When in France, mornings begin with a café au lait, evenings may close with a cognac or chocolate liqueur, and there are plenty of beverage prospects along the way: a refreshing lunchtime citron pressé, a Pastis or Kir Royal during the late afternoon, or a nighttime cocktail made with French ingredients like dry vermouth, Grand Marnier, or Lillet.
In "Drinking French," the witty, comprehensive overview of French drinking culture, New York Times bestselling author David Lebovitz serves up 160 recipes for quintessential café favorites, classic and contemporary apértifs and cocktails, and homemade liqueurs and infusions. Each recipe is accompanied by Lebovitz's astute observations about life in France, as well as photographs taken in Paris and beyond.
Since the French can't imagine drinking without food, David includes crispy, savory snacks to enjoy alongside. Warm, cheesy gougères go well with Pineau des Charentesor Kir; Za'atar Martinis taste even better with olives heated with olive oil, orange zest, and herbs; and the spicy, glazed nut and pretzel mix works with everything from the RinQuinQuin Rickeys to Americanos.
Combat may seem like an unusual name for a bar in Paris. Margot Lecarpentier chose the name for her cocktail bar in Belleville because it's adjacent to the Quartier du Combat. The area got its name because there was once an arena there where savage fights between animals, including wolves, bears, boars, and bulls, took place from the late 1700s until the middle of the next century, when the barbaric practice was banned. Margot told me it was also a nod to the battles she had with multiple banks before she convinced one to give a thirty-year-old woman a business loan to open her bar.
I'm glad she succeeded, because Combat is one of my favorite hangouts in the city. Its unintimidating tablelike bar makes you feel as if you're being served by a friend at a dinner party. And one who makes great cocktails, at that. Margot likens her bartending style to dining, and since she's from Normandy, where people love to eat, it all makes perfect sense to me.
This signature cocktail from Combat gets its name from the four ingredients that start with "S": sage, which adds a savory note; single-malt scotch for smokiness; simple syrup for a touch of sweetness; and gentian-based Salers or Suze to stimulate your taste buds. Margot likes to use Laphroaig scotch, although another peated scotch, single malt or blended, would work. - David
Makes 1 cocktail
- 2 medium fresh sage leaves, plus additional leaves for garnish
- 2 ounces (60ml) Salers or Suze
- 1 ounce (30ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Scant 1⁄2 ounce (10ml) simple syrup
- Scant 1⁄2 teaspoon peated Scotch whisky
Tear the two sage leaves into two or three pieces each and put them in a cocktail shaker. Add the Salers, lemon juice, simple syrup, and scotch to the shaker. Fill with ice and shake until well chilled.
Open the shaker and strain into a chilled tumbler or rocks glass. Fill the glass with ice, topping it off with shaved ice, if available. Garnish with a few sage leaves.