Is it possible to have a neighborhood bar in a big box mall? Hollister Brewing Co. is having a go at it, and next to them, Chili’s looks dinky by comparison, walled in on the other side by Pastavino and Holdren’s. A 10-seat bar, sports inevitably on the TV, windows that look out over the parking lot…and regulars.
Yes, Chili’s is corporate, but manager Israel Fuentes has been here five years (10 total in the Chili’s chain) and bartender Jen Bradshaw has been here three and a half. And during this economic downturn he hasn’t had to lay anybody off.
But there is one quibble here — bartenders can’t taste their own drinks, in that dipped cocktail straw method we mixologists trust. Can a drink be any good without a nod of approval?
Questions, questions. We want answers. We also want margaritas, as Chili’s is undergoing Margarita Madness for several months, rolling out all sorts of cocktails.
One is the Skinny Patron Margarita, the first diet cocktail we’ve ever tried. (As opposed to a diet of cocktails, which is how we live.)
Patron and Patron Citronge make up the main thrust of the drink, and there is real lime juice here, too. But what’s this? Monin “Free” Triple Sec? What the? We didn’t lose any weight drinking this, but we did taste it afterwards — Splenda, that is. However, if you like Diet Coke, why not go for it?
In lieu of a shot of Knob Creek to take away the sucralose, we headed instead to the World’s Freshest margarita. It’s also Chili’s strongest, which might be the better name. Over two ounces of Milagro tequila, lime juice and agave nectar, a modest glass, and this is just what the doctor ordered. Israel Fuentes calls it their new signature drink, a title that was taken away from the Presidente.
The Presidente Margarita earned its title with the kind of razzle-dazzle flair that you expect from Chili’s — it comes in a large blue plastic shaker, and we hear rumors of bartenders spinning and flipping them this way and that. Despite that, we’re relieved to find the drink in our glass, a mix of Sauza, Patron Citronge and El Presidente brandy to take the harsh edge off the Sauza. The lime “juice” is Rose’s cordial. We’re OK with it, and it does the proper margarita thing.
The Presidente is friendly, but we like us some “World’s Freshest,” truth be told. A mix of sweet and smooth, this is our Drink of the Week.
WORLD’S FRESHEST MARGARITA
2-1/4 ounces Milagro Tequila
1-1/2 ounces lime juice
1 ounce Milagro Agave Nectar
Mix over ice and pour into lowball glass
CHILI’S GRILL AND BAR
6950 Market Place Drive, Goleta