Sunday, October 30, 2016

Mercadito - Dia de los Muertos Experiential Dinner

Around Halloween, I like to celebrate the season.  I have many times gone to restaurants that have "dressed up" as another place, but I have also gone instead, to places that celebrate a piece of Mexican culture with a dinner celebrating Dia de los Muertos.  This year, I did the latter, and went to the Dia de los Muertos Experiential dinner at Mercadito.  The dinner was held in their downstairs lounge, La Mex Agave Lounge with tequila supplied by Casamigos Tequila, a company owned by George Clooney and Randy Gerber.  The door to the lounge was a heavy wood door, behind which was a holographic Aztec God.  There was also a large bowl that had been filled with dry ice and water that I told a guy might not be such a great idea to stick his hand into (because the temperature of dry ice is -109°F).  He, of course, couldn't be bothered to listen and burned the tips of his fingers, but I did tell him so I wasn't going to worry about it.  I was seated at the bar on a corner which was fine for my left handedness, but I was next to the silverware table, so it was a little awkward for the staff to get around me at times.  It was fine, because the people sitting next to me were fun and interesting to talk to.  The room was decorated in Dia de los Muertos fashion, black with a lot of bright color accents and with many Calaveras.  There was also a demonstration table in the center of the room where the chef was going to do a demo of the Pan de Muertos that we would be having for dessert.  The menu for the dinner listed five food courses and five cocktails which would have been good, but as it turned out, we could also sample all three Casamigos tequilas, and because I was sitting at the bar, I got to try a couple of other things.  We started out with a Welcome Drink which didn't really have a name.  It consisted of Casamigos Reposado, Champagne, and a Dried Strawberry.  It was light, bright, and sparkling.  Champagne is generally served at the beginning of many high end meals to open up the taste buds and make them more receptive to different flavors.  This served the same function and tasted pretty good as well.
The food and drink were not really paired, but were alternated.  Our first food course arrived after we had had our drink for a while and was Sopa de Calabaza, or Squash Soup.  It consisted of  Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, Huitlacoche Croutons, Chile Morita Powder, and Wild Mushroom Oil.  It was very creamy with a squash flavor and mushroom accents, and a nice lightly spicy finish.  The croutons added texture and a nice huitlacoche flavor (cross between corn and mushrooms).  It was a great start and I was excited to see what might be next.
Next was our second cocktail followed quickly by our first shot of tequila.  The cocktail was called Kali's Culture Crisis, referencing the Hindu God of Death, it used Garam Masala, Pumpkin, Casamigos Reposados, Coconut Milk, Allspice, Cinnamon, Egg White, and a Marigold.  It was very flavorful with all of the spices and they went well with the tequila, despite the Indian references.  The Casamigos Blanca is their base tequila.  It is rested for two months and is very smooth, crisp, and has a very soft mouthfeel.  While I don't generally drink a lot of tequila, this would be excellent for sipping.

Our second food course was Tamales, very much a Mexican seasonal dish, served in two ways, followed quickly by our second cocktail.  The tamales were a Sweet Corn Steamed Tamale, using a Fresh Corn Husk that had already been removed, and topped with Chorizo (right), and a Corn Masa Steamed Tamale, using a Corn Husk that had been removed, topped with Queso Fresco and Rajas Poblanas (left).  They were sitting in a Poblana Crema and topped with Cotija Cheese.  They were similar, but their textures were slightly different.  The Sweet Corn Steamed Tamale had whole kernels while the masa was very smooth.  There was obviously a lot of corn flavor, but it did have a nice spicy finish.  The cocktail was called Spanish reminder and referenced the Spanish heritage of many Mexicans.  It started with Cynar, and included Casamigos Blanco, Malbec, Mexican Coke, and Decanter Bitters.  There were a lot of varied flavors in this drink and it wasn't as sweet as one might expect.  It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't my favorite.  I think it needed something like a little spice to finish it.

We then got another shot of tequila, Casamigos Reposado, their flagship, and our next course, Tacos de Chicharron de Camaron.  The tequila had a little color, as opposed to the Blanco which looked like water.  It was also very smooth with a soft mouthfeel, but it also smelled of vanilla and had an oaky flavor because it was aged in oak barrels for seven months.  It was smooth and silky, but it wasn't my favorite.  The taco, on the other hand, was pretty great.  It was a Pork Rind Battered Shrimp Taco with Caramelized Pico de Gallo and Mexican Cole Slaw (on a Corn Tortilla).  It was fresh and crispy with a wealth of flavors.  The pork rind and shrimp flavors went together amazingly well and the pico de gallo and slaw provided a fresh and crisp finish with some caramel and spicy flavors added.

Both the next cocktail and food course were very complex with a lot of pieces that went together amazingly well.  The cocktail was called Doctor's Orders and started with Sweet Corn Infused Casamigos Anejo, and added Caramel, Apple, and Clove, and finished with a salted rim.  The bartender said that he was aiming for the Apple Pies made with a Masa Crust that are made for his family's Thanksgiving and I have to say that he nailed it.  It was sweet with flavors of apple and clove as would be expected from an apple pie, but the corn worked amazingly well with the other flavors.  One of the extras that I was offered because I was sitting at the bar was a taste of the sweet corn infused Anejo tequila which was even softer than the other tequilas with a nice corn finish.  The food course was a Taquiza de Birra Rez, Ancho Guajillo Marinated Braised Short Rib with Blue Corn Tortillas, Pickled Jalapenos, Cabbage Tomatillo Salsa, and Pickled Onions.  Individually, everything tasted great, the short rib was amazingly tender and flavorful, the jalapenos and onions had a nice sour flavor which moderated the burn, and the salsa provided some crispness and fresh flavors.

During the meal, the chef was demonstrating how he made the Pan de Muerto, which we would be having for our dessert.  Before that came out, we got our last shot of tequila and our last cocktail.  The last cocktail was called Family Recipe and had Casamigos Blanco, Genever, Sage, and Raisin, as well as some citrus.  It was a nice cocktail finish that reminded me of fruitcake (in a good way).  The Casamigos Anejo is aged for 14 months in oak barrels.  It brought out flavors of vanilla and caramel, as well as the oak, and I thought that this was my favorite tequila.  The reposado might be good for mixing, but this is great for drinking.  I received another freebie because I was sitting at the bar, the bartender heard me talking about gin, which is generally my go to when I'm drinking liquor, and he offered me a drink of some gin that he made.  It was pretty good.  It was herbal with a lot of lemon flavors (lemon, lemongrass, lemon thyme) as well as thyme and ginger.  It also had juniper, and you could taste it, but it was very mild.  The Pan de Muerto was served with sweet potatoes and a tequila-sweet milk mixture that you were supposed to dip it in.  It was pretty good and would have made a good picture, but my camera decided to crash at that point, so I didn't get a picture of it.  The way it worked was to take a piece of bread, put it with the sweet potato, and then dip it.  It was sweet and starchy and it all went together very well.  It was a great finish to a great meal.  The food and drink was very good, the shots and bonus drinks were a bonus, the staff was very friendly, and watching the chef was a lot of fun.  Mercadito periodically does special dinners, I will definitely have to keep my eye out and return when they do another one, if not before.

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