Wednesday April 16th 2014

These tequilas are for sipping: A Herradura dinner at Zapoteca

By: Susan Axelrod

Photos by Ted Axelrod/Axelrod Photography

If your idea of drinking tequila involves a shot glass, a lick of salt and a lime wedge … well, party on dude. But if you want to take your tequila experience to the next, big-girl-pants level, there’s no better place to start than at Zapoteca Restaurante Y Tequileria in Portland, where the bar boasts more than 100 bottles of the good stuff (in other words, tequila for sipping, not for doing shots).

Sergio Ramos, who co-owns the restaurant with chef Shannon Bard and her husband, Tom Bard, is one of only four “tequila sommeliers” in the U.S., certified by the Tequila Regulatory Council of Mexico. In addition to margaritas etc., the bar at Zapoteca offers tequila flights, allowing you to taste the three primary styles — blanco, reposado and anejo. If Sergio is in the house (he shuttles between Zapoteca and its newer sister restaurant, Mixteca, in Durham, N.H.), he is always happy to talk tequila.

Just like wine and beer, tequila can be paired quite successfully with food. On Sept. 23, Zapoteca hosted what Shannon Bard said will be the first of a series of “adventure dinners” in which she will play with the boundaries of what most of us consider to be traditional Mexican cooking (rabbit empanadas, anyone?). For this dinner, each of five courses was paired with a different variety of Herradura tequila, hand-crafted in Mexico since 1870. Donald Jean, from Herradura’s parent company Brown-Forman, was also on hand to impart his encyclopedic tequila knowledge.

From the first bite and sip — a raw oyster with tequila-marinated cantaloupe, served with a spicy-sweet “pina-lope” margarita; to a duo of lamb paired with Herradura anejo and a dessert of tequila-glazed pineapple cake, paired with Herradura special reserve (aged in Port casks) — the five-course dinner was a stellar example of collaboration between the kitchen and bar. Enjoyed on its own, each of the tequilas was smooth and refined; together with food, the flavors were extraordinary.

The next “adventure dinner” will be in October at Mixteca and the third in the series is planned for November at Zapoteca.