Tequilas at 25

In an essay taking point-blank aim at foodies in the March issue of The Atlantic, B.R. Myers notes that gourmets of a past era prized the flesh of animals whose slaughter entailed especial agony. “That of animals that had been whipped to death was more highly valued for centuries, in the belief that pain and trauma enhanced taste,” he writes, going on to quote an old British dining manual’s claim that “[a] true gastronome … is as insensible to suffering as is a conqueror.”

Could the foodies of Christmas past have treasured anything more highly than lynched steer? Unlikely, if Tequilas’ version is anything to go by. The meat emerged a perfect medium rare, its underside licked by a rivetingly tangy tamarind sauce. The chipotle chile, perhaps unhinged with revelry over its role as an invited witness to the aforementioned mob action, seemed to have spent its heat elsewhere so as to linger only as a subtle memory of the smoke that sometimes accompanies these night-shrouded affairs. The guacamole was oversalted, but hey, you can’t expect vigilante justice to get every little detail just right. And all in all, for a cut of beef more renowned for its tenderness than its flavor, this perfectly sauced offering was a rare treat.

Alas, it was also rare in that the filet was the only piece of meat in two recent meals at Tequilas that wasn’t overcooked. The Molcajetes (which came as a gargantuan and primordial bowl of heated lava rock bubbling with a brilliant distillation of chiles de arbol in tomato sauce), featured strips of beef tenderloin only a couple notches less chewy than jerky. The sauce, in a recurring theme, was spot-on: chile heat, sweetness, and acidity all in terrific balance. But the meat was a disappointment. (One wonders how it might have been improved if they’d, oh, I don’t know…zapped it with a Taser and waterboarded it first.)

A duck breast in white mole—again, the sauce subtly rendered if perhaps a tad sweet—was, per the menu, roasted. Per the teeth and the tongue, however, it was awfully close to what most kitchens would achieve exclusively by microwave: grey all through, and rubbery as a bath toy. The mole poblano, though? Well, why not let the menu tell that story…

Spanish colonialism had been the imposing force for decades, yet through inter-marriage a new culture gradually emerged—the Mestizo. In the city of Puebla, several convents were active in creating much of the traditional Mexican cooking, as we know it today. One such convent was expecting a visit by a distinguished archbishop. A nun decided to serve a sauce known by the Nahuatl Indians as “mulli.” However “mulli” is a potpourri of hot chiles.

Knowing the holy man was not accustomed to spicy dishes, she set to the task of adding ingredients that would counteract the chiles: chile ancho, dorado bread, tomato, cloves, bitter chocolate, chile poblano, peanuts, sugar, almonds, chile guajillo, fried tortillas, chile chalaca, carrots and garlic. This very combination makes a mole poblano a truly rich and complex sauce. A succulent boiled chicken breast exalted from the past. Served with rice and refried beans.