“Quest” – “journey towards a goal“ is how Wikipedia defines this word. It’s a word often used in folklore and the hero overcomes great obstacles usually while travelling, to reach the goal.
I enjoy a good martini. I don’t drink them often, but when I choose to, it must be really good. I’ve learned not to order a martini from mainstream restaurants and bars. They are invariably bad and boring, consisting of watered down bar gin, too much vermouth and olives from a jar that’s been open too long and has seen better days.
Happily, more and more good restaurants and bars are embracing the renaissance of “Cocktail Culture” and delivering some very creative and inventive concoctions. Still, when it comes to martinis, there are very few I like. Am I discerning? Or high maintenance?
For me, a martini must start off with damn good gin. There are many new fabulous gins on the market these days so one does not have to resort to regular bar gins. At the moment, three of my favourites are The Botanist, Gin Mare, and Victoria Gin.
Secondly, a martini should always be served in an elegant martini glass. The classic Y shaped glass, long stem and bowl large enough to safely hold a decent 5 or 6 oz drink is perfect.
Martinis shouldn’t be sweet. Sweet is for Pina Coladas and Chi Chis (not my favourite I must add). When the Crantini craze erupted several years ago, they were fun, colourful, trendy and slipped down way too easily, but so many were made way too sweet. Simple syrup is not necessary in every cocktail!
Don’t cheap out on the olives. For a classic gin/vermouth martini that calls for olives, use decent big olives. Little, squishy things do nothing for either the appearance or taste of this drink.
I do like to experiment, and each summer I seek out a new martini recipe to try. So, on a recent trip to Puerto Vallarta Mexico, when a friend of mine said that if we had the chance, drive out to Le Kliff, a restaurant in Mismaloya and order their Basil Martini, I had to go.
Basil Martini? A restaurant called Le Kliff? Mismaloya? My curiosity and sense of adventure were definitely peaked.
We arrived back at our hotel in PVR around 6 pm after a long day’s drive back from a visit to Tequila City (read about that trip here). We had a few hours left on our rental car, it was a glorious early evening, blue skies, with sun still high in the sky. We decided to set off on our quest.
The road from Puerto Vallarta to Mismaloya is along the coast. Stunning sea views, gleaming white high rise condos, enchanting villas and jungle compete for space along the narrow, winding road. We are driving south, so each curve toward the sea along the cliffs blinds us as the brilliant sun stabs us in the eyes through the dense foliage. We have no idea where Le Kliff is, so as navigator, my eyes are peeled for a sign.
After driving for a good twenty minutes around hair raising curves and incredible scenery, I spot the first sign announcing we are 1 km away. The entrance suddenly appears and we veer off into the crowded cobblestone parking lot and screech to a halt. Boy, do I need a good martini.
From the parking lot, we stroll up a path lined with potted herbs to the reception desk. A huge bamboo thatched roof structure provides much needed shade, but the setting sun is now eye level below it, blinding us at first. When our eyes become accustomed to the brightness, an attractive lady greets us.
‘We would like to have a drink please.” states Grant.
“I’m sorry sir, but we are full tonight”. “No tables”. She replied.
“What?” I cried, my expression of shock and disappointment written all over my face. “Is there no where we can sit and have a drink?” “We drove here especially on the recommendation of a friend from Canada who told us we HAD to come here and have a Basil Martini!”
The receptionist called over the manager and spoke in rapid Spanish. She asked us to wait “un momento por favor”.
I wandered forward, gazed over the railing understanding how it got its name Le Kliff. We were standing on the roadside level in a small reception area. Steep stairs curved down to a lower level, perched on the side of the rocky cliff with people sitting at small tables situated overlooking the sea, more cliff and the gleaming, glittering sunset. A large wedding party was gathered on the patio enjoying music, drinks and finger foods. The ambience of the place was mesmerizing.
After about five minutes, we were shown to a temporary table near the railing where I had been standing and a waiter seated us there. He explained that the restaurant was indeed full, but the manager did not want to disappoint us by turning us away without trying their famous martini. We were most grateful and very thirsty.
Grant ordered a Margarita that appeared in a fish bowl sized glass. My Basil martini arrived in a large, perfect glass with a long stem. The waiter set it down on the table and I stared at it. The liquid was translucent, a magical shade of bright, fresh green as the ever present setting sun shone through it magnificently. I lifted it to my lips using two hands so as not to spill a drop. The fragrant, fresh basil aroma greeted me first. Then, the cool, slightly slushy pale green elixir filled my mouth and slipped effortlessly down my parched throat. Aaaah! Wow! I glanced at Grant with huge eyes and an equally huge grin. “This is it! The perfect summer martini!“ I sighed, relaxed back in my chair, took another long sip and watched the sun setting slowly into the Pacific. We left a nice big tip.