Chalk Talk: Patrón Secret Dining Society in Dallas

The marketers of Patrón tequila were in Dallas last week to create more than an alcoholic buzz, they hosted a super secret dinner prepared by Tre Wilcox to a limited number of diners. Since they invited every news organization in town the supper wasn’t too secret, but the 25 or so non-newsy people who attended followed a series of texts to find their place at the table. Patron is roaming the country staging similar events. Andrew Chalk attended the dinner. Rave on.

Patrón Tequila certainly tests the mettle of its fans. Last week, they challenged them to solve a perplexing riddle in order to be told, roughly, “Go to the junction of I-35 and Oak Lawn at 6:45pm and await a text giving you your final destination of the Patrón Secret Dining Society. Only the intellectually astute got through to where their education probably left them wondering: Why, when the heroes of classical mythology got sent to exotic locations for solving riddles, did I get to be sent here? What would Odysseus do? Camp out under the I-35 overpass? At least Scylla (a six-headed monster that Homer never described as ‘cuddly’) would not have followed. [ed. note: huh?]

A text message directed the patrons the final few hundred yards – down Oak Lawn to an unnoteworthy office park where a unit has been turned into The Apartment. Not an apartment, The Apartment. You can’t just take your 2 bedroom, throw away the beer cans, and claim you have recreated this place. Oh no. The Apartment is full of chic furniture and a décor befitting a place in the trendy Design District.

Trendy on the inside.
Details: The Apartment – Cool Venue With a Year’s Supply of Toilet Tissue.
Tequila Blurs Reality: Patrón marshaled us in the reception area with the lure of a cocktail named Forbidden Apple (Patrón Silver, Unfiltered Apple Juice, Ginger Liqueur, Velvet Falernum.)
To satisfy the stomach where was Tuna Tartare, prepped small dice and served atop avocado puree, radish and fresh cilantro. All of this was posed in one of those large spoons allowing one to eat it in one gulp and then discard the spoon.

At this point we still didn’t really know the purpose of this society so I hunted down Pam Dzierzanowski, event director for Patrón tequila, for an explanation (video below).

She stressed the events were all about brand awareness. Patrón is cool/hip/edgy (and all other euphemisms born from ‘groovy’), mixable in cocktails, and it goes with food. That explained the choice of location, the hiring of celebrity chef Tre Wilcox (Executive Chef of Loft610) to prepare those hors d’Oeuvres and a five course meal, mixologist Kevin Nickens (wine and cocktail guy at Loft610) to design and prepare cocktails to go with each course and a top DJ to make sound throughout.

Four local artists were also showcased. Cassandra MacGregor makes hats in Oak Cliff. How would you show these off? In a case? On a mannequin? No. Get the waitstaff to wear them.

f. is for frank is not just a grammatical abomination, its clever, quirky jewelry and accessories made by Shannah Frank and Casey Melton on Manufacturing St. (just missed being called Riverfront St.) in Dallas. They made the pewter place card holders. Mine was a dressed turkey with a slot in its back. The person next to me had an apple pie, complete with straps of pastry on top.

Pewter place card holders.

Bill Gerton provided large abstract paintings for the bleach white walls of The Apartment and Dowdy Studio provided custom T-shirts.

The first course cocktail was Grapefruit Breeze (Patrón  Reposado, Patrón  Citronge, Fresh Grapefruit, Lemon Juice, Black Raspberry Liqueur). As delivered, this separated into two pink layers with a thin liquid layer on top and a more pulpy one down below. I sipped it and wondered if the two needed to be stirred together as the fruit was not very intense. Mixing did not help. I would like Kevin to use cryo techniques to concentrate grapefruit juice and then add the concentrate back to the other ingredients. That might be one helluva fix as well as making Kevin Nickens the Ferran Adria of Frisco, TX. Patrón Citronge is an orange liqueur, although details are hard to find. Since Patrón lists it with their tequilas on their web site I presume that the base alcohol is tequila. This cocktail was matched with Bacon Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp, Jalapena Jack Cheese Grits with Patrón Tequila Lime Sauce.

The second course cocktail was Mint Fresh (Patrón Reposado, Lemon Wedges, Mint, Brandy, Orgeat Syrup, Soda). Kevin explained that this was inspired by the Cuban Mojito. The tequila provided a firm base that offset the sweetness in the syrup, preventing this becoming cloying. It was served with Grilled Wild King Salmon, Yukon Gold Potatoes, Asparagus, Citrus, Olives. The salmon was cooked so that the exterior was a crisp crusty layer that looked as rustic as a 1000 year old building. The interior was succulent and still orangey-pink. Tre explained that it had been only seasoned and pan-seared (no soaking, sous vide, poach or other preparation). It was a steelhead from the Pacific Northwest. The asparagus was cut on the, now obligatory, long ways-ply and coiled on the plate in a fashionable DNA Helix configuration.

For the third course cocktail we had near perfection in a martini glass. The Ginger Cup (Patrón Silver, Ginger Liqueur, Lime Juice, Simple Syrup and a Splash of Soda) kept the ginger in check so that it was just a hint in the flavor profile. The lime juice enlivened the drink and the un-aged tequila gave it an earthy kick. The Pan-Seared Pork Tenderloin, Ginger Parsnip Puree, Spicy Sesame Glaze used the parsnips as a substitute starch for potatoes. I just wish I had more of it!

The fourth course cocktail was Pomegranate Splash (Patrón Añejo, Patrón XO Café and Pomegranate Liqueur). Patrón XO Café is a coffee liqueur based on tequila. It dominated the taste. I could not taste the pomegranate but it appeared to have contributed its red hue to the color. We ate Kobe Beef Short Ribs, Smoked Cheddar Bread Pudding, Grilled Jicama Slaw. The firm sinews of the beef were richly flavored and this was a popular dish.

The final course was dessert, The cocktail was named Café Affair (Patrón  Añejo, Patrón  XO Café, Patrón Citronge, Amaretto, Dark Chocolate Liqueur, Milk, Garnished with Heavy Cream). From the list of ingredients one might think that this was the kitchen sink of cocktails but it was coffee and cream that predominated. It went well with the Red Chili-Lime Panna Cotta, Grilled Pineapple and Strawberry Foam. This was the first time I have had panna cotta streaked with hot chilies. It works because of the heat dispersive properties of the fat in the panna cotta. The cocktail had the heavy cream layered on top, so it helped as well.

Only 25 or so lucky winners managed to get to this dinner. From what I heard, they left feeling well satisfied. The questions now are: Will they make their cocktails with Patrón tequila? Will they drink Patrón with food? Will they be able to find their way home? I think Patrón proved their first point. Their tequila is versatile enough to be used in many types of cocktail. Certainly, the range of flavors in tequilas from Silver (aka Blanco) through to Añejo (oak aged for at least one year), give it an advantage over market leading spirit vodka but it remains to be seen whether recent sales growth (5%-10% per year) among premium tequilas can be maintained. As for tequila with food: It doesn’t clash, but I need to do more experimenting before I decide that it is preferable to wine.