2011 International
Food & Wine Festival

Tequila Lunch Pairing

Review by Debra Martin Koma
Senior Editor, AllEars.Net


Sunday, October 2, 2011
1 p.m.
at La Hacienda di San Angel
Mexico Pavilion

Hilda Castillo


Welcome Rosita Margarita

Ceviche Verde
Scallops marinated in salsa verde, served with avocado and crispy shredded carrot
-- Paired with Milagro Select Barrel Silver Tequila

Sope de Chilorio and Empanada
Chile ancho marinated shredded pork and black beans over a sope. Empanada stuffed with traditional Mexican cheese, topped with cream and salsa verde.
-- Paired with Centenario Reposada Tequila

Grilled Tilapia and Pork in Mole Negro
Adobo marinated tilapia over grilled vegetables. Pork with home-made mole negro sauce over esquites (roasted corn)
-- Paired with Chinaco Anejo Tequila

Tamal de Dulce
Sweet tamal filled with guava, topped with strawberry coulis
-- Paired with Agavero Tequila Liqueur

Tequila Lunch at La HaciendaOne of the things I enjoy the most about Epcot's annual Food and Wine Festival is the chance to step outside my culinary comfort zone and try things that I otherwise might avoid or ignore. Whenever there's a new festival offering, I sign up right away, as I did this year for the festival's new Tequila Lunch Pairing, set in the beautiful waterfront restaurant in the Mexico pavilion, La Hacienda de San Angel. The official description said only that this new program would be a tequila tasting that would "complement a selected Mexican regional cuisine," so I wasn't sure quite what to expect. I assumed that it would be similar to the tequila tastings offered inside the Mexico pavilion at La Cava del Tequila, but with the addition of food. My guess was both right and wrong. The tasting portion of the experience WAS similar to the Tequila Tasting (see my review from 2009 HERE), but was made so much more enjoyable with the addition of wonderful dishes prepared by La Hacienda's Chef Ernesto and his team.

I arrived at La Hacienda a bit early for lunch, and was greeted cheerfully, checked in, and told to return about 10 minutes before the 1 p.m. start time. When I came back at 12:45, I was allowed to enter the restaurant's lobby to wait in the air conditioning, then was welcomed with one of the restaurant's signature margaritas, the Rosita, which is made with El Mayor premium silver tequila, orange liqueur, fresh lime juice, rose infusions, and served on the rocks with a hibiscus Himalayan salt rim. As pretty to look at as it was delicious to drink!
Tequila Lunch at La Hacienda
We were eventually directed to take our seats in the beautiful dining area, overlooking World Showcase Lagoon. Seating was for 53 that day (I was told capacity for the program would have been 54) and I felt we were a little too tightly packed in -- which in fact led to me knocking over a glass of the pre-poured tequila as I attempted to take a photo. (How embarrassing! I hadn't even had a drink yet!) Servers quickly came to my rescue, however, and poured me a fresh glass, so that I wouldn't miss out on any of the tasting.

The tables were accented with plates of aromatics, which I knew from the tequila tasting I'd attended previously we'd be using as we sampled each of the three tequilas in front of us: Blanco, also called Silver, aged no more than three months; Reposado (Rested), aged two months up to a year; and Anejo (Aged), aged generally up to three years, but sometimes even longer. Also at each place setting were a small bottle of water to help us clear our palates in between each drink, and a shot glass filled with what I later learned was a tequila liqueur.

Tequila Lunch at La Hacienda
Tequila Lunch at La Hacienda

Presenter for this session was Hilda Castillo, who is not only tequila expert, but is actually from Tequila, Mexico, where, she claims, they have 23 different distributors of the potent drink. As she did when I attended her tequila tasting two years ago, she walked us through a brief history of the liquor, describing the differences among the three types of tequila, and how it varies from its close relation, mezcal, which is most famous for featuring a worm or scorpion in the bottom of its bottle.

With each of the tequilas, Hilda instructed us on the proper way to taste -- first by observing the color, then by swirling it in the glass to note its body, then by smelling in three different sections of the glass: at the edge closest to you, then in the middle of the glass, then at the edge farthest away. We were then directed to take one of the aromatics (first lime with the Blanco, then cinnamon stick with the Reposado, then coffee beans with the Anejo) to get the scent of what we should be detecting in the tequila. After tasting each tequila, Hilda then brought out Chef Ernesto, who briefly described the accompanying course that as Hilda explained, would represent, "like Mickey and Minnie, the perfect union between food and tequila."

