Monday, November 28, 2011

Debbie & Don's Herradura double barrel tequila dinner at TacoLu

A five course tequila-pairing dinner. On a Monday night. Sound like a bad idea?

Nah. Pretty genius, actually. In November I had a girls’ night out to get a lesson in tequila at TacoLu. Debbie and Don of The Lu were introducing their extra super special Debbie and Don’s Herradura Double Barrel Reposado, a one-of-a-kind tequila from an exclusive barrel program that had taken them to Guadalajara and back.

Rueben Aceves Vidrio came to TacoLu all the way from Guadalajara to present Debbie and Don’s Herradura Double Barrel Reposado and to teach us Yankees a little something about a spirit called tequila. We’re not talking about the toilet water with the worm at the bottom or the copper-colored blended swill that made us all sick a time or two in college. We’re talkin’ pure, 100% blue agave tequila here, folks.

Herradura is an institution in Mexico. The company’s El Jimador is the #1 selling brand of tequila in the country and accounts for 40% of the entire spirits industry of Mexico! Plus it’s the only tequila in the country that can call itself 100% natural. It’s kind of a big deal.

We tried it in many forms that evening. Upon arrival we enjoyed a champagne cocktail with mango puree and Herradura Silver tequila while we made our way to the table.

The first course was ceviche verde with sheepshead, serrano chile and avocado. Paired with Herradura Silver (the only white tequila aged in oak barrels for 45 days – smooth and clean).

Next: creamy corn soup. Don described it as the liquid version of their Mexican street corn. Which I TOTALLY love. The soup was topped with a huitlacoche crema reduction with lime juice and had a spicy kick at the end.  Paired with Herradura Reposado (aged for 11 months, five times the norm, in white oak barrels – notes of oak, orange zest, vanilla).

Third was tortas ahogadas, Debbie and Don’s version of a classic Mexican dish they ate frequently on their trip to Guadalajara. It’s a pork carnitas sandwich doused in spicy tomato sauce. Served with a tamarind margarita with a hint of lime.

It came with avocado fries!

Somewhere in there we tried a true gem of a tequila: Herradura Seleccion Suprema. Herradura’s was the first Extra Añejo in the industry and is the true pride of the company as it was tested for over 20 years to get it juuuust right. It’s aged for over FOUR YEARS and is the most complex tequila in the world.

Finally it was time to sample Debbie and Don’s exclusive Double Barrel tequila. To accompany it we were served a fancy mushroom taco. Fancy, indeed, as it included caramelized red onion, manchego, cilantro and huitlacoche, a Mexican delicacy that Don euphemized as “a mushroom that grows on corn.” Wikipedia calls it “corn smut.” Obviously I prefer the Wikipedia description. Sorry Don.

The taco was served with Debbie and Don’s Herradura Double Barrel Reposado (aged for 11 months then moved to a different barrel to age for one month more, giving it a new dimension in flavor – very caramel-y and smooth with hints of butterscotch, vanilla, cinnamon). A true treat!

The night ended with the TacoLu choco-taco: chocolate tortilla, “Don’s nearly famous” pepita ice cream, candied chiles and cinnamon sugar. Served with jalapeño blackberry Herradura Añejo margarita with a sugared chocolate rim.

If you hurry you can try Debbie and Don’s Herradura Double Barrel Reposado at the bar at TacoLu but act quickly because this one-of-a-kind tequila won’t last long. Salud!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Autumn in the Park

Early this month I had the pleasure of attending the second annual Autumn in the Park farm-to-table dinner to benefit the San Marco Preservation Society.

This year’s meal was highly anticipated due to the success of last year’s event and it sold out well in advance.

Autumn in the Park was easily one of the most memorable food events I attended in Jax last year and planner Anita Morrill outdid herself yet again. Anita was inspired by Outstanding in the Field events she’s attended around the country. They’re all about local food and local settings. A hallmark of Outstanding in the Field meals is a single long table – a setup that’s perfectly suited to San Marco’s tree-lined Davin Park.

