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Comeback of a Classic : New-Wave Martini Drinkers Show a Preference for the Traditional Version

August 21, 1988|ROBERT LAWRENCE BALZER

THE RETURN of the martini is more than a myth, more than the wishful thinking of professional barkeepers. Wherever I've inquired, I've been told that there has been as much as a 25% increase in calls for the once ubiquitous cocktail that fell from grace several years ago.

According to Faith Popcorn, president of Brain Reserve, a firm that predicts trends, much of the impetus for the martini revival has come from the desire for individuality and the quest for adventure in recreational beverage pursuits. Popcorn's 1987 studies indicated that a decline in the consumption of bland foods, light beer and white wine seemed tied to a perceived need for what could be called reward foods--rich desserts and cheeses and, of course, cocktails--as remuneration for jogging and working.

I've also noted consumer recognition that "house white wine" has too often been both terrible and terribly overpriced. The usual plonk served forth for the better part of a $5 bill has frequently been such undistinguished swill that knowledgeable customers have turned to dependable drinks--such as the "call" martini.

But things have changed. The new breed of martini drinker is more discerning, even fussy, about the proportion of gin to vermouth, the type of glass and garnish. They want a crystal-clear drink (meaning a vermouth, like Stock, that's a special import, with no trace of yellow, yet still infused with herbs and spices). It's to be served straight up, minus ice, in a traditional, long-stemmed, flanged martini glass--stirred, not shaken.

Never mind the 4-to-1 ratio, nor even the 5-to-1, which led to a straight shot accompanied by only a mere wave of the vermouth bottle over the mix--and to the decline of the martini. Today's order leans more toward the classical 2-to-1 martini, albeit with individual variations such as a twist of lemon in the stirring.

In the "Bartender's Guide by Trader Vic," published about 40 years ago, the dry martini cocktail consisted of one ounce of dry gin and half an ounce of French vermouth, stirred with cracked ice, strained into a cocktail glass and served with a stuffed olive--period. A nod went, however, to one of the currently popular variations: a "special dry" version that calls for first rinsing the cocktail glass with Pernod and adding half a teaspoon of Pernod to the mix.

I was educated as to "the perfect martini" many years ago by the late actor Rod La Rocque, husband of Vilma Banky, one of Valentino's leading ladies. For her, and me, at the pre-prandial hour, La Roque would bring forth a chilled crystal pitcher filled with ice cubes. From his own trees at his Saticoy ranch, he'd pick a lemon, then deftly peel it in a continuous piece, dropping the long, bright yellow spiral onto the ice. Then he'd pour in four parts gin and one part dry French vermouth and stir, pouring the libation into chilled glasses. Garnish was optional--the pimiento-stuffed Manzanillo Spanish olive or the cocktail onion (making it a Gibson).

Recently, at Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House in Vancouver, Canada, I encountered their own worthy Delilah martini and watched as the bartender, Peter Celle, performed its unusual ritual. Here is the recipe, by the numbers: Pour into a shaker containing ice cubes 2 1/2 ounces of Absolut vodka. Add half an ounce of Cointreau and the juice of three quartered lemon wedges. Then shake the daylights out of it and pour the mixture into a classic stemmed martini glass--straight, with neither olives nor onions.

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