James Bond would have been happy with all the shaking going on at the Lafayette Park Hotel and Spa on Monday night, as there was nary a stirrer to be found.
Martini purists such as Bond might cringe, however, at the ingredient lists for some of the drinks being served up at the 13th annual 'Best Martini in the East Bay' contest Monday.
The people's choice winner was Moresi's Chophouse in Clayton with a lemon meringue pie martini, complete with graham cracker crumbs on the rim of the glass and a garnish of a freshly baked meringue cookie. The ingredients: Russian Standard vodka, Limoncello, pineapple juice and cream. (It was delicious.)
It was all in the name of Project Second Chance, the Contra Costa County Library's adult literacy program that recently lost the state portion of its funding. For $25, fundraiser guests got two martini drink tickets, appetizers, live jazz from Generations in Jazz and the good feeling of helping people learn to read.
The challenge for the guests was deciding where to spend those two drink tickets. More tickets could be purchased, but this was no wine-sipping event where someone could easily try a bit of everything -- each martini was a full glass.
The only thing each martini had in common was Russian Standard Vodka.
A classic martini consists of gin or vodka, mixed with vermouth and a bit of lemon juice and then garnished with an olive or a lemon twist. It is one theory that this cocktail
Moresi's has won the people's choice award five of the last six contests with unique dessert martinis. They usually debut the drinks at the Best Martini in the East Bay contest and then add it to their menu.
"Some people come in just for the dessert martinis," said Brenna Henrichs, the bartender at Moresi's who invented this year's people's choice winner. "Our owner makes three to four batches of limoncello per year, and I thought 'why not incorporate it?' "
Last year's winner was a crème brûlée martini, inspired by one of the signature desserts on Moresi's menu. So, did the panel of judges pick a more standard martini for their top honors? American Oak, out of Alameda, was awarded first place from the judges, with a "Sunburned Russian," consisting of vodka, mango, lime, black cardamom, demerara syrup, cilantro and cardamom bitters.
Volunteers who helped coordinate the event also help fulfill the goal of Project Second Chance, which is to teach adults how to read.
Cristine Hilsinger of Orinda, who helped out at the American Oak table, is teaching a 44-year-old man how to read for the first time.
"I love to read, so I can't imagine not being able to," she said. "He's made so much progress. He's voted for the first time and bought a computer for the first time."
Many of their students come to them with less than a sixth-grade reading level.
"Forty percent of our students are native English speakers with high school diplomas," said project manager Laura Seaholm. "Some didn't learn to read or write because of dyslexia. The other 60 percent are conversant in English, but it's not their first language.
"We have a small staff to cover the county, so we leverage volunteer tutors," Seaholm added. "They get 15 to 20 hours of training and then they tutor students three hours per week. They work on goals important and critical to the students. We help them read medicine labels, apply for a job, vote, fill out forms and applications."
Project Second Chance lost the funding it had been receiving from the state, but still receives funding from Contra Costa County. The martini-tasting event, along with raffle tickets sold, helps make up for the lost money.