Tequila Lunch at La Hacienda
Tequila Lunch at La Hacienda

The first course, Ceviche Verde, was a delicious blend of tender scallops marinated in salsa verde, with crispy shredded carrot on the side for us to garnish the dish to our taste. The spice in the salsa brought out the spiciness of the Blanco tequila, which also had a distinct citrus note, especially when tasted after handling the lime rind. Interestingly, when sipped alone the Blanco virtually set my mouth on fire, but when tasted along with the ceviche it seemed much tamer, perhaps a result of the calming avocado in the dish.

Tequila Lunch at La Hacienda
Tequila Lunch at La Hacienda


The Ceviche was followed by two tapas-sized appetizers, a Sope de Chilorio and a cheesy Empanada. The shredded pork on a sope was a bit too big to pop into your mouth in one bite, yet was also difficult to cut, making it hard to eat. I didn't care for it as much as its dish-mate, the empanada. Made with traditional Mexican cheese (manchego), and topped with cream and salsa verde, this savory little morsel brought out the cinnamon, and even vanilla, notes of the reposada tequila nicely. Of the three tequilas, I found this to be my favorite.

Our following course actually featured samples of two La Hacienda entrees: Grilled Tilapia and Pork in Mole Negro. The tilapia, which had been marinated in adobo (a sauce usually made of paprika, oregano, salt, garlic, and vinegar), was served over grilled vegetables. It was moist and flavorful, and had none of the aftertaste I often associate with that fish. The dish went well with the smooth, amber-hued Anejo tequila, but it was the pork with mole that really tickled my tastebuds. I'd enjoyed this dish when I first dined at La Hacienda back in May, and it was every bit as good as I remembered it. The rich chocolate taste of the savory sauce really brought out the coffee accents of the Anejo tequila -- I'd call this pairing a definite success.

Tequila Lunch at La Hacienda
Rosita Margarita

I hadn't really expected a dessert course, but sure enough, we were treated to one. Chef Ernesto brought out a colorful Tamal de Dulce -- a very sweet tamal filled with very sweet guava, topped with a peachy-pink strawberry coulis. This course was paired with a tequila-flavored liqueur called Agavero. For me, it was all just too much sugar, so I couldn't finish either the tamal or the liqueur, but others around me seemed to enjoy both. In any case, it was a nice finishing touch, and while I might have preferred a different dessert, it was definitely a nice way to end the program, which wrapped up just after 2 p.m., even though it was billed as having a 2:30 p.m. end time.

Yes, that's right, I said 2 p.m. The entire session had lasted just over an hour, which brings me to my only real complaint. The whole experience crammed far too much into too short a time. I for one did not drink all of my margarita, nor all the tequila samples, nor the liqueur, but those who had, had consumed quite a lot of alcohol in a very concentrated amount of time. In addition, we were really whisked through the courses, which was a shame, as the food was very good and I would have liked to have savored it a bit longer. I really think that if the pairing had been allowed to continue for the full 90 minutes, it would have been a much more enjoyable experience... plus we would have time to absorb all that alcohol a bit more before being rushed out again into the bright Florida sun.

But that is my only negative criticism of the lunch. Overall, I found the Tequila Lunch Pairing to not only be quite informative, but a terrific value at $65. The tequila tasting over at La Cava costs $45, whereas at La Hacienda for just $20 more you are treated to the same three tequilas, along with four very nicely prepared courses, plus your welcome margarita and your after-dinner liqueur. Quite a bargain. Should they offer this program again next year, I will definitely consider trying it again (I just hope that now that I've pointed out what a bargain it is, they don't increase the price!).


Mexico Tequila Lunch

These tastings will complement a selected Mexican regional cuisine, and offer Festival guests the opportunity to learn more about tequila and spirits.

Where: La Hacienda de San Angel, Mexico Pavilion at Epcot
When: Saturdays and Sundays, 1 to 2:30 p.m. - October 22 SOLD OUT
Price: $65