Last night, 35 or so lucky CTbites readers participated in the Inaugural "CTBites Invites" event at bartaco in Port Chester, NY. The "Invites," offer CTBites customers unique culinary experiences in the form of special restaurant "happenings" and special product purchasing opportunities. You sign up while the offer lasts, you pay on line and you're in. Simple as that. At last night's event, those who signed up were treated to a TACOS and TEQUILA and a whole lot more.
We entered bartaco and were escorted into a private room where long tables were set in the shape of a giant 'U." In the center of the room, a bar, complete with a GIANT juicer, waited patiently. Once all were seated, with cocktail recipes in hand, the "show" began. Gretchen Thomas, (Wine & Spirits Director for both Barcelona and bartaco), was master of ceremonies for the evening. She has a depth of knowledge that sems limitless, and she began our Tequila Tutorial by concocting 3 tequila-based drinks for everyone's delight. All three were exotic and refreshing - who knew tequila could be so versatile? The bartaco Margarita was my favorite. Tangy, with a lot of lime and shaken to perfection, this blast of flavor was served WITHOUT salt. When asked why, Gretchen replied,
"Salt is used to make Margarita's if the bartender is trying to hide bad tequila, cheap sour mix, and/or other unauthentic ingredients. Serve it with fresh lime, measured to perfection, great Tequila that is 100% Agave (as ALL of bartaco's 40 Tequila choices are) not "mixto," and make sure you don't "cook" it by drowning it in melting ice - then, no salt is needed."
She was right. The bartaco Margarita was perfect. Gretchen also concocted the "Azteca" - with St Germaine (elderberry liquor) and Chartreuse - for those who like a more aromatic, slightly liquorice-y cocktail and the "Rosita" - with minced Rosemary, simple syrup, Gran Centenario Rosangel and fruit juices- for a drink with a savory flare. The "Rosita" received many oohs and aaahs and seemed to be the popular winner. (I thought it might even work as a marinade for lamb!) It was a very unique drink but quite tasty. In all, though, the drinks were more of an aside - it was the process of making them that took center stage. We were in a drink-making seminar and we were learning. Check out the bottom of this article for more "can't do without" tips from Gretchen Thomas.
And then there was food. Throughout the drink tutorial, apps were passed and devoured. There were small plates with home-made chips and what I consider GREAT GUACAMOLE. It was creamy and full of lime with just the right amount of heat. Random chunks of ripe avocado were interspersed with tiny specks of tomato and the combo was salted to perfection. The CHEESE GORDITAS (and don't worry, you feel quite "gordita" yourself after several!) were divine. These puffed croquettes of Queso Blanco, lightly fried, with a "crema," cilantro-lime dipping sauce, were delish. We were also treated to a refreshing CHOPPED SALAD, complete with pickled carrots, crispy lettuce, blanco cheese cubes, radish and crunchy chips for contrast.
After the salad, came the TACOS! We were offered 3 different fillings in the soft, taco envelope - one vegetarian, one meat and one shrimp. The VEGETARIAN option came with a puree of fall veggies, pomegranate seeds and Achiote. (Achiote, also known as urucu, is a shrub whose seeds are surrounded by a casing which is pulverized and, while slightly bitter in taste, is mostly used for the red color it imparts.) Next came the WILD VENISON PICADILLO Taco. A Picadillo is a Mexican-style meat hash where the venison, in this case, was sauteed with onion, tomato and a secret, slightly sweet ingredient. This taco was rich but not too gamey and definitely a carnivore's dream come true. Third was the BAJA SHRIMP Taco. Here, the lightly fried shellfish rested gently on a bed of CHIPOLTE SLAW and was gently blanketed by its taco wrap.
For the grand finale', we were served a glass of traditional Mexican Hot Chocolate. I wondered, at first, why our glasses were only filled 1/3 of the way up... until I took my first sip. This AMBROSIA from south of the border was so rich and so creamy, more than 1/3 of a cup would have been too much. Made with full cream, superior chocolate and a tiny hint of chili, this is Hot Cocoa with an attitude!
Executive Chef Daniel Vanheusden closed the show with an explanation of the food choices and a thank you for attending what all hope will be many other CTBites events at the trendy, Port Chester venue. We were all handed "swag bags" in the form of Chinese food take-out containers with two jars of delicious, Bartaco specialties - a Chipotle Salsa and a Tangy Salsa Verde. Who doesn't love a parting gift?! Underneath the jars, floating around in the bottom of the carton, a token for a free taco!
So the first CTBites Invite was a great success. 30 spots were on sale and all were bought with some ever-hopefuls also showing up at the door. The price was reasonable and we got a lot of bang for the buck. After all, 3 drinks alone would have been more than 1/2 of the cost of the ticket and the bartenders were refilling glasses with impunity. But the best deal of the evening was the education that came along with the full tummies. We got a tutorial as we noshed and drank and the tips were priceless. This bodes well for the "Invites" of the future and all that want a "foodie" climax should keep eyes peeled for more offers on the "invites" tab above. Coming up - $15 Lunch or Breakfast for 2 @ Nicholas Roberts in Norwalk. Check it out. And please see below for more great tips on preparing the perfect drink!
Cocktail Tips from Gretchen Thomas:
1) Making a cocktail is like baking. Measurements NEED to be exact!
2) Salt is a cover up for bad ingredients. If you use great stuff, don't bother adding salt!
3) Don't "cook" your cocktail- which means don't let the ice melt and water down your drink! Add ice to the shaker ONLY at the very end, after all other ingredients have been added and you are ready to shake!
4) Pour drink out of shaker onto FRESH ice cubes that haven't yet had the chance to melt!
5) Use a strainer. Pulp in your teeth doesn't look good!
6) When measuring lime, figure that one lime contains 1 ounce of juice after proper squeezing!
7) Shake your drink until your fingers start to feel numb!
8) When mashing ingredients, don't pulverize. Just break up fruit or spice to release flavors!
9) Make sure you have a designated driver!