If you missed the Gourmet Latino Festival earlier this month, don’t sweat it, because NYCRD was there on your behalf downing tequila, flirting with mixologists, gorging on enchiladas and brunching with the best Latin chefs known to NYC.

Here’s a small, Latino taste of what you missed:

Daytime Feast Event "Spend a day at La Gran Plaza"

There was no better way to spend a hot and humid Saturday afternoon than gorging oneself on Latin delights. The afternoon Latin Feast Event at the Astor Center was a rollercoaster ride of Latin-fused alcoholic beverages and new but familiar culinary delights. From the foi gras and lobster enchiladas to the spicy and tangy martinis, regular Latin staples were revisited with a post modern flare that would satisfy both the skinny jean clad downtown set and the old school Latinos.

The samples were small, but plentiful and promoted various Latin restaurants such as Gabbana, Yerba Buena, and Toloache. My favorite was Gabbana with their delectable mini-hamburgers topped with a cole slaw like no other.

The one thing lacking, however, was dessert. A beautiful Latino by the name of Enrique would have sufficed. --Justin M Rivera, NYCRD Contributor

Evening Feast Event - Live the Spirit of Carnival

The food – and much more abundant drink – were definite crowd pleasers at the Saturday evening Gourmet Latino Festival tasting. Having finished my minor in Guadalajara, the tequila capital of the world, I figured there wasn’t much left for me to learn about the delicious drink. Regardless, the reps for Siembra Azul tequila and a few other tequila and mezcal brands completely schooled me.

For example:

- You should never drink tequila that doesn’t say 100% agave on the bottle. That’s the only way you know what’s actually in the stuff and almost GUARANTEE no hangover. Brands can call their drinks tequila when there’s only 51% agave in there. Q: What’s the other 49%? A: It’s what makes you hate yourself in the morning.

- Tequila is actually made of fruit, so the liquor is fructose, meaning your body absorbs it more like a fruit than any other alcohol. If you drink the right stuff, this could mean little to no hangover. So yes - that stuff from Spring Break 2005 wasn’t 100%.

- My favorite blend, Anejo, gets it color from sitting in a brand-new wood barrel for several months before it’s bottled. That wood also gives it a smoky flavor, which is distinctly different from the agave/citrus flavor of the white blend.

I love tequila school.

Next, we finagled our way into the sope and tamale lines, taking in the amazing tastes of shredded beef with cherries and spicy pumpkin love. Special thanks to Azul Bistro, Industria Argentina, Fonda, Sueño and Palo Santo for the fantastic tapas.

Wine was well represented at a number of tasting tables, but my little liver just couldn’t take it. After a few rounds of snacks we hit up the mixologist station and experienced nirvana with the most amazing tamarind-mezcal drink with spicy pepper maple rim, followed by the fruity cilantro caipirinha and another rose-flavored liquor drink.

In a not-at-all strategic move, we waited until later in the night to work up the courage to go see Chef Sanchez, which meant we got stuck in a killer line waiting for his spicy shrimp dish. But thanks to a little liquid courage, I asked him for a picture – which he quickly agreed to. I didn’t expect him to let me jump in it, but score! --Lisa Travnik, NYCRD Contributor

Levantamuertos Foods & Cocktails

The first Gourmet Latino Festival has added a new concept to my Sunday morning repertoire: Levanta Muertos (literally “awake the dead,” as in party for life on Saturday night and awake the dead on Sunday morning). The very upbeat and charming duo of Chef Aarón Sánchez and sommelier Steve Olson took pity upon the poor New York mortals at a seminar this past Sunday, and introduced us to three freshly-prepared “small plates” of regional Mexican nosh and five different “inspired by” cocktails.
Although Chef Aarón was the sole creator of the food we enjoyed, Steve brought in three guest mixologists to add their special twists to the drinks.

Here’s the lowdown on the bill of fare:

We began brunch with Steve’s “Maria Sangriente,” Spanish for “Bloody Mary”). Steve is not stingy with the alcohol or the spices. I picked up a summer cold last week, and was suffering a stuffy nose. Steve's concoction cleared my sinuses right up.

Huitlacoche tamales with a gorgeously colored and scented saffron corn sauce was passed, which soaked up the mezcal and prepared us for guest mixer Phil Ward’s (Mayahuel) “Division Bell,” a tropical juice on tequila steroids. It was just strong enough to keep you from guzzling it like it was juice.

The next dish took a little extra time to prepare, so NOLA cocktailian Danny Valdez took us for a trip to Brazil and a taste of the Portuguese liquor Cabana Cachaça which is, I’ve decided, one of the best uses for sugarcane ever created. Shortly thereafter, we were treated to pepita crusted salmon with vibrant green papalo coconut broth.

Soon followed the Giuseppe Gonzalez from Painkiller on the LES, bringing us a complete departure from the Mexican agave and proffering his “Honey Draft,” a rum-based drink that is a perfect choice for a lover of Belgian or ginger beer.

Sweet plantains with black beans and crema fresca rounded out the meal, capped with creamy 1921 Tequila, nicknamed “Tummy Chaser” by Steve, that needed no human intervention to land perfectly on the tongue. --Melody Morgan, NYCRD Contributor

If you weren’t able to attend the festival yourself, a list of the participating restaurants can be found on http://www.gourmetlatino.com/.

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