It’s been a few years since I last had a big dinner at El Destilado and I was curious to go back on this visit. When I’d contacted Chef Julio Aguilera to mention my visit, he let me know he was no longer there but that I shouldn’t worry because both Jason Cox and Joseph Gilbert were still at the restaurant and that I should still expect an outstanding meal. Seeing as El Destilado has delivered some of my top dining experiences in Oaxaca over the years, I connected with the restaurant and Jason was able to confirm my reservation for a Chef’s tasting menu.
With friends in town, we had a big group excited to have a good evening together at El Destilado. We opted for the 6-course tasting menu which I knew would deliver a good variety without leaving anyone too full to enjoy the whole experience.
What’s great about El Destilado, and one of the reasons I’m always recommending it, is its approachability, especially for visitors to Oaxaca. It’s a place where if you’re a foreigner and new to Oaxaca, the staff are welcoming and happy to assist you with advice or recommendations for food and drink. El Destilado uses local ingredients but the food they’re serving is open to their own interpretations. It makes for meals that are unique to Oaxaca without being constrained to the common expectation of what Oaxacan cuisine should be.
Heading into the dinner I was curious to experience the meal as delivered by chefs Valerie and Jason.
The first two bites were showstoppers that had my group ooh-ing and ahhh-ing. I’d realized that Julio’s departure wasn’t anything to worry about and that these guys still had “it”.
With the savoury course of the meal complete, I was happy I’d made it through the meal without feelings of exploding. I appreciated the meal felt very vegetable-forward and thus lighter and that the portion sizing of the proteins towards the end felt generous in flavour yet manageable in size. The tastes and textures in each dish were exciting yet comforting at the same time.
The dessert that ended the meal, followed that same theme and had the table swooning as we excitedly recapped our favourites from the evening.
The meal was amazing but what piqued our interest throughout the evening were the delicious mezcals being poured from their house Cinco Sentidos label.
I knew that Jason was behind the mezcal and reached out to see if he’d be available to do a tasting. I’ve always felt like the more I learn about mezcal, the less I know. I hoped that having a good discussion with a native English speaker who is first-hand sourcing mezcal from villages throughout the state of Oaxaca and beyond, I’d be able to get good information that wasn’t going to be lost in (bad) translation.
Jason was kind enough to sit down with a small group of us on the terrace above El Destilado (where their El Techo taco bar is open Fridays-Sundays and is tops on my list of places to check out on my next visit).
In the hour-plus tasting, Jason took us on a journey through small villages, introducing us to the unique processes and personalities of the mezcaleros he works with. His descriptive narrative, supported by vivid images shown on his phone, set the scene for each of the mezcals we tasted.
Through it all, you could feel the passion Jason has for not only the product but the connection he has with all of his contacts.
The more I learned from Jason, the more questions I had. He was patient and thoughtful with his information and helped to not only broaden my knowledge of mezcal but also assisted in myth-busting some of the conflicting information I’ve received over the years. Above all, it was a conversation that made me grateful for all of the unique experiences I’ve had that has exposed me to the wonderful world of mezcal up to now and made me more confident in pushing to learn even more.
After the tasting, I realized I needed a bite to eat and thought that a seat at their bar eating the only dish that I knew that would satisfy my craving was a perfect ending to my El Destilado experience for this trip.