I am still getting used to the idea of spirit-forward cocktails. They're just not the kind of drinking that most of us, who generally prefer that our liquor be obscured by overly-sweet juices and other mixers, are used to. When you first start drinking, potency is more important than flavor. As you start to drink better cocktails, though, you often find yourself wishing for a little more balance of both.
At Victor Tangos, the Buen Viver perfectly toes the line between booziness and nuanced flavor. Often, the booze used in spirit-forward cocktails is so prominent that delicate flavors are completely overwhelmed. With the Buen Vivir, though, it seems almost as if the components are holding hands singing "We Are The World" or something. The marriage of flavors is so perfect that you want to punch it, sort of like the overly-cute newlyweds on your Facebook feed.
Tequila-based cocktails tend to be limited to margaritas and other libations with Southwestern flavors, but as the spirit becomes even trendier, you're starting to see it in more innovative applications. Reposado blanco tequila is a much more flavorful base for a cocktail than vodka, and less botanical and overpowering with gin. When stirred with equally great components, it's hard to deny that tequila is one of the most versatile spirits behind the bar.
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The Buen Vivir is made with reposado tequila, grapefruit liqueur, a healthy dash of Campari, and grapefruit oils freshly squeezed from a warmed rind. Grapefruit liqueur, or pamplemousse if you're fancy, is an entirely underrated addition to your drinking repertoire. It is sweet, mildly bitter, and perfect with all those fresh Ruby Red grapefruits that are abundant in Dallas. Mixed with Campari and tequila, though, this liqueur takes a cocktail to a whole 'nother level.
The resulting drink, created by restaurant manager Matt Ragan, is certainly strong and boldly flavored. So much so that the server felt it necessary to warn that the Buen Vivir is "spirit forward," and a "pretty bitter drink." Doesn't bother me any, but I'd guess that a few patrons have sent this one back, turning their noses up at a cocktail that is already bitter on just the first whiff.
That was fine of course -- I'm growing up, after all -- but I wondered if the Dallas palate is so wimpy that it can't handle a strong drink that isn't served in a shot glass. Maybe it's because the folks who come to Victor Tangos get the same drink every time they come, maybe a Victor Tango or a Pepper Smash, both of which are incredibly drinkable, and not even remotely interesting.
The standards all well-made with fresh ingredients, but you really need to get adventurous at Victor Tangos. It is cocktails like the Buen Vivir that make this bar program really special, arguably one of the best in town. They're not pretentious or confusing, but you can have an incredibly solid drink that isn't boring or overwrought. At $10, it's also pretty damn affordable. There's not much more you can ask for when you're still figuring out exactly what you like.