes the response that follows. "Don't you have a signature cocktail or something?"
No, we really, really shouldn't and no, we do not.
And then I get to say something along the lines of "Well, we thought about it for a while, but Greeks don't really drink cocktails-- they drink wine, and beer, and ouzo. I suppose we could mix them all together for you, if you like."
More often than not, they will need a moment to get the imaginary taste of that concoction out of their mouths and regroup. Quite often, their drink of choice ends up something depressing, like a Cosmopolitan, or something perfectly respectable but equally unimaginative, like a martini. And the martini that is ordered is often done so incorrectly.
On one hand, I do see the point of cocktail lists. People seem to need help with their drinking. The thought of facing a full bar stocked with hundreds of liquors blended into thousands of different combinations is enough to pickle anyone's brain, even before it has become clouded with alcohol and a little printed instruction can often help a drinker narrow his choices to those that the list-offering establishment feels it does best.
On the other, heavier hand, I am tired of the fact that nearly every watering hole seems to have a menu of "signature cocktails." There are a few places around town (Alembic, Aziza, and Clock Bar, to name a few good ones) that offer up delicious, inventive cocktails that are, in fact, unique and they rightly highlight them in menu form. It's all the others I take issue with. The So-and-so Martini (made with Ketel One and a splash of cranberry!). That is not a signature cocktail, that's called pushing premium liquor. It's also called a Cape Cod in a Martini glass.
I am also tired of the general lack of creative naming. So many venues have several (insert noun here)-tinis: The Saketini, The Mangotini, The Weenytini. Or The (insert name of venue) Cosmo.
If one is going to create a signature cocktail, I say make it memorable. Make a statement. Create a drink philosophy and apply it to your inventions. I have currently been looking for a way to help alcoholics get more nutritional bang out of their cocktails by creating a series of meals-in-a-glass.
When discussing this idea the other night over dinner, my friend Jen stared at her beer for a moment and declared, "You know what I like about beer? It's like there's a sandwich in every glass."
And so the idea took off. All sorts of cocktail ideas poured out of my friends as quickly as the beer was being poured into them, all mocking the "tini" trend: The BLTini, The Pork n' Beanitini, the super-spicy TNTini. And then, when discussing Nabokov, somebody came up with the Tweeni. I don't even want to think about what might go into one of those.
So today, I leave you with a future, classic drink-- my first "signature cocktail." It's much more than a drink, it's an entire meal unto itself. A perfect little lunchtime tipple. And, to keep Jen happy, there's a sandwich in every glass.
Serves one. It will most likely be the only one.
3 parts vodka
1 part canned spring water from your favorite can of tuna. Do not use oil-packed.
Ruffles potato chips, crushed. Whichever flavor you prefer
1. In a mortar and pestle, crush potato chips until fine, but not too fine-- you still want a hint of their ridges to show. Empty the crushed chips onto a small, round plate in an even layer.
2. Smooth about 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise across the bottom of a similar plate. Gently coat the rim of the glass with the mayonnaise, then roll the now-wet rim into the crushed chips to create an even, attractive coating.
3. In a cocktail shaker, place ice, vodka, and tuna water. Shake vigorously.
4. Pour cocktail into the awaiting glass and garnish with cornichons.
There are two classic twists on this All-American cocktail:
For a Martuna-on-Rye, replace the vodka with Akvavit.
For a Martuna Melt, simply swap out the mayonnaise for melted Velveeta cheese.