Drinking Out: A Tale of Two Palomas

Dinner at different Mexican restaurants three nights in a row in Las Vegas culminated in two very different Paloma cocktails.

The first drink was at a party celebrating the launch of boot designer Mark Nason’s new sunglasses line. The “featured drink” at the party was a so-called Dragon’s Bite, doubtless a ploy to work the designer’s dragon logo into the cocktail.

This Dragon’s Bite, tequila with the juice of half a lime topped off with Diet Squirt, was merely a Paloma by another name. It was disgusting. Why Diet Squirt? It really needs the sweetness of regular Squirt.

The Paloma is a simple and delicious Mexican cocktail made with tequila, lime juice, and a grapefruit soda—usually either Squirt or Jarritos. I’ve tried to make them with real grapefruit juice and club soda, but the proportions are difficult to master. It’s easiest to stick with Squirt.

Later that evening, at a restaurant called The Border Grill, whose chef was featured on television’s Top Chef Masters, I ordered a Fresh Fruit Paloma. Wary after my Dragon’s Bite, I asked the waiter what the fresh fruit was. “Basil, actually,” he replied. Worth a try.

It came instead with the puree of something pink. “Strawberries,” my waiter told me, admitting that he didn’t think I would like it. He offered me a true Paloma, one with grapefruit juice. When that came, I was satisfied, but not impressed. The food on the other hand, was excellent.

Which reminds me, the best Paloma I’ve had at a restaurant or bar was at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in New York. It managed to balance the booziness of the tequila with the sourness of the lime and the sweet pungency of grapefruit. Unfortunately, the service was so bad, I’ll probably never go back.

For some reason, the simplest cocktails are usually best when you make them yourself, whether it’s a Paloma, a Mojito or a Margarita. I’ll tackle the Paloma at home in a future post.

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