I’m not a big cocktail guy. I’m usually at a loss as to what to order at a cocktail party, or when a waiter is taking orders for aperitifs before a meal.
There are a few reliable standbys – if I happen to think of them – such as a manhattan (if I’m at a steakhouse) or a kir royale (if I happen to be in a French restaurant during warm weather and the sun is still above the horizon). Occasionally I’ll take a martini (whenever offered, or if I’m standing at a long wooden bar). Otherwise, I draw a blank and end up getting something simple like a glass of white wine.
One hot afternoon last May, when Martine and I were sitting in a cafe under an enormous awning overlooking the Piazza del Campo in Siena, the waiter posed the usual question before taking our lunch order. Martine said to me “why don’t you try a Campari and soda?” The day before, she had told me about the time, many years earlier, when her brother had suggested that she – with her sweet tooth – might enjoy a Campari and soda. Campari, as you might know, is a bitter orange liqueur – one of those old fashioned European drinks that were probably concocted as some kind of health tonic but became popular during the cafe scenes of the 1920s, 30s, and 50s.
She hated it.
I like bitter things, so I thought I might like to try it. I said to the waiter “Campari soda, per favore.” A few minutes later it arrived, packed with ice and decorated with a slice of juicy fresh orange.
I took a sip. Ka-pow! What an eye-opener!
It took a few more sips before I could decide whether or not I liked it. I finally decided – I like it.
It’s a bit like taking a mouthful of diluted cough syrup and them biting into an orange peel. Why is that appealing? I don’t know, it just is.
As soon as I got back to Montreal I raced over to the SAQ and scored myself a bottle of Campari. Then I got some club soda. It will go down in history as the cocktail of summer 2006 – at least for me.
Note that to be successful you need a good dose of soda, lots of ice, and a good chunk of fresh orange – preferably from a valencia orange, not one of those bland seedless navels. Also note that in some places you can buy Campari and soda pre-mixed. It is called, unsurprisingly, Campari soda. Personally, I like to mix it myself, and to make them big and tall, with lots of ice.