The martini succeeds because of its simplicity. Gin and vermouth, chilled and served in proper proportions. A twist of lemon, olive or pickled onion may be added, but that’s it. Like Simon and Garfunkel, or peanut butter and jelly, messing with the two essential ingredients leads to the degradation of a wondrously simple and simply delicious cocktail.
But times have changed. I concede that I sound as conservative as Rick Santorum in my defense of martini morality. Some people—OK, OK, lots of people—make martinis with vodka. If you’re one such defiler of tradition, the 11th annual Martini Madness competition on Jan. 13 is the event for you. Hosted by Saddles Restaurant at MacArthur Place and sponsored by Skyy Vodka, Martini Madness features bartenders from Sonoma Valley restaurants and bars competing to create their best (vodka) martini blends along with live music and appetizers. The event coincides with the Sonoma Valley’s olive season, and participating restaurants and bars include Saddles Steakhouse, the Girl & the Fig, El Dorado Kitchen, Maya Restaurant, Estate, Sonoma Meritâge Martini Oyster Bar & Grill, Santé Restaurant at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, Mary’s Pizza Shack and Murphy’s Irish Pub. Tickets are $40–$45; an $85 dinner package includes entry plus a three-course dinner at Saddles. Find tickets and more info. at www.olivefestival.com.—Stett Holbrook