That's right, sometimes one must take a trip to fancy town. It really doesn't happen that often - that I get invited to a Free Exciting Thing - considering that the last time I wrote under this heading was back in February - but as I said then, occasionally I'll be taking a diverting from my usual recipes to indulge in some full disclosure. As I said back in February:
"It's also something I've felt really awkward about disclosing. Oh sure, I'll post the occasional instagram or tweet or passing mention, but I've never quite been able to reconcile the joy of free extravagance with the fear of making lots of people hate me by talking about it. I mean, I'm the type to immediately assume people would sneer and be resentful if they read about me writing about fun free dinners and events, rather than being interested in the dishes and so on, since, in all honesty, I tend to roll my eyes at such writing myself. Unless it's really good writing - which it often isn't.
So what made me change my stance? Guilt! No, I'm kidding. I like to challenge myself, and I think it is a decent challenge to write about this kind of thing without sounding like a dick. Also there's the fact that it may actually be of interest to some people - hearing about what ideas and innovations are happening in restaurants, about exceptionally delicious food, about my stumbling-baby-deer attempts to describe the wine I drank. And I do like expanding on this blog's scope every now and then.
I've decided to dub this segment Fancy Pants and Plans To Match, a quote from the woefully underwatched but utterly brilliant 90s TV show News Radio, spoken by the character Jimmy James. I could let this devolve into a ranty essay about why you should watch NewsRadio but I will instead say this: it's a better title than my original idea "Sometimes I get free stuff PLEASE DON'T HATE ME."
I feel like I've been a bit oddly cryptic and circular, as per, so here's the thing: I got invited to a product launch and dinner at La Boca Loca.
The pitch: La Boca Loca is launching a new range of food products that you can buy instore and soon online, and so they had a dinner as part of this on Sunday night.
It was quite dark: hence the grainy photos. Everything looked a lot nicer in person, I promise.
What happened: Tim and I arrived, mingled a little awkwardly, as is our wont, and then made our way down to the back of the restaurant to find a place at one of three large tables. Marianne Elliot started us off with an overview of what was going down, and Lucas Putnam (her partner, co-owner of the place with her, El Jefe and Master of Tequila - what a title!) followed that up by telling us about the journey to get to this point, including collaborating with villages in Mexico to get their amazing ingredients out here in New Zealand while simultaneously supporting their local industry. Then affable head chef Will Michell gave us a brief cooking demonstration, saying "If I can cook Mexican food - and I'm from Bristol - anyone can". He mixed organic masa (a rough flour made from corn) into a pliant dough, then squashed balls of it, heated them, then chopped them up and fried them to demonstrate how quickly you could make both tortillas and corn chips. Food was then brought out to each table - addictively sweet-salty lime-tinged roasted sunflower seeds, and punchily hot roasted peanuts. Bowls of corn chips made from white, yellow, and blue corn masa, bafflingly creamy guacamole, zingy salsa verde, and smoky, mild salsa ranchero. Bowls of poblano cream chicken, shredded beef, slow-braised in their master stock, and pork that - damn it x a thousand - I can't remember what they did with, but it was faint-makingly good. We were then given a product catalogue which lists all the things you can buy - the salsas, the hot sauces, the spices, and so on.
Coolest bit: Firstly, Marianne is one of the coolest, most interesting people I know (seriously. This woman.) So it was great just to be there and to talk with her and hear her speak and support La Boca Loca and so on.
Also: I only drank a chargrilled pineapple and black pepper margarita like it was no big thing.
Pineapple's sweetness, especially when intensified by heat, can handle a lot of spice. As can tequila's sinuous robustness. It was an excellent update on an already mighty concept. The food was exceptionally good, and I liked the convivial nature of it - passing bowls around the table, everyone filling their own tortillas exactly how they fancied, exclaiming over how utterly drinkable the salsa verde is with complete strangers. And it's always good to be reminded of that there's not just heat or an absence of chilli when it comes to, well, chilli. From tiny as a Christmas tree light and fierce, to large, disconcertingly floppy, and sweetly smoky in flavour.
And finally, I was given a bottle of banana vinegar! Those two words feel like they shouldn't go together, but in fact it's bizarrely good. Made from the abundant platano muchas of the Mexican State of Veracruz, it has a delicate, rounded fruity sweetness and I can't wait to try and use it in something. I feel like it might be quite amazing with avocado, but also maybe in a ceviche with lime?
From a scale of 1 to "Is This A Dream?" 5. On the one hand, the dinner was very fun and relaxed, but on the other hand, I was at a product launch and got a bottle of banana vinegar and a bag of beautiful, leathery chillies. Thrills!
Would I do this for not-free? Any day of the week. I adore La Boca Loca. And it is very reasonably priced, which is good because plain adoring a place is not always enough to feasibly get you through the door.
Earnest thanks for making me feel fancy to: La Boca Loca, 19 Park Road, Miramar. Ph 04 388 2451