Magic margaritas, es la pura verdad
Quick: Why do we celebrate Cinco De Mayo? If you thought “Mexican independence day” or anything other than the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla, you’re technically wrong. But we won’t hold that against you: It’s not an official holiday, and this ain’t Mexico, so more than anything else, it’s a damn good reason to have a margarita or two.”There’s several factors I believe are key in making a good margarita,” says Chris Assad, a bartender at dish! in Edwards. “I prefer reposado tequila – they’re the best because they’re more powerful. Whatever you get, make sure the bottle says 100 percent de agave. Fresh-squeezed sour mix is key. Also, I’m a firm believer that every margarita should be served shaken and straight up or on the rocks.”Assad knows from margaritas: He won Taste of Vail’s Battle of the Bar Chef’s Margarita Mix-Off with dish!’s Freakarita. He says the best margaritas are made from fresh ingredients and high-end tequilas rather than poured frozen from a Squishee machine.”The basic idea of the Freakarita was established when I got (to dish!), and I added watermelon, grapefruit, guava, kiwi – I basically squeezed every fresh fruit I could find,” Assad says. “By squeezing every fresh fruit I could find (the morning of the competition), I made sure all the sweetness came from the natural sugars in the fruits. There was no simple syrup.”Though opinions and tastes can vary, most margarita connoisseurs agree on a few principles to follow and pitfalls to watch out for.
“You definitely have to have fresh ingredients and at least a decent tequila,” says Lindsey Velez, also a bartender at dish!. “A lot of people get tripped up with the ratio of alcohol to mixers – if you don’t portion it out it can come too strong or too sour, which is the worst. I’d rather have too strong than too sour.”Assad has his own pet peeves with run-of-the-mill margaritas.”I’ve seen a lot of people get lazy, and they don’t shake it,” he says. “It should be shaken. The ice dilutes it to perfect drinking consistency. It’s also hard to find someone who’s willing to make fresh juice – they just mix tequila, triple sec and store-bought sour mix and call it a margarita, and the all-important freshness factor gets lost. It’s a time-consuming drink to make right, but we’re lucky enough (at dish!) to have the fresh juice we need.” Assad also has a clever trick he uses to resolve the “salt/no-salt” question posed to margarita drinkers.”A lot of people say ‘no’ to salt, but often they’ve never tried it before,” he says. “If you half-salt the rim, they have the option to try it out without ruining the drink.”
“I also believe too many margaritas come out sweet. As a bartender of fifteen years, I firmly believe margaritas should be tart.”While dish! and Assad have to wait for their Stanley-Cup style Taste of Vail trophy to get engraved, Assad has already moved on to his next margarita project.”My next margarita is going to be a ginseng-kiwi margarita,” he says. “It’s a nice trend to get into the medicinal cocktails – ginseng goes straight to the bloodstream and gives you a little kick. I’m also looking to do something ginger and gingko, but the ginseng-kiwi margarita has already passed the taste test.”Velez has her own ideas for tequila experimentation.”I’d like to try some infused tequilas that you make yourself,” she says. “Prickly pear is great with tequila, and papaya would be pretty good, too.”
If by chance you don’t have a taste for tequila, Velez and Assad have alternate suggestions for CInco de Mayo libations. Velez suggests the rum-based mojito or the cachaca-based Caipirinha, and while those drinks are Cuban and Brazilian, technically, they possess a refreshing kick perfect for a sunny May day.”Sangria is always a good way to go,” Assad says. “I spent a lot of time in New Mexico, and you see a lot of michilada, which is Mexican beer mixed with lime juice and salts. You could also just go with lots of good, spicy foods.”Assad and Velez suggest erring on the strong side when it comes to alcohol content, but be careful out there: Our high altitude might bring a case of Montezuma’s Revenge faster than you think.”Ever since I moved to this altitude I can’t drink more than one,” Velez says. “For some reason, it’s just stronger for me.”Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.