Monday, September 29, 2008

Memories in Liquid Form

Memories in Liquid Form
Category: Food and Restaurants


Over the past few weeks, on a local "wine and spirits" discussion board, the group's resident, self-appointed mixology expert posted an eloquent missive in praise of one of America's first cocktails, the Sazerac.



A sazerac is one of the oldest known cocktails and a classic New Orleans creation, with a base of rye whiskey, flavored with a drop of Pernod (in place of the original absynthe) and Peychaud bitters, a type of cocktail bitters that originated in New Orleans. The sharpness of these flavors is cut with a dash of simple syrup and the entire thing is shaken and served straight up, icy cold.

I drank my first Sazerac with my first husband , in New Orleans, and hadn't had one in at least 15 years. So this past weekend, I amassed the ingredients needed for a sazerac and had one the other evening. My favorite liquor store(s) were out of Pernod so I used anisette and it was just fine like that. The bitters are what really flavors the drink anyway; the Pernod is just for scent.

One sip of that lovely elixer and I was back at a white-clothed table enjoying my first taste of New Orleans, at Galatoire's in the French Quarter.

It was the 1980, before the world discovered "blackened" everything and no one had heard of a chef who used the term "BAM!" while cooking.

New Orleans then was less "sanitized for your tourism pleasure". And this was a good thing.

Bourbon street had more strip clubs and fewer storefronts dispensing artificially-colored "daquiri" slushes. You were warned not to step one foot off the Rue Royale or Bourbon. The genteel antique shops on Royal Street were a stark contrast to the debauchery and drunken excess of Bourbon. What New Orelans was in the recent years before Katrina, it was ten-fold 20 years ago.

The cuisine in most places in New Orleans was Creole, not "Cajun". In order to find Cajun food, one had to venture along the River Road and eat at little mom & pop places with grease-stained table cloths. Boiled crawfish and jamabalaya were washed down with Dixie beer and were offered mostly out in peasant country; Creole reigned in New Orleans at Commander's and Brennan's and Galatoires. And Galatoire's, to this day, is the spot where old, wealthy New Orleans families gather on Friday nights to relax after a long week and catch up on the local gossip.

I vividly remember my first creole meal, at a table for two in the middle of Galatoire's brightly-lit bustle. A first course of shrimp remoulade, a dish I quickly learned to cook at home, and ethereal Oysters Rockefeller, a delicacy I knew but had never experienced. Although it was invented up the street at Antoine's, Galatoire's version was as authentic as the original; plump gulf oysters baked with their famous spinach and herbsaint (another absynthe substitute, this made in New Orelans) topping.

I also experienced my first raw oyster on this trip; I grew up eating clams on the half shell, but until this trip, oysters were a bit outside my gastronimical reach. Until I polished off two dozen in one sitting at Felix's oyster house down the street from Galatoires. But I digress.

As we ordered our main course and I sipped my first sazerac (of many on that trip) my ex pointed out the "Yankees" at the next table.

"How do you know they're Yankees?" I asked.

"Only a yankee," he said, "would order coffee before dinner at Galatoire's."

Poisson Meuniére Amandine followed, a crisp piece of the freshest trout in browned butter and almonds. Served with crunchy young green beans and Brabant Potatoes (what we yankees would probably call home fries) seasoned, cubed and fried, sprinkled with parsley.

We had a liquid dessert; Café Brulot; coffee spiced with orange and lemon peel, cloves, brandy and Orange Curacao.

The Yankees, he pointed out, were still drinking plain old coffee.




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Stop by, bring wine.

Preferably good wine. Food would be good, too.