We arrived 15 minutes early for our 7 p.m. reservation, partly because I know that reservations are not guarantees, they are best guesses, and partly because I wanted to have a drink at the bar.
“Your table will be ready in a few minutes,” the hostess said.
“We’ll wait in the bar.”
She looked perplexed. “But …” she started.
“We’ll just wait over there,” I said pointing at the bar.
“Just come get us when you are ready.”
Considering that absolutely nobody else was waiting and there were five people, total, in the bar, I didn’t quite understand the confusion. But sometimes when you go out, you realize that while this might not be your first rodeo, it is theirs.
The service at this restaurant is always sketchy, but the food is delicious, abundant and relatively inexpensive. Years back there was another chain restaurant that had a similar problem. It had a Thai chicken salad that was so delicious that I often dined there in spite of the fact that I’d only see my server three times; once to take the order, once to deliver the food and once to deliver the check. If you needed or wanted anything in between, too bad for you. It was there that I perfected the art of ordering absolutely everything I wanted immediately.
This was an art I was eager to put into practice at this newer restaurant. We sat at the bar for 10 minutes before one of the two bartenders finally made his way over. Now I could understand if they were busy, but there were only two other people in the bar, besides me and my two guests. Both bartenders had spent those 10 minutes making five drinks for people in the restaurant. Five drinks by two bartenders in 10 minutes is not a recipe for success in the restaurant business. Meanwhile I got to stare at the giant horse’s butt through the window, feeling a strange kinship with that terra cotta derriere.
“I’ll have a Hangar One vodka, chilled, straight up with an olive,” I told the bartender, quite literally a one-ingredient drink, if you exclude the extra water and the olive.
When vodka is made, the base ferment is legally required to be distilled up to 190 proof, a proof that renders it purely a combination of ethyl alcohol and water. So pure in fact that it becomes what is called an azeotrope, a combination of pure alcohol and pure water, which has characteristics different from either (such as a different boiling point). In fact it is physically impossible to distill alcohol any purer than 190 proof with conventional distilling apparatus. Once the distillate is 190 proof, it is then watered down to 80 proof and bottled. Occasionally minute amounts of glycerin, sugar or citric acid are added for flavor. What does all this mean? It means that all regular proof vodka is 60 percent added water — 60 percent!
Take your typical chilled vodka, which is 2 ounces of said vodka, shake it over ice until it yields 4 ounces of liquid and that 60 percent added water is now increased to 80 percent. Toss in an olive or a twist and good luck tasting any difference at all.
Remember that by law, “Vodka is neutral spirits so distilled, or so treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials, as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color.” Period.
The added water on the other hand does have flavor, whether it’s the water added to the vodka, or the water added to the drink via chilled dilution. If that difference is worth $5 a drink or $20 a bottle more to you, then you may have been blessed with the dollar part of the equation, but the cents part is up for debate.
At 7:10 the hostess arrived to take us to our table. At 7:20 my drink finally arrived. It had vodka, vermouth and olive juice in it. Not to mention the water.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
• Good food might bring you into a restaurant, but bad service can drive you out.
• It is possible to screw up a one-ingredient drink.
• Knowing what you want is sometimes easier than getting it.
• Hangar One calls its vodka “straight” — odd since that designation has no legal meaning. But, if it moves its vodka into the “flavored vodka” category, than all the rules for its manufacture go right out the window.
• There’s always to-go food.