C ucos the donkey was tired. It had been a long night for the celebrity beast of burden; saddled with a blanket and a decorative tequila cask, he’d been the “it” quadruped of the party, and everyone wanted to have their picture taken with him. So many cameras flashing! So much ear-petting and neck-hugging! Where’s the hay and shut-eye? Is that too much for a non-drinking booze ambassador to ask?
Well, it’s a living. Cucos was in downtown New Haven, on the expansive and quite enchanting patio of Geronimo Southwest Grill and Tequila bar, to celebrate a special occasion: the coming-out party for Geronimo’s very own boutique tequila. On that mild February evening, Herradura Double Barrel Reposada “Antiguo” joined more than 300 other tequila varieties at Geronimo – which has the largest collection in the Northeast – alongside such blue agave stars as the Herradura Seleccion Suprema, which normally sells for $42 an ounce (offered half-price that night).
Geronimo’s gracious co-owners, Rob Bolduc and Marc Knight, were on hand to regale visitors with stories of their trip to Jalisco, Mexico, where they sampled and selected the tequila that would be exclusively theirs. “Double barrel,” explained Rob, is literally that: the tequila is aged for 11 months in an oak barrel, making it a “reposado.” At that point it is tasted and, if selected, transferred to a new oak barrel for one more
Geronimo Southwest Grill & Tequila Bar
271 Crown Street, New Haven
Mon-Thurs 12pm-1am; Fri-Sat 12pm-2am; Sun 4-1am
month before it is bottled and shipped. Upon tasting the resulting tequila from a rustic little cup, a souvenir for guests, it did prove to be exceptionally smooth and fine, a surprise for those of us more accustomed to over-the-counter tequilas which, when drunk in a shot, cause a spontaneous reaction, usually something like, “aaarrgh!”
This was sipping tequila, no doubt about it. And it turned out to be the perfect prelude to another happy surprise: the cookery of Chef Tim Scott. Geronimo’s owners have always been passionate about Southwestern cuisine, but the talented chef, who was classically trained in France and sharpened his skills at some of New Haven’s earliest trendy restaurants – Bruxelles on College Street, Gentree on York – has come on board and ratcheted the food up several notches.
Geronimo’s menu is an exotic read unto itself, loaded with ingredients and dishes rarely seen in this part of the country. Prickly Pear Cactus Gazpacho, Elk Chili, Lobster Enchiladas, Mahi Tacos, Chihuahua cheese and buffalo/hominy meatballs, a.k.a. “Prairie Oysters” are just a few of the tantalizing choices, which also
include vegetarian options and the very vegan Quinoa Relleno, featuring a roasted poblano pepper stuffed with quinoa with Sierra Nevada black beans and smoked tomato sauce.
Our party started our feast with table-side guacamole, made to our liking – extra cilantro, no onions – which was simply divine (I know it will be a staple on summer nights, although we also loved dining by the adobe fireplace). We then devoured a Chorizo Salad, featuring spicy chorizo sausage on grilled red onions, alongside a perfect little salad of arugula, fresh corn salsa and more. Next, a special of Navajo Fry Bread with smoked trout, tomato, scallions, capers and fresh Mexican cheese. Finally, we trounced a tamale with buffalo brisket and jicama slaw with Hatch green chilies (from Hatch, New Mexico, the only place in the world they grow).
Everything we tasted was loaded with high-intensity flavors, with bright notes playing against smoldering, smoky undertones. And there was no monotony to the offerings, either — that is, nothing tasted like anything else, which can sometimes happen at Southwestern (and Mexican) restaurants headed by less-skilled chefs.
The atmosphere, too, is a treat at Geronimo, with a glowing central bar and Southwestern art and artifacts adorning every surface, plus a mysterious-looking private room down a spiral staircase. Be forewarned, however, that this place jumps after dark; it’s situated on New Haven’s Crown Street, which is home to a teeming club scene on weekend nights, and there’s the inevitable overspill. So if you like your dining quiet, come early and ask for a table in the back.
Written by Todd Lyon. Photographed by Nancy Shea.