El Cielo's Guadalupe Pairing Dinner
At Valle Wine Life, we feel that the entire 'Cena Maridaje' experience (known in English as a dinner pairing) is an overused event concept that is rarely pulled off with any form of panache. Pricing for these dinner pairing events are typically in the $1,750.00 peso range ($92.00 USD) but have gone as high as $8,500.00 MXN (almost $450.00 USD). As we reach the end of 2016 we have seen well over one hundred of these dinners advertised throughout the year so it was truly no surprise to us when an advertisement hit our inbox for yet another 'Cena Maridaje'.
What grabbed our attention about this announcement was the depth of the culinary talent involved in the dinner. Diego Hernandez of Corazon de Tierra, Giannina Gabaldon of Olivia, Sheyla Alvarado of Traslomita and Roberto Alcocer of Malva were some of the names that jumped out at us. The listing of wineries was also strong featuring some of our favorites such as JC Bravo, Legado Sais, Emeve and Las Nubes. Sadly, the logo of local winery Viña Emiliana was incorrect on all literature for the event and was substituted with the logo of a Chilean winery of a similar name.
The dinner theme was 'Cena Guadalupe' (Guadalupe Dinner in English) to be held at El Cielo. Pricing for the event was listed as $1,200.00 MXN or just over $63.00 USD at El Cielo's exchange rate of 19 pesos to the dollar. The event ticket listed a start time of 7:00 PM, however, guests were made to wait until 7:40 PM before the start of a cocktail hour in El Cielo’s main lobby.
The evening began with a 2011 Carignan from JC Bravo which provided a great start to the event. After passing the wine to the approximately fifty guests in attendance, waiters then arrived with canapés. The first misstep of the evening was the service staff walking past countless guests directly to El Cielo's owner, Gustavo Ortega, and his wife to provide the first serving of each canapé. A truly gracious host would elect to be served last and instruct his staff to take care of the guests first.
Passed Canapés consisted of Tartar de New York Ahumado, Mini Esquite, Tostada de Atún y Chicharrón Prensado, Ostión y Betabel, Bocolito de Frijol con Tuétano, Cotija y Hoja Santa and a Sope de Pulpo en Escabeche. We could not find fault with any of the canapés, as they were all well executed. Having cocktail tables strategically placed throughout the room would have been ideal for this event as it felt awkward to stand holding both a wine glass and a plate of food. Towards the end of the cocktail hour, guests were served El Cielo's 2015 Halley (Chardonnay) at a perfect temperature.
Guests were escorted upstairs to the dining room where dinner would be served. While everyone was quickly seated, we were held at the door and asked by El Cielo staff to see our tickets. Upon presentation of our tickets, we were met with a barrage of questions such as what winery we represented and how we acquired the tickets. The treatment we received was very disappointing. Sadly, this seems to be the new norm at El Cielo based on the feedback we have received from many of our loyal followers. Event staff then placed a phone call to some other unknown staffer to verify the validity of the tickets. Having already been in the building for over an hour this was a massive overreaction on the part of El Cielo staff.
We were finally granted entry to the dining room and seated at table 5. After a ‘welcome’ speech by Gustavo Ortega, the participating chefs each made a brief (and unnecessary) introduction to the food they had prepared. While we try to be understanding of the cultural differences that exist between Mexico and the United States, we fail to understand the concept of what amounts to a curtain call prior to the actual performance. At the conclusion of the speeches, wine was poured and we were ready to start our journey through eight different courses of wine and food.
The first course of the evening, Tostada de Pata y Mejillón by Chef Eduardo Cervantes was great in execution. The dish was paired with a crisp, well balanced Sauvignon Blanc from Corona del Valle. Sadly, the pairing or marriage of the food and wine was slightly off as the food increased the acidity of the wine.
Our second course of Enselada de Nopal by Chef Giannina Gavaldon of Olivia was flawless in both conception and execution. Guests were offered the added bonus of adding Chapulines (grasshoppers) to their cactus salad. The dish was paired with the Herencia Blanco from Bodegas F. Rubio another well balanced white wine that was an excellent companion to the dish. Sadly, the chefs’ name was misspelled twice on the event menu.
Our fifth course was the only true homerun of the evening. Chef Sheyla Alvarado’s Pork Belly en Mole Verde was truly amazing. The dish was paired perfectly with a Legado Sais Tempranillo. This pairing was the absolute high point of the evening and reminds us to enjoy Sheyla’s food at Traslomita more often.
The sixth course of the evening by Latitud 32’s Chef Marco Marin presented us with a Rack de Cordero semidulce, puré de berenjena y vegetales rostizados. Presentation was very nice, but not perfect, as two perfect sized lamb lollipops had their bones wrapped in tinfoil. Flavor was excellent even though the lamb was slightly overcooked. We felt the dish paired well with El Cielo’s Procyon wine.
The seventh course by Diego Hernandez of Corazon de Tierra was an Arroz Peregrino de Jojutla con Peridz y Aceglas. The flavors were bold and the dish was well executed. This course was paired with a Las Nubes Nebbiolo. Both food and wine were good, but once again, this was not a perfect pairing.
The final course of the evening gave us our postre or dessert. Chef Roberto Alcocer of Malva created a “La Rosa de Guadalupe”. Both the concept and the flavor were excellent. The plating of the dish was over the top with unncessary whole leaves and petals from roses. The dish was paired with Rosado from Viña Emiliana. Excellent pairing and a nice conclusion to the meal.
The third course of the evening, Jurel al Mole Rojo by Chef Erick Ull was a disappointment. The Malbec from Emeve paired well with the mole in the dish, but everything else about the dish was a complete miss. The fish was overcooked, dry and left a lingering aftertaste. The presentation of the dish was uneven across the various plates at our table.
Our fourth course of the evening was a Codorniz rellena, pure de coliflor y zanahoria rostizada presented by Chef Esteban Lluis. The quail was paired with a Syrah from La Carrodilla. The flavor was perfect but the quail was overcooked. If the quail had been cooked to a proper temperature this could have easily been our favorite of the night. The wine selection from Carrodilla was excellent and paired well with the bold flavors of the stuffed quail.
The event concluded just after midnight. Overall, we feel it was an event worthy of the ticket price and it was obvious that the guests enjoyed the event. Sadly, the night was destroyed by the inexcusable behavior of the El Cielo staffer who interrogated us about our tickets. It should be noted that El Cielo’s Wine Club Director and Sommelier Andry Nucamendi (whom we have known for years) made her best effort to apologize for the situation we encountered. While we appreciate her efforts, we will likely not return for future events at El Cielo.