Cocktail Pairing: Redefining Dinner And A Drink

Champagne and caviar.  A burger and a beer.  Obvious.  But now you can get a bit crazy and swill back a blueberry ale with a duck breast or a dry riesling with spicy thai food.  So we all get it — you can pair beer with food, you can pair wine with food.  And even with good food.  But what do you drink when you are in the mood for something stronger?  What do you drink when you’re at dinner and the price of wine and a craft beer is as much if not more than one of the cleverly concocted cocktails that are on almost every menu these days?
I detest paying 3 or 4 times as much for a bottle of wine when I am out or anything approaching $20 or more for a glass.  It’s not that I can’t afford it, but I don’t see the point.  I can get a perfectly decent martini for $20 or less (hey, it’s NYC and you’re likely going to pay around $20 for a drink at many of the better places – and by that I mean the places where it doesn’t smell like bleach or vomit when you walk in).  And even when the wine by the glass is affordable, rarely is it drinkable.  (And if you want to suggest a half bottle, I’m assuming it will be in the pricey range- so don’t make that suggestion.)
As a compromise and long before the current spirits craze, I decided to order a well-made cocktail (or a glass of liquor on the rocks) – whether I am out for a drink and sharing a small dish or two with friends or when I am ordering a main course.  It just makes sense to me.
Now this may be acceptable in certain circles.  For example, no one will fault you for having a margarita with Mexican food.
(This ridiculous spicy chili tequila drink with a gummy cherry
and a marshmallow was on the menu at a “Mexican” restaurant
in Frankfurt, Germany.  There were no bells or whistles but it
packed a punch and would be great with most Asian foods.)

So why not expand your horizons?  Try a fancy drink the next time you order some lamb chops or seared tuna.  Obviously, nothing too sweet.  Why not go for a gin drink with hints of juniper berries (Hendrick’s or one of the small batch selections that have started to flood the market could work).  Or opt for a drink with some earthiness to it, maybe add some herbs or cucumber for a kick.  You could also try a rye with a dash of herbal bitters or a smoked orange rind.  You know how a glass of wine can make a creamy cheese taste like honey?  (If not, you should taste fromage d’affinois with a glass of rose…this may sound fancy but it is widely available and inexpensive)  Isn’t it reasonable that a great old-fashioned could enhance the flavors in a pork loin stuffed with apples?

I am sure you are thinking that a glass of wine would be better.  And maybe you are right but maybe not.  I see no harm in going a little out of the ordinary to see if there are some parallels.  These “mixologists” (aka bartenders) have taken the time to develop exciting creations.  Why not try them with some food?  You might be surprised.  I’m betting that spirits can enhance your food pleasure in addition to your overall demeanor.

Obviously, not everyone has the tolerance to handle this, so know your limits people.  Over the next few months, I will be coming up with some clever and timely (spring has sprung) suggestions for cocktails you can try at home and a quick and easy recipe to complement the beverage of the day.  With the economy being what it is, there’s no reason why you have to sacrifice your indulgences… just find a way to indulge cheaper and at home.  In the end, you will have a nice cocktail repertoire and the satisfaction of having a fine meal that you prepared.  Rarely does anything taste better to me than a meal I’ve made accompanied by a tasty drink….

So stay tuned and feel free to share your own recipes – be it for a cocktail or for a quick meal that goes well with something other than beer or wine.


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