Say ‘bonjour’ to good taste!

February 8, 2007

Dapper French gentlemen clad in smoking jackets, their cigars sending smoke spirals up to the ceiling. Portraits of deceased royalty hanging demurely on the walls behind velvet drapes. An aging poodle curled up by the fire. The only thing needed to complete our scene is that Gallically-accented post-consumption treat: the digestif.

Sadly, the true digestif—along with dapper gentlemen and royalty—is a relic of an older time. Contemporary pop culture has demoted digestifs to the rank of common party cocktails, or worse yet, has made them into just another class of hard liquors swilled straight from the bottle.

But at one time, a digestif was a necessary finale to any fine-dining experience. A dainty glass of an almond-infused Amaretto or a delicate anisette Sambuca, served slightly warm, was the appropriate epilogue to a three-hour meal, sending guests out to brave the elements a little toastier than they arrived.

In search of a bit of the old-world charm that some of us Americans secretly crave, two friends and I betook ourselves to Cafe Bonaparte on one snowy evening earlier this week. This quaint Wisconsin Avenue maison des crêpes, true to its alleged French roots, serves a full complement of digestifs at its glossy mahogany bar. M. Amaretto and Mme. Sambuca are in residence there, as are a delightfully sweet pale-gold licorice nectar named Galliano and the old Scottish favorite Drambuie, which has a flavor reminiscent of burnt honey.

Baileys Irish Cream, Courvoisier cognac, Calvados, an apple-infused brandy, and Grand Marnier, best known these days as a citrusy cooking condiment, are just some of the many digestifs (each one costs between $7 and $10 a glass) in store for you at Bonaparte.

For the winter season, Bonaparte is also offering a special selection of hot cocktails. The pièce de résistance here is a fantastic concoction called the San Marino. At $8, it’s a dessert and drink rolled into one, combining apple cider and a cinnamon stick with a generous dose of Calvados, surmounted by a voluptuous puff of whipped cream. The Cortina is a perkier, slightly lighter version of the same drink that substitutes its sister’s creaminess for a bit of lemony tang.

When those suave Parisian fellows of yesteryear retreated into the study after dinner for a smoke and a drink, they were sure to be drinking something good. So next time you reach for a bowl of ice cream or a couple of cookies to sate your late-night sweet tooth, pour yourself a glass of Drambiue instead. You don’t have to be French to have good taste.

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