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Drinking French in Atlanta

Drinking French by David Lebovitz.
Drinking French by David Lebovitz.

Take inspiration from David Lebovitz’s new cocktail book to sip French-style at 6 Atlanta restaurants

A new book by David Lebovitz is both an approachable recipe collection and an update on the drinks and customs that are the rhythm of Paris. "Drinking French: The Iconic Cocktails, Aperitifs, and Cafe Traditions of France, With 160 Recipes" (Penguin Random House, $28), published March 3, is a beautifully photographed literary trip through the rituals and customs woven into everyday life in France.

Lebovitz moved to Paris in 2004 after leaving the restaurant business, including nearly 13 years at Alice Waters' famed Chez Panisse. Using his charming, conversational style, he takes you through the codes of conduct when grabbing the light drinks and sweet or salty bites that are cafe culture.

You can use “Drinking French” as a handbook to throw a gathering with French flair at home, or for inspiration to take a trip across the pond. Not in your budget? Don’t fret. You can re-create the experience at bars and restaurants in Atlanta. Simply follow along.

Lebovitz divides “Drinking French” into five sections. He begins the way his mornings do, with cafe drinks. From cafe au lait and hot chocolate with salted butter caramel, to citronnade and sips of pastis, these are the drinks enjoyed in what he calls the “living rooms of Paris” — the places writers work, where one meets with friends, or sits in an open-air terrace all hours of the day.

Tucked away in Garden Hills, Anis Cafe and Bistro (2974 Grandview Ave. NE, Atlanta, 404-233-9889, anisbistro.com) is quaint, charming and plant-filled, with a romantic terrace where you can sip rounds of anise-flavored pastis. They have been serving kir royals (crème de cassis topped with Champagne) for more than 20 years.

At Inman Park's Bread and Butterfly (290 Elizabeth St. NE, Atlanta, 678-515-4536, bread-and-butterfly.com) the menu changes from early morning to late at night, with brunch, lunch, l'apero and dinner in between. Nibble on a freshly baked croissant with a cappuccino or La Bicyclette, a light martini-style drink, while people-watching from your marble table on the emerald green-tiled, glass-enclosed patio.

The heart of Lebovitz’s book is the second chapter on aperitifs. This ritual — the unwinding period before dinner — is his favorite time of day. He includes several recipes, many low-alcohol, perfect for the leisurely style in which the French like to drink.

The Rose is the cocktail that Paris was drinking in the 1920s.                   Sip it in grandeur at By George.
The Rose is the cocktail that Paris was drinking in the 1920s. Sip it in grandeur at By George.

Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee

Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee

For a taste of France with some extra polish, head downtown to By George (127 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta, 470-851-2752, bygeorgeatl.com) in the historic Candler Building. With immense marble columns flanking the corners and tinkly chandeliers floating overhead, it's like taking a seat in a chic Paris salon. Here, Beverage Director Kellie Thorn can serve you the Rose. "This is the cocktail that Paris was drinking in the 1920s," she said. It's dry vermouth; kirschwasser, an unaged cherry brandy; and a little bit of house-made raspberry cordial.

“I have a love for fortified and aromatized wines, and I like when I have the opportunity to put them in the spotlight in the form of a classic,” Thorn said. She thinks of the Rose as an inverted martini, with eau de vie in the role of gin. “The kirschwasser has a wonderful herbaceous character that is compatible with the dry vermouth and a complex fruit profile,” she said. It’s a pretty pink cocktail with a lot of character, much like the restaurant.

Recipes for syrups, infusions and liqueurs comprise the third section of “Drinking French.” Make your own pastis to sip on at home — perhaps infusing gin with the resiny flavor of spruce tips picked from a Georgia pine — or get a taste of French-inspired infusions from area restaurants.

AIX's Daisies & Rubies takes its color from the best fruit of the season — here, north Florida strawberry tops.
AIX's Daisies & Rubies takes its color from the best fruit of the season — here, north Florida strawberry tops.

Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee

Credit: Andrew Thomas Lee

At AIX (956 Brady Ave. NW, Atlanta, 770-838-3501, aixatl.com), Nick Leahy's Westside ode to Provence, you can order a cocktail with infusions of spirit and flavoring syrup. In the Daisies & Rubies, the overall coloring changes with the "fruit a ce moment" (best fruit of the season), Leahy said. Hibiscus-infused vodka is combined with lillet rose vermouth, fruit syrup, lemon and rosé bubbles. If you order the drink now, the syrup is made with either north Florida strawberry tops, cooked down with vinegar, or south Florida blood orange, preserved with nutmeg and vanilla. It sips well on the outdoor courtyard, or next to the enclosed patio fireplace, depending on the weather.

Chapter 4 offers recipes for 43 cocktails, with anecdotes of life in Paris and quotes from friends. Lebovitz deftly shows ways to riff on classics, like his version of a French Manhattan. He goes by the book with a boulevardier, his favorite cocktail, and which he likens to a French Negroni. Many pages are devoted to chartreuse, which he calls “the darling of the modern craft cocktail scene.”

Feel like you are drinking along Paris' Avenue des Champs-Élysée while sipping the street’s namesake drink at Marcel.
Feel like you are drinking along Paris' Avenue des Champs-Élysée while sipping the street’s namesake drink at Marcel.

Credit: Courtesy Marcel

Credit: Courtesy Marcel

Swanky Westside steakhouse Marcel (1170 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta, 404-665-4555, marcelatl.com) was named for French boxer Marcel Cerdan, beau of chanteuse Edith Piaf. You can grab a seat at the ritzy bar, slide into a dimly lit booth, or gather on the patio. A Champs-Élysée, made with cognac, chartreuse, lemon juice and simple syrup, goes well with the Parisian glamour of the place. Snack on escargot, with crusty bread to sop up the parsley butter.

To end the book, Lebovitz focuses on a variety of sweet and salty snacks to accompany tipples: from simple radishes with radish greens butter and rosemary bar nuts, to more involved offerings, like rillettes, terrines and pâté. For a taste of the latter, save the trouble and head to Tiny Lou's (789 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta, 470-485-0085, tinylous.com) inside the Hotel Clermont. Digging into chef Jeb Aldrich's black cocoa-dusted foie gras torchon is like eating silk — rich, smooth, with a slight sweetness and a color that coincidentally matches the blushing velvet of the glamorous brasserie. Order a Warden + Wolf cocktail. The aromatic weight and intensity of cognac is a terrific counterpart to the sumptuous roundness. It feels like drinking French. Santé!

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