Is that Fred Grandy, formerly of The Love Boat, sitting over there? Or is it Bucky Bush? Is it some former NCAA head coach in town preparing for the Madness? Wait. Maybe it's a former senator. It's some rich and/or famous older man, that's for sure. You can just tell by the way they carry themselves, these seemingly employed-by-God men, who by their very presence dignify a restaurant. It's not necessarily smugness. But there is a swagger.
What's the word...? Cosmopolitan. He looks cosmopolitan.
He's in the right place. An American Place, to be exact.
Were we in New York, we'd be so over An American Place by now. We'd have moved on, convinced that the joint is so 2004. Lord knows more column inches were devoted to the downtown restaurant last year than the space given to King Louie's, Harvest and Trattoria Marcella combined, which is saying something. With all due respect to An American Place and Larry Forgione -- he did, recall, invent the free-range chicken -- the media went a little overboard. Many reviewers smudged the ink with slobber, behaved as though prior to AAP St. Louisans subsisted on a diet of Hooters and Applebee's.
The reality's a little different. The Lou has always been a Midwestern oasis of fine drink and dining. Granted, coastal trends on cocktail and vittle menus are sometimes late in arriving (sun-dried tomatoes? Vodka martinis?), but the chefs are clever and creative. And the bartenders understand the dynamics of a good drink.
Take the cosmopolitan, which stormed the charts a couple decades back. Apparently it was popularized on that Sex and the City show. We wouldn't know; we're still catching up on Sanford and Son. Suffice it to say that the cosmopolitan has been done, and done well, for a long time.
In bartender Scott Helt's able hands, though, the classic cosmopolitan is a revolution, so well mixed that each of the four ingredients shines equally. Grey Goose L'Orange adds some clean, easy citrus, which morphs into a twang with the arrival of a splash of cranberry, which is tempered with a smidgen of Cointreau. Helt then squeezes in some fresh lime and hangs a lemon rind on the rim. Sounds simple enough, but most bartenders kill the drink with cranberry, add two parts when one would more than suffice. Helt's cosmo arrives as an explosion, which quickly, cleanly diffuses, leaving little or no aftertaste. You sip, your eyes twinkle, you swallow, and it's gone. Perfect.
Why, you ask, would you get a cocktail when An American Place's wine list is so solid? Because every good meal deserves a taste-bud activator, a tangy awakener that stimulates the senses, teases the lips. It's the proper way to start off. You don't storm in, sit, order and wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am. You start gently, gracefully, and ease your way into the meal.