Up and dry: In search of the imperfect martini

Thumbnail image for al-martinez-photo.jpgIt is not true to begin with that I spend a good deal of my waking hours searching for the perfect martini. In the first place, a martini is classically composed of gin and vermouth and I use vodka instead because gin gives me a headache and enrages me. My vodka-laced martini is, ergo, imperfect.

I keep my natural angers under control most of the time because I am not a very big person and it is embarrassing to see a small man with crazy eyes suddenly leap on the back of a giant and pummel him on the head with tiny fists and then climb off all sweaty and useless, Jekyll and Hyde, together again.

It's what happens when someone slips a shot of Beefeaters instead of Gray Goose into my cocktail shaker. In Oakland the Tribune staff, of which I was a member, was once invited to a party with the Oakland Raiders. I was in a pleasant conversation with defensive end Ben Davidson who was 6-feet 8 and weighed 300 pounds, when I took a sip of a gin martini someone handed me by mistake.

I went postal and had to be held down by mad-bombing quarterback Daryle Lamonica and Sticky Fingers wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff to prevent me from taking a swing at Big Ben's head which I could barely reach I am so little. Ben had fists like pot roasts while I possessed the dainty, expressive hands of a Chaucerian poet that cannot even curl up into a fist, so I'm dead before I get started. Lamonica and Biletnikoff sat on me as they would a rabid dog so I wouldn't go after Ben and get myself killed.

What I'm getting around to in a somewhat circuitous manner is that I do wander L.A. somewhat, looking for a good martini. Gin or vodka, it must be a perfect blend of booze and vermouth served in a slightly chilled stemware glass at a bar that is not afraid to play a Billie Holiday CD while serving. A good martini is best drunk sad. It must be essentially flavorless, unencumbered by the boutiquey accessories that characterize its bastard contemporaries; no chocolate sauce or cranberry juice, for God's sake.

High on my list of good martini places are Monty's Steak House in Woodland Hills, where the real drinkers go, and the Misfit in Santa Monica, where people drop by for a bedlam fix. There is also Beverly Hills' Grill on the Alley, where agents hide, Tarzana's Bleecker Street, where eating is not important, the California Pizza Kitchen in Tarzana, where kids eat pizza like cows in a hay field and daddy belts down booze; Le Petit in Sherman Oaks where you can actually eat the food, and Giovanni Ristorante in Woodland Hills that keeps moving its location. The martinis are worthwhile but you have to run to keep up with them.

The only other place I would recommend is my kitchen, to which you must be specifically invited and know the password. I will meet you at the door and you, a scruffy searcher from the Van Nuys jungle, will say, "Dr. Dry Martini, I presume?" If that's expensive vodka you carry, lad, step right in. If it's gin at any cost, duck and cover, and God save your battered soul.

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