Behind the Bar with Brandon Skaggs: The Cesar

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Tequila is big business. Worldwide sales exceed 10 million cases a year, and the US consumes about half of those. That explains how Don Julio / Diageo could afford to host a four-course dinner at Cortez (550 Geary) for local food writers featuring tequila cocktails invented by mixologist Brandon Skaggs and dishes created by chef Jenn Puccio.

The idea was to promote cocktail pairing along the lines of wine pairing. With one big exception, that didn't work for me. The food was great--particularly squash ravioli with smoked brussels sprouts and a crispy Kurobuta pork belly, both on the regular dinner menu--but the drinks were too sweet to go with it. I'd have preferred the tequilas straight, or better yet a few glasses of dry wine from the restaurant's excellent list.

The exception was the Cesar, Skaggs's radical, jalapeño- and cilantro-spiked variation on a Margarita. This not only paired well with various appetizers: it was one of the most delicious cocktails I've ever had. The drink is $11 at the bar. For the next couple of weeks, order one and you can get one of the snacks from the Bar Bites menu for another $2.

The recipe in the press handout was clearly wrong--the drink didn't include Grand Marnier, and six slices of jalapeño would have made it too spicy--so I visited Skaggs recently to get the real recipe, as well as a video demonstration of its preparation.

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The Cesar Cocktail
1-1/2 oz. Don Julio Blanco (or similar 100% agave "white" tequila)
juice of 1/2 lime
1 slice jalapeño (about 3/8")
a few cilantro leaves
1/2 oz. Partida or similar agave nectar, preferably 100% blue agave

Add the tequila, lime juice, jalapeño. and cilantro to a shaker and muddle. Add the agave nectar, fill shaker with ice, cover, and shake vigorously until the agave nectar is entirely dissolved. Pass through a tea strainer into a martini glass.

You can find agave nectar at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Rainbow Grocery, Bi-Rite, and Bevmo, among other places. Skaggs uses Happy Girl Kitchen pickled peppers.


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