Try to define a martini.
It shouldn’t be difficult. The cocktail of literary, film and television lore dates back before the turn of the last century. Cold and crystal clear, with a broad-shouldered elegance about it, the martini has an aura that envelopes those who raise its distinct glass. As Ernest Hemingway wrote, “They make me feel civilized.”
From its origins in Martinez – or San Francisco, or New York – the martini evolved from a blend with gin and heavy on the vermouth to one with just a whisper of the aromatized wine. Eventually vodka took over as the spirit of choice, with vermouth left dusty on the shelf, replaced by fetid olive juice. “A lot of people order it dirty,” observes Sergio Vasquez of Pangaea Grill in Carmel. There are also examples decked in chocolate or gussied with lavender. The menu at Monterey Cookhouse lists flavors such as mango, strawberry and lemon drop.
“There’s nothing that’s a semblance of the original,” adds Anthony Vitacca of Bar Napoli and Little Napoli in Carmel. “Is it a martini because it comes in a martini glass?”
A cocktail that was once gin is now more often vodka, was once stirred but now shaken (“thanks, Mr. Bond,” Vitacca says), at one time clean and potent, though now open to color and softer touches – it may indeed be the vessel that defines the martini. Yet it has endured. As Toby Ward of Woody’s at the Airport points out, the martini has retained a sense of elegance.
“It’s really a chill drink, that’s what it is,” Monterey Cookhouse’s Marcos Zemponcteca says.
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