Last week American Express threw a party for their new AMEX Gold Card holders. The Gold Card will offer more points for travel and dining, similar to Chase Sapphire, although AMEX also includes points for groceries. The celebration was held in conjunction with Infatuation, a kind of concierge for dining events. Do you have to find a classy yet reasonable place with craft cocktails for your office Christmas party? A romantic place to propose? Infatuation will take care of you. If they were the ones who chose Dama for this event, they definitely know what they are doing.
We had a peek at Chef Antonia Lofaso’s new Latin Fusion restaurant during The LA Times’ Food Bowl last May, and swooned over Dama’s whipped beans at The Food Event only weeks ago. Chef Antonia is joined in this project by Steve Livigni and Pablo Moix, who mixes Caribbean-inspired cocktails that compliment the old Havana club feel. The Latin vibe extends to the outdoors with lots of comfy seating on the spacious patio of City Market South.
We definitely needed the cocktail hour to try out the four specialty cocktails on the menu. First I tried the Derby Cocktail Tropical, bright with Bourbon, pineapple, lemon, and mint. I easily emptied that tumbler of everything but the ice and a sprig of mint. Next, I was double fisting their signature Batida de Banana and the Sandia, made of Tequila, pineapple gum, and lime.
I must take a moment here to applaud Ashley, who immediately became my favorite bartendrix with her gorgeous long blonde hair and friendly smile. And then as the alcohol hit me she became my best friend. We acknowledged the terrible news of the day, and I said, “Yeah, it makes you want to just lie in bed with your cats all day.”
She had to hand off a drink, turning to tell me, “I’ll be right back, and then I want to hear all about your cats.” It was like a comedy skit about your perfect woman. “Oh, George, tell me all about your early Star Trek figurine collection. Do not leave out a single detail!” Sigh. It turns out Ashley and I both have Calicos, so that was pretty much all we talked about for the rest of the night.
The first time I tried the Batida de Banana at The Food Event a few weeks ago (handed to me by Ashley, of course), I thought the smoothie-like drink was too thick. My first few sips last week also had me a little put off by the viscosity. But after a wallop from the strong Tequila-forward Sandia, I was all about that Batida, as it went down sooo smoothly. I decided that the next time I have dental work I want to have that drink to soothe my sore gums and bruised soul.
Hors d’oeuvres were passed during the cocktail hour: Nopales on Chips, Empanadas, and our favorite, Crispy Calamari. Nonetheless, when we were seated, we were still treated to a collection of starters. I was looking forward to the whipped beans with crispy pork, cotija, and radish from The Food Event, and it did not disappoint. An octopus, calamari, and shrimp ceviche with cherry tomatoes, charred summer corn, chiles, cilantro, and avocado was also a scene-stealer. So fresh with the last vestiges of summer flavors. Their guacamole was a nice surprise, with pickled chiles, Persian cucumber, cilantro, and lime.
The oxtail tacos with queso fresco, radish, avocado, and pickled vegetables were tender and succulent, the rich meat nestled in almost impossibly thin tortillas. As you bite into one, the juices dribble out the end and a sound escapes you that causes your table mates to ask, “Is it that good?” and all you can do is nod wide-eyed. The tacos were accompanied by fried squash blossoms stuffed with farmer’s cheese, goat cheese, thyme, chives as well as a street cart-style elote. No matter how many times you eat this version of corn-on-the-cob, Mexican elote is always a decadent surprise. Dama‘s version is packed with queso fresco, cotija, cilantro aioli, and chile-lime salt. I kind of want to eat everything with cilantro aioli from now on.
The highlight of the third course was a crispy pork shank with corn tortillas and lettuce cups to make your own tacos. Served with a giant fork for shredding the meat from the bone, it was a dramatic showpiece. For dessert, we dug into a festive ice cream sundae with buttered bananas, caramel, and peanuts accompanied by warm churros rolled in cinnamon sugar.
Our swag bags contained a golden pineapple cup with reusable stainless steel straws. Pineapples are a symbol of hospitality, so it was an apropos gift. Shake Shack was also standing by with takeout burgers and fries for midnite snacks–as if anyone would ever be hungry again after that elaborate feast.