(Images by Matt Verzola)
The first introduction I had to tequila was when I was a wee little bairn watching Poltergeist II. Do any of you 80’s fans remember that scene? The hubby is about to have a massive breakdown because the family’s getting spooked out by evil spirits and so to chillax himself, he downs a bottle of tequila and swallows the worm. He then pukes out the little squiggly thang and watches in horror as it mutates into a quasi-human form of that creepy-beyond-creepy demonic priest who wants Carol Anne’s sweet little soul. (Where is da good Lawd when you need him?)
Needless to say, when I got the call to go to a tequila-pairing dinner at Crema, a new gourmet Mexican restaurant in the West Village, I immediately began sucking my thumb, asking for my mama, and rocking back-and-forth in a corner. Anxious thoughts followed: Am I going to have a freaky deeky supernatural experience? All I know is I ain’t swallowin’ no damn worm…
Mr. Photographer and I waltzed into Crema trying to be cool-as-school, but honestly, we were both scratching our heads on what to expect at this dining event. But good thing we are Oscar-worthy actors. We just played it like two Joe Camels and bobbed our heads to the stream of soft music flowing throughout the room. The added warmth of the dusky lights and the subdued murmur of the chic crowd put our little inquiring minds at ease.
At the bar, coolly clad in all black, sat Shaun Smith, a more refined Jamie Kennedy look-a-like but with a Gillette razor-shaven head. He was the organizer of the dinner. Next to him was his hubba-hubba, an actor named Donald Kingston (that can’t be his real name), whose nonchalant constitution sported with his sun-burnt leather jacket made him an oh-so-formidable figure.
Part of the deal with this tequila-pairing dinner was that we were going to get the 4-1-1 on this dizzying spirit by an expert. And since there were other parties involved, the two of us ended up sitting across from each other among a table of total strangers. (Ewww. I no likey strangers).
At the head of the table was the tequila expert, who happened to be this really genteel French guy who resembled a younger and saner version of Tom Cruise. Next to me was this dude from Jersey whose aura was like…let me phrase this in polite terms…can we say, serial killah? His date was this taciturn raven-haired chick that refused to drink tequila and opted for wine instead. Seated next to Mr. Photographer was this other couple – a red-headed timid darling who was a total foodie and her main squeeze, whom we shall call for our purposes, Porky Pig. Luckily, on the other side of us were Shaun and DKNY (a.k.a. Donald Kingston of New York), who we soon discovered were muy fab company.
As we sat munching on guacamole, salsa, and chips, we learned some cool facts about this intoxicant:
â€¢ Tequila is one of the most expensive spirits because of the amount of manual labor and distribution involved. (We’re talking $30-40/bottle – and that’s at wholesale value).
â€¢ There are 600 brands in the market.
â€¢ The U.S. is the #1 buyer. By 2010, we will make up 54% of its sales.
â€¢ There are three types of tequila: Blanco, Reposado, and Anéjo.
â€¢ Blanco is the baby of the group and is aged a mere three months. It comes ‘from the sweetest part of the (agave) plant’ and is ‘double distilled for the cleanest, purest tequila flavor.’ It’s got a spicy snap to it.
â€¢ Reposado – specifically Oro Azul Reposado – is rated the best tequila in the world. It’s aged for six months and known to have a smooth, light sweetness accented with a dash of pepper.
â€¢ Anéjo is preserved for two years and offers a cornucopia of flavors – sweet toffee, salt, and leather tobacco among others, finished with an aftertaste of the agave fruit.
Before I give you the rundown on our four-course dinner, I have to admit that before Crema, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Mexican fare. I rarely ate it – maybe I’d have a craving once in a blue moon. BUT, after having tested out the dishes at this upscale joint, which, by the by, boasts having the #1 rated Mexican chef in the city, my taste buds got their tango on, and I was converted.
â€¢ Chihuahua cheese backed in a casserole dish with chorizo, served with tortilla chips. Tequila to drink with it – Purasangre Reposado.
â€¢ Mixed greens, avocado and honey mustard with a touch of orange vinaigrette garnished with grilled onions, Panela cheese croutons, and tortilla flats. Tequila – Oro Azul Reposado.
â€¢ Halibut marinated in coconut milk, pan seared with a shrimp-crab crust, served with a guajillo emulsion and sweet potato hash. Tequila – Purasangre Anéjo.
â€¢ Grilled filet mignon skewers, marinated in lime and beer, with red bell peppers, mushrooms, scallions, and bacon, drizzled with a five chile paste topped with a trio of crispy onions. Tequila – Oro Azul Anéjo.
Pumpkin cheesecake and pecan bourbon ice cream
â€¢ Pumpkin cheesecake with pomegranates and pecan bourbon ice cream
â€¢ Chocolate mollet cake with hints of chili powder on a bed of coconut milk
â€¢ Varieties of unique-flavored sorbets
Chaser One – Chaser deux and then some
Now, as you can see with the meals, we were downing all kinds of that firewater, and although we were provided pure margarita mix-type chasers to balance out our imbalanced states, we got this party started right…(cue Gypsy Kings music)…
About a half-hour or so into the tequila tasting, I noticed that the didactic verbiage coming out of French expert’s mouth was cruising on down to turtle mode and held some intermittent pauses during (not in between) statements. Later that night, after guzzling down her fair share of tequila, the red-headed foodie looked as if she had finally experienced the best orgasm in her life while Porky Pig’s face became so beet-red that it made me want to scream ‘Dyno-miiite! Explode, boy, explode!’ To the right of me, Jersey Serial Killah kept asking annoying esoteric questions albeit in slurs, and his quiet date managed to shy away even more by using her midnight locks as a shield, eventually resembling the female version of Cousin It.
As for the other half of the party, Mr. Photographer’s normally big googly eyes were half-closed, and oddly, he chuckled like Beavis and Butthead when no one was paying attention to him. (At times, he forgot to take the damn pictures). Shaun was a just a cool, controlled cat who knew he had to hold off a tad from the moonshine since he was playing the host, and besides, he was too concerned about overloading on calories and disturbing his perfectly fit body. (Gay men are so hot).
DKNY and I were having a blast. His intimidating factor melted away as he washed down a few shots, and we were cackling and giving each other hi-fives on nothing I can remember except me whisper-screaming, ‘Treadmill!’ as we joyfully packed on the 10,000 calories from that insanely yummified grub. Personally, by my third serving of tequila, my head was swirling like mad, my nostril hairs had sizzled off, and my heart was having some serious palpitations. I heard Little Richard’s voice inside my head (from that Geico commercial) screaming: ‘Somebody help meh!’
I guess I kinda did have a supernatural experience after all – no worms needed.
The tequila-pairing dinner was an experimental event. Shaun wanted to test out the waters to see how successful it’d be…
And since Cinco de Mayo is coming up, he might just do it again. For $85 per person, the delectable and exhilarating tastes you experience at this gourmet restaurant are well worth it. I’ve never had Mexican food (or tequila!) like this.
Call him and let him know you’re interested. Crema is located at 111 West 17th St. (between Sixth and Seventh Ave.). Phone: (212) 691-4477. Site: www.cremarestaurante.com.