Welcome back to Dirty Work, our series of dispatches from the MUNCHIES Garden. We're inviting chefs, bartenders, and personalities in the world of food and drink to explore our edible playground and make whatever the hell inspires them with our rooftop produce.
There are few drinks as enduring as the martini. Sure, Sazeracs and old fashioneds might be more historic, but their stars have risen and fallen and risen again over the years. The martini, however, was always there.
But with that endurance comes the potential for going stale. How do you keep something like a martini current and classic at the same time? For answers, we turned to Mission Chinese Food's beverage director Sam Anderson.
"At Mission Chinese, we're known for whimsical and wild cocktails that bring smiles to our guests' faces," Anderson tells us. "But I have also debuted a classic cocktail program, the goal of which is to show another side of the bar. My head bartender Jameel is a huge classic cocktail aficionado, and he is in charge of this program. Essentially, we are curating old-school cocktails on a nightly basis in a space where that feels really appropriate. So far, the response has been amazing."
So, what makes a great martini, either at Mission Chinese or at home? "First, a well-chosen gin," he asserts. "I love classic, high-proof gins such as Old Raj, Plymouth, and Ford's. Another favorite is Dorothy Parker from NY Distilling Co., which is made locally in Greenpoint, Brooklyn by Allen Katz, the owner and master distiller there."
Next, Anderson uses a dry vermouth with vibrant botanicals. "I like Dolin from Chambéry, France. It's very important to keep vermouth refrigerated and sealed, as this preserves it from oxidation."
As for mixing, Anderson prefers a 2:1 ratio of gin to vermouth. "You can get the full expression of botanicals in harmony this way—which is, to me, the beauty of a martini. You also want to get that martini as cold as possible, so it's super refreshing. I prefer garnishing with citrus peel or some Castelvetrano olives. Always an odd number of olives—either one or three, and never two.
"You can guess why," he says. "I'm a gentleman."
And what's the best way to drink a martini? "I think a martini should be consumed before a meal, as an apéritif," Anderson says. "It's also one of the rare cocktails that will generally pair well with food. Always drink it up in a chilled coupe, two ounces at a time. Keep the rest of the mixed martini in a sidecar on ice, and add as you go."
When Anderson demonstrated his martini-making skills, he decided to add some of the Terrarium Bitters he'd made a couple months back. "I mixed them with olive oil. When I dropped the mixture on the surface of the drink, they formed little balls and danced on the surface."
But man cannot live on martinis alone. When we first asked Anderson for his thoughts on food pairings, his mind immediately went to vegetation.
"I am always on the prowl for snacks," he tells us. "The last element of a great martini is the garnish, and when you're drinking a martini as an apéritif, it's nice to have a little snack as you're drinking, right? I decided that for this spin on a martini, the snack garnish would become the main part of the drink. Fresh and pickled vegetables, toasted nuts, and fresh citrus are a great start."
He adds: "The inspiration for the dish and drink came from Bemelmans Bar in the Carlyle Hotel, my favorite bar in New York City, where they are known for old-school drinks, sidecars, and the snack plates that accompany them."
To assemble the plate, first head to your local farmer's market and gather a batch of fresh vegetables. "In New York, we have the Pickle Guys in the Lower East Side for pickles, as well as Sahadi's or Kalustyan's for nuts and dried fruits," Anderson adds. "Essentially, put together a mélange of great drinking snacks, and make sure they are colorful and bright."
And that's how you turn cocktail hour into a meal.