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D.C. rocks the Patron Express


Patron Tequila's mint-condition 1927 Tequila Express with a spacious galley and Zen-errific sitting rooms, is making a five-city tour to help Louisianians; bottom right, chefs Jeff Buben, David Guas and Peter Smith were among those who cooked for a posh dinner on Wednesday night. (Train photos/Jonathan Albarado; chef photo/Bonnie S. Benwick)

Because the food scene and smackdowns go hand in hand these days, I'll just step up and say it: When the Patron Tequila Epicurean Express ends its five-city run this summer, the Washington stop will be the one that built the "Epic" part of this charity drive.

The tour's mission was to raise $75,000 for the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit organization that builds houses for the 1,200 Louisianians still living in trailers and the 6,000 still unable to return to their homes after Hurricane Katrina. The money will go toward mental health services for the St. Bernard Parish watermen and families further stressed by the BP oil disaster in the Gulf.

Cocktail events and dinners were held wherever the train pulled into stations in San Diego, Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans. The Express is a piece of romantic, mint-condition Americana. Patron Spirits Co. exec Chris Shaffer is along for the ride and tells mighty entertaining tales of the 1927 Pullman cars' history. He and other Patron employees spend one week a year helping to build houses in St. Bernard Parish; 281 have been built thanks to the projects efforts thus far. Patron pays Amtrak $2.10 per mile to move on its railways.

The effort was particularly close to the heart of D.C. publicist Simone Rathle, a Louisiana native. She gathered local chefs Robert Wiedmaier and Paul Stearman (Marcel's, Brabo, Brasserie Beck), Brian McBride (Blue Duck Tavern), Peter Smith (PS 7's), Jeff Buben (Vidalia) and David Guas (DamGoodSweet), who donated their time and ingredients; caterer Susan Gage for waitstaff and accoutrements, and mixologist Todd Thrasher (Restaurant Eve, PX). More chefs were involved in the previous night's cocktail reception, including Ann Cashion (Johnny's Half Shell) and Jeff Tunks (DC Coast).

The chefs put on a smashing five-course dinner Wednesday night at Union Station, Track 7. Party of 24. It was an elegant ode to Louisiana seafood, but what sealed the deal, smackdown-wise, were the kick-ass cocktail pairings Thrasher provided. (A simple listing doesn't do justice to what was served, but it's all I've got. If only Spirits columnist Jason Wilson had been there.) With just three days' notice and no preview menu tasting, here's what Thrasher created for each course. Flavors were spot-on and truly complementary. When my colleague Jane Black wrote about cocktail pairings a while back, I didn't quite get it. But hoo-boy, I do now:


Mixologist Todd Thrasher with pitchers of dry-ice-cooled Boozy Beginnings. (Bonnie S. Benwick)

For passed hors d'oeuvres, a champagne cocktail take on a Paloma, for which Thrasher cooked a mixture of Patron Silver tequila, sugar, grapefruit rind, bay leaves, yellow cardamom pods and sugar at 160 degrees for two days. Kids, don't try this at home. But if you hear that he's made a batch at PX in Alexandria, go, go go.

For the oyster veloute, a Boozy Beginning made with Patron Silver and anejo tequilas, Ultimat Vodka and house-made dry vermouth.

For the crawfish flan with paddlefish caviar, a Sangrita made with Patron reposado tequila, Patron Citronge orange liqueur and essences of tomatoes, chili peppers, lemon grass, citrus and lime.

For the Gulf shrimp ravioli with sweet corn, a Sweet & Spicy cocktail of Patron Silver, a lemon gastrique, black pepper whey, frothy egg white and sweetened lemon juice.

For the cobia with honeysuckle, jasmine and potato pave, a Tristan and Iseult made with Patron anejo tequila, Patron Citronge and jasmine honey chardonnay syrup.

For the dessert of tequila-macerated strawberries with brown-butter shortcake, a Ruppert Holmes made with anejo tequila, strawberries, roasted hazelnuts, hazelnut mint, house-made mint bitters, simple syrup and Lillet Blanc.

I can't pick a fave, but the freshness of the Sangrita and the harmonious match of the Ruppert Holmes made those cocktails standouts. The latter drink is on the menu at Restaurant Eve.

Patron Express, how could it get better than that? You've been served.

-- Bonnie S. Benwick

By The Food Section  |  June 11, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Chefs , Spirits  | Tags: Bonnie S. Benwick, chefs, spirits  
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