Foodies are in no short supply these days, evidenced by the surge of pop-up restaurants, the rise of the celebrity chef and the emphasis placed on not just a good meal, but an epicurean experience. The whole thing is a marketing dream if you know how to spin it and a couple of years ago Patrón came up with the great idea to launch the Patrón Secret Dining Society, a branch of the brand that throws ultra-exclusive invite-only parties in secret locations. Guests arrive to find an unending flow of tequila cocktails created by master mixologists and food prepared by high-profile culinary names like Marcus Samuelsson or Rick Bayless.
Getting into one of these events is tough. Patrón only does a handful of them every year, they are in a different city each time and only about 60 people will manage to score an invite. To enter the running you have to follow the Patrón Instagram and watch for clues revealing where an event will be happening, email them with your guess and then solve a riddle. If you managed to get this far cross your fingers and hope you get picked.
Most recently, the Patrón Secret Dining Society came to San Diego and the event kicked off at the Hotel Del Coronado, where guests arriving were simply told to valet and then check the Patrón Instagram for hints on where to head next. Kicking off in the courtyard of the historical hotel, drinks went around and attendees mingled before eventually following even more clues that led the group out to board a pair of epically-designed, oversized woody limousines. Decked out in vintage couches and chairs, these would be transportation for the evening, with music blaring as the caravan drove down the California coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean at sunset. Dolphins even saw fit to grace the group with a couple of playful jumps from beneath the waves.
Silver Strand beach turned out to be the location of this particular Patrón Secret Dining Society event; an elegant party on the sand complete with live music, eight specially-created cocktails, a six-course tasting menu, wonderful company and a beautiful setting from golden hour into the night. Little touches like complimentary flip flops (how San Diego of them) and embroidered blankets for guests revealed that the gathering was well thought-out. A lot of attention was paid to the details, from the nautically-dressed hipster band playing great covers, right down to the arranged seating and beautifully-decorated beach bathrooms (yeah they actually managed it quite gracefully).
Drinks were created by Jennifer Queen, a local celebrity in San Diego’s mixology scene, having created concoctions for some of the hottest craft cocktail spots in the city. A fitting match for a Patrón event, Queen has a personal love for tequila, not only having experience harvesting and distilling the spirit in Jalisco, Mexico, she also trained under tequila master Julio Bermejo (who just won the 2014 Spirited Awards Lifetime Achievement Award at Tales of the Cocktail, for his "life-long commitment to the promotion of and education on tequila around the world"). On top of it all, Queen herself holds a level two master mezcalier and numerous awards, most of them with “first” or “Grand Champion” in the name.
The mixologist has certainly earned a name for herself and by the end of the evening not one but several guests could be heard stating that she had single-handedly changed their entire outlook on tequila. Patrón must have been happy. All of the drinks were good, but the one that stood out the most was probably the deliciously refreshing and creamy horchata cocktail that finished out the night's libations with a hint of cinnamon and Patrón XO.
Hors d'oeuvres and dinner were planned and prepared by local cheflebrity Rich Sweeney, who opted to create a tasting menu highlighting the flavors of America's Finest City. Introducing each course and pairing, both Queen and Sweeney explained the thought and passion behind each drink and dish, effectively taking the group on a culinary tour of San Diego. Journeying from a starter of fresh sea fare (Beerviche featuring seafood procured from the best place in SD: Catalina Offshore), to a Little Italy-themed second (farm vegetables courtesy of Saturday Mercato staple Suzie’s Farms) and then over to the Convoy area for an Asian main (sambal braised pork with crispy noodles), the meal then finished with a nod to neighboring Mexico (cinnamon buñelos and salted caramel ice cream).
Everything was solidly executed and delicious, which is not really a surprise given Sweeney’s own resume; the man was a contestant on Top Chef Season 5, and has made quite an impression on the San Diego culinary scene. Previously Sweeney held a role as the executive chef at Confidential Kitchen + Lounge and today he owns and operates both the popular R Gang Eatery and the just recently opened Florent restaurant.
The night came to a close with guests enjoying the last of dessert around a nearby fire pit, chattering and laughing as the night ended on a high note. Taking the opportunity to chat with Chef Sweeney, he revealed how excited he himself was to be a part of the experience, telling us just what fun it was to plan the menu and collaborate with Jennifer Queen. A down-to-earth and sweetly humble guy, his attitude comes through in his food and it isn't all that different from the ethos one could associate with Patrón: sophisticated but unprotentious, classy and warm, but still a bit edgy and modern.
Finally, everyone piled back into those well-appointed woodys to return to the Hotel Del. The whole experience was great fun and the energy in the air was at a high the entire time; guests were thrilled to be a part of the experience and prized that they were among the lucky invitees.
Hoping to join in on the fun? You will have to start by following Patrón on Instagram and pay attention to those clues! You might just score the chance to experience your own unique Patrón Secret Dining Society adventure.