Raleigh, N.C. — There were still nine days until Cinco de Mayo, but Cameron Bar and Grill had a special salute to tequila with its Big Tequila Dinner.
The restaurant closed to the general public for the event, which paired Southern style dishes with various tequila drinks. The Mexican liquor was also used as a prominent ingredient in each of the five courses.
The night opened with an hors d’oeuvres “passed course” of pineapple infused tequila pork belly skew. The pork was melt-in-your-mouth tender and, with the grilled pineapple chunks, gave an outdoor cookout feel to the evening.
The opener was paired with a Mezcal, Yellow Chartruese, Aperol and lime juice beverage that was as powerfully sweet as it was potent. While it also would have been well-suited for an outdoor grilling party, it was the one pairing whose tastes didn’t mesh. Drink and course were both great on their own, but there was no added synergy from the combination.
The first course was a tequila shrimp ceviche wonton. The wonton served as a base for the dish, giving it the appearance of nachos, at first glance. The ceviche combined shrimp, pineapple, red onion, red bell pepper, cilantro and lime juice tequila in a sweet, fresh taste that masked the spicy finish.
The shrimp wonton was paired perfectly with a Resposado Tequila Blanco. The drink combined pineapple juice, lime juice, agave and grenadine in a hella smooth sip that contrasted with the explosion of taste and spice in the dish.
In the second course, the food took a step back to allow the drink to take center stage. Diners were served a watermelon and papaya salad, with spinach, red onion, toasted almonds and a tequila-lime vinaigrette that, itself, tasted potent enough to pair with a later course.
The true star of the course, however, was the tequila-infused watermelon globe. Served on a skewer, balanced over a glass, the melon balls were prepared by soaking in a bottle of blanco tequila, then served with a pinch of salt and lime. Much like the vinaigrette-drenched watermelon chunks in the salad, the melon balls featured a pitched battle between the fruit’s own sweetness and the strong tequila taste. The alcohol won in the watermelon globes, as the melon balls tasted absolutely flammable. The glass beneath the skewer was made from the tequila that had soaked the globes, mixed with some beer.
The main course featured grilled mako shark, served over tequila-braised collards and warm chipotle white bean salad, topped with tequila-thyme marinated tomatoes and arugula. The fish was thick and hearty and picked up much of the taste of the vegetable sides. It was also surprisingly spicy, considering the only herb mentioned in the menu description – thyme – isn’t usually considered a heat producer.
The shark was paired with a Blood Orange Thyme Paloma. The tumbler combined fresh thyme, a pinch of sea salt, silver tequila, lime juice and blood orange Pellegrino, served on the rocks. It served to mute the spice of the main dish, although the alcohol content seemed to vary widely from glass to glass around the table.
For dessert, Cameron Bar and Grill served tequila and grand mariner almond cake with a white chocolate almond truffle. The two items were contrasts in taste, texture and appearance. The dainty truffle was creamy smooth with a powerful taste of chocolate, while the large slice of cake was flaky and focused on bringing out the taste of the almond.
The dessert was paired with a drink of contrasts as well – the bubbly margarita. Bartenders topped a margarita with brut champagne to create an interesting mixture of tastes and unique mouth feel.
Overall, the menu was daring and bold, as the chef and mixologist challenged themselves to experiment with the different tastes and textures that a tequila-based dinner could allow. The risks they took paid off handsomely with a varied but hearty series of dishes and drinks that left many diners in need of the taxis provided outside the restaurant doors.
Shawn Krest is currently editor of Raleigh & Company.