2011-06-02 / Columns

Acorn Epicurean

The 10th annual Margarita Mix-off beckoned me last week. A fundraiser for Soroptimist International of the Conejo, 12 local restaurants were competing for honors like Best Blended Margarita, Best Margarita on the Rocks, Best Entertainment, and the highly coveted People’s Choice Award.

Strolling mariachis and picture perfect weather added to the fun of the May 26 Conejo Creek Park North charity event.

The idea for the mix-off came from longtime Soroptimist member Sue Gore, who’d attended a similar event in Laughlin, Nev., more than a decade ago.

“I thought it was a great idea,” Gore said.

With the approval of her fellow Soroptimist members, she began asking local restaurants if they would be interested in participating in a margarita mix-off.

“I’m not good at asking people for things,” Gore confided. “Elephant Bar in Simi Valley was the first restaurant to say yes. I’ll never forget them for that. Ten years later Elephant Bar is still here supporting us.”

FAN FAVORITE—Employees of Chili’s Restaurant receive the Mix-off Peoples’ Choice honor. FAN FAVORITE—Employees of Chili’s Restaurant receive the Mix-off Peoples’ Choice honor. And while participants, attendees and auction donors support Soroptimist, the service organization donates to local charities including the Women’s Resource Center, Safe Passages and Under One Roof. Celebrating nearly 90 years of service, the name Soroptomist translates to “the best for women.” The club’s mission is to improve the lives of women in our local community and around the world.

Vendors this year hailed from Calabasas, Agoura, Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park, Simi Valley and Camarillo. In addition to the Elephant Bar competitors included Alamo Bar and Grill, Aloha Steakhouse, Bogies, Casa Escobar, Chili’s, Crown and Anchor, Holdren’s Steaks and Seafood, La Paz Mexican Seafood Restaurant, Los Robles Greens Golf Club, Sagebrush Cantina, TOI Tapas Bar and Lounge and Ladyface Alehouse and Brasserie.

Though the competition was friendly and relaxed, everyone brought their A game. La Paz Mexican Seafood in Calabasas had many guests giving nods of approval for their tamarindo, Jamaican and horchata margaritas. Made from tamarindo fruit, the first was both sweet and tangy. The Jamaican margarita prepared with a blend of wild hibiscus flowers produced a sweet drink with a hint of floral flavor. Taken from the traditional rice drink, the horchata Margarita blended with cinnamon and vanilla was smooth and subtle.

Los Robles Greens Golf Club in Thousand Oaks stood out with a bloody orange margarita. It was made with dragon fruit and blood oranges served with an edible orchid and garnished with a slice of the colorful dragon fruit.

The food rivaled the margaritas for main-event status. Sagebrush Cantina served crisp Tijuana egg rolls that were packed with flavor and delicious bitesize Mexican Club Sandwiches. Aloha Steakhouse of Camarillo and Ventura served tender teriyaki beef filet brochettes with button mushrooms sautéed in garlic butter accompanied by the restaurant’s signature Caesar salad.

Judging took place without the panel knowing which restaurant had prepared each margarita.

Irish John Gore served as master of ceremonies.

TOI Tapas Bar and Lounge of Thousand Oaks was the big winner, taking first place in the Best on the Rocks Margarita and the Best Blended Margarita for their pomarita margarita. The pomarita also won Best Drink Presentation: Each drink was topped with pomegranate caviar, which not only looked spectacular but also gave the winner another layer of flavor and texture.

According to Laura Papenfus, director of banquets and events for TOI, the caviar was created by Chef Chad Mandel. TOI also received Best Hors d’oeuvre for their crab beignet served with grilled red pepper salsa and garnished with creole remoulade.

Second place for the Best on the Rocks Margarita went to Alamo Bar and Grill for their version of the tamarindo margarita. According to Alamo manager Robert Gomez, boiling the tamarindo fruit is critical to achieving the right balance for the margarita.

Second place Best Blended Margarita went to Crown and Anchor for their Middlesbrough mango margarita, created by bartender Tiffany Williams for the 2011 competition. Crown and Anchor owner and manager Kim Miller said the mango margarita will now be on the restaurant drink menu.

For the second year in a row, Chili’s Restaurant won the People’s Choice Award for the World’s Freshest Margarita. Made from Milagro tequila, agave nectar and fresh lime juice on the rocks, the drink has become a favorite at the restaurant.

Best Decorated Booth went to Ladyface Alehouse and Brasserie of Agoura. Chili’s Restaurant won Most Entertaining Booth honors for its enthusiastic bar and service staff.

Competitors and attendees alike were already looking forward to next year’s mix-off.

“I’ve been here many times and it just gets better every year,” said Gloria Dyok of Thousand Oaks.

Camarillo resident Jon Rich agreed and said, “Good food, good drinks and good people.”

You can contact Patti Feddersen at pattifeddersen@gmail.com.

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