IL Ritorno Does it Again: Tequila Pairing Dinner

IL Ritorno Does it Again: Tequila Pairing Dinner

There’s nothing wrong with doing tequila shots and munching on tacos, chips and guacamole … but that’s not what this tequila dinner was about.

Unfortunately, that’s how too many people solely think of tequila, but there’s more to it than that.

IL Ritorno's Famous Focaccia Bread
IL Ritorno’s Famous Focaccia Bread

This spirit is strictly from the terroir of Jalisco, Mexico, and made from the Blue Agave plant. The best tequilas are 100% blue agave. (Check the label next time you’re at the liquor store. You might be surprised to find out that some of the hyped up “big name” bottles do not say 100% blue agave.)

Tequila can actually be quite elegant, and what better restaurant to have an elegant dinner at than IL Ritorno. Needless to say at this point, but we were pretty darn impressed.

The Larger of the two Private Dining Rooms accommodates 36
The Larger of the two Private Dining Rooms accommodates 36

I mean, Italian food with tequila. Mmmm hmmm. Yep.

IL Ritorno recently announced that they would have a Spirit Series—5 course dinners with a different spirit for pairing at each meal. The first one took place on February 27, 2018 and featured Lunazul Tequila. Lunazul’s Master Distiller Francisco Quijano made the trip from Mexico to help educate us on tequila. Most of it, I already knew, but an interesting thing that I did learn is that there is a special glass for tequila… and it’s not a shot glass. It’s a type of flute glass.


The Riedel Tequila glass, designated the Official Tequila Glass by the Consejo Regulador del Tequila, was designed to enhance Mexico’s finest Reposados, Añejos and Reservas de Casa Tequilas. The delivery from the glass to the palate makes the beverage taste round, supple and sweet. –

Francisco Quijano (Lunazul Tequila) & Leigh Erickson (Heaven Hill Distilleries)
Francisco Quijano (Lunazul Tequila) & Leigh Erickson (Heaven Hill Distilleries)

Heaven Hill Distilleries makes several bourbons, and supplies Lunazul with barrels to age their Añejo Tequila in for 12-18 months. Leigh Erickson from Heaven Hill was in attendance as well.

“These mugs were given to us when we arrived with a terrific tequila drink called Cantaritos made with fresh juices and we were told to take them home with us. They are not just any ordinary mug. They are hand made by the mentally disabled as a form of work. Instead of just giving them money they are are giving them a purpose. Each mug is unique and varies slightly. There is a stamp on the bottom as well. They are called Cantaritos mugs. Cantaritos is a traditional road side beverage in the Oaxaca region.” – Lori Brown on Facebook

Cantaritos Mug
Cantaritos Mug

First Course: Hamachi Crudo – fingerlimes, & calabrese chili foam
Paired with the Lunazul Blanco

Hamachi Crudo
Hamachi Crudo

The Hamachi Crudo was light, subtle and smooth, pairing perfectly with the blanco tequila, which had similar attributes. It’s kind of like the Italian version of sashimi.

The Lunazul Blanco was quite smooth with faint notes of citrus and a slightly herbaceous finish.

The little thing on the plate that looks like a cigar butt is actually a fingerlime. It’s a microcitrus. You squeeze it over the top of the crudo to get some lime juice, and there are tiny little balls, that is actually the pulp, that come out as well.

Second Course: Talegio Agnolotti with wild boar belly, chanterelle mushrooms, & charred garlic scape,
Paired with Lunazul Reposado

Tallegio Agnolotti
Talegio Agnolotti

I’ll just say here that all of the pairings were perfect.

As is the nature of a several course dinner, and pairings, each course gets a little bigger in flavor as we go.

The Lunazul Reposado has a little more body with caramel, fruit and a tiny bit of spice, which worked well with the mushrooms, wild boar belly, and the saltiness and butteriness of the talegio cheese.

Third Course: Seafood Risotto with seared scallops, Key West pink shrimp, citrus lace, & jalapeño
Paired with Lunazul Añejo Primero

Seafood Risotto
Seafood Risotto

The Lunazul Añejo Primero was quite interesting being that it was the first time I’ve ever seen an Añejo that was clear. It’s aged in American white oak barrels for 18 months, which is why.

The tequila is complex, but not as heavy as an amber-colored añejo. It has a more rounded mouth-feel with oak, citrus, and caramel with a slightly spicy finish.

This worked well with the creaminess and chewiness of the risotto and round fleshiness of the scallops along with the buttery sweetness of the shrimp.

Fourth Course: Truffle Spaghetti
Paired with Lunazul Double Barrel Aged Reposado

Truffle Spaghetti
Truffle Spaghetti

The Double Barrel Aged Reposado Tequila is first aged in American white oak but then finished in barrels selected from Heaven Hill formerly containing wheated-bourbon for 11 years.

The earthiness and full mouth feel of the tequila was matched perfectly with truffles and creamy rich flavor and mouthfeel of the spaghetti.

At the end of the meal, Chef asked me which was my favorite. At the time, I said that they were all so good that I couldn’t pick a favorite. After I got home and thought about it more, the Truffle Spaghetti was my favorite.

Fifth Course: Blood Orange Panna Cotta with Meyