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Agave Madness

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A Night Out



Try the strawberry margarita chicken salad at Zuppa in Shockoe Bottom. It has tequila-marinated chicken, caramelized onions, goat cheese and sliced almonds served on mixed greens with a strawberry-basil vinaigrette.



At Cielito Lindo on Forest Hill Avenue, premium tequilas include the single-barrel 100 A¤os as well as varieties by Patr¢n, Sauza and Cazadores, all of which complement tasty Mexican fare in a festive indoor and outdoor setting.



For a different scene, Bandito's in the Museum District starts the bar early and has one of the city's broadest selections of tequilas -- and Mexican foods to soak it all up. Expect to meet lots of like-minded people.



A Night In

The look: Decorate the table with tequila-inspired simplicity: flowers in mini-bottles, colorful summer table linens and agave plants (find them at Great Big Greenhouse for $10-$40; they even have a smashing faux variety, shown opposite page). Add limes strewn about the table with ribbons or contained in glass bowls or jars. Candles and colorful glassware make it an instant, inexpensive Mexican evening.



The sound: Bring authentic sound to the scene with some of these artists: Aterciopelados' "Oye," or Café Tacuba's "Cuatro Caminos" or "Tiempo Transcurrido"; Los Lobos' "The Town and the City" or "Acoustic en Vivo"; and, later on, Peter Rowan and Tony Rice's laid-back acoustic music in "Quartet."



The takeaway: Fill a colorful pi¤ata with plastic mini-bottles of liquor and tequila suckers with candied worms (find them at For the Love of Chocolate). It's an adult take on the old children's birthday activity, and everyone leaves with a souvenir.



Shopping for the Sauce

Tequilas come in several varieties and a broad array of prices. Stick to those made entirely from 100 percent blue agave plant. You'll see bottles labeled Blanco (also referred to as Silver or Plata), Joven, Reposado, Anejo and Maduro. The last three are aged in barrels or casks and are generally pricier and more suitable for sipping. Blanco is fine for cooking, and Joven gets its typical gold color from artificial dyes and additives. Forget about the old worm-in-the-bottle stuff; that's a marketing gimmick more common to mezcal.

As with many things, you get what you pay for − and like good champagnes, premium tequilas are worth the cost for most drinkers and entertainers. Drink less and enjoy it more. And notice that those legendary tequila hangovers are usually the result of cheap liquor and sugary mixers, of which − surprise! − you can drink too much.

At the Carytown ABC store, higher-end tequilas include Herradura Anejo, El Tesoro Anejo, Don Eduardo Anejo, Patr¢n Anejo, Don Julio Reposado, Chinaco Reposado Artisan Gold, Cabo Wabo Anejo and Gran Centenario Plata. All run in the $50-$60 range for a 750-milliliter bottle, which is just over 25 ounces. Shots are usually 1 « ounces, so figure your guest/drink ratio accordingly.

Help your guests drink responsibly by offering a variety of nonalcoholic beverages, iced lemon water in pitchers and enough food to balance the bar.



The food: Instead of serving the usual Tex-Mex appetizers like the all-too-common seven-layer dip, go a bit more upscale without a lot of effort. Here are some possibilities, including some help online:



Tequila-Cured Salmon Tostadas

This recipe is one of the summer celebration recipes from the cookbook "Fonda San Miguel: Thirty Years of Food and Art" (Shearer Publishing) by Tom Gilliland and Miguel Ravago, owners of Fonda San Miguel Restaurant in Austin, Texas. It was a favorite of muralist Diego Rivera's family.



4 6-ounce salmon fillets, skin and bones removed

« cup chopped cilantro

Fine-grain sea salt

1 cup silver tequila

6 to 7 large flour tortillas

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened

1 teaspoon minced chives

24-32 small pieces of pimento

24-32 thin half-moon slices of white or red onion (about ¬ of a medium onion)

Lemon zest for garnish



Put each salmon fillet into a nonreactive container; sprinkle both sides with cilantro and sea salt. Add up to ¬ cup tequila to each container. Seal and refrigerate at least 24 hours. (The salmon will keep for up to two weeks.)

When ready to assemble the tostadas, preheat oven to 250 degrees. Using a 2 «- inch round cookie cutter, cut cocktail-size rounds out of the large flour tortillas, about 4-5 rounds per tortilla. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and place the rounds on the baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until crisp and golden, about 45 minutes. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the softened cream cheese with the minced chives. Set aside. Remove the fillets from the marinade and pat dry. Using a very sharp paring knife, cut each fillet crosswise into 6-8 wafer-thin slices.

Spread about 1 tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture on each tostada. Curl the strips of salmon into rosettes and gently stuff a piece of pimento into the center of each rosette. Place a rosette into the center of each tortilla round and garnish with a half-moon slice of onion and a sprinkling of lemon zest. Makes 24 to 32 appetizers.



Tequila Online

Foodnetwork.com

Search for: Keith Famie's Tequila Shrimp and Baja Beach Tacos with Tequila-Lime Salsa

Epicurious.com

Search for: Mussels with Tomatoes, Jalapeno and Tequila

Miss-Charming.com

Search for: Miami Vice, Tequila Canyon, Hot Pants

Patronspirits.com

An interactive recipe guide and customized beverage options.

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