Tequila is definitely having its moment. A type of mezcal that is made specifically from the agave tequilana or blue agave, it’s not supermarket Jose Cuervo that’s being poured generously, but artisanal varieties that range from $30 – $100 per bottle.
When Matador Cantina was finally able to expand late last year, their event space was aptly dubbed the Agave Room. The extension accommodates a festive crowd of up to 85 people and boasts a full-service bar and its own kitchen with menus specially tailored to any catered occasion.
Recently, we were treated to one of Chef David Dennis’ pairing dinners in the Agave Room. Along with two of Matador Cantina’s finest bartenders, Monika and Chris, Chef Dave had just returned from a visit to Jalisco, Mexico, the locale where tequila was born. (Tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and in small parts of four other states.) While there, they toured the Fortaleza Tequila facility and became instantly enamored with the boutique distillery’s craftsmanship; quality of ingredients; and the refined flavors of their small-batch tequilas steeped in over 140 years of history.
Aromas of citrus, and rich cooked agave fill your nose in this unique and very special blanco tequila. Also present: butter, olive, earth, black pepper, and a deep inviting vegetal complexity. Flavors include citrus, cooked agave, vanilla, basil, olive, and lime. The finish is long and deep, complex yet easy to drink.
Aromas of citrus, caramel, butter, cooked agave, and sage are the beginning of a pleasingly balanced and very unique tasting experience. Fortaleza Reposado has its own distinct character, and is not like any other tequila. Flavors include cooked agave, citrus, vanilla, apple, earth, and cinnamon. The finish is long and rich, delicately spicy, and it has an oily texture that make this a joy to drink.
Caramel, vanilla, butterscotch and cooked agave aromas practically jump from the glass in this highly-praised and perfectly-aged añejo. This tequila is so rich and complex that some people are even able to detect pineapple, peach, orange blossom, nutmeg, and raisin in the nose. Once in your mouth, the full cooked agave experience continues with a thick and oily texture that coats your mouth in a very soothing way. Butterscotch, caramel, toffee, citrus, and hazelnuts are common flavors that people identify.
This menu is Chef’s sampling of some of the foods and cocktails from the Tequila Valley. (Apologies for the dark photos, this was held in an intimate candle-lit setting.)
Inspired by the ubiquitous pushcart vendors hawking skewers of Tajin-laced fresh fruit, this diced version was a more dainty dinner date option. On a hot summer’s night, the coolness and crunch of the cucumber and jicama coupled with the tropical flavors of mango, watermelon, and pineapple made for a refreshing appetizer course. The combination of salty, sweet, and heat of the chamoy gave this its authentic “street” flavor.
Yes, I like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain…and while this song is by Rupert Holmes, some assume that it’s by Jimmy Buffet. In any case, this was a modified version of the classic Tiki cocktail fortified with Fortaleza Silver instead of your run-of-the-mill white rum. The tequila soaked pineapple and toasted coconut spangles took it to a crafted level.
My favorite course of the evening because luscious bites of shrimp and scallop were the bomb. Not only that, but the lightness of the cool, spiced broth — a very welcome departure from the typical gloppy sauce — was absolutely swoon-worthy. This is one of those dishes that is created for a pairing dinner that I’d like to petition to be put on the regular menu. Pretty please.
Like buttah. Or better yet, butterscotch, caramel and toffee. Never have I had such a potent shot that tasted so much like candy. I would say the Fortaleza Añejo (añejo meaning mature) is dangerously delicious and best enjoyed in polite quantities.
There is something that Mexican street vendors refer to as antojitos, literally translated to little cravings. This Avocado Bacon Egg Roll would fall under that category. It was basically chunky guacamole that was folded up in a spring roll wrapper and deep fried to a golden crisp — except, there was bacon. And we all know that there’s always a special place in our hearts for bacon. In all possible ways.
Cheers to the late, great Steve Jobs with this cocktail that is thankfully not an Apple-tini. Because any respectable bartender will scowl at you at the mere mention of any cocktail with the suffix -tini. This cocktail was the manifestation of Artistotle’s phrase “the whole is more than the sum of its parts.” Simple ingredients mixed to create a stunning result. Sips of this cocktail was like a walk through a Jalisco hacienda redolent with the perfume of fruit trees.
This elegant entree of dry-rubbed planks of lightly marbled tri-tip brought out the carnivore beast in me and I subconsciously hashtagged #sorrynotsorry under my breath. Because this was a dress-up dinner type of event, elotes callejeros were presented off the cob in a mound of kernels, but lost none of their mayo-cotija cheese addictiveness. The summer squash was breaded so delicately and devoid of any greasiness. This course is my other nominee for a spot on Matador’s restaurant menu.
Imagine paisas huddled about a table after a hard day’s work for a round of drinks. Popularly know as “The Mexican Flag”, double shot glasses of Fortaleza Silver, lime juice, and Sangrita imbibed alternately called to mind flavors of Bloody Maria swimming on the tongue. The Sangrita served to highlight the tequila’s crisp acidity between each peppery sip.
Reminiscent of a palate cleanser course, the cookie crumble and swath of blackberry coulis elevated this scoop of lemon sorbet to a proper dessert ranking. With a bite of each, it was like a deconstructed citrus tart, but more fun to eat. The brightness of the course was a perfect ending to a very satisfying dinner.
The Jalisco Sour with its complex sweetness from the añejo was tempered with bitters and lemon juice as the sour element. Long sips swirled in the mouth echoed the dessert course paired with it, but in liquid form. Sending us off with dreams of blue agave spirits, it was a lovely reminder that tequila is versatile in all types of cocktails.
Make sure to get on Matador’s mailing list to not miss out on the upcoming pairing dinner this month. But today for their Labor Day celebration, join them for their Pig Roast fiesta. They’ll be serving complimentary carnitas tacos along with food and drink specials! Plus, Nancy Sanchez Trio will be performing on the patio! Come early for a great seat!
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Corky Nepomuceno has 62 post(s) on Fullerton Foundry