If you’re wondering what that smack of heat in your tacos or guacamole is at Dos Caminos, you can probably thank (or blame) a chile for the sizzle on your palette. The high-end, high-style Mexican eatery at the Palazzo stocks 30 different chiles in its kitchen, including grocery-staple jalapeños, chiles de arbol, Juan Ortega’s Anaheim chile and orange bearers of fiery fury the habañero. Most are imported from Oaxaca, Mexico, the central city that’s also the birthplace of tequila.
Recently, a far more fearsome chile has been discovered, Dos Caminos Corporate Executive Chef Scott Linquist tells the 20 or so students attending the one of the first cooking classes at the Palazzo eatery. He’s waiting to get a hold of some, he adds, to see what kind of damage he can do.
Linquist likes talking chiles, but he likes talking tequila even more. As margaritas flowed during the class at Dos Caminos’ year-old Las Vegas location, Linquist, visiting from New York, offered guests gathered in the private back room a tequila primer full of useful tidbits for bar side chatter or liquor store perusing. Patron, for instance, was owned by hair care giant Paul Mitchell before it became a favorite of rappers like T.I. and clubgoers nationwide.
Linquist’s lesson begins with Milagro – a kosher tequila owned by an Orthodox Jewish family – and continues into his other favorite agave-based sippers: El Tesoro Silver, Partido Reposado and Toñala Añejo. If you see the words “triple distilled” on your tequila take caution. "Why do you want a tequila that tastes like vodka?” Linquist jokingly asks the class. If you see the word “gold” on your tequila, stop, drop and shop for something better.
An offshoot of the restaurant’s popular classes in New York, the Las Vegas edition mostly consists of demonstration and dining. We drink. We watch. We eat. We lift one knife during the entire three-hour plus session, and it’s a steak knife. By the time Linquist and Hernandez are tackling the addictive plantain empanadas, I’ve embraced the laziness. In fact, I’m getting a bit sauced.
Soon it is our turn to cook. Well, to scoop, smash and mix, at least. At each table setting a three-legged bowl known as a molcajete holds a large, ripe avocado. A plate in front of it contains chopped onion, cilantro, chiles and tomato. Step by step, the chefs walk us through the process of creating Dos Caminos’ signature guacamole, an almost mandatory beginning to any meal at the restaurant. (See full recipe below.) By the time we’ve reached step five (serve with warm corn tortilla chips), our ingredients are starting to look like the real thing. Incredulously, we scoop up the green mixture and marvel at the subtle mix of spice, salt and sweet/sour lime. We are guac gods! Masters of the creamy green universe! Hey, can I get another margarita?
The rest of the class is watch and learn. Set up behind a miniature cooking station at the front of the room, the chefs show us how to craft black bean and cheese empanadas housed in homemade plantain dough and marinated skirt steak with frijoles borrachos (drunken beans), so called because they’re coked with light Mexican beer. Rounding out the meal are Executive Pastry Chef Hugo Reyes’ excellent crepes topped with cajeta, a goat’s milk syrup that tastes like caramel tempered with a slight sour edge. He says the dessert is straight out of Chihauhua, Mexico, just like him.
By the time the last candied pistachio falls onto Reyes’ plate, we’re growing hungry and increasingly inebriated. The servers deliver each of the items we’ve learned to make to our table, and now, the eating part begins in earnest. While we scarf down the ample lunch, Linquist and co. stroll around, chatting with their pupils and talking tequila, chiles and south of the border fare. The class with light breakfast, full lunch, instruction, signed copy of Linquist’s Mod Mex cookbook and, of course, margaritas costs $65. Knowing how to mix up a batch of perfectly tuned Dos Caminos guacamole with a pitcher of ‘ritas to match? Priceless.
Dos Caminos Guacamole
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsp finely chopped yellow onion
2 tsp minced jalapeno or Serrano chiles
Kosher or coarse salt
2 large ripe avocados, peeled and seeded
2 tbsp cored, seeded and finely chopped plus tomato
2 tsp fresh lime juice
Warm tortilla chips
Mash half of the cilantro, onion and chile with 1/2 tsp of salt in the bottom of a molcajete or medium-sized bowl. Add avocados and gently mash with a fork until chunky-smooth. Fold in remaining cilantro, onion and chile. Stir in tomato and lime juice, adding salt to taste. Serve with a basket of warm corn tortilla chips.