- Chef Tory McPhail with bacon fat Gulf Hake at the Patron Secret Dining Society in New Orleans.
- Mixologist Steven Wilshire mixing drinks at the Patron Secret Dining Society, New Orleans.
- Guests at the Patron Secret Dining Society in New Orleans.
- The menu from the Patron Secret Dining Society in New Orleans, October 28, 2011.
- A Coffee Truck.
- DJ Soul Sister at the XO Cafe after party.
- Trixie Minx at the XO Cafe after party.
Last Friday, the Patrón Secret Dining Society came to New Orleans. 315 members of their online community, the Patrón Social Club, answered a riddle to try to get seats, while only 20 got to come, each with one guest. These special guests got to be taken around the French Quarter, practically blindfolded (figuratively speaking), on an intricate, clandestine, booze- and food-filled evening that felt more than a little like Through the Looking-Glass for adults. It began at the corner of Bourbon and St. Louis Streets and made stops at the House of the Rising Sun and MS Rau Antiques on Royal, riddles leading from each stop to the next. The hyper-secret event featured tequila-based drinks from Steven Wilshire, sales rep at Glazer's and mixologist at Bar Tonique, and food from Tory McPhail of Commander's Palace. Below, some hangover observations. Above, photos from the night.
· For context, that first stop was the corner with Bourbon Street Blues and Fat Catz Music Club. The secret diners were easily identified as the inappropriately well-dressed people (cocktail attire is rare at that corner) huddled together while trying to avoid the smell of puke and stale beer.
· A clue came via text message, revealing that one of the guests was a mole, who gave a riddle to the next location and the first drink. That riddle led just down the street to 828 St Louis St., which makes the strongest claim to be the actual House of the Rising Sun.
· The house is never open to the public, but after getting a spicy tequila cocktail made with jalapeño-infused simple syrup, a shrimp and tasso pincho and a packet of historical information on the house, tours around the grounds. One of the servers described the pinchos as "kinda like spicy Thai shrimp," which wasn't far off-base.
· During the tour of the house, a number of guests flirted with danger by taking pictures of a voodoo shrine located between the house and the former slave quarters. Though one has to wonder if the prohibition against photographing voodoo shrines is in effect with shrines that are not actually used as such. (Assuming the lawyer who owns the house isn't actually a practitioner of voodoo.)
· Another riddle tucked away in the House of the Rising Sun info packet led to MS Rau Antiques, which was dark enough that it looked closed. To the back of the store, through a hidden door and up a flight of stairs, guests finally found themselves with another drink and foie gras beignets. Yes, you read that right: Foie gras beignets. They were easily one of the best dishes of the night.
· The disclaimer of the night came from the Patrón people at this point: "You don't need to drink every drink. There's 6 drinks in total, so, yeah. At the end of the night, if you need a cab, we'll get you a cab." Not sure if anyone actually took them up on that offer.
· Then back downstairs, where a dining room had appeared in a hallway that was empty before. This is where the dinner proper started. By this point, everything just felt mystical and mysterious, probably a combination of the secrecy and all the cocktails.
· The dinner started with sea scallops served with margarita "caviar" (which McPhail made by adding gelatin to a marg), served with a drink Wilshire called a Walk in the Park, made with Patrón Reposado, basil, satsumas, and a little St Germain. Presumably the name references how easy it was to drink. (Actually, per the media guide: "This drink goes 'into the garden' with its use of basil and satsuma.")
· Next was Gulf hake injected with bacon fat. Paired with a Vesperado, a drink inspired by the classic Vesper but made with spicy Patrón Añejo. Wilshire proved his inner nerd by introducing the cocktail with a reference to Ian Fleming's original James Bond novels, which got healthy applause from the 3 other people in the room who had read them.
· McPhail also served up some antelope from South Texas, "painted" with Tabasco and sugarcane. When Wilshire introduced the drink he made to go with this course, he admitted that he "had no idea what antelope tasted like when [he] designed this cocktail." The cocktail was a Ginger Street, made with too many ingredients to list. It was gingery and citrusy and actually went really well with antelope.
· By the time the antelope was served (the 5th course of the night), one pair of wannabe-cougars were drunk enough that they were loudly hitting on both Wilshire and McPhail. Also, when a Patròn rep described the "enormous growth" of their XO Cafe, these same women snickered. When they heard that XO Cafe is "pretty thick," they laughed uncontrollably.
· Wilshire's last cocktail, made with that same XO Cafe, was called the Closer,paired with a chocolate platter by McPhail. Wilshire to a guest in the hallway before the last cocktail: "This last drink, it's just?ooof." And yeah, that's probably the best way to describe it. In addition to the "pretty thick" XO Cafe, it had a whole egg, heavy cream, creme de fraise and mole bitters.
· There was an after party sort of hidden away at the Wax Museum, which invitees could only find by going to Baton Rouge-based food truck, A Coffee Truck, ordering a coffee and reading the directions to the party on the sleeve. Of course, the truck was parked across the street from the Wax Museum, so it wasn't that hard to figure out.
· Among other qualities that the after party shared with after parties everywhere (drinks served by alluring-looking servers, etc), this one featured local acts like the burlesque all-star team Creole Sweet Tease, which includes the likes of Jayna Morgan and Trixie Minx, followed by the always-funky DJ Soul Sister.
· And finally, on a positive, charitable note: While everything involved with the Secret Dining Society is free, including the after party, they were accepting donations at the museum, raising $1,250 for the St. Bernard Project. It'd be interesting to find out (though unfortunately it's unclear) if they do charitable after parties like this in every city or if that was a special touch for New Orleans.
Full Disclosure? Patrón advertises on Eater and is a sponsor of the upcoming Eater Awards. Coverage of the New Orleans event was not sponsored or paid for by the company in any way.