Trad’s Garden Center provided herb plants for guests to take home as mementos from the meal.

When we arrived we enjoyed the cool tunes of the Just Jazz Quintet

… while enjoying appetizers made from local meats, cheeses and veggies created by Chef Kathy Collins of Café NOLA in the MOCA.

Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill and Bradley’s grits cakes served with Twinn Bridges pepper jelly.

Twinn Bridges roasted vegetable skewers served with thyme vinaigrette.

Bradley’s sausage topped with Sweet Grass Dairy Lil Moo and mustards made with Intuition Ale Works brews.

That’s Chef Kathy on the left!

Ben Davis from Intuition Ale Works served Knothead Alt during the reception. It’s a malty, sweetish German brew (Chef Kathy used in to great success one of her mustards!) that’s perfect for a crisp autumn afternoon.

Chef Tom Gray from Bistro Aix and Sam Efron from Taverna listen as we all learn about Slow Food First Coast and Huguenot Cellars which provided our wine pairings for the evening.

And then the chefs went through the menu and told us about the purveyors and farmers who provided the ingredients for the meal.

When we sat down I was stoked to be across from Denise and Tom from Twinn Bridges farm in Macclenny. They’re incredibly locally-minded yet worldly in their food knowledge – they shared tips and stories about pomegranate molasses and angulas and Cuban foodways and the exact method for ensuring a perfectly crisp skin on a whole roasted pig. Plus they’re a lot of fun. And their veggies kick butt.

The first course was Twinn Bridges and Black Hog Farm butternut squash soup garnished with crème fraiche, Eden Farms bacon, Granny Smith apple, fried sage and pomegranate molasses. Chef Sam said one of his customers described it as autumn in a cup. It was served with Huguenot Cellars Cuvee de Blanc 2009, San Ynez Valley.

Olive oil-poached local striped bass was served family style with Twinn Bridges fairy tale eggplant and marinated piquillo peppers. Paired with Huguenot Cellars Cuvee de Rouge 2007, San Ynez Valley.
And the pièce de résistance: a whole pig roasted low and slow in a Caja China.

He was easily the most photographed guest of the evening.
The pork was carved and served with rutabaga-apple puree, Twinn Bridges and Black Hog Farm roasted autumn vegetables and braised greens. Paired with Revenge by Allora Vineyards 2009, Napa Valley.

Dessert was panna cotta with bruleed citrus and lemon-ricotta cookies. Served with La Gioiosa Moscato, Veneto Italy.

This is one of my favorite food events in Jax – don’t miss it next autumn!

Monday, November 14, 2011

My favorite meal... in photos

Nowadays I don’t have much time to write long blog posts (has it really been since APRIL?). Probably because I got one of those j-o-b things. But I am going to make an effort to post photos and (short!) stories about meals I’m lucky to share with the great friends I’ve made since moving to Jacksonville almost exactly two years ago.

Figured I’d start with my favorite meal yet! Earlier this year, friends invited Phil and me to a privately-catered 12 course dinner by Chef Brian Siebenschuh of Restaurant Orsay. Yeah. I know.

The menu went a little something like this:

Ahi tuna topped with University of Georgia Siberian sturgeon caviar and a sliver of red onion.
Raw bar with a variety of oysters, mussels and shrimp.

Salmon tartar on potato crisps.

Country ham with heirloom tomatoes.

Delish roasted fish over awesome veggies (sorry, memory not so good!)

Thai-inspired soup.

Poached egg and asparagus salad.

Foi gras, berry compote, challah.

Roast salmon over lentils.

Duck confit over field peas.

Cheese. Honey.

Melon sorbet with prosciutto.

Bacon and chocolate.

You know it’s good when you end with bacon dipped in chocolate.

Best. Meal. Ever. Thanks friends! :)