Everyone (well, okay, the few dozen people in the cocktail world and various dorks like me who care) knows that Martinis generally are to be stirred, not shaken. Shaking usually is only done with cocktails made with fruit. So what is James Bond’s problem? Surely Mr. Sophisticated should know that.
I’ve posited my own theories about that earlier, because that’s how big a dork I am, but I had the chance to ask that question yesterday of Naren Young, a cocktail expert who is on a trip to Japan with me.
We arrived in Tokyo yesterday, and during the flight I had time to sleep, eat and watch two-and-a-half movies, including the latest James Bond hit, Casino Royale. I noticed that the Martini 007 ordered wasn’t just gin and a little vermouth with an olive. Oh, no. It was something more complex than that involving Lillet and a lemon twist. I didn’t catch exactly what it was because since I got a DVR my ears have become lazy, having grown accustomed to my ability to rewind and listen to dialog again.
But since it was top of mind, I brought it up with Naren, who said that the drink in question was, in fact, part of the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale. It was three parts Gordon’s gin, one part vodka (brand unspecified because who cares?) and half a part Lillet, shaken, with a twist.
Naren — which actually is short for Narendra, in case you were wondering — explained that shaking does two things: it dilutes the drink faster, obviously, but it also aerates the drink, giving it slight effervescence. This is, in fact, desirable for the Martini variation that Bond orders, which has come to be known as a Vespa, named after an arch-nemesis of his (or rather, per Josh's comment below, Vesper, for Vesper Lynd, who is a nemesis of sorts).
Naren ordered that for us at Hoshi, a very excellent Tokyo bar in the Ginza area that had been recommended by friends of his on the bartending circuit (Naren himself tends bar at two New York places, Public and Pegu Club). It was a very cool, very upscale establishment on the seventh floor of an office building and the nicest bar I’ve been to by an order of magnitude to allow its clients to remain passed out in public view. The drunk young salaryman thus slumped on the bar added an excellent bit of ambience that is difficult to explain. So did Hoshi Yuichi, the enthusiastic bartender.
We never would have found Hoshi had we not been walked there by a staff member of Tender, another bar on Naren’s list.
Tender Bar, instead of bartender. Get it? I didn’t until Naren explained it to me.
There we sampled many house cocktails, the most interesting of which was called Shungyo, or "spring dawn." It was made with green tea liqueur, vodka and sake, and was garnished with a cherry blossom that had been preserved in salt. It was the garnish that made the drink representative of spring, even though it was preserved in salt. It’s interesting how the Japanese bring seasonality into their food that way.
Naren and I are both guests of Niigata prefecture, where he is learning about sake and I am learning about the area’s food. Our guide is Akiko Katayama, a New York based journalist and all around cool person.
Despite the inevitable grogginess, we felt that it was necessary to paint Tokyo a little bit red before leaving for Niigata the following morning. Akiko suggested we go to the Ginza, which of course we did.
After wandering the back alleys for awhile we stumbled into Yoshihiro, which apparently is a rather well known restaurant, although Akiko and our guides from Japan Railways hadn’t heard of it. Then again, Akiko lives in New York and our JR friends are from Niigata. We were mightily pleased, though.
Here’s what we ate:
Matzuzaka oxtail from Osaka simmered for four hours in soy and mirin, garnished with some kinome, an herb that I learned later in the evening is supposed to be smacked between your palms before being eaten. That releases the aromatic oils and makes Japanese people think you know what you’re doing.
Sashimi of Matzuzaka beef, katsuo, madara (a fish from Hokkaido), maguro, a shellfish called tsubu that we couldn’t identify and some sort of internal organ of the tsubu, all served with soy sauce, grated ginger, grated garlic, fresh wasabi that we grated ourselves on sharkskin, shiso and myoga — an aromatic root vegetable that looked like an onion but that tasted like nothing I’ve ever had before.
Tomato wedges with freshly grated Himalayan rock salt.
We drank Yebisu (a dark beer) and warm sake — something that is out of favor in the US but that can be pretty awesome. Naren also had shochu served with a large ball of ice that apparently is a common thing to do in Japan. Naren hopes to find the stuff needed to make those ice balls and introduce them to the Pegu Club.
Naren and I finished the evening by goading one of our Niigata friends, Kunihiro Yoshioka (he said we should call him Kuni) into finding a late-night ramen place for us. He said he knew of an all night Italian place where we might be able to get spaghetti but he speculated that all ramen places would be closed at 3am. But we sent him forward into the night and in about three minutes we found our ramen place and I had one loaded up with wakame.