Northside SF  

In the Spirit
Ramos gin fizz is pure eggstacy
By Susan Dyer Reynolds

Café Des Amis barkeep Stephen Garcia

Ramos Gin Fizz at Café Des Amis

I love a smooth and frothy Ramos fizz with brunch. Created in 1888 by Henry C. Ramos at his New Orleans, La. bar (inside Meyer’s Restaurant), the Ramos fizz became one of the city’s most popular drinks. Ramos hired dozens of “shaker boys” to keep up with heavy demand prior to prohibition. 
For a number of recent years it was like prohibition all over again – the Ramos Fizz all but disappeared from restaurant menus, shelved along with properly made Caesar salads when the public grew fearful of consuming raw eggs after a couple of salmonella incidents brought media hype to a fevered pitch.
When I became editor of the Marina Times in 2002, I started a column called “In the Spirit” to celebrate liquor and cocktails. But when the “mixology” craze hit, I became bored quickly with self-indulgent $20 specialty concoctions (“We grow the basil in the restaurant garden; infuse our house-distilled vodka with essence of heirloom tomatoes; muddle the basil with Antimo Caputo 00 flour; and coat the rim of the glass with mozzarella di bufala dust – we call it the Margheritini. ...”). 

Though “mixologists” still abound, among the many trends I like lately at some of the City’s hottest restaurants (including menus that fit on one page, doors staying open from lunch through dinner, and food served past midnight) is the return of real barkeeps, and along with them, real cocktails. Restaurants like the Marina’s Café Des Amis (2000 Union Street) are bringing back some rare libations with long histories in San Francisco (Picon Punch) and, much to my delight, true classics like the Ramos gin fizz.

This back-to-basics approach has inspired me to bring back “In the Spirit.” Not that I don’t enjoy an occasional Margheritini – we’ll present some wildly whipped up originals here, too – but for this first column, I am sharing the recipe for the Café Des Amis Ramos gin fizz, which barkeep Stephen Garcia made for me during a recent brunch date there.

I enjoyed my Café Des Amis Fizz with one of my favorite brunch dishes, eggs Benedict, with a San Francisco twist: fresh Dungeness crab. This is also one my favorite things to make at home during crab season – it’s great when you have a group of friends over because you can do much of the prep work ahead of time.

The secret to a delicious crab Benedict is, of course, the freshest crab you can find – I buy mine at the Fishermen’s Grotto crab pots on the wharf, where the Geraldi family has been stirring the pots since 1935; it’s worth the drive and a couple extra bucks per pound to get crab caught that day and scooped right out of the boiling water – the sweetness and firmness is incomparable (I find supermarket crabs to be bland, and many times they are previously frozen or arrived at the store a day or more ago).

Ask for a heavy crab – contrary to popular belief, the best meat is not in the claws, but in the body. A heavy crab means large, rich hunks of body meat. The expert team will crack and clean your crab, but I prefer to bring mine home whole. As the granddaughter of a Sicilian fisherman and the daughter of a certified crab fiend father, I learned to crack and clean crustaceans standing on a stool over the sink when I was 8 years old. I like doing it myself because I use the hepatopancreas, or “butter” (the yellow, mushy digestive gland found inside the back – basically crab foie gras) in my hollandaise sauce; if you have someone else crack and clean the crab, you lose all that creamy goodness.

For the gin in my Ramos Fizz, I prefer Tanqueray No. Ten, which counts among its numerous awards “Best White Spirit” three times in a row at the San Francisco World Spirits competition. Hand crafted in small batches, it is the only gin in the world distilled with handpicked, fresh, whole-fruit botanicals, which adds citrus notes to the juniper for a crisp, bright finish.

Café Des Amis Ramos Gin Fizz

1½    ounces gin
½      ounce lemon juice
½      ounce cream
1       large egg white
3       dashes orange flower water
1       tablespoon sugar
1       tablespoon soda water

In a cocktail shaker, dry shake ingredients first for 30 seconds, then shake with ice for an additional 30 seconds. Strain mixture into an eight-ounce glass. Garnish with an orange slice and maraschino cherry.

Dungeness crab eggs Benedict
serves 4
Most people fear hollandaise sauce like opposing teams fear Brian Wilson’s beard, but you don’t need a double boiler to make hollandaise if you have a blender. If you follow my recipe, you’ll be serving your guests in about 30 minutes from start to finish.

1       teaspoon white vinegar
8       cage-free or farm-fresh eggs
4       English muffins, split (I prefer Bays, found in grocery refrigerator sections)
         Meat from one fresh crab (1½ to 2 pounds), room temperature

Hollandaise sauce
(recipe follows)
Dash of paprika
Italian parsley, if desired

Fill a large, wide nonstick or stainless steel pot or a round enameled cast iron Dutch oven (I prefer the Dutch oven; my favorite brands are Le Creuset and Staub) with 6–8 inches of water; add vinegar.

As water comes to a simmer, crack eggs into individual ramekins (this will help prevent breakage, which often occurs when cracking eggs directly into the pot).

Use a slotted spoon to swirl water. Gently release each egg into the water with one hand while continuing to swirl with the other (the swirling, combined with the vinegar, helps the whites to set and wrap around the yolk for a uniform shape).

Cook eggs until whites are set but yolks are still soft (about 4 minutes). You can do the “finger test” by gingerly lifting an egg from the water on the slotted spoon and pressing gently on the yolk. If it has a soft give (like pressing the skin between your index finger and thumb when your hand is relaxed), it’s perfect.

While eggs are simmering, toast the English muffins, arranging both halves of one muffin per plate. Butter each side while still warm.

Remove eggs from water with slotted spoon, and place on a plate covered with a paper towel or fabric dishtowel to drain. (If you don’t like the vinegar flavor, you can run each egg briefly under warm water to remove excess and then return to the towel to drain.)

Place an egg on each muffin slice, top with crab, and drizzle with hollandaise sauce. I like to add a sprinkle of paprika and mince a sprig of fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley and scatter it on top of each portion.

Pour remaining hollandaise into a bowl, and bring to the table for guests who like extra sauce; serve immediately.

Hollandaise Sauce

1    cup European-style butter
3    egg yolks
1    tablespoon heavy cream
      Dash of cayenne pepper
1½ teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (to taste)

In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat until bubbling but not brown.

In a blender combine egg yolks, heavy cream, cayenne pepper, and salt; blend until smooth. Slowly add half the hot butter in a thin stream so that it works into the mixture at the same pace as you are pouring it. Do the same with the lemon juice, and then with the other half of the butter.

Pour mixture into a saucepan; cover and keep warm on stove over low heat, stirring occasionally.

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