Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Lillet

Have you ever had Lillet? Have you ever heard of Lillet?

I mostly hadn't. I am generally intimidated by aperitifs and digestifs, and all I had to go on was a vague notion that Lillet fell into one of those categories. The only drink of this ilk with which I felt remotely comfortable was Suze, a bright yellow, bitter aperitif made from the root of the wild gentian flower. I got to know Suze through my friend Manina, who typically begins a night on the town in Paris with un petit Suze, despite (or perhaps because of) her awareness that Suze is not a particularly fashionable beverage for young swinging Parisian gals. I suspect her of revelling a bit in the waiter's double-take when she places her order.

"What's the deal here?" I asked one night. "What's with all the funny looks?"

"Suze is for old people," she explained. I have no way of confirming this since I no longer live in France, but it appears that one Christian Lacroix designed a few limited edition bottles for good old Suze a few years ago. Maybe it isn't quite the musty old tonic that I imagine?

Soon I too would be on the receiving end of the waiterly double-take. One night we were at an amusing bar with a vast drink list, and I decided it was time to branch out and try Lillet. I'd read an essay somewhere expounding on the drink's delicious qualities and, like many things food-related, it had stuck in my head. (At this very moment, for example, Poco Dolce bittersweet chocolate tiles, Aztec Chile flavor, are stuck in my head. I dreamt about them last night, for God's sake. Somebody help me.)

"I'd like a Lillet," I said.
"A WHAT??" asked our charmingly pageboyed waitress.
"A Lillet?" I asked, speedily losing confidence. "It's...um...I actually have no idea what it is."
"Do we even have it?"
"Well, it's on your menu, right here."
"Hmm. Never heard of it. I'll check with the bartender."

[Five minutes elapse. She returns.]

"Would you like Rouge or Blanc?"
"Um...I don't know. Blanc I guess."
"Ok! This is a learning experience for me too!" she said chirpily.
Too late, I already felt like an ass.

After a few soothing sips of Lillet Blanc, however, my shame was forgotten and I was hooked. Blanc has a light, lovely, citrus flavor that always brings to mind summer weather--at least, summer weather in places other than San Francisco. (My summer requires the repeated donning of a fake-fur-trimmed parka and the occasional set of mittens.) Lillet Blanc is not tooth-wrenchingly sweet, nor is it fist-clenchingly strong. It is a blend of wines and fruit-macerated liqueurs made with various types of oranges. Unfortunately, my adoration does not extend to Lillet Rouge, Blanc's vampy, brothel-red cousin. I've tried, I really have, but I just can't stop thinking, "This tastes a lot like Manischewitz." And I don't know anything about aperitifs, but I'm pretty certain that's not a good thing.

At home I serve Lillet Blanc over ice, and it gently dulls the pain of whatever solemn pre-dinner activity I might be participating in, such as paying bills or listening to Bush saying anything at all over the radio. And for the knowing Lillet fan, even dinner is optional. The company's website features a subsection entitled, "Lillet ...As a Meal". How did they know?!

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