Cucumber martini Zoe's Pan-Asian Cafe, 4753 McPherson Avenue; 314-361-0013.
It takes awhile to navigate cruise ships fore and aft. When we were fifteen, we learned a lot aboard Carnival's Sensation. We learned that, unlike Mom, our cabin steward would shape our dirty clothes into dolphins and butterflies on the beds. We learned the meaning of "all-inclusive" and ordered whatever we wanted on the menu. Eating duck or lamb at home had never once crossed our teenaged minds, but somehow eating it on a ship made it adult and distinguished, something we now couldn't imagine living without. We ordered it for the same reason you do anything on a cruise ship: because you can.
But of all the exotic things on the menu, it was the watermelon soup that intrigued us most. Soup as we knew it was hot and had meat and noodles, but this was just the opposite. We pictured waiters lugging out a soup bowl with a whole watermelon sitting on top. Later in the week, we also learned that drinking laws appeared to be sketchy onboard a ship in international waters. And after that, we learned about hangovers.
We were reminded of this when faced with Zoe Pan-Asian Cafe's gorgeous drink menu. Specifically the martinis, which come in a respectable range of choices that include our preferred non-fussy varieties (plus the trendy ones we wouldn't be caught dead drinking out of a ten-foot swizzle stick). The Cucumber martini, made with Hendrick's cucumber-infused gin, piqued our interest the same way the watermelon soup did all those years ago. We envisioned a cucumber lazily floating in a giant martini glass; we pictured someone, somewhere, shoving a cucumber into the top of a gin bottle. (Oh, grow up.)
The Hendrick's bottle says it's "distilled from a proprietary recipe which includes traditional botanicals such as juniper, coriander and citrus peel." The cukes soften the trademark pine-tree smell that nonbelievers find offensive. It's refreshing and it goes down almost too well for a straight 80-plus-proof drink. From the side, the fresh cucumber slices in the bottom of the glass look like a wide, pale green ribbon with dark green trim gathered together like a homemade bow.
Like ordering the duck, ordering a straight gin drink isn't something we'd typically do. But this was a glorious early May evening. It's one the Missouri Chamber of Commerce would like to bottle and give as gifts to their smug counterparts in the Carolinas who think they've got the best of everything. But here in the Central West End, with the sun glinting off the glass and the fresh cucumber floating like a lily pad, old man gin is transformed into something clean and fresh, like it should be perched atop a $300 Pottery Barn side table. Or maybe sloshing around on a cruise ship somewhere in the Caribbean, where Midwesterners jump aboard to escape to warmer climates, without a thought to the perfect evening they're missing back home. They too are ordering stiff drinks at 5:30 on a Tuesday. Because they can.