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Monday, April 18, 2011

Tequila and Tamales by the Bay: Too Good to Pound

Posted By on Mon, Apr 18, 2011 at 4:38 PM

click to enlarge The Whole Tortilla picked up the People's Choice Award. - MARIA ANTONIETA SOLORZANO
  • Maria Antonieta Solorzano
  • The Whole Tortilla picked up the People's Choice Award.
Around 300 people breezed about the sunny atrium at San Francisco Design Center Sunday, munching tamales and sipping from baby shot glasses of tequila. It was the fifth year of Benchmark Institute's fundraiser Tequila and Tamales by the Bay, the first year at this airy venue.

As one dour commenter noted on SFoodie's event preview, this is "a tequila tasting, not pounding shots like it's your 21st birthday," which ended up being more or less the case. Besides one woozy little lass who squeezed our arm 32 times, the early timeslot (noon to 4:30) and $50 price tag made for a crowd that kept only one sheet to the wind. It helped that the tequilas, largely from small-batch distilleries like all-organic Tequila Alquimia and Tequila El Relingo, had the depth and subtlety to warrant a slow savor.

The tamales also skewed toward small artisans like Alicia's Tamales, fresh off a successful Kickstarter run, and El Huarache Loco, the roving superstar that plans to open its first brick-and-mortar in July. While the Whole Tortilla walked away with the People's Choice Award, El Huarache Loco contributed SFoodie's top tamale of the day. Veronica Salazar's pleasantly springy masa sopped up a stellar, almond-based molé with rich hints of sesame, plantains, and pumpkin seeds. Honorable mention goes to Oakland's Cocina Poblana, whose spicy pork rib and salsa verde begged a second helping. Rancho Gordo's slow-cooked Zarco beans with a bit of celery, onion, and garlic, also deserve a shout-out as the day's finest nontamale fare.

The event featured little tables with jewelry, stoneware, and other giftables, vaguely resemblant of a Mexican street market (but without the hard sell). There were demonstrations and workshops throughout the day, showcasing regional tamale preparations and tequila distillations. Bartenders also butted heads at a multiround tequila throwdown, handily won by Brian Means, head mixologist at Chow. Means crafted a potent new drink for the occasion called "Council of Four," mixing Casa Noble Reposado tequila, Amontillado sherry, St. Germain elderflower, and lemongrass syrup.

New York refugee Jesse Hirsch tweets at @Jesse_Hirsch. Follow SFoodie at @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.

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