Friday, March 29, 2024

Can't Get Over La Paloma Pairing Dinner

La Paloma Cafe claims its menu celebrates the cuisine of the Californios, early Californian settlers who incorporated Spanish and Mexican influences into indigenous ingredients cooked over fire. So how better to honor such cuisine than with a Spirited Journey through Mexico, where the spirits start with natural ingredients and are also cooked over fire (or with steam). Fortunately at a fantastic paired dinner on March 20 La Paloma had Blake Landis, cofounder of Angelisco Tequila and brand ambassador for Mezcal Nuestra Soledad and Tepache Sazón serve as a funny, informative, generous guide into all things agave.

Landis took us back through the history of distilling agave, which, goes to the Missions. The padres, happy tipplers all, ran out of the brandy they brought with them to the New World, and as Landis put it, said, "Shit, I need a drink!" They saw the indigenous people drinking pulque--fermentation from the fresh sap of agave--and thought, "Let's try distilling that." Imperialism, trial and error, time--and voila, tequila. 

Landis's own history working and co-owning bars and restaurants led him to a shocking discovery about the tequila world today--the 1% rule. While that bottle of a good brand will no doubt say "100% blue agave," the law allows that no more than up to 1% of the overall volume can be additives. Those additives are things like glycerol, vanilla, agave flavor, and caramel coloring. As always, remember natural is a marketing term, not a legal one.   But Landis and his friends hoped to build a tequila brand that refused the 1% loophole. Eventually the discovered the Aceves Family in the highlands of Jalisco, with a 100 years of mescaleros experience. And Angelisco Tequila was born.

That's Landis counting the two things in his booze--blue weber agave and water. Angelisco also works on keeping its prices down for premium product by doing other things that are equally good for the earth, by using a minimalist, bar-friendly bottle, recycled paper label, and an eco-friendly screwcap.

Which means (you thought I was going to forget the food, didn't you?) Angelisco is clean, tasty, and ready to pair with equally bright and flavorful cuisine. That bigeye tuna aqua chile above was an amazing burst of fish, each perfect little tile fresh and fleshy and the ocean at a chomp. The cucumber cooled. the Serrano chile warmed, the exact right clip of red onion gave it all grip. And atop fish #3 that's a sour grass blossom, something we take as field-filling weed this time of year. Oxalis added vivid yellow contrast to the plate, tangy floral notes to the palate. And in one more way chef Jeremy Tummel got to tie theme directly to the land around us.

The second course mightn't be the most Instagramable, but it was delicious and had a great personality. Plus, it paired with Nuestra Soledad's San Luis del Rio Mezcal, clean and lean as a Concorde (I'm showing my age here, aren't?). The dish is a Manilla clam cocktail, or as Tummel billed it, a "Baja-style campechana," and you would want to lap up that sauce/salsa/soup by the bowlful if you didn't have more courses on the way. Pungently tomato-y even this early in the tomato season, rich with Lillies (garlic and onion or shallot?), cilantro, pepper, and the magic of some smoked trout roe, briny bubbles of saline delight. A dice of avocado, a splash of lemon oil. Wow.

Obviously any meal at La Paloma that didn't take advantage of its red oak grip would be a shame. Wednesday was not in the least shameful. Those are oak smoked baby back ribs, reminding me why I need to order ribs more. They also got everyone past the niceties--looking around at the jolly group (you sit at a communal large U of a table), and everyone dug in with their hands to bite off every last tender morsel of dark coffee barbecued meat. The white sage (more local herbal call out, of course) honey granola atop provided some crunchy contrast, and then the cheesy (Parm, evidently) white corn grits beneath hit the spot where comfort food gets elevated just enough to be classic yet contemporary. The pair here was with Angelica's tequila reposado, which, of all things, they age in used Elijah Craig barrels. Peppery, with vanilla from the bourbon oak, it paired with the ribs like they were created for each other.

And here Chryss got a pescatarian sub that earned its many envious glances from other diners. Thanks, La Paloma, for being so accommodating. Indeed, overall the service was top-notch, even navigating around the large single table in the back patio. 

There might have been a bonus Por Siempre Sotol. I won't tell. 

Dessert brought out the refreshing pineapple piloncillo brûlée you see above, topped with a vanilla beanie cream scoop and drizzled with dulce de leche. Plus there's a bit of crumble on the plate and some finger lime for acid and balance and bubble-popping fun (and a call back to the roe, no?). Sweet, but far from too. The drink pairing went for the same-same rule this time, to stunning effect--we got to enjoy Tepache Sazón, a traditional Mexican fizzy fermented drink often made of pineapple, as it is in this case. Think kombucha without tea or scabby or yoga pants. Clocks in at 7%. The effervescence keeps reviving your mouth for more dessert. And isn't that what we all want?

Well, one might also want to attend the next La Paloma pairing dinner, especially since it will feature SB's now Ian Cutler and his distillery's terrific booze. It's booked for Friday, April 26th, and you can learn more and reserve on line.

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