The front of the book of the New York Times Magazine features The One-Page Magazine, an arrangement of micro-articles prominently including a regular Mario Batali column called “What I'm Drinking.” Given the standards of the Times, I’ve always presumed that Batali, despite his many obligations as a famous chef, writes his blurbs about wine and mixed drinks all by himself. Given the quality of the most recent dispatch, however, I am starting to wonder whether they are ghostwritten by an assistant who is trying to get fired in order to collect unemployment.
This past Sunday, Batali recommended a daiquiri variation he calls the grapefruit honeysuckle:
Mix 6 ounces of Havana Club Añejo rum with 4 tablespoons honey and the juice and grated zest of 1 grapefruit in a shaker. Fill two-thirds with crushed ice, and shake for 20 seconds to create a foamy head. Strain into 2 small juice glasses, and raise a toast to Papa Hemingway.
It is as if Batali were bent on provoking both the impotent frustration of novice bartenders and the powerful condescension of seasoned pros. These instructions counsel the general public to use contraband rum and inconsequential grapefruit zest to produce two inelegantly large servings of an unpalatably sweet beverage that Ernest Hemingway, a diabetic, would not have dared to consume. Taking one for the team this weekend, I had my barman do his best to approximate the recipe’s idiocies. The best thing that he, tasting the mess, had to say for it was strictly conditional: “Well, it could be good”—if, say, it involved some lime juice, much less honey, and a rum he could legally sell.
The fiasco of the grapefruit honeysuckle is hardly out of character for the column. If, measuring the poverty of Batali’s mixological judgment, we calibrate our scales to size up both the prominence of his platform and the brevity of his statements, we will see that he is clearly, word for word, the worst drinks writer in the United States. Some might call the column the worst thing that Batali has ever done, but that's arguable. Is writing “What I'm Drinking” more morally reprehensible than stealing tips from waiters? Yes, probably. Is it more offensive than Batali's preferred footwear? No, not quite.
Herewith, a look back at some notable faux pas, rated according to their offensiveness on a scale of zero-to-five orange Crocs.
November 11, 2012
The drink: “Whenever my pal Eric comes by the house, it’s Manhattan time. I fill a shaker with ice cubes, add 5 oz. Maker’s Mark, 1 oz. Punt e Mes, ½ oz. dry vermouth and 2 shakes Angostura bitters. I shake it for 30 seconds to create the right viscosity, strain it into a chilled martini glass, drop an amarena cherry in it and really twist a ticket of orange zest on the rim.”
The complaint: A snob would prefer his Manhattan to be made with rye, not bourbon, but that heresy is the least of the problems here. A gourmet would observe that this drink is off-balance—the whiskey-to-vermouth ratio is badly out of whack—but we’ll let that slide. Anyone can see that the cocktail is horse-stunningly huge, and nobody knows what the phrase “ticket of orange zest” means. But the gravest offense concerns the shaking of a Manhattan. As a wise bartender once said, “If you ever see someone shaking a Manhattan, get up and walk out.”
Violation: 5 Crocs
September 8, 2013
The drink: “I made up this peach-and-basil julep. Muddle half a small, ripe peeled peach with 2 basil leaves, add 2 drops of orange bitters and 1 tsp. brown sugar and stir well. Add 3 large ice cubes and 2 jiggers of 15-year-old Pappy Van Winkle. Stir gently so it does not get cloudy, and let stand 20 seconds.”
The complaint: Never mind the fact that a julep requires crushed ice. Putting fruit and sugar in Pappy Van Winkle is roughly akin to putting a moustache on the Mona Lisa—an attack on the values of Western civilization.
Violation: 4.5 Crocs
October 6, 2013
The drink: “I have heard that Hemingway, who decided he was right about everything, made his daiquiris with double the rum and grapefruit and elderflower.”
The complaint: When did Batali hear this? The first of April, perhaps? The Hemingway Daiquiri is an acknowledged classic with an established recipe that has absolutely nothing to do with elderflower liqueur. On Sunday, not long after abandoning my grapefruit honeysuckle, I told an off-duty bartender about this bastardized Hemingway daiquiri, and my interlocutor responded by saying of Batali, in a business-like tone, “Fuck him.”
Violation: 5 Crocs
December 1, 2013
The drink: “Last month, I was invigorated by an 11 a.m. restorative Vieux Carré at the Carousel Bar in New Orleans. Fill a shaker with ice and add a dash each of Benedictine, Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters and a shot each of rye whiskey, cognac and Punt e Mes. Shake, then strain into a glass filled with fresh ice and garnish with an Amarena cherry.”
The complaint: Again, an all-booze drink such as this should be stirred, not shaken. The Carousel Bar should consider filing a defamation suit.
Violation: 3 Crocs
December 15, 2013
The drink: “Heat up a cup of skim milk with a teaspoon of vanilla and then make a double espresso. Mix the two in a large goblet, then add a shot each of peppermint schnapps and Jack Daniels. Stir gently.”
The complaint: Skim milk, ew.
Violation: 3.5 Crocs