"The rules of pairing wine with food apply to cocktails as well: The cocktail should complement the food, by offering a counterpoint to the dominant characteristic of the food. For example, match rich, creamy foods with cocktails that have bountiful acidity and are full-flavored. The acid cuts through the fats and cleanses the palate. Salty foods demand contrasting elements such as sweetness to balance out the salt. Most cocktails are served before dinner because they are perfect palate openers. Some cocktails are great after dinner when they act as a digestif or even as dessert."
I might have a romantic notion of the past, but it's a good way to think about drinking: one cocktail before dinner as an aperitif, wine with dinner and then a digestif after (like pear brandy, my favorite). Then the cocktail would bring out the best in the dish and not just be an means to a end. Hopefully, this will start a new series on the blog of cocktail/food pairings... more to come.