As I was looking at my collection of matchbooks, I looked at a place that was legendary when I was a kid. Most of the fine restaurants were still located in Downtown Detroit, and since I went to school Downtown, I thought of myself as rather cosmopolitan. The Pontchartrain Wine Cellars was across the street from the Pontchartrain Hotel and across from the original Cobo Hall. It was one of the fancy French restaurants of the era, and it was a very popular place for business men and big dates. It was one of the original bistros in the area and while they had a great wine list, they had no hard liquors, which was unique in that time and era. This was where I was introduced to my Vermouth Cocktail for a before dinner drink, much to the consternation of most of today’s bartenders, as they always have to ask what it is, usually through the waiter. It is a very easy drink as it is equal parts dry and sweet vermouth with a splash of bitters, but it does awake the taste buds for a fine meal. Legend has it, that Cold Duck originated at the bistro in 1937 and that it was a mixture of a Mosel wine, a Rhine wine and Champagne. Tradition has it, that it was done with left over wines that were opened and not finished.
I remember going there and starting off with Escargot, which was not a common offering back in the day, followed by another curiosity back then a bowl of French Onion soup. I also had one of my favorite dishes of my youth, which is no longer in vogue, a plate of Frog Legs Provencal. I finished the meal with my introduction to Peach Melba and of course a glass of Cold Duck. I cannot remember what my date had, but I do remember that she was shocked that I was dining on frog legs, as that was a creature that one dissected in a Biology class in High School.
It was also one of the first bottles of Pinot Noir that I had, but under a different name. It was a Negociants bottle of Burgundy wine, from one of the famed villages of the Cote de Beaune, namely an Aloxe-Corton 1970. Aloxe-Corton has one Grands Cru and several Premiers Crus, but this was a village blend, as if there is anything prosaic about a wine from this village. After looking at what I dined on that evening, you and probably the waiter both think I was a heretic, but that was early in my wine days, and I could not pass up on a chance to try the wine, and I really did not like to order steaks back then in a restaurant. Suffice it to say that this wine was wonderful to me, and I sometimes wish that I could find, let alone afford to buy wines of this nature anymore. I mean when you start out trying some of the greatest Pinot Noir wines, as I did back then, is it any wonder that I can still wax poetic about it.