kelly magyarics

washington, d.c.-based wine, spirits & lifestyle writer / wine educator

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Agave, smoke and food to match

On Wednesday night, I experienced Oyamel's Tequila and Mezcal Chef's Dinner, part of the restaurant's ongoing Tequila and Mezcal Festival. Chef Joe Raffa created a five course meal of dishes that contained one (or both!) of the spirits, which we sipped neat as well as in cocktails. Tequila stood in for the Vermouth in Oyamel's version of the Americano; guests enjoyed the restaurant's signature Margarita with salt-air foam, and we also got to sample Jose Andres' cocktail creation the Black and Blue, with muddled blueberries and blackberries, tequila and soda--a simply refreshing concoction that will only be more enjoyable as the weather gets warmer...

Jose Andres was on hand to introduce two pioneers of the spirits. David Suro-Pinera creates Siembra Azul Tequila, while Ron Cooper producers Del Maguey Mezcal. One of his single village Mezcals has garnered numerous awards in the past five years, and is considered to be the finest tasting Mezcal in the world. Smoky yet smooth, it's perfect slowly sipped out of a tulip glass--which captures its intense and complex aroma.

Tequila and Mezcal are two spirits that I don't feel I know enough about yet. But just by listening to Ron and David talk during the dinner (I also had the pleasure of them being my dinner companions), I learned more in one evening than I ever knew, including the hard work just harvesting and working with the agave plant.

One of my favorite dishes was the ceviche of fresh Hawaiian Pacific Blue Marlin marinated in tangerine, passion fruit and reposado Tequila. Chef Raffa spoke to the fish's ultra-freshness when he told us it was caught in Hawaii on Monday, transported on Tuesday and we enjoyed it on Wednesday evening. The tequila marinade worked so well with the tart passion fruit (Tequila and citrus is a no brainer, as so many Margarita fans can attest to.)

Pork belly has been on so many menus lately, and I personally can't get enough of it. Oyamel's version was slow roasted and served with a fragrant sauce of guajillo chiles, reposado Tequila and pineapple. So succulent.

The festival continues until March 16, with cocktails and Tequila/Mezcal dishes available until then.

Oh, and I have to leave you with what I thought was the quote of the evening. Ron Cooper explained the three reasons he drinks Mezcal (which he claims is the only kind of alcohol he can really drink without it affecting him the next morning): for the flavor, the way it affects his body (relaxation, increased conversation, etc.) and its ties to ancient Mexican culture. In his words, "Wine and spirits are drugs, and we need drugs. Life is hard."

Well said. Happy Friday!