Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Old Poodle Dog - Sophisticated New Cocktail

The Old Poodle Dog was once the toast of San Francisco restaurant scene. Among the earliest genuine French restaurants in the city, it opened its doors in 1849. Except for a decade (1922-1933) marking Prohibition, it continued until 1980. It was briefly reopened again inside the Crocker Galleria in 1984 but closed for good a year and a half later.

The name Old Poodle Dog seems to have come about because early customers couldn't pronounce its original name (in French), Le Poulet d'Or (the Golden Cock), and sounded out The Poodle Dog. By the turn of the last century, a white poodle, a rarity in those times, was employed as official mascot.

The place originally was located at the edge of Chinatown, and was constructed in the typical common French country style, with long tables, common serving dishes, salad towards the end of the meal, a house wine. Later the restaurant moved into larger quarters, and upgraded its fair, eventually vying for top spot among local French cuisine establishments.

Old San Francisco's reputation as a den of iniquity was not undeserved. For decades, the Old Poodle Dog maintained special upstairs dining suites complete with beds and private bathrooms, where the city's bigwigs and players could conduct their assignations in discreet privacy. Whether that was proof of the city's tolerance, or of its indulgent mischief, I let you decide.

I only ate at the Old Poodle Dog once, in its last brief incarnation in the Crocker Galleria, taking lunch with my real father, John Calef, whom I didn't meet until I was twenty. We only saw each other perhaps a half dozen times before he died in the mid-1990's. He was already retired then, but wore a suit for the occasion. It had been one of his favorite watering holes over the decades, and he wanted to share it with me. It wasn't the sort of establishment I could have afforded at the time. We had beef shanks, I seem to recall. Though a man in my thirties by then, I felt like a teenager at a prep school being visited by an absentee father-surrogate.

In any case, to commemorate that memory, as well as a once great San Francisco restaurant, I've used the name for a cool new cocktail concoction. I should warn anyone in advance that you'd be unlikely to get any bartenders to mix it for you, as it contains ingredients which are not common to taverns nowadays. For instance, cocktail grapefruit--an hybrid derived from a mixture of the Siamese Sweet pommelo and the Frua mandarin orange--fruits in the winter, and is not commonly sold in grocery stores. Unlike the pulpy, more bitter variety we're all familiar with in America, this one is rich in juice, and has a much sweeter flavor. It's about the size of a medium large Florida orange, and has a yellow tint tinged with green blurs.

St. Germaine liquor has rapidly come into favor as a piquant mixer in the last couple of years.
Though not particularly unusual, you'd be unlikely to find most barmasters with either sweet lime, or vanilla syrup, on the premises. Lillet is an old standby.

The recipe below is for a single cocktail, shaken gently, and served in chilled cocktail glasses, has a surpassing elegance and seductiveness which are miles above your typical festive drink. Women will enjoy it as much as men, even if they've never liked cocktails much. The combination of the two French aperitifs, with the slightly exotic fruits are what make it work.

2 parts Tanqueray #10
1/2 part St. Germaine Liquor
1/2 Part Lillet
1/4 part vanilla syrup
1/2 part sweet lime
1/2 part "cocktail" grapefruit

This one would work in mid-summer, or on a cold, rainy day such as today is in the Bay Area. But don't try asking your local bartender for it. He's likely to squint dismissively and demand to know where in hell you came up with that effete combination. But take my word, this one's worth searching out the ingredients.

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