My Favorite New Year’s Resolution

| December 29, 2011 | 0 Comments

by David Rottenberg

The New Year is right around the corner. The sound of the falling ball in Times Square is echoed shortly thereafter by the sounds of falling resolutions, promises to oneself made in good faith but which often can’t endure in the glare of real life.

There are a couple of resolutions that I work hard to keep, though. These go to my core – they are that important to me. The first is — “be good to myself.” That means that I don’t beat myself up about events that I cannot control. The second – “get more out of life.” That means that I try to be really aware of my world and environment to find something every day that offers me joy. In particular, I love exploration and the thrill of discovery — a new piece of music, a new dish, a new friend, a new place to visit, and so on.

When it comes to restaurants, I really love finding great places to dine that may be off the beaten track, not “in your face” on tourist row. That is one of my favorite and most ardently kept resolutions. That was the thrill I felt, long ago, when I first dined at El Agave Tequileria & Restaurant in Old Town.

It was a discovery because El Agave is not located in the cluster of restaurants but on the fringes of Old Town, near the exit to Highway 5. It is on the second floor of the building, above a liquor store and next door to a chiropractic office. Blink and you could miss it. Discover it and get set for outstanding and innovative Mexican food that can be combined with the pleasures of one of the finest collections of tequila in our city.

Just like cognac is named for the Cognac region of France, there is now a town called Tequila in the Mexican state of Jalisco, although the town came after the drink. The liquor is made the agave plant, which grows in the region, and the better tequilas are made from the “blue” plant variety. Most tequila is produced in only four states of Mexico.

The Aztecs fermented the agave and called the drink “pulque,” but the Spanish conquistadors distilled the liquid, creating North America’s first distilled liquor. Mass production began in 1600, over 400 years ago.

El Agave is a terrific place to learn about tequila. It really is a drink to sip slowly, to allow the aromas and tastes to flow over the palate. The interior of the restaurant has a sense of elegance. Lighting reflects off copper chargers, temporary place settings, and crystalline bottles containing many varieties of each class of the liquor.

Guests don’t come for the view. There is none. They do come for the tequila and for the cuisine. The sign on top of the roof calls it “nouvelle Mexican cuisine.” I feel it is more of a throwback to truly unique, traditional Hispanic recipes. If you think that Mexican cuisine is all about tacos and enchiladas, you’re in for a very pleasant surprise.

Mexico has a delicious and fascinating gastronomical variety that resulted from the merging of two cultures – the indigenous Aztec and the conquering Spanish. The conquistadors learned about the use of tortillas, tamales, string beans, cactus paddles, tomato, aromatic herbs, avocado, spices, fruits, moles, vegetable oils, mushrooms, peanuts, chili and the correct use of fats and incorporated these condiments into their diets to create something new and wonderful. The spirit of such recipes is found at El Agave.

The restaurant also features a choice of moles. Most American know guaca “mole,” made of avocado and often served alone with chips or on a salad. “Mole poblano” is also well known, made of dried chile peppers, ground nuts and, spices, Mexican chocolate, and a variety of other ingredients. These are sauces that add taste and sometimes “fire” to a dish. The menu at El Agave offers an opportunity to try different moles (pronounced moh-lay), including Mole Rojo, made from chile pasilla, ancho, guajillo, pepper and clover, and Mole Verde, made from tomatillo, chile de agua, chile serrano, epazote, hierba santa, chochoyotes (corn masa), both moles served over chicken or pork with white rice.

The menu is extensive, offering seafood, fowl and meats. My appetizer, Sopecitos de Camarón, a thick and doughy blue corn tortilla stuffed with cooked shrimp in a chipotle sauce and lettuce was as outstanding as the menu promised.  The entrée, Pierna de Cerdo en Pistache,  leg pork baked in a chile with ancho, celery, garlic, sesame seed and pistachio, was a substantial serving of meat covered with a tangy and absolutely delightful sauce.

El Agave Tequileria is an absolute gem that requires diners to look for it but the rewards of discovery are great. Good tequila is a sipping drink, to be savored and enjoyed in good company and with fine food. The cuisine is unusual and very enjoyable. Prices are moderate to high but well worth the pleasure.

El Agave Tequileria is located at 2304 San Diego Avenue, near to Highway 5’s exit to Old Town. Call 619-220-0692 for information and reservations.

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