Substance over superficiality - Don Julio & Masa Restaurant

Is this a girl who'd say no when invited to a Don Julio dinner at Masa Restaurant in Boston? No way, José! I love Mexico and the Southwest, and culinary armchair travel.

What I expected to be some cocktails, media blah, blah, blah and chips and salsa turned into so much more. Just to be clear, I would have been happy with that because I love Masa, Tequila, chips and salsa, and media folks (well most of 'em, anyway). 

This dinner turned out to be a fantastic evening of sipping, learning, and dining. As in, please sit where your place card is and allow us to introduce the chef... The bartender will explain the cocktail he's paired with each course.

This sets a new bar. Specialty cocktails crafted to complement the menu. Printed menus to take, very helpful in an action-packed week where best intentions cannot overcome need for sleep or pre-set schedules. I have the drink recipes, too, so my notes don't have to be legible. (phew!) I had a beautiful bottle of Blanco to take home and I met a room full of great people and learned a lot about Don Julio, about how complex and food-friendly Tequila can be. 

The Dinner:

First surprise was the initial cocktail - something like a sangria. Malbec wine I believe, and Tequila, fruit. Dangerously refreshing. Uno mas por favor! Gracias!

Second surprise was being seated to what was clearly going to be more substantial than tapas. Oh.

Our first course was a hearty New England Clam Chowder with a Masa Southwest twist: smoked chili oil. The paired cocktail was a Tres Chiles Margarita. This drink pulled me to the glass - nose first, it was so amazingly fragrant. I found myself inhaling deeply as if I were testing the nose of a glass of wine. It was herbaceous and spicy. The cucumber and jalapeno, Anaheim and long peppers provided heat but more complex things, too. A revelation really.

Tacos de Carnitas con Trio of Salsas comprised our second course. Paired with it: Chipotle Tamarind Margarita. 8 months in oak gives the reposada some depth.

The third course was an "albondiga" really, a giant cheese-stuffed meatball. Served with a Classic Margarita. Too grand to be fair, at this stage. Especially w/o warning. Okay, not really complaining.

The dessert: chocolate truffle tamale was decadent and dense, in a good way. The final cocktail was savored as you would a brandy or a single malt. Though it was called vanilla, it was not powerfully sweet.

Overall, this meal was, for me one more example of the excellence to be expected at Masa. Balance is the key to their success. You can tell there are good people in the kitchen when a hearty, rustic cuisine comes through with refined and balanced flavors. Thought and care go into the cocktails as much as the food. Everyone today is weighing how to spend entertainment dollars to maximize value. A place like Masa, with such excellent food, thoughtful delicious drinks and warm service, provide great value. Escape to the Southwest for one night. You'll be glad you did!

Here is a course-by-course (w/photos!) treatment by the excellent Cave Cibum

Did you know?

  • Don Julio is a real person? Now in his 80's he was a true pioneer who saw the future of agave. Experimented with planting, with microclimates, with harvest and distillation methods.
  • Don Julio controls the entire process from growing, harvesting by hand, to distilling (each are distilled twice), bottling and so on.
  • Some Agave plants are not harvested for 13 years. Aging in new American oak from 8 months to 5 years distinguishes the various Tequilas.
  • The signature squat bottle was intentional to the enjoyment. Originally, he distilled this for his guests and friends. The bottle on the table was designed so as not to interfere with seeing the other guests.
  • Tequila pairs well with food? Forget about silly shooters and salt - the photo above was taken years before my dinner!
  • These cocktails highlighted the unique character of blanco, reposado, and añejo - blending with various cocktail components and also complimenting the food.
  • Don Julio's website has recipes and videos to introduce you to the Don Julio story and product.
  • Don Julio is a respected employer who foregoes much mechanization in order to employ more local people. 

Here's a recipe from the Leather District Gourmet:

In tomato season, peel a large bowl of cherry tomatoes and marinate them, chilled, in Tequila Don Julio Blanco. Serve with a dipping salt laced with lime zest and chile powder. Muy bueno! Some say the remaining liquid make for fun shooters at the end of the party.