Pepe Ruiz'

I recently watched "Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's" again. 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:

But 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.
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.

Among many other things (including its star-studded clientele), the restaurant was famous in its day 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 Chasen's bitchy-queen former 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. You, however, should make it the way you like it.

Making this drink takes practice. I've gotten pretty good at flaming orange peels (one of which goes in my signature Hoskins Cocktail), but it takes practice. Pepe makes it look a lot easier than it is (then again, he invented the drink and has made thousands of them).

I had the pleasure of meeting Pepe Ruiz at a book release/signing/cocktail tasting event hosted by Dale DeGroff for the publication of his superb book, The Craft of the Cocktail. He's a very sweet and humble man, and after I was introduced to him I managed to get a second autograph in Dale's book, besides Dale's own; Pepe signed the book for me, right next to the recipe for his Flame of Love.

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 at least two peels to get enough oil. Do this about 8 times.

Stir the vodka with ice in a cocktail shaker to chill, then strain into the coated glass. Squeeze the last remaining orange peel over the drink, then fan it vigorously against the rim of the glass, all the way around, 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.


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Chuck Taggart   email chuck (at) gumbopages (dot) com