Walking in to Bronxville’s Park 143 Bistro is like walking in to a friend or family member’s dining room. Of course – a very cool and design sponge-y friend or family member. Conversation from the tables and the busy bar filled the room and reminded me more of a dinner party than a restaurant. Extra wine glasses and bottles lined the back wall on shelves, ready to be grabbed at a moment’s notice, should extra revelers arrive. Cozy tables were arranged so that diners could have both privacy at dinner and room to mill about the place chatting and imbibing before their meals – which is exactly the scene I walked in to last Tuesday when I arrived for their Tequila Tasting dinner.
Upon my entry, owner Wayne Chessler strode on up, excited to have us there and cemented the familial vibe even further. It was clear that if Wayne didn’t know all of his patrons before Tuesday night, he did after. He made it his business to check on all of the tables, sometimes pulling up a chair and chatting about this or that. He explained everything he does has a little twist, taking for example the restaurants monthly tasting dinners. Last month’s Rosé tasting took diners to “April in Paris”, while the tequila tasting was held in May as a nod to Cinco de Mayo. Later, Wayne gushed about his wunderkind designer – a 24-year-old who took the space from a humble luncheonette to the fresh, clean, modern establishment it is today. He even shared a few bits about growing up in Riverdale – not the Bronx, Riverdale! – taking his leave of us only after recommending a few eateries there, much to my Riverdale-dwelling dinner companion’s delight.
It was evident we were his guests for dinner, not his customers.
With Wayne playing our gracious host, Sean Brown from Premium Wine & Spirits stepped in to the role of tour guide. He took us through the four tequilas of the evening, each of them served straight up alongside some ice and lime wedges. Sean spoke in understandable terms and explained simple concepts, like how the aging process of the spirit effects the overall experience.
Then came the food.
Avion Silver was served with the appetizer – Park’s take on shrimp cocktail. A plump shrimp perched on the edge of the serving cup filled with a nice helping of cocktail sauce to dunk it down in to. Salsa-like with chunks of avocado and more shrimp mixed in, the sauce itself ate like a spicy-tomatoey almost-ceviche and the heat from it made the already smooth Silver tequila even smoother.
Moving along to Partida Anejo, which reminded me more of a whiskey – and I was proven correct when I learned that this particular tequila is aged in old bourbon barrels. I didn’t have to add ice or lime to this one (you would almost ruin it with lime so this isn’t really a good choice for traditional margaritas,) and it was served paired with the BEST dish of the night – the chicken tinga tostado. Tostados, for anyone who’s not familiar, is really just an open-faced taco. The flat, crispy tortilla was placed on top of a small scoop of black beans and then smothered in the stewed chicken tinga then topped with lettuce, cheese, crema and a wafer-thin chip of fried chicken skin. The smokiness of the chicken complimented the whiskey-inspired tequila perfectly and a hush fell over our table – over the whole restaurant, really – as we devoured our plates. With her final bite, my dinner-date and best pal let out a futile cry to the heavens, “it’s over!” It indeed was, and I felt sorry for her. (Not sorry enough to offer her one of my remaining bites, but still sorry.)
Casamigos Reposado took us through the main course of grilled skirt steak served up with rice, beans and a helping of guacamole (pretty much my favorite summertime plate and Park 143 certainly did it justice.) Turns out Casamigos is owned by none-other than George Clooney – a fact which illicited a cry of “oh, we LIKE George!” from the by then two-tequilas deep patrons. I like George too – and his tequila. Most surprising of the night was how much I enjoyed both the dessert and the dessert tequila pairing. They’d picked the no-brainer choice of flan, which was served in silver-dollar sized, thick coins and I learned it was actually the recipe of an employee of the restaurant. Caramelly and delicious! Served up with that, however, was Avion Espresso – a coffee flavored tequila. Now, I’m a die-hard coffee drinker, as the mother of a toddler it is my life-blood. And I am also a fairly big fan of tequila, hence my attendance at this dinner and the creation of my No-Fail Margarita recipe. So naturally my friends know this about me and have offered me this type of tequila before and I’ve always pooh-pooh’d their offer.
Folks – do NOT pooh-pooh this tequila.
Syrupy in texture, Avion Espresso tasted much more like the coffee part of its name than the liquor. It drank very smoothly with only a hint of an alcoholic after-bite. It really would be a cool idea to serve in place of a cordial the next time you host a Mexican-inspired dinner feast. One suggestion though, throw that bottle in the freezer and get it as cold as possible. I didn’t add any citrus to mine that night, but might be cool to serve with a lemon peel twisted in like you might serve regular espresso. Maybe come up with a coffee-milkshake inspired take on a frozen margarita by throwing in some Grand Marnier and whatever else you think might work. (Or perhaps I will, that’s a great idea! Good job, me!)
Guys, this dinner was too much.
Each menu item was crafted especially for the night but if it is a indicator of how well the gang at Park 143 understands food and concept, than you can pop by Wayne’s place any given night and plan on leaving full and happy. The whole team there will just be glad to see you and psyched to feed you. Wayne’s one rule though? Come prepared to have fun.
Thanks, Wayne, we did!
*To check out a few of my snapshots from that evening, visit my Instagram #tequilatastingpark143