When I hear the word “tequila,” the first thing I think of is the scene from the film The Sandlot in which the kids have a little too much fun and lose their cookies at the county fair.
It also reminds me of the night I mainlined shots my first year in college, doggedly repeating my rehearsed moves of “lick, shoot, suck” in a losing battle with Jose Cuervo.
Suffice it to say, both of those scenes ended in tears.
Not surprisingly, I was a little hesitant to belly up to the bar at Paloma Restaurant and Tequila Bar in Goleta, which boasts one of the largest tequila-tasting menus in Santa Barbara County.
With no shortage of options, Paloma has a choice list of blanco, reposado, añejo, and extra-añejo tequilas; each unique in its flavor and aging process.
Owned by Rudy Alvaro, owner of Rudy’s Restaurant in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria, this family-style restaurant situated in the heart of the Calle Real Center has an intimate ambience and feels like a locals-only resting place.
While strip mall shopping centers are prone to a revolving-door habit for take-out and other chain restaurants, Alvaro’s self-titled restaurants have long been a staple in Santa Barbara County, first opening their doors on Montecito Street in 1977.
In September 2013, Alvaro decided to transform his Goleta restaurant from a quick-stop eatery to a family-style restaurant introducing a new chef, all-new menu, and full bar.
This take-out place turned restaurant not only showcases a tasty Mexican food menu, but a fun specialty margarita listing, and daring tequila flights that are not for the faint of heart.
Each flight consists of three 1-ounce shots of tequila, and range according to the aging process.
Much like wine, all tequilas vary in taste depending on where the agave plant was grown.
Plants grown in the highlands of Jalisco will produce a sweeter, fruiter taste, while plants in the lowlands create an earthy flavor.
And while winemakers make thousands of varietals and blends, tequila has a simple process that adheres to the rules and regulations of Mexico and their generational jimadores.
Blanco (translated white or silver) is unaged or aged less than two months in oak barrels, and in my opinion is for the college student or people made of sterner stuff than I.
Reposado (translated rested) is aged anywhere from two months to one year in oak barrels.
Reposado tastings are well-suited to the lucky ones who have tasted and not yet been bitten. While a bit spicier than its more aged compadre, the oaky flavor is sophisticated and palatable for the average drinker.
Añejo, translated vintage, is aged one to three years in smaller oak barrels.
While smoother than the lesser-aged blends, this slightly aged tequila has a bit of a sharper finish that still made Alicia Keys’ song "This Girl Is On Fire" ring in my ears.
And of course, extra-añejo, meaning extra-aged, is exactly what you’d expect and is considered top shelf.
Now don’t be mistaken, all you who snub your nose at tequila, because like me you have only tasted the bottom-shelf dregs in your younger years.
Extra-añejo tequila is the tequila for the masses. With a sweet and smooth finish, this libation will slide down your throat and warm your belly like a furry blanket on a cold winter's night.
As I stared down my first tasting of Herradura’s Seleccion Suprema, one of Paloma’s top shelf tequilas and Alvaro’s favorites, I could feel my stomach do somersaults while my mind replayed the aftermath of some of my college days.
I took the wine-snob approach and sniffed at the tiny glass of amber liquid, wrinkled my nose, and shut my eyes as the first drop touched my lips.
It was sweet, smooth, and oddly reminiscent of Jack Daniels’ Tennessee Honey, which was a welcome relief to what my digestive tract was already experiencing from the earlier tastings.
If you’re looking for a new experience, or looking to test your bravery against the memories of your early college days, then Paloma is the place for you.
Paloma is at 5764 Calle Real. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and happy hour offered Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
— Tara Jones leads Eat This, Shoot That! and welcomes reader tips and ideas for future columns. She can be reached at [email protected]. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.