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The decline of the apéritif may well be one of the most depressing phenomena of our time. —Luis Bunuel

I’ve recently returned from Paris, the City of Lights, but for me it was more like the-City-of-Drawn Shades-Under-Covers-for-Two-Days-No-Lights. Quelle dommage! It’s just not fair to be sick in Paris. I’d spent the previous two weeks traveling in Italy and Spain with a co-worker. (It was all work, people; don’t hate me.)

Thankfully I was able to enjoy one dinner of steak-frites and crème brulée before getting the plague. But before we get to dinner, let’s talk l’apéritif: the cocktail hour. After the non-stop, on-the-go Mediterranean craziness, it was time to unwind and enjoy. Any corner brasserie will do. We found ours near our hotel.

kir royaleThe cocktail hour is to eating as om is to yoga (I think; I don’t really know my yoga). L’apéritif is meant to be the transition between your day and evening. You sip a cocktail and let the worries of the day slide off your shoulders and prepare to enjoy the meal that is ahead. l’apéritif begs you to shift your attitude. No better way to shift my attitude than with a glass of bubbles. We slowly sipped Kir Royales and felt the last two weeks float away. Who needed to eat? Garçon, another bubbly s’il vous plais, tout de suite.steak-frites

Instead he brought us menus. Of course the only thing to order is steak-frites: pan fried and best served saignant (rare; literally translates as bloody). The more saignant the cow, the better. And shoestring French fries that are somehow uber crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Perfect for mopping up all the browned-butter sauce.

sabayonDinner in Paris isn’t complete without torched desserts (City of Lights, remember?). We shared a crème brulée and sabayon aux fruits rouges (zabaglione with red berries). The torching of crème brulée is expected, but the torching of the sabayon was quite unexpected. Its taste was reminiscent of marshmallows being toasted over a campfire. When was the last time you had sabayon while camping? I begged the waiter to tell me the secret, and he swore there wasn’t any. It was just the sabayon.

This marked the end of my food indulging in Paris. There’d be no crepes, no pain au chocolats, no smelly cheese, and no oysters. The next two days were spent in my hotel room, in the [dis]comfort of a hotel bed. Friends have said, “Yes, but you were in Pareeee!” Yes, I was in Paris. But I couldn’t enjoy the corner cafes, or walks through the Tuileries Garden or along the Seine!at the embassy

I was able to accept my down time because of l’apéritif. I owe my healing to the bubbles (and to watching 27 Dresses and What Happens in Vegas 20,000 times.) If I hadn’t been able to shift my attitude I wouldn’t have relaxed enough to get better in time for the party at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence. I wasn’t ready to partake in l’apéritif, but I was able to get all prettied up and enjoy the evening.

The tradition of l’apértif remains strong in European culture, but has been lost in our harried world. Let’s reawaken our senses and redevelop our appetites to enjoy the meal that waits. We need to revitalize this tradition. I’ve got Campari in the cabinet. I’ll start.

campari and sodaThe links are my own cocktail ceations: more cocktail than apertif. I include below recipes right off the back of my Campari bottle (all are served on the rocks) and three additional classics:

Campari di Mora

Mexigroni: Mexico meets Italy

Simple classics:

Campari on the Rocks

  • 2 oz Campari
  • Orange slice

Campari and Soda
Simple, crisp and refreshing.

  • 1/3 parts Campari
  • 2/3 part club soda
  • Garnish with an orange slice

Campari Orange
Need more vitamin C? 

  • 1/3 Campari
  • 2/3 orange juice
  • Garnish with an orange slice

Campari and Soda with a boost.

  • 1 oz. Campari
    1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
  • 3 oz soda water
  • Garnish with an orange slice

Campari and Soda on steroids without the soda. 

  • 1 oz gin
  • 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 oz Campari
  • Garnish with an orange slice