Ouzo Martini

Momos, 630 North and South Boulevard, University City; 314-863-3511

Mar 9, 2005 at 4:00 am
Momos is ideally located for a swing-by on the way home from the airport. Tucked away off Delmar in University City, a mile east of I-170, it's a good on-a-whim place, where on a Wednesday night the room is quiet. But it's still a little early. We're at a bar table near the fireplace; to our right, a plump, pretty pregnant lady gossips and giggles with three friends. Elsewhere, a single man scribbles on a paper tablet. A curvy server passes; the man sneaks a glimpse of her ass and then quickly returns to his notes. House music thumps in the background.

Bartender (and co-owner) Maziar Nooran tends to the fire. Outside it's a perfectly chilly 40 degrees. Momos' plate-glass windows gaze out on the soft sunset tempering the classy Deco neighborhood. In here, it's warm. Were you suddenly struck with amnesia, this could be San Francisco, or the outskirts of Paris.

Within a half-hour, Momos is hopping, and our two-top is the perfect oasis. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Or is it "out of sight, out of mind?" If the former is true, then the latter surely isn't. Tonight, absence equals fonder -- definitely. The fireplace. The food -- dolmades, trout wrapped in grape leaves, the glorious spinach salad. And the ouzo, which we adore as an aperitif, sitting in chilled shotgun-shell-shape glasses, opening up the taste buds, head, heart and stomach for the food and catching-up at hand.

The gregarious Nooran has been at the center of the city's club and restaurant scene for the past decade or so. He tended at Tangerine, Deep Cool and Velvet, then made the switch to restaurants and gigged at the late, lamented Sunflour Café. You also probably saw him at BARcelona, where he was bar manager.

His ouzo martini is pretty cut-and-dried, at least on the surface. You know ouzo, the aniseed-infused liqueur, yes? And you've enjoyed a dry gin martini, so solid, so sturdy, so serious? Nooran gives the gin a heart by swirling a martini glass with a touch of both extra-dry ouzo and anisette, a licorice-flavored liqueur. He then adds chilled Bombay Sapphire gin, more subtle than most, and the result is a crisp, hearty martini that blends the two compatriots to great effect.

Curiously, the ouzo martini isn't on the menu -- nor is ouzo listed at all. You have to request it, which is weird for a kinda-sorta Greek place. Nor does the menu mention Nooran's other specialty, the Bouzo: a shot of ouzo dropped into a pint of beer. In their stead, the cocktail menu features typical early-21st-century trendy-tinis: lots of flavored vodka, chocolate and über-sweet berry concoctions. Considering how perfectly European the place is, you'd think it'd show a bit more respect for the motherland.

But maybe we should keep it a secret. Sometimes that's better -- keep it for those in the know, and let the losers suck down their appletinis. Their loss is our gain, sitting in Momos as the flames grow higher.