Gastronomy 101, a blog about food and Los Angeles restaurants

FOOD SECTION: January 23, 2008 - ¡Tequila!

Today the Food Section features a subject very near and dear to my heart, tequila. And it also features the reason that tequila is so near and dear to my heart: the ambassador of tequila, Julio Bermejo.

It was ages ago now, in another life, that I first walked into Tommy's Mexican Restaurant in the Richmond Distrist of San Francisco, with my mad scientist friend Dr. Tripp, her Unix-wizard husband, Dallas, and my then-fiance (but never-husband). We had heard a rumor of a man who would act as your professor in tequila, and guide you to an appreciation of this seldom-appreciated spirit.

At the time, my main experience with tequila was in Tijuana's finest border bars and sleaziest dance clubs, and then later with holding back the hair (or ties, if male) of my dearest friends while their bodies rejected that last frozen daiquiri or margarita and we leaned pitifully over the curb, trashcan, or toilet (choose your own adventure!). You may understand then, why it would take a powerful force to make me appreciate the subtler joys of tequila.

So Julio took us in. He gave us a lecture and then a multiple choice test. He let us try his habanero-infused tequila. (Don't. Seriously. I did it so you don't have to.) Then he handed us little blue cards with tiny numbered squares. Our mission was to try 35 different kinds of tequila. Not all at one time! The rules are: three shots/margs on any weeknight and no more.

And after that, it was easy. Julio welcomed us like old friends every time we walked in the door. He gave us presents, he offered to take us lime-picking, he told us where to get the good lime squeezers. He explained tequila and how just like wine, it has aromas and flavors. it can be oaky or fruity or floral or caramel. It benefits from aging. He showed us how to make the best margarita: fresh-squeezed lime juice, tequila, and agave juice, nothing more. He pointed out the man who held the tequila ninja title. The only person who had had a full shot of his habanero tequila and not puked within 15 minutes. A chef, who ate raw chiles for fun and games. If you ever got to be a tequila ninja, Julio would take you to Jalisco and show you around the distilleries.

I learned to sip a good tequila and enjoy its flavors. I learned to be the girl that quizzes the servers in every Mexican restaurant about what kind of tequilas they have: Chinaco? El Tesoro? Del Dueno? Cazadores? No? No, senorita, but we have ... Don Julio. Don Julio is good, I'll take that. They get a little annoyed probably, but they know the kind of thing I am looking for. And they know I don't want my margarita blended.

I don't drink tequila all that often anymore. I confess I'm a gin-woman these days. But whenever it gets warm outside, I get in the mood. But I can never get a margarita that's quite right, because you just can't get a Julio-style margarita anywhere but San Francisco. I miss Julio, and I miss going to Tommy's after a hard day's work, and letting Senor and Senora Bermejo feed me Yucatecan food and then sitting down to Julio's boisterous greeting at the bar and letting him tell me what I would be drinking that night. Or talking to the person next to me, usually also on their way to their master's degree, and finding out if they have a favorite that you haven't tried yet. That's how I was introduced to my personal favorite, Chinaco. The man also persuaded me to get my Chinaco margarita straight up like a martini. It worked. I don't know why, but it worked. Trouble is, I feel too dorky to get it anywhere else. And it probably wouldn't work - it's not the same blend.

But now it appears, tequila enthusiasm has appeared in Los Angeles, and the article comes with information on how and where to find it. Maybe you can find your own Julio out there somewhere and fall in love with tequila like I did once.

Places mentioned in the article:

Pink Taco ("capitalizing on tequila's good-times reputation")
10250 Santa Monica Blvd.
(310) 789-1000

Amaranta Cocina Mexicana ("[a] more ambitious Mexican restaurant for whom the wide selection of fine tequilas is as much a requirement as an impressive wine list is at an upscale Italian place.")
6600 Topanga Canyon Blvd. Suite 1029
(818) 610-3599

Mucho Ultimo Mexicana
("the Bermuda shorts-in-winter crowd can choose from 150 tequilas")
903 Manhattan Ave

Malo ("the tequila list runs upward of 170 tequilas (plus 22 mezcals)")
4326 W. Sunset

El Carmen ("In the red glow of the atmospheric lighting ... reading the list of tequilas -- for the uninitiated -- might be like being blindfolded, handed a stick and asked to swing at a piñata. It can lead some down the path of blended margaritas.")
8138 W Third St
(323) 852-1552

L'Scorpion ("[the bartender] picked out several of his favorites to try, including snifters of Don Julio 1942 añejo, Don Eduardo reposado and a Casa Noble blanco -- all half price for happy hour.")
6679 Hollywood Blvd.
(323) 464-3026

The Spanish Kitchen
("started a "Tequila School" tasting club last year.")
826 N. La Cienega
(310) 659-4794


Great story! I recently caught the tequila bug after attending a three-hour crash course last fall. My friends think I'm a "tequila snob" now and I'm totally fine with that. Ed and I are going to do the Spanish Kitchen class--I love that restaurant! Ole!

said by Acme Instant Food at 11:38 AM Delete

They do lose points for listing Pink Taco. I hate them. But awesome subject and coverage otherwise! By you and by the article!

said by Demery at 12:47 PM Delete

I read your post and then found myself ordering a margarita in Telluride, Colorado. Of course I asked them what kind of tequila they had. I ordered my margarita straight up just as you suggested. It was fab! Picture coming your way!

said by Sharon at 6:57 PM Delete

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