It's the blue volcanic soil in the Mexican state of Jalisco that creates the perfect conditions for the blue agave plant to grow. After about five years of enduring a dearth of beatings from the sun, agaves sprout a quiote, a large stem that protrudes from the core, piña, which can grow more than 15 feet high. Often agave farmers cut the stalk because it saps the energy from the piña.
If the quiote were left to rise, a flower would bloom at the top, which would then be pollinated by bats. Shortly after, the plant dies.
Fortunately for tequila drinkers, the quiote is cut and the agave marinates in the rich and sandy soils for up to 15 years. Then the piña is harvested by slicing off its thick pointy leaves with a spade-like shovel.
The essence of finding bottle of tequila that suits your palate is similar to that of a bottle of wine: The subtle flavors are determined by the soil the piña was grown in. Then, of course, it's off to the distiller whose use of varied processes for distilling and aging the final product are what make each bottle unique.
The owners of Lazaranda, the modern Mexican kitchen in Addison, are more than familiar with all these intricacies. Because of this, they keep bottles of Patrón slightly out of sight in hopes they can introduce customers to new brands of estate-grown agaves that are unquestionably the pride and joy of Mexico.
"If customers want to shoot tequila, then we have the stuff for that," says Doug Wright, general manager at Lazaranda. "But if customers want to enjoy tequila the same way they sip scotch or whiskey, with that same level of appreciation, then we would love to help them with that too."
One of Wright's favorite tequilas is a Herradura reposado that the owners of Lazaranda had double barreled after hand-selecting it while visiting the distillery in Mexico. Lazaranda now has a limited quantity of bottles. (And it was, hands-down, the smoothest tequila, or liquor for that matter, I've ever sipped.)
This trend is part of an emerging new appreciation for tequilas. Wright sees a lot of his customers slowing down to enjoy tequila by sipping it from snifters. Recently, they hosted a tequila dinner that sold out; they're hosting another one this week and hope to make them a regular monthly affair.
"The cheap tequilas have a lot of additives, but a good tequila is actually great for digestion," Wright says. "We really want to teach people how not to drink tequila."
Lazaranda's chef, Antonio Marquez, originally from Mexico, attended culinary school at Le Pot au Feu and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. He partnered with Mario Letayf in 2003 and together they opened four restaurants in Monterrey. Lazaranda is their first restaurant in the U.S.
When Lazaranda opened last year, Marquez and Letayf wanted to bring authentic Mexican dishes that aren't typically found on menus, like ceviches that vary from state to state. But they also wanted to help reshape the image of tequila.
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The tequila selection is enhanced by the from-scratch margaritas at Lazaranda. Recently Wright created a mint cucumber margarita made with a simple syrup, fresh mint and muddled cucumbers that float in small chunks just below the ice. Wright adds juice from fresh Key limes, which he prefers for the acidity and flavor.
The rim of the margarita glass is adorned with Tajín seasoning, which contrasts sharply with the subtle flavors and blanco tequila. The mint is trace and the cucumber is hardly discernible, and together they produce a fantastic margarita.
When asked about some of his favorite tequilas, Wright likes Ambar, an añejo that's aged in Jack Daniel's barrels and Los Auzlejos, which he considers "one of the best that there is."
Tomorrow, chef Marquez, who travels back and forth between his restaurants in Mexico and Dallas, is hosting a Don Julio tequila dinner. The menu includes sope with spicy sautéed shrimp, sopa de fideo with goat cheese, black bean froth and fried cilantro, grilled Chilean sea bass with creamy potato and pasilla puree with a lobster and vanilla sauce, and chocolate Napoleon for dessert. Seats are $34.95. Call 972-866-8900 for reservations.