Bee's Garden Cocktails made by Ryan Pines of The Rack for the Patron Secret Dining Society event at the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. in Ybor City on May 2. The cocktail is made with Patron Reposado tequila, Dolin Blanc, tomato water, cucumber and Fee Brothers celery bitters.
As a growth market for beer, wine and spirits, Tampa and surrounding cities are constantly visited by vineyards, distilleries and breweries looking to woo the area's thirsty consumers with dinners, tastings and other promotions. But two recent events set a new standard for extravagance. On May 7 and 8, Knob Creek whiskey conducted tasting dinners at SideBern's and Datz in South Tampa with butchering demonstrations and menu pairings that pushed the limits of those types of events. SideBern's executive chef Chad Johnson's dish of braised pork cheeks with crispy pork brain scrapple may have been topped only by his dessert of blood custard with candied pork belly, chocolate chicharron and chocolate mole. But the award for extravagance goes to Patron, which held its Secret Dining Society dinner on May 2. To qualify as one of the 50 participants, Patron fans had to go online to answer a riddle. If they answered correctly and were then selected, they were given an address to arrive at on the day of the dinner. Once they finished the trail, they boarded two trolley buses to be taken to a secret location: The J.C. Newman Cigar Company in Ybor City. After cocktails, appetizers and a tour of America's oldest family-owned premium cigar maker, diners were escorted to the factory's second floor, where a makeshift dining room had been assembled. At dinner, chef Ted Dorsey of Boca Kitchen Bar & Market in Hyde Park served a six-course dinner using all of Patron's various styles paired with cocktails created by Ryan Pines, bartender at The Rack in Tampa. Dorsey ended up using 30 bottles of tequila to cook the various dishes — equal to the amount Pines poured for cocktails. In one of the dishes, Dorsey made a lamb Porterhouse osso buco with Patron XO coffee liqueur, braised lady peas, a ragout of leeks and heirloom tomatoes, crispy fingerling potato gratin and a hay of crispy leeks. With that, Pines paired an Old Fashioned made with anjeo, agave, Bitterman's habanero shrub and chocolate bitters. “Our motto that night was, 'Go big or go home,'” Dorsey said. “The CEO of Patron told me later that it was the best secret dinner they've ever had.” Wine + iPad = WiNEPAD Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar has joined the growing list of restaurants to introduce an iPad tableside. Earlier this month, it launched WiNEPAD at its 65 locations — including the restaurant on Boy Scout Road in Tampa — for diners to navigate the wine list tableside or at the bar. In addition to the list, the WiNEPAD (OK, I'm already weary of the up/down capitalization thing) does lots of cool stuff, including recommending wines suggested by National Director of Wine Maeve Pesquera.; pairing suggestions for dishes on the menu; a “share this wine” feature that lets diners email themselves info on the wines on the list; a “Spin the Bottle” feature that uses a bottle icon that lands on a different selection each time the bottle is spun. Think of it like wine roulette. Sippable Words A couple of books to add to your home bar: “Make Your Own Soda,” by Anton Nocito with Lynn Marie Hulsman (Clarkson Potter, $14.99). The simple fact is that cocktails taste better when you use fresh-made ingredients and components at home instead of relying on mixes and pre-made syrups. This book guides the reader through making soda syrups, egg creams, ice cream sodas cocktails and hot drinks. The Hot Lemon Soother? A must-try beverage. “True Brews,” by Emma Christensen (Ten Speed Press, $23). This book is a great read for the home-brewer who has mastered the basics of beer making at home and wants to try making more advanced beverages, such as fermented cider, sake, mead and kombucha. The instructions for making fruit wine are especially valuable for industrious drinkers with citrus trees in the backyard. "Tropical Drinks,” by Kim Haasarud (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99). Do you know how to make lemongrass syrup? Can you mix a Mango Madras? How should a Hemingway Daiquiri be made the way Papa would like it? Summer is coming. Time to tighten your cocktail game.