The Mahogany Grille is located in the historic Strater Hotel. See that front window table to the right? That’s one of ‘our spots’ where years ago Mr.D and I treated ourselves to a special dinner on our very first discovery trip to Durango. We watched holiday shoppers walk by, talked about life, things we wanted to experience and accomplish, and began falling in love with Southwest Colorado. This is a place where they serve “Handcrafted Flavors of the West.” When we heard they were celebrating Cinco ‘de Mayo with a four-course Don Julio tequila pairing dinner, we thought about it for a half second and scrambled for a pen.
Spectacular Victorian old west. These are the stained glass domed lights in the grand dining room. Our dinner was held just to the back and left, in The Oak Room.
A stained glass garden mural with peacock casts a beautiful glow on the room.
Owner Rod Barker oversees incalculable details including the design and installation of handprinted Bradbury & Bradbury wallpaper throughout the dining rooms and hotel. In this room we dined under the stars.
The big table soon filled with tourists having a farewell dinner. A group from Denmark. A Best Buddy and soon-to-be Groom out for a nice evening. (Who shared details of the upcoming wedding of which I won’t write here because I’m not sure how much his lovely bride knows. But it is safe to say that it’s going to be a smashing memorable Durango event.) A few hotel guests happened upon it. Locals who know and love the place, and tequila. Two recent graduates from Fort Lewis college. A birthday girl and chef. A group from Texas, one of whom declared “I know nothing about tequila because I can never remember drinking it!” We sat next to a couple from Texas whom we call The Darling Abilenes. If I’ve left anyone out, my apologies sorry sorry sorry. I was jotting down notes as fast as I could.
Three types of Don Julio were waiting at each place setting.
Blanco Reposado Anejo
With one special pairing for the fourth course. And an after-tasting surprise. I’ve been to wine pairing dinners. But tequila with notes, nose, taste and finish — this was all new to me.
First Course: Ancho Citrus Ceviche served in a Watermelon Radish Skin, Calamari, Halibut, Scallop, Jicama Slaw.
Like dainty little tacos, with delicate tender seafood and crisp refreshing slaw with lime. A delightful fresh start.
Tequila Pairing: Blanco
Crisp and fresh with citrus notes. Clear, because it’s not yet aged in oak barrels. (The clear glass isn’t shown here. Oops. I was distracted by the mmms going around the table.) I tasted the smooth warm agave and citrus. With each course, our host Chris Stanton told stories and gave us facts, for instance — by law, tequila can only be produced using blue agave grown in certain parts of Mexico. Just as champagne can only be called champagne if it comes from the French region bearing the name, otherwise it’s called sparkling wine. And clear Blanco is tequila in its truest form, the base from which all other variants are derived.
Second Course: Shrimp and Crab Chile Relleno. Anaheim Chile stuffed with Fontina Cheese, Crab, Shrimp, Black Beans, Smoked Tomato Puree, and a Prosciutto Stuffed Prawn.
My answer to the stranded on a deserted island with only one meal question is — chile rellenos. This was quite possibly the best I’ve had. In Spanish relleno means ‘stuffed.’ This was a roasted green chile filled with creamy cheese and tender fresh crab. Deep fried but not oily. Sometimes the batter coating can be soggy and too heavy with egg. This was light whipped egg white batter perfection. The subtle smoky tomato puree was plated under, I always appreciate this so the relleno isn’t mushy. And great news — this is currently an item on the grille’s 2014 summer menu. Hallelujah.
Tequila Pairing: Reposado
Straw-colored and aged for eight to ten months. I tasted vanilla, honey, a bit of oak and caramel. Warm and very smooth, not at all harsh. Another story from the history of tequila — in the 1930s there was an agave shortage that led to change. Tequila makers could blend other sweeteners and flavors like sugar cane into their process which resulted in an inferior product called mixto. If a bottle doesn’t read 100% agave, it’s a mixto.
Pardon me, I just need to gaze at the relleno a bit longer. And that large meaty prosciutto shrimp.
Third Course: Pistachio Crusted Halibut with Black Rice, Mint and English Pea Puree, Cognac and Apricot Preserves.
At this moment the big chatty table went quiet. For a significant period of time, as we all took it in with our eyes and then that first taste.
This was a beautiful delicate piece of fish. And the black rice, there is something about contrasting black and white foods that is just sexy. I made sure that each bite had a bit of the preserves. Mellow and fruity. Not spicy or vinegary like a chutney that might have overpowered the halibut. Actually, I made sure that I had a bit of each component, to make perfect bites. All balanced so beautifully.
Tequila Pairing: Anejo
Several “wows” from guests. Anejo is aged 18 months or more in American white oak barrels, and was oaky silky warm and amber colored. I tasted less of the agave and more caramel honey. We learned about the founder, Don Julio Gonzalez-Frausto Estrada who was born in Jalisco Mexico. At the age of 15 he worked as a farmhand, then started to sell small wooden barrels of tequila. He married Dorothea Garcia, they had nine children. In 1942 he started his own distillery. Click to read more about him here.
The Fourth Course…..I’ve been a fan of deconstructed lots-of-things for a long time. This was an inventive fiesta on a plate…
Deconstructed Cadillac Margarita with Lemon Lime ice cream, Tequila Sabayon, Grand Marnier macerated Blood Orange and Salted Toffee Touille.
How clever to create a conceptual dessert based on the very drink most often associated with tequila. With bits of salted toffee, like a caramelized ‘rim a of salt.’ The blood orange was doused with Grand Marnier and had a tanginess that paired with the creamy sweet sabayon.
The Lemon Lime ice cream…it was as pillowy light as it looks here. And tasted like a fresh frozen lime margarita.
Tequila Pairing: Don Julio 1942.
Golden hue. Warm, smooth, sublime. Rich with caramel, vanilla and almond. Someone from the far end of the table suggested that we take a piece of the salted toffee and then sip, which brought out the caramel flavor even more. Satisfied aaaaaaahs all around from the guests.
Aged for a minimum of 2 1/2 years and named for the year Don Julio began his distillery. I wouldn’t normally use the word creamy to describe straight up tequila, but this was creamy. Very fine and full-bodied. Perfectly paired with the dessert.
The evening was coming to an end, and I wished we were just taking our seats. Thanks to Sous Chef Mathew Plassmeyer we experienced a delectable, carefully constructed dinner. In the company of terrific people with great stories and tips on places they like to visit in the Southwest.
Our final treat was at the bar for an introduction to Silver Coin from the Santa Fe Tequila Company’s first offering. A 100% blue agave, distilled to proof. They have a distillation process that allows for more agave sugar in the finished liquor so it remains smooth. Aged in oak whisky barrels for 30 days, but still crystal clear. Bright and clean with no abrasive bite. Sweet fresh agave finish.
Who knew? There is so much more to tequila than I’d realized. These discovery dinners are fantastic.
Thank you to our hosts, The Strator’s Chris Stanton and Pinnacle’s Perry Jones. And to Ivan Brutsche from Silver Coin. All lovers of fine spirits. And of course thank you to The Strator Hotel where they invite everyone to: “Create your memories from our corner of the world.”
Note: There are lots of products and companies mentioned in this post, so I want to remind everyone that I write about products, places, companies, all sorts of things because I like them, use them or have an opinion to share. Nobody pays me to mention them.