By Rachel Marshall
“We also like the addition of vinegar to our classic martinis.”
Jaimes and I exchanged a look. Much like oil and vinegar, our solutions of total fascination and doubt just did not seem to mix. They just bumped into each other, making a separation that could only be eased by actually experiencing just what a vinegar cocktail could be. Surely, we had heard Michael, our host at Petite Auberge’s oil and vinegar bar, wrong. Had he really suggested mixing alcohol and vinegar? You may remember Jaimes from the Moe’s BBQ article, and our adventure with the Adios, Motherfucker!. Although three kinds of liquor and Powerade can prepare a girl for practically anything, the concoction could not have prepared us for the main ingredient in a vinaigrette to suddenly merge with alcohol, like Tetsuo on a bender, but with more alcoholism and less orbital lasers. In any case, the dynamic duo from your last ATLRetro article received more than they bargained for in the best possible way at the long-standing French restaurant, Petite Auberge.
So, if you’ve been kicking around ATL since the mid-70s, you’ve heard and most likely dined at the Petite Auberge. Michael, our host, has more than amply accepted and risen above the challenge of keeping the PA relevant, fun, and with no sacrifice to its already firmly placed integrity. The newest addition to the restaurant’s entourage of gastronomy holds a nondescript, humble portion of the restaurant to itself. A guest entering Petite Auberge could miss the set-up at a glance, but a longer look – even if just for a moment! – would rampantly breed curiosity. What are those metal containers doing lined up like that? What’s in them? Michael was more than happy to show off the answer.
Infused olive oils and vinegars await the adventurous gourmand, fledgling and pro a-like. Infusion is a delicate process, but Michael is working with the right kind of mad scientists from Cibaria International and Olive n’ Grape to bring his guests a completely unique experience. When it comes to his collection of olive oil and vinegar, Michael is one proud poppa. He took us on a tour of your basic olive oils to start, the canisters of which will greet you in the main lobby of the PA when you arrive. What was remarkable was the grassy start on most of the olive oils that progressed to a smoky after-bite the further removed you became from extra virgin olive oil. I always liked the floral nature of olive oil, but trying the good stuff from Michael’s aforementioned heavy-hitters not only woke up my palatte, but redefined any and all olive oil standards. He treated us to a fantastic collage of snacks that showed off just what these oils and vinegars could do in the right hands.
In this case? We were put in Chef Tom’s care. He was catching his second wind from preparing a catering order, and took the time to serve us a couple light, but flavorful meals, such as a pecan-praline balsamic vinaigrette that took a pecan-crusted trout above and beyond its simple plating. The lightness of a medium cooked salmon filet was elevated by a drizzling of lemon white balsamic. Personal favorite? You know, the one that tested Jaimes’s friendship and mine with its ultimate rivalry-inspiring awesomeness? Yeah, that was a frozen crepe served with raspberry coulis in a chocolate sauce boasting a blood orange olive oil as its main components. As good as the crepe was, Jaimes and I kept going back for sauce, and started to fantasize about mousses and chocolate terrines.
We enjoyed all of these simple, but wonderful dishes with a couple glasses of Michael’s recommended Riesling. We were discussing the industry, Michael’s German roots, and the rampancy of foodies as we enjoyed some crusty bread and herby Tunesian olive oil when the whole “vinegar in the martinis” thing came up. Michael suggested a chocolate martini, probably my least favorite drink in the history of drinks that were ever drinks. They’re always too sweet, too heavy, separate and unbalanced, just a hunk of sugar with some vodka thrust unapologetically and carelessly into the mix. Why would anyone treat vodka that way in the first place? Now that you understand where I’m coming from, let’s get to the cool part – I loved the chocolate martini. The usual ounce or so of chocolate was replaced with a teaspoon of dark chocolate balsamic.
Aside from our bartender’s natural and talented knack for making a damn good drink, the balsamic definitely lightened the mix, and eliminated any burn the vodka attempted to leave behind. When it comes to my spirits, I pretty much like anything served neat with beer, and occasionally I’ll dabble with a White Russian if I trust the bartender. The sweet-treats and “girly drinks” are just always too cloying, heavy and stomach-ache-inducing from careless, unbridled sugar. That being said, I was in love with each peach white balsamic martini and/or Bellini set in front of me. Each drink was buoyant and delicate on the tongue, sparing my tummy. Really, think about it. The substitution of syrup or sauces for vinegar – in terms of booze – is not so mysterious. Vinegar, much like distilled liquor or barreled beer, is fermented. The ethanol both vinegar and booze share wind up dancing together in a glass, a matrimony of basic, tasty chemistry awesome enough to make Antoine Lavoisier go weak in the bloomers.
So, in an age where everyone is checking out the next wine, beer or liquor tasting, I would suggest stopping by Petite Auberge’s olive oil n’ vinegar bar for a change of pace, and a delicious meal that flirts with infusions too numerous to be enjoyed during just one visit. Being a lover of all things chewable, slurpable and mmmm-able means sometimes going outside of what’s cool, trending, tried-and-true, and instead venturing into a new, often times unpredictable territory that supersedes any and all expectations. You would be surprised what amazing components can mesh together so well, just like oil and vinegar.