All Tequila, All the Time
Merrill Shindler - September 2013
Los Angeles—For most of us, Tequila is the quirky Mexican spirit made from a giant cactusy thing that gives Margaritas their kick. For John Sedlar—the father of Nouvelle Southwestern Cuisine—it’s a holy sacrament. “It’s always been beyond a drink to me,” says Sedlar, who, in the 1990s, helped Seagram create an extensive education program on Tequila. “There’s an amazing connection to Jalisco, the Mexican state where the agave grows. In no other spirit can you so totally taste the minerals, the volcanic soil, the heat in the air, the very heart of the agave. Tequila—especially fine Tequila—is a fiesta in your mouth. You drink it, and you can’t ignore its roots. You drink it—and you’ve got to fasten your seatbelt for the ride.”
Sedlar doesn’t just experience Tequila as a passenger. He’s in the driver’s seat of the Tequila experience, as the owner of a rancho of blue agave in Jalisco’s Tequila region. The agave grows slowly; Sedlar doesn’t expect to release his first bottles of Tequila blanco till 2016. In the meantime, he has the rights to the complete (and very limited) output of an artisanal distiller in the town of Arandas, in the Jalisco highlands. The Tequila is “extra añejo”—and offered by the sip poured from French crystal decanters with an Italian-made stopper in the Sangre Room of his Rivera restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. The bottles are kept under lock and key in a private members-only Tequila wall. You can’t just belly up the bar, with its dozens of bottles of Tequila, and order a shot.
But you can get a taste if you opt for Sedlar’s Tequila tasting menu, called “The Hallucination.” It’s a five course exercise in Tequila obsession, with each course paired with cocktails by Sedlar, along with mixologists Julian Cox, Julian Wayser, and Eric Alperin. The dishes run from a maize cornet with crab salad and chipotle crema to an agave roasted duck with a lamb chop and sous-vide nopales. But it’s the sensory finale that brings out the good stuff—a dish of a passion fruit cube, dark roasted coffee gelée, a pineapple chip, caramel—and Sedlar’s extra añejo Tequila.
Guests are encouraged to enhance their enjoyment of The Hallucination by calling a phone number, where they can listen to Sedlar tell tales of the legends and lore of Tequila. The restaurant has also arranged a special nightly rate at the nearby Ritz-Carlton, for those who have had a wee nip too many. And along with his long-planned Tamale Museum, Sedlar wants his Tequila hallucination to expand—with a Tequila symposium planned for the future…and a group trip with Sedlar to the Tequila region of Jalisco—to encounter The Hallucination in its lair—and see where it takes us.