Night of the Iguana
There is a special bond between people who love and admire agave spirits, perhaps more than any other spirit category. When we gather, there is a feeling of instant warmth and comaraderie, even if we don’t necessarily know one another. Because when the products are made well, when we drink them, there is a connection to the earth, the elements and a respect for the culture that created them. So when the fine folks at Milagro Tequila and Añejo restaurant in New York City announced they were co-hosting a tequila pairing dinner, this could only mean a night of delicious Mexican food, great drinks and many smiles.
The dinner that was held on Thursday, June 13 was born as a conversation between Añejo beverage director Joshua Wortman and Milagro brand ambassador Jaime Salas. Salas had suggested Wortman create a beer cocktail using one of the Milagro tequila expressions, and this turned into a whole discussion about cocktail food pairings. Then, how about working with Chef de Cuisine Ricky Camacho to come up with a pairing menu for a crowd?
The 1964 movie Night of the Iguana, starring Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Sue Lyon, Deborah Kerr and directed by John Huston is a stylish, sultry romp set in the Mexican coast. With the film playing silently on the screen in the front of the restaurant, the menu also took the guests on its own journey, playing with the flavors of that setting. Each cocktail was paired with a sip of tequila neat. But part of the genius of these pairings was that the straight tequila was not necessarily the same one used in the cocktail, allowing the taste buds to frolic with the individual flavors being represented by both the food and drink.
The first cocktail was the Puerto Vallarta - Milagro Reposado, Falernum, Grenadine, grapefruit, lime and rosemary, served alongside Milagro Silver and paired with a black sea bass ceviche that had a slight hit of vanilla as well and pomegranate seed for texture. It’s a lot to process, but somehow it all worked. The different citruses balanced the sweetness. The tannic crunch of the inner pomegranate seed and its tartness found a kinship in the grenadine, then played off the earthier qualities of the tequilas themselves. The Reposado added a layer of toastiness while the silver gave the palate a much-needed clean finish. Another hit of Reposado would have been too much of a good thing in this case.
However, with the next round, it was perfect. Switching things up for a rich, spicy and smoky pork and octopus course, the Night of the Iguana sherry/beer cocktail used Milagro Silver and was served alongside the neat Reposado. This cocktail was why we were all here in the first place. Sherry in beer sounds tough to pull off, but it somehow worked with all the textures of the food, which also included bites of corn, olives, kumquats and pickled ramps. The Reposado in this case was at attention for the same duty as the Silver in the first course, calming down the palate to prepare it for dessert.
The final course consisted of a rich tequila flan sprinkled with cotijo cheese alongside cream-filled churros with chocolate sauce. The Reverend Shannon cocktail used both the Milagro Añejo and 1921 Crema de Tequila balanced with bitter Averna, served along with more Añejo. Never mind here which flavors played off what, this was an adult dessert on the highest level of decadence, worth every stick-to-your-hips bite and sip. The Milagro Añejo is the ultimate way to end an evening of feasting, with just
the right amount of sweetness and weight to match creamy dishes, but light enough in the finish that it doesn’t feel too overpowering with oakiness as some do. A winner in the 2012 NY International Spirits Competition.
Because we were a small group, we were all asked to introduce ourselves and speak briefly about why we love tequila. In minutes a table of strangers was deep in conversation with one another. The late spring was rain pouring, the tequila was flowing, the palates were savoring.
From the movie: “There are worse things than chastity, Mr. Shannon.”
“Yes, lunacy and death.”
Cheers to tequila, great food and new friends to keep us all alive and sane!