Monday, August 03, 2009

"The Curate's Egg"

Some months ago, Father Anonymous sat with two clerical friends at a swell New York City restaurant, and listened as these gentlemen attempted to order complicated cocktails of some sort -- ginger martinis, maybe? -- from a series of waiters who alternately recommended the drink and doubted that its ingredients were in stock. In the end, they settled for second best -- "Sapphire martini with double vermouth and and a twist, straight up in a chilled stem glass," or something equally longwinded.

By the time their beverages had been ordered, confected and delivered, Father A. had finished his Amstel (which he had ordered in two Heminwayesque syllables: "Beer, please." He still glows when recollecting that isolated moment of uncharacteristic brevity).

The point to this anecdote is simply to mention that your obdt. svt. is a less-than-sophisticated drinker. Once upon a time, like most college boys, he cultivated a taste for whiskey (Macallan 25, if somebody else was buying), but that was long ago and far away. We toothless old men like our milk warm and and our bedtimes early.

What was our point again? Oh, yes. We were reading a Weekly Standard article, which made several countercultural arguments regarding cocktails.

First, that the Frank and Dino knew squat about drinking:

"[T]he best cocktails were not the product of the 1950s when the Rat Pack set the standard, but the 1920s when piano bars and hot jazz ruled and people changed their clothes for the evening. Our most elegant cocktails were part of the great modern revolution in design and had the same sleek lines as that era's airplanes and motorcars. The drink names of this era celebrate just what the plane, train, and liner meant to travel and horizons--the Aviation, the Bijou, the Metropolitan, and the Sidecar; the Havana, the Bombay, the Honolulu. And these drinks were wondrous balances of fresh ingredients. During the "Swingers" era of the 1990s, what you could get were very large Martinis that were often just chilled gin--six ounces or more in a single glass.

Second, that water is not the enemy:

"diluting the alcohol is much of the point of the cocktail. Do not underestimate the value of water in cocktails. It is what separates us from our less-civilized forebears who began the consumption of distilled spirits. The meeting of water with alcohol and flavorings civilizes the mix, allowing the spirit's rich flavors to prosper and diminishing the harsh bite of the liquor--which is after all something of an industrial byproduct. The key to making cocktails in large batches and ahead of time is to pour in water before chilling the mixture in a pitcher. It is a difficult moment, I acknowledge: a plunge into the unknown accompanied by a sense of impending disaster. But have faith and you will be rewarded."

Both points well taken. And the Sazerac was held up for special praise, which warms our absinthe-bitter heart. What caught us off guard, however, was an unfamiliar expression. The article suggested that today's syrupy messes are generally "a curate's egg of ingredients." Heavens, thought we. Have bartenders been stealing provender from the lesser clergy?

Turns out, at least according to Wikipedia, that this delightful expression means "something partly good and partly bad, so that the whole is spoiled." It comes from a Punch cartoon. At a la-de-da breakfast, a bishop says, "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr. Jones." To which the wretched-looking curate replies humbly, "Oh, no, my lord. I assure you that parts of it are excellent."

It's funny, in an 1895 sort of way. But it's also useful. After all, how many things, despite some good ingredients, are spoiled by their bad ones? Anglican conservatives surely argue thus about the [FDMS of the] PECUSA. We ourselves have often thought as much of those people in St. Louis.

On the other hand, one doesn't want to go too far with all this. People, and the communities people build, aren't really much like eggs. The bits of icky rottenness simply don't diminish the goodness of the good bits. How else could anyone stand to live in New York City? Or, for that matter, anyplace else?


Jim Krauser said...

Being partial to the occasional Sidecar myself (on festive and celebrative occasions), I have oft had to explain the delicious concotion to the bewildered waitress or barman.

I also agree that a nice whisky is always better when mellowed by club soda or sparkling water and a twist. Neat or even simply over ice, the alcohol is too sharp and you cannot enjoy the flavor of the beverage.

Your obedient, etc.

Anonymous said...

I like a Martini,
Two at the most,
Three I'm under the table,
Fourt I'm under my host.
-- Dorothy Parker (via web)

Father said...

Oh, Dorothy Parker. Why can't the New Yorker just fire its current staff (except Lane, Gopnik and Lepore) and use the savings to bring you back from the dead?