Libations

Herradura Tequila at Frontera Grill

November 15 2013 - 12:00 PM

Herradura BottlesWhat’s better than listening to a producer talk about why they love their product? Listening to Chef Rick Bayless talk about why he loves it!

Herradura tequila has long been a favorite of Bayless, appearing prominently on the cocktail menus of his restaurants and in his television show Mexico: One Plate at a Time. So, when Herradura threw a dinner in Chicago last week, Frontera Grill was the obvious spot.

“It is one of the few brands that is loved on both sides of the border,” Bayless tells us as we sit down to start the meal. “You can find it on the shelves of every bar in Jalisco.”

The tequila, for him, represents a traditional production that respects the inherent agave flavor, using barrel aging only to soften and smooth the edges of the spirit, not to smother. “The grapes that go into a Cognac,” he explains, “take maybe 30 day to grow. An agave plant, on the other hand, represents 8 to 12 years of time investment. Why try to hide that?”

Rick Bayless and Jay Schroeder

Apple-Prosciutto SaladThe food was phenomenal, of course, but equally inventive were the cocktail pairings created by Frontera’s newest member, chief mixologist Jay Schroeder. Picked as a “30 under 30” by Zagat’s in 2012, he joined the restaurant group only last month after stints at Red Door and Double A. The vegetal aspect of tequila makes it more food friendly than the average drinker gives it credit for, and Schroeder demonstrated this by providing us with widely different interpretations spanning crisp highballs to sweet, dark desserts. Schroeder may finally be in the high profile gig that he deserves.

Tropical Tuna CocktailOur first course of the evening was a fall salad layering mezcal-soaked apples, smoked walnuts, and crispy prosciutto on a bed of greens grown in Rick Bayless’ own backyard. The cocktail paired Herradura Reposado with thyme and gentian liqueur for a light, autumnal margarita-riff.

The second course featured ceviche-like Hawaiian tuna on top of a papaya and tomatillo salsa. Noting the delicate and light tuna, Schroeder chose to stay out of the way and provide a gentle highball of Herradura Silver and grapefruit augmented by the pleasantly alpine herb-tinged Genepy liqueur.

Pork Loin in Black Bean SauceThe main course was a rich dish of grilled pork loin over a bed of tangy collard greens and the most insanely deep and concentrated black bean sauce imaginable. Such a hearty dish, however,  requires an equally unsubtle accompaniment and was paired with a cocktail of medium-bodied reposado, bittersweet Amaro Abano, and herbal Bonal Quinquina.

Budin de Pan

 

Finally, for dessert we had Budín de Pan, a Dia de los Muertos inspired bread pudding with dried fruits and an out-of-this-world calabaza ice cream that was pure distilled pumpkin flavor. This was paired with deeply complex Herradura Añejo mixed with cocoa nib-infused sweet vermouth and walnut liqueur to give the glass of nice sweetness.

The evening was a blast, reminding me how versatile tequila can be and how just plain delicious Rick Bayless’ food is. Hearing a chef speak so deeply and lovingly about a favorite product — not to mention tasting the fruits of that affection —  is a special opportunity and as the chef’s empire continues to grow, have no fear that the execution is as perfect as ever. I’ll raise a glass of Herradura to that!

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