Mid-City: Tequila, Mezcal and Sotol at El Carmen- Oh My!
El Carmen is one of LA’s oldest restaurants. It opened as a Mexican restaurant in 1929. Its most recent owner turned it into a hip bar with a Mexican wrestler theme. I remember going in every now and then and having some tequila infused with pineapple that sits on the bar. Perhaps I’d order one of the drinks but usually would go for tequila on the rocks next. It wasn’t exactly known for cocktails. But all that has changed now with the new head bartender, Gilbert Marquez.
Gilbert who is also a brand ambassador for Ilegal Mezcal has turned the beverage program around. He’s worked at Orange County’s 320 Main and then honed his skills at Atlanta’s Holeman & Finch. He brings a blend of craft cocktail knowledge with a Latin agave spirits focus.
For my opening drink, he asked if I wanted something aromatic or citrus-based. I usually would go for something boozy but decided to go the opposite direction this night. The first drink arrived with the most adorable muddler. The wooden stick is usually used to stir honey. My refreshing cocktail of Ilegal Mezcal, lime, grapefruit, agave and chili tanjin was topped with good ol’ Tecate. Gilbert’s garnish game is pretty tight too with a long spiral of orange zest and the aforementioned muddler.
Next Gilbert thought I’d like his variation of an Aviation but with tequila of course. The result was soft, mellow and entirely too drinkable. It went down so fast. Maybe I should rethink this citrus-based drinks business.
Well then, let’s do a sotol taste test. I hadn’t tried sotol before seeing its tequila and now mezcal cousins are more popular. But if you find it, give it a try. It’s very herbaceous and has a rather wet lettuce taste. Gilbert thought it’d be great in place of Gin in a Last Word since the sotol would play well with the Chartreuse. Next time.
I tend not to get margaritas unless I know they’ll be made with fresh juice. Naturally I trusted Gilbert when he handed me his stirred margarita. I thought it was a party trick but the result was smooth, almost like an old fashioned. Sure, there was still a hint of citrus and you get a hit of sweet rush from the Mexican Limon 7 salt and lemon candy rimmed glass but this was really unlike any margarita I ever had. I liked it a lot.
And a night wouldn’t have been complete without Ilegal Mezcal shots served in natural gourds with orange slices and a chili worm salt.
© The Minty 2013