Special pairing dinners are a dime a dozen on the Strip. On any given night you might stumble across one of these events, the ones that require buying tickets ahead of time and indulging in several courses of fancy food carefully matched with wine or cocktails. If they sound a little stuffy, that’s because they usually are.
On the other hand, Border Grill at Mandalay Bay held its 12th tequila dinner last week. These dinners couldn’t be more different from those stuffy affairs. The laidback environment, festive cuisine and, of course, multiple servings of tequila add up to a lot of fun. Special event dinners often provide extra interaction with the chef, but how often do you get to drink with one? “I’d never let you guys drink alone,” announced Border Grill executive chef Mike Minor after the first course. “Don’t worry, we’re having a fun time in the kitchen.”
The pairing partner for this dinner, attended by over 100 excited eaters, was Milagro Tequila, which offered up its silver, reposado and añejo varietals for tasting and mixing. Before being seated, guests were served margaritas made with Milagro’s agave nectar and fresh lime juice and Minor’s popular bison sliders. Once we hit the tables, it wasn’t long before anther delicious libation appeared, a tangerine-and-tarragon version of the margarita, also made with Milagro silver. This drink went down way too easy, a bright and refreshing mix of citrus and herb flavor. Its accompanying first course was two tender medallions of braised beef tongue with a corn salsa and yellow mole. The almost tangy sauce tempered the richness of the meat. We chased the last bite with a straight-up taste of the silver, fiery-crisp with a black pepper finish.
Minor went all out on the next course, duck confit mini-enchiladas with smoked gouda cheese and earthy chanterelle mushrooms over a slightly tart bing cherry mole sauce. There was so much flavor packed into every bite of these enchiladas, it was almost overwhelming. The cocktail pairing was another margarita variation, the most brilliant mix yet: spicy pineapple. Made with the reposado, which boasts notes of caramel and spice, this masterpiece had plenty of heat and sweet, a little vanilla up front and a definite chocolate finish from a chile-cocoa mixture. This was the most satisfying pairing, but we had two more courses to go, plus dessert.
Wild king salmon was served with an unheard-of smoked salmon and horseradish crust, all over a puree of taro root, alongside a fig-añejo tequila cocktail that tasted of toffee and vanilla. Then a mighty hunk of Kurobuta pork belly with cauliflower and house-made barbecue sauce came out, paving the way into dessert—corn ice cream and prickly pear puree with playful chocolate cones. To close it out, the Milagro folks offered a rare, not-yet-available mezcal—super potent stuff—and blended it with an icy, sweet horchata float. That one was definitely overwhelming. But that’s the goal at Border Grill’s tequila dinners; they want to blow you away. This is a Las Vegas culinary event everyone should experience.