As a dinner guest at the Metropolitan Opera’s Grand Tier restaurant on Friday night, Mr. Henry found himself confronted with a common dilemma: should he order a glass of champagne for himself when his hosts André and Susie were drinking still wine?
The other question, no less vexing, was what to order from the menu. The opera was to begin at 7:30. The divine Renée Fleming would be singing the title role. What if Mr. Henry were to order the duck breast maroccaine and suffer stomach growls during her too, too soft renditions of Handel’s da capo arias? [As it was, Renée had a hard enough time carrying that huge hall without intestinal interferences from the audience.] What if the duck’s garlic were to invade the space of Mr. Henry’s near neighbor in Susie’s high-priced front row seats?
Sitting in the opera restaurant at 5:45 p.m., Mr. Henry quickly weighed each of these strategic decisions. At both of the 25-minute intermissions yet to come, Mr. Henry would amuse himself by watching women’s fancy shoes pad past and thinking how pleased The Manolo would be if were here. [And is he here?? How can one be sure he is not?] During these intermissions, to help refresh the spirits Mr. Henry normally buys a glass of champagne at the bar.
Too much alcohol early in the evening, however, renders the third act an abyss of gloom, or in the words of the eloquent Joan, “ a cosmic time sink.” Too little leaves the Henry intelligence over-stimulated by thoughts of the week’s mundane annoyances. No, it is best to take some alcoholic libation for its relaxant and slightly anesthetic effects, but how much, and which choice of drink?
At the bar the best pour by far is the champagne. Nothing else offers its combination of aperitif, dessert, and post-prandial digestive. Champagne is at once a beginning and an ending. Moreover, it should be taken alone. Once a cork has popped, the drinker should stick with champagne for the remainder of the evening.
Having settled on the halibut with morels in cream sauce, a preparation difficult to screw up, he noted with pleasure that the house Brut (Piper-Heidsieck) was no more expensive than a glass of anything else. That settled it! The evening would be one devoted faithfully to champagne.
The very best of pairings for champagne is a salty, strongly-flavored fish dish. Even the strongest Chinese or Indian spices cannot defeat Dom Pérignon’s eternal recipe. But in deference to Mr. Henry’s gastro-intestinal tract, which after all would be accompanying him to the performance, he wisely avoided such courageous culinary voyages and stuck to the mild white halibut.
In lieu of dessert, he opted for a second glass.
A Mr. Henry Dictum: Never drink champagne with sweets.
This may seem counter-intuitive but it is a dietary dictum Mr. Henry has tested empirically in the field, so to speak. The subsequent hangover, and there will always be a champagne hangover, is made far worse by the addition of extra sugars to an already super-sugared evening. If you run short of champagne, and Mr. Henry shudders to imagine such a situation, then a sweet course will bring champagne sugars bubbling back into the bloodstream for a half hour or so, after which you are on your own, beset with cotton-mouth, headache, and nausea. [Please note: this is not a strictly scientific explanation of the phenomenon. Mr. Henry is not a physiologist, after all. Please do not expect his learning to extend into every domain.]
One more piece of advice: Mr. Henry decries the champagne cocktail as yet another example of “fusion” confusion. If you are in the south of France seated on a terrace in the dying light of a summer day and you are offered genuine wild forest raspberries in your champagne, well, what is the harm in that? Still, mixed drinks are a fundamental mistake.
[Here the keen reader may take note of a Henry proclivity towards things in their unadulterated version. Nadia calls him the “ascetic gourmand,” and Nadia is never really wrong.]