Handle The Proof: Losing Our Way In Margaritaville

Bartenders should be allowed to tweak cocktail recipes. Creativity, after all, is what sets one place apart from another.

Thus when mixologizing a particular cocktail, some may prefer to make the drink stronger, some sweeter. One might add basil where the other chooses mint--all acceptable, to a certain extent. The mixed drink category is, however, susceptible to horrid shortcuts--particularly when it comes to that Tex-Mex staple, the margarita.

While the typical rocks margarita may look about the same, from bar to bar, the pale green liquid often hides such distractions as orange juice, sugar or a splash from the soft drink gun. Squirting orange juice into a margarita to round out its citrus flavor--well, I don't necessarily approve, but there's nothing wrong with it. Dumping Rose's lime juice, Sprite or sweet and sour syrup into the glass, now that's an abomination.

Yet this sort of thing happens all the time. Fresh lime juice is time consuming, so venues stock up on the commercial stuff. Bar syrup or sweet and sour mix helps cut costs. Both serve to weaken the alcoholic burn and wash out the husky flavor of good tequila. To make matters worse, local drinkers seem to have adapted to the presence of this last ingredient, as some of the city's most popular margaritas lean on the addition of sugar.

A cocktail should balance the ingredients, allowing each one space to present itself to your palate. The margarita in its most perfect form consists only of fresh squeezed lime, good orange liqueur and tequila--a lot of tequila--served without ice. Extremely tart at first, the bitter sweetness of orange peel and dull, grassy thud of fermented agave fall into line quickly...followed by an alcoholic burn.

It's a sipping drink, but one far too potent for most people (two of these made the right way will loosen inhibition). And, admittedly, the burst of lime is rather intense--something bar syrup helps to soften--and subject to the quality of citrus.

You can find the basic, unadulterated margarita here and there. Order the "Frankie's" at Monica's. It's a sour beast when prepared sloppily (as it sometimes is), but a wickedly enticing monster when done right.

For the most part, though, Dallas is a city awash in childishly sweet margaritas.

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