The scene last night was the wine vault at Voice in the basement of the Hotel Icon, 220 Main Street, and the occasion was a tequila cocktail pairing dinner for members of the media. Voice Chef Michael Kramer served up his usual magic with a dinner that started with a hearts of palm salad, took in a serving of crab in pasta, followed by a main course of steak covered in ground coffee, topped off by a crème brulee.
But the reason we were there was the upper end tequila brought in by the Don Julio company out of Mexico, founded by Don Juilo (a real person) who was ahead of his time when he first came up with the idea of premium tequila in his home state of Jalisco.
Voice Beverage Director Todd Leveritt came up with the coctail recipes, starting the evening with an Agave Splash, elegantly presented in a large wine glass with a beautiful flower floating inside. Leveritt made a point of mostly staying away from using either sugar or syrup in his drinks, instead using agave nectar. It made for a light, delicious drink, not too heavy on the alcohol.
1 ounce Tequila (Don Julio Blanco)
3 ounces thinned agave nectar
flower (hibiscus preferred)
Combine tequila and agave nectar in cocktail shaker. Shake well. Place ice and flower in wine glass. Strain ingredients into glass over ice, submerging flower.
Next up was the Mango-Rita and for many people this was one of the two favored drinks of the evening. This is the kind of cocktail that is very easy to overdo, going down easily and not really tasting like alcohol at all. It paired well with the salad.
1-1/2 ounces tequila (Don Julio Reposado)
1 ounce mango puree
½ ounce agave nectar
½ ounce triple sec
½ ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
salt or sugar to rim glass
Rim martini glass with salt or sugar to taste. Combine tequila, mango puree, agave nectar, triple sec and lime juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Strain into martini glass.
The Mojito Mexicano was the other crowd favorite. One diner exclaimed that she doesn't like mojitos, but she liked these. They were light and lively and the cilantro gave them that extra zip and was distinctly better than mint in this case. Paired with the crab pasta, it went down easily like a frosty lemonade on a summer's day.
1-1/2 ounce tequila (Don Julio Anejo)
1-1/2 ounces fresh-squeezed lime juice
1-1/2 ounces club soda
1 tablespoon raw brown sugar
1 small sprig of cilantro
lime wedge for garnish
Muddle cilantro and brown sugar in cocktail shaker. Add tequila and lime juice. Shake well. Add club soda and stir thoroughly. Pour contents unstrained into highball glass. Add ice as needed. Garnish with lime wedge and cilantro sprig.
Next up was a Bloody Maria which in this case was green instead of red. The drink itself was interesting and packed a kick on the back end, probably due to the jalapeno. This is a drink that would stand up well on its own, sipped and savored. It was paired with the steak, but there wasn't quite the easy bonding there that went with the other pairings.
1 ounce tequila (Don Julio Blanco)
1 ounce tomatillo juice
1 ounce celery juice
¼ ounce jalapeno juice
½ ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
celery greens and lemon peel for garnish
Mix chili powder and sea salt, rim pilsner glass with combination. Combine tequila tomatillo juice, celery juice, jalapeno juice, fresh-squeezed lemon juice and ice in a cocktail shaker, Shake well. Pour contents into pilsner glass. Garnish with celery greens and lemon peel.
The end of the evening was the most anticipated and ultimately disappointing - although it should not be blamed on Leveritt. What we'd hoped for was the Don Julio 1942 neat in a brandy snifter. And that's what Leveritt had planned, he said today in a follow-up phone conversation. But the people putting the dinner together wanted a cocktail every step of the way so, at their insistence, he combined the 1942 - their ultra premium tequila - with pureed jicama. Alas, jicama is kind of tough to puree - it has the consistency of an Asian pear or apple - and the result was a glass of white lumpy glop with the texture of tapioca pudding. It didn't work on its own and it certainly didn't pair well with the crème brulee. As Leveritt put it today, he does not intend to offer this concoction in the future. So we'll skip that recipe, unless someone demands it.
The dinner was over a little after 9, but I didn't get to sleep till after midnight. A friend and fellow diner calculated that we'd probably each downed the equivalent of a cup of sugar with all that agave juice. Other than pacing the floor for a while in a semi-wired state afterward, it was a fairly delightful experience all in all. And Leveritt definitely knows how to put together a cocktail, and as it turns out, when he shouldn't.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.