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Thursday, October 31,2013

A refreshing take on a tequila bistro

By Blair Madole
Photo by Blair Madole

Sweet and spicy mole sauce, crunchy peanuts and tangy pickled red onions — the chicken mole taco at Tahona Tequila Bistro says everything you need to know about this downtown Pearl locale: It’s well-executed, vibrant and unique, and it’s best experienced with a margarita in hand.

The term “tequila bistro” evokes images of a trendy Mexican café where you come not for a salt-lime-shot experience but rather a slow enjoyment of something artisanal and inspired. This focus makes it no surprise that the drink offerings at Tahona are brilliant and clearly meant to be savored, and the décor is appropriately trendy and Southwestern. But Tahona is much more than tequila.

The menu is filled with enticing appetizers and entrées that are the result of time and effort spent in the kitchen, not behind the bar. Duck nachos with goat cheese and avocado, mushroom and spinach quesadillas and pork belly tacos stand out as fine dining cuisine rather than fillers to soak up the margaritas.

The mushroom and spinach quesadilla is everything I could hope for. Unlike the cheese-and-sour-cream-laden dishes frequently found in Americanized Mexican cuisine, this quesadilla allows fresh ingredients and sophisticated flavors to shine. Savory mushrooms mix with earthy spinach and buttery onion. A smoky cheese blend lightly blankets the vegetables, providing the perfect warm finish to the filling. To tie it all together is a drizzle of herb aioli that sets taste buds tingling with a tangy and complex flavor.

Crunchy jicama, sweet red bell pepper, cool cucumber and candied cranberries help a seemingly simple house salad become equally as thrilling as its heartier neighbors on the menu. The ingredients are clearly fresh and show off the perfect crunch and flavor only achieved by high-quality produce. The respect for these vegetables is apparent in the light hand behind the mango-chipotle dressing, a combination that could easily become overwhelming but instead provides a subtle and complementary balance to the flavors of the salad. Though commonly used as a starter to a meal, this salad deserves a spot in the center of the show.

The house-infused tequilas can’t be skipped. Unlike the bitter, burning tequilas you might find at your average bar, these will have you happily sipping at unique flavor combinations without the need for a lime or salt.

Exciting tequila infusions call out to customers from a chalkboard menu, and rows of glass bottles filled with produce and tequila twinkle from behind the bar.

The tomatillo-habañero is pleasantly tangy, subtly spicy and strange enough to garner attention in the crowded menu. Sipping it straight proved doable, even enjoyable, despite my tendency to drown tequila with lots of fresh lime juice.

The peach tequila is perfect in a sugar-rimmed margarita and feels slightly indulgent on a warm afternoon. The sweetness of fresh-picked peaches works as a perfect balance to some of the spicier dishes on the menu and nicely picks up the flavors of the mango-chipotle dressing on the house salad.

The true star is the cucumber-jalapeño-infused tequila. The complex combination of refreshing cucumber and smoky jalapeño is perfectly displayed in a margarita and makes every dish taste better. It’s complementary to the cucumber in the house salad, provides cool relief to the chicken mole taco and mirrors the brightness found in the herb aioli of the mushroom and spinach quesadilla. Tahona’s menu plays nicely with any of its margaritas, but it shouldn’t be tasted without this one.

The vegetarian taco slides under the standard set by the other dishes of the evening. The ingredients were perfectly cooked and fresh, but compared to the more vibrant flavors on the menu, this taco proved underwhelming. But after adding a splash of house Cantina Hot Sauce, the taco was a satisfying combination of cooling veggies, tangy cheese and heat.

The intriguing drinks and crave-worthy food of Tahona stand out on their own but excel when combined with the warm lighting and trance-electronic music of this so-called tequila bistro. The care that’s taken with the drink list spills over to the food, décor and ambiance, making this a go-to spot for anyone searching for a refreshingly well-rounded experience.

At Tahona, come for the tequila, discover the food, relish the atmosphere and stay for it all.

Tahona Tequila Bistro is located at 1035 Pearl St., Boulder. Call 303-938-9600.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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