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Food for Thought

Wine pairings are so 2009: You'd better sake, tequila or bourbon it

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Why not a tequila pairing? Courtesy of Cyclone Anaya's
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Or a Burbon one?
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It will fit with the food at the Strip House. Courtesy of Jack Thompson Photography
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Bacon Salad at Strip House Courtesy of Jack Thompson Photography

Remember when we used to get all dressed up for a wine dinner at some nice restaurant? Salivating at the thought of pairing the lump crab cake appetizer with a 2004 Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc, wondering what sparkling wine we would start with.

Ha. That’s so 2009.

We rarely roll out of bed for wine pairings anymore. But throw a bourbon dinner, beer tasting or tequila pairing and we’re there with bells on.

That’s the latest trend sweeping the city. Maybe it has to do with the fact that wine bars are out and cocktail bars are in. Whatever, it’s all about the hard stuff these days.

Houston Chowhounds threw a bourbon throwdown at Branch Water Tavern this summer and now Strip House is having a bourbon dinner July 22 with Woodford Reserve bourbon-infused cocktails for each of the five courses. (Cost is $85 per person).

“Unlike most menus pairing different styles of wine, spirit or beer, the challenge here was to take the same spirit, Woodford Reserve Bourbon, and build an infused cocktail tasting to work with our Strip House flavors,” explains executive chef John Schenk. “It was a tasty challenge, of which I remember most of the process.” Um, yeah, that’s how we cook, too. Apparently Schenk and general manager Chris Fannin had a fine old time mapping out the menu then creating bourbon-based cocktails to go with it.

“Whether it was ginger and lemon bridging the fresh crab and summer corn salad or looking at classic pairing like mint with the roast lamb chops,” Schenk says, “we created a bold and broad cocktail dining event.”

But it’s not just bourbon getting the pairings these days.

Over at Cyclone Anaya’s it’s all about tequila pairings. And the eateries have just started table-side tequila service. “There’s always a wave of excitement that comes over oneself when a live demonstration is performed at arm’s length, and we wanted to bring some fun to the table,” Rico Valencia, owner of Cyclone Anaya’s, says.

So watch the mixologist arrive at your table with a special tray and whip up some classic Paloma margaritas, with fresh lime, fresh ruby red grapefruit, fresco and garnished with berries; or a sweeter version, the Cyclone’s hibiscus margarita, made with hibiscus juice, fresh lemon juice and garnished with seasonal fruit.

Having your own rita bartender will set you back $75, but it’s great fun for a special meal.

“These days tequila is far removed from its old reputation of just a shot to get happy on,” Cyclone’s executive chef Jason Gould says.

“The process of making fine-aged tequila is just as involving as a fine wine or Cognac so why not treat it as one? To me tequila screams summer so what better way to showcase it than with summer flavors.”

His pairing suggestions are tomatoes and cucumbers fresh from the garden, seafood ceviche with the lime and chilies, marinated meats cooked over mesquite and citrus flavored desserts. All of which go really well with a smooth tequila, whether a Sliver, Anejo, Reposado or a single barrel tequila.

And while Raku and Ra have had sake pairings with sushi and traditional Japanese foods, Central Market is kicking it up a notch by pairing sake like Organic Ginjo (Junmai) with chicken quesadillas and spicy salsa. Seriously.

You can check it out July 28 at 6:30 p.m. when the cooking school hosts Liloa Papa, saké expert and Western Regional Manager of SakéOne. He’ll be on hand to explain how the rice wine is traditionally made and the 200-year-old tradition of handcrafting saké at the Momokawa Brewing Co., and the Kura in Oregon, which crafts the finest sake made in America.

Tickets are $55 and seating is limited, but hey, who can pass up the chance to pair Organic Nigori with pasta and tomatoes or with chicken thighs stuffed with goat cheese.

Other restaurants have offered beer and vodka pairings (and why have I not been invited to those soirees?). So what’s next? Indian cuisine paired with gin cocktails? Maybe an absinthe dinner of French cuisine? I’m game.

And if anyone out there does Champagne pairing with, well, anything, I dang well better get invited.

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