Cinco de Mayo celebrations with Don Julio tequila

Don Julio at El Rey Mezcal

Cinco de Mayo is my favourite spring celebration because it’s all about brightness, joy, plus great food and drinks from the heart of Mexico.

Recently, Don Julio invited me to a get together at Toronto’s stunning El Rey for a chance to not only enjoy perfect tequila and cocktails, but some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten.

If you’re looking for dinner ideas, read on, and I also have three cocktail recipes courtesy of Don Julio further down. You can really get as fancy as you want, but I’ll be honest, for tequila, Don Julio Blanco is fantastic straight-up, or for something classier, Don Julio 1942 is exceptional just chilled in a glass.

The Dinner

Don Julio at El Rey Mezcal
Don Julio at El Rey Mezcal

Cocktail expert and Diageo Reserve brand ambassador, Simon Hooper hosted the evening, and we were joined by El Rey’s resident Bar Manager, Owen Walker, and executive chef Rodrigo Aguilar.

The food was not just authentic, but also creative and unmistakably like a home-made meal, which is the most important part of great Mexican food if you ask me.

We started with phenomenal jaiba y aguacate, which is fried blue soft shell crab that was coated in spices and served with a tangy avocado pureé, and chicatana ant mayonnaise with lime. Yes, ants, and it was utterly delicious.

Then there was incredible ceviche–tiradito de camaron y pepino–made with shrimp poached in citrus with cold cucumber sauce, and served with onions, jalapenos, and crispy tortilla chips.

Shrimp ceviche - tiradito de camaron y pepino
Shrimp ceviche – tiradito de camaron y pepino

For the main course, we had tacos served family style with chicken, pork, and lamb. The chicken was marinated in axiote paste and citrus juices, slow cooked, and so tender. But the confit pork butt was really my favourite (although the lamb shank was steamed in agave leaves).

Served with the most tender and perfect soft taco shells, there was also rice for the tacos, refried beans, guacamole, Pico de Gallo, and salsas.

Between courses, chef Aguilar also served us with a traditional Mexican snack, crispy cricket served with a sweet and savoury blend of flavours, including agave in honour of the tequila we were sampling. It was a complex, and frankly yummy treat that was unlike anything I’ve had before.

For dessert, we had an incredible merengue dish, made with cardamom, and it had white chocolate and hoja santa mousse, tamarind sauce, and tuna cactus.

While this was an exceptional and pretty fancy Mexican meal, I’d say that if you’re looking for something to make on Sunday, tacos can be as fancy or as casual as you like. Just make sure your ingredients are fresh and authentic and it will be incredible.

Thanks to Don Julio for the truly fantastic evening. And thanks to El Rey for the phenomenal cocktails and food.

Don Julio Cocktails

DON JULIO PALOMA

The Paloma variation is meant to highlight the brightness of Don Julio Blanco and showcase its ability to accentuate all types of citrus.  Our version of the classic effervescent grapefruit and tequila cocktail uses fresh citrus juices and a sherbet made with pink peppercorn and grapefruit juice and zest. Serves 1.

INGREDIENTS   

  • 1 ½ oz. Don Julio Blanco
  • ½ oz. Grapefruit Juice
  • ½ oz. Grapefruit Sherbet
  • ½ oz. Lime Juice
  • 1 ½ oz. Soda
  • Pink peppercorn
  • Strawberry and chilli salt

METHOD

Combine all ingredients except for soda in a shaker tin, shake for 30 seconds and strain into a glass that’s been half-rimed with salt and filled with ice. Top with soda and a grapefruit half-moon.

Grapefruit Sherbet

  • Zest of 1 grapefruit
  • Juice of 1 grapefruit
  • Equivalent amount of sugar to grapefruit juice by volume
  • 10 pink peppercorns

Add all ingredient to a pot and heat until sugar dissolves.  Allow to cool complete, then fine strain and use.

DON JULIO JALISCO EXPRESS

This drink is meant to support the fresh pineapple and bright pepper notes of the Don Julio Blanco. The simple cordial infuses the bright and aromatic Trinidad pepper with pineapple, lime skins and black peppercorn. The pop of cucumber helps tie the drink to the Tiradito. Serves 1.

INGREDIENTS  

  • 1 ½ oz. Don Julio Blanco
  • ½ oz. Trinidad Pepper
  • ½ oz. Lime
  • ½ oz. Black Pepper Cordial
  • ½ oz. Fresh Cucumber Juice
  • ½ oz. Fresh Lime
  • 1 ½ oz. Soda
  • Mint

METHOD

Combine all ingredients except for soda in a shaker tin, shake for 30 seconds and strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with soda. Garnish with a straw, a cucumber ribbon and a fresh mint tip.

Trinidad Pepper, Lime and Black Pepper Cordial

  • Zest of 3 limes
  • Juice of 3 lime
  • Equivalent amount of sugar to grapefruit juice by volume
  • 5 Black peppercorns
  • 2 Trinidad peppers

Add all ingredient to a pot and heat until sugar dissolves.  Allow to cool complete, then fine strain and use.

DON JULIO WHITE OAK RESTING POINT

This drink is meant to balance the ripe agave and caramel notes of the Reposado and also pull together some of the spices and warming flavours of Rodrigo’s main course offerings. The gusano salt and Guajillo chilis balance with pineapple gomme warming the palette, well the lime and house tepache add a wonderful brightness. Serves 1.

INGREDIENTS    

  • 1 ½ oz. Don Julio Resposado
  • ½ oz. Gusano and Pineapple Gomme
  • ½ oz. Lemon Juice
  • 1 ½ oz. Tepache Whole Foods
  • 2 Dashes Chocolate Bitters
  • Pinch of Ground Guaillo (Mexican/Latin store)
  • El Rey Tepache

METHOD

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. Shake for 30 seconds and strain into rocks glass on ice. Top with Sal de Gusano (worm salt).

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W. Andrew Powell lives, sleeps, eats, and breaths movies and entertainment. Since launching The GATE in 1999 Andrew has enjoyed being a pest to any publicist who would return his calls. In his "spare time," Andrew is also an avid photographer, and writes about leisure travel and hotels around the world.