If there’s any chance you want a seat at the upcoming March 14 tequila dinner at the Mayan Café, stop reading and call 502-566-0651. Seats are that few and the $60 per person meal warrants it.
When I spoke Tuesday with Anne Shadle, partner and general manager at the Yucatan cuisine restaurant, she said reservations rolled in so quickly she scrambled to arrange for two seatings — one at 5 p.m. and one at 8 p.m. — to accommodate demand. It appears she might have needed a second day for the dinner, not just a second seating.
And why, precisely, is a tequila dinner so popular in the middle of Bourbon Country?
“Duh! It’s unique and different and its super cool,” Shadle said with a laugh. “We do wine dinners like a lot of restaurants, but we wanted to do something different that also made sense with our food.”
It also doesn’t hurt that the featured tequila is Casa Noble, a premium spirit made at an artisan distillery in Tequila, Mexico, and one of a small number that grows its on agave. Low-end bottles of its blanco fetch around $40 — and they’re tough to find here — while a 750ml of its single barrel añejo — even more rare—costs more than $100.
Shadle figures some of that night’s guests are tequila-knowledgeable folks who understood that a Casa Noble-paired meal is something special.
And they’re right. The last time I recall a tequila dinner held in Louisville, it was nearly three years ago at the Blind Pig, and the featured tequila was Casa Noble. Not only were we treated to one cocktail and three neat tastes of the brand’s finest, master distiller Jose“Pepe” Hermosillo was there to talk and take questions about his products.
While I’d call myself a tequila fan rather than an expert (but boy a can study hard and learn, can’t he?), I’ve never had any better than we drank that night.
I wasn’t the only one in the room to admit it was the first time I’d drunk tequila neat (room temp, no ice), a somewhat fearful feat for those who’d downed large quantities of the bad stuff in the past.
The good stuff makes a tremendous difference, especially if a knowledgeable source is on hand to explain what you’re drinking, and Hermosillo will be at the Mayan Café dinner in March.
“I’ve met a handful of winemakers when they come to our dinners, but not a master distiller like him,” Shadle said. “Not only are we getting tequila that’s super unique, it’s extra special that he’s coming here.”
Hermosillo, who enjoyed his last visit here, sees coming to Louisville as a highlight in his busy travel schedule.
“I travel too much sometimes, and my family sometimes suffers for that,” said Hermosillo, by phone from Tequila. His enviable English is the product of several years of post-secondary education in the U.S. “But when people say, ‘Hey come to Kentucky,’ and I have a chance to go, I want to go. People are so nice there and the place is fantastic. So maybe I’m maybe a little selfish” for taking that trip.
Hermosillo called Louisville an ideal spot to spread the gospel of tequila because bourbon fans, especially, already appreciate the nuances of good spirits. And since tequila and bourbon share similar flavors (caramel, citrus, cinnamon) gained from wood barrel aging, the transition from one to the other is smooth.
So why, then, aren’t there more tequila dinners in a town awash in bourbon dinners? Is Louisville behind the curve on such food and spirits pairings?
Hermosillo said no, that tequila dinners remain largely novel affairs held on the East and West Coasts, and in a few major interior U.S. cities like Chicago. He also said there aren’t a lot of chefs yet who understand how to pair it with food.
“It’s fascinating what you can do with food and tequila if you know its aromas and flavors well,” said Hermosillo. “The other day we were at the distillery with friends, and I brought out some dark chocolate to taste with our añejo. They were amazed that chocolate paired so well with it; the flavors of both just explode!”
It goes without saying that a tequila-matched menu should be superb in the hands of Mayan Café chef and partner, Bruce Ucan, a Mexico native. Even if you can’t get a seat, you should still have a look. (Given the popularity of this event, my hunch is Mayan will do this again sooner than later.)
- First course: passion fruit-hibiscus margarita made with Casa Noble blanco, Cointreau, hibiscus syrup, passion fruit sorbet and fresh lime, paired with ceviche
- Pineapple, habanero, avocado and pickled onions
- Vegetarian option: puffed pastry, oyster mushrooms, butternut squash, cream cheese and pineapple salsa
- Second course: spiced reposado cocktail made with Casa Noble reposado, FruitLab jasmine liqueur, baked apple bitters, coconut water and a lemon twist, paired with fish cooked in white mole sauce and served with black rice and roasted Brussels sprouts
- Vegetarian option: potatoes, carrots, candied turnips, white mole sauce and arugula salad
- Third course: Casa Noble añejo served neat or on the rocks, paired with alfajores made from lemon shortbread cookie, dulce de leche, coconut and house-made espresso ice cream