Fiesta! at River Café with Chef José Salas and Mixologist and Tequila Master Alfredo Sánchez from Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita

go to original

River-Cafe-Fiesta-Stephanie-Arsenault-Global-Dish-5My first sip of the margarita aguachile is as tantalizing as it is unexpected. This startlingly green drink has the sweet-tart balance of a traditional margarita, plus the reassuring taste of lime, but the similarity stops there. The concoction is also savoury and spicy; its taste foreign and familiar all at once.

I sidle up to the bar at the River Café in Prince’s Island Park to ask visiting bartender Alfredo Sánchez, the “tequila barista” at the Four Seasons Resort in Punta Mita, Mexico, what I am drinking. And why, exactly, is it neon green?

“There’s cucumber, cilantro and salt in it. Plus two kinds of chillies — jalapenos and serranos,” says Sánchez. “All the ingredients are common in dishes native to our region of Mexico.” Another taste and the tip of my tongue confirms it’s true — the greens are all there and, oddly, delicious in a margarita. Why have I never had this aguachile version until now, in Calgary of all places?

Tequila is just starting to appear on the cocktail radar, having languished for two decades somewhere in the purgatory of Generation X’s collective memory of too many shooters one night in university.

“Tequila is a growing trend,” confirms River Café sommelier and bartender Bruce Soley. “People have discovered there’s a lot more to tequila than the crappy stuff we drank when we were 18.”

No disrespect to Jose Cuervo, but discerning drinkers are turning to the likes of Don Julio, Patron, Milagro Unico and El Amo, and these boutique brands are driving its renaissance north of Mexico. People are sipping tequila, but they’re also mixing more affordable premium brands into craft cocktails and Mexican classics that venture beyond the safe territory of the traditional lime margarita.

“It’s such a versatile liquor,” says Soley, who recently added the popular paloma (see recipe) — Mexico’s fizzy answer to a greyhound — to the River Café’s cocktail menu.

To showcase tequila’s versatility, and to highlight the flavours of Mexico using local, seasonal ingredients, the River Café invited Sánchez and Chef José Salas to Calgary to participate in the restaurant’s popular dinner series. Fiesta! took place late in September.

River Café proprietor Sal Howell visits Punta Mita regularly and likens the country to a “restorative mental massage.” After sipping cocktails made with Mexico’s No. 1 spirit all night, I’d have to say the same thing about tequila.

Though tequila has always been popular in Mexico, Sánchez explains it’s being used in new and innovative ways.

“Right now, all the chefs are experimenting with tequila and mezcal, and so are the mixologists,” he says. They are taking ingredients from Mexican gastronomy, such as chillies and cilantro, and mixing them into drinks like my margarita aguachile (see recipe). If these salsa staples sound too strange to sip through a straw, think again — they add a subtle spice and savoury element to cocktails that’s fresh and easy to embrace. My palate is pleasantly surprised.

Sadly, the margarita aguachile is not available on the River Café’s cocktail menu. Though different and delicious, Soley says it just doesn’t fit with the restaurant’s typical Canadiana fare. That’s OK though — you can make a batch of them yourself and thus facilitate the “mental massages” of the guests attending your next fiesta.

Lisa Kadane is a Calgary-based features writer. Follow her@LisaKadane, or read about her cocktail, travel and parenting adventures at


Margarita Aguachile

margarita1-1/2 oz Don Julio tequila reposado
1 oz Cointreau
2 oz jalapeno syrup*
Dash lime juice
Cilantro salt (or substitute coarse sea salt)
Jalapeno chili garnish

Rim a margarita glass with cilantro salt. Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Pour contents into the margarita glass and garnish with a caramelized jalapeno chilli.

*Jalapeno syrup
1 English cucumber
1 jalapeño
40 g cilantro
10 oz fresh-squeezed lime juice
20 oz simple syrup (combine 2-1/2 cups water with 2-1/2 cups sugar and heat until sugar is dissolved, then cool)

Add all the ingredients in the blender, and blend until you get a liquid consistency of the preparation which should be easy to manage.

— Recipe courtesy Alfredo Sanchez, tequila barista at the Four Seasons Resort Punta Mita


1 oz El Amo tequila reposado
1 oz rosemary lemonade syrup*
3 squeezes fresh lime
2 dashes Twisted Grapefruit Bitters
2 oz fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice
Top soda
Lime wheel garnish

Combine all ingredients with ice in a shaker and shake. Strain over fresh ice into a highball glass. Top with soda and garnish with a lime wheel.

*Rosemary lemonade syrup
6 lemons
2 limes
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
Rosemary Sprig

Add sugar to water and the zest of the lemons and limes. Simmer for 5-10 minutes then remove from heat, strain and cool (add a few ice cubes to speed up the process). Juice the lemons and limes and add to the syrup after is has cooled. Add the rosemary sprig. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours in order for the rosemary to infuse the syrup.

— Recipe courtesy Bruce Soley, River Cafe

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

A taste of the Tropics on a Wintry Day: Fiesta at River Café

By Stephanie Arsenault from Global Dish Canada
go to original

river cafe fiesta

Now that winter is settling in {come on, there’s no denying it}, I feel like we could all use a taste of the tropics.

Remember that time I was talking about some fun stuff {involving tequila!} I couldn’t wait to tell you about? The snow on the ground is telling me that now’s the time.

There was this lovely event at the River Café {one of my very favourite spots in the city} a little while back… a Fiesta with special guests from the Four Seasons Resort in Punta Mita, Mexico, bites from the resorts’ Chef José Salas; mouthwatering cocktails from tequila master, Alfredo Sanchez; and, of course, all sorts of deliciousness from River Café’s very own Chef Andrew Winfield.

So grab a cocktail, enjoy the pictures, and pretend you’re sitting on a beach somewhere breathtaking {Mexico sounds pretty good right about now, doesn’t it?}.



About Emma Pérez
Punta Mita Real Estate Center From the US In Mexico Press Information
Punta Mita Resorts
Ramal Carr. Federal 200 Km. 19
Bahia de Banderas, Nayarit
C.P. 63734, México

Toll free: 1.888.647.0979 
From Canada:
Toll free: 1.877.783.7976

Toll free: 01.800.007.6482 
Tel: +52 (329) 291.6500 
fax: +52 (329) 291.6501
Emma Perez
Marketing and Public Relations Manager
tel: 329.291.6500 ext 125
US toll-free: 1.888.647.0979
© Content Rights Reserved. Punta Mita Properties Privacy Notice - Aviso de Privacidad