I just watched “Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen’s” again yesterday. It’s a wonderful documentary about the demise of the hoary old Hollywood classic restaurant in Beverly Hills (“The dishes were hearty; the drinks were large.”) — its final week and its closing night. It was legendary and exclusive — movie stars, presidents and royalty dined there since 1936. But as the review in Daily Variety put it:
By the ’80s and ’90s, Chasen’s had become something of a relic, a bastion of blue-hairs and Reagan Republicans that was eclipsed by other trendy (and much lower-cholesterol) hot spots. By 1995, the end was in sight, but when the owners posted the closing notice, tout Hollywood decided that they just had to make the scene; as one patron observes, nobody comes to visit you when you’re sick, but everyone turns out for the funeral.
Among many other things (including its star-studded clientele), the restaurant was famous for its bartender Pepe Ruiz, and the drink he invented for Dean Martin — the Flame of Love Martini.
It takes some effort to make (although not 20 minutes, as the bitchy banquet captain complained), but it’s quite a drink, particularly if you like vodka martinis. This is my slight variation — I think Pepe served this on the rocks (at least he did with the one he made for Ed MacMahon in the film), but I don’t like Martinis on the rocks. I’d do this straight up. I don’t think Pepe garnished his, but I like garnishes in drinks — a long, thin twist of orange would be really pretty here.
Making this drink takes practice. I haven’t gotten the technique nailed just yet. Pepe makes it look a lot easier than it is (then again, he invented it and has made thousands of them).
Pepe’s Flame of Love Martini
3 ounces Stolichnaya vodka
1/2 teaspoon fino sherry (Pepe used Domecq La Ina Fino)
2 or 3 large slices orange peel
Twist of orange peel, about 3″, thin
Chill the glass thoroughly. Pepe used a wine glass, I like a martini glass. Add the sherry to the glass, swirl to coat completely, and pour out the excess.
Take one of the orange peels, light a match or lighter, and squeeze the orange peel several times over the match into the glass, so that the cascading orange oil will flambé as it falls onto the sherry-coated glass; you’ll probably need two peels to get enough oilB. Do this about 8 times.
Stir the vodka with ice in a cocktail shaker to chill, then strain into the coated glass. Squeeze the second orange peel over the drink, then fan it vigorously around the rim of the glass so that it’s coated with orange oil. I like to add a thin twist of orange to the glass for a garnish. Serve, and drink like Dean Martin.
After Chasen’s closed, all the equipment and fixtures were sold off. They kept the memorabilia, though, and Maud and Dave Chasen’s grandson opened another Chasen’s on Cañon Drive in Beverly Hills in 1997 (two doors down from the fabulous Spago Beverly Hills), featuring lots of the old photographs and such from the original restaurant. Unfortunately it closed permanently in April of last year, falling victim to the same thing that closed the original — people stopped going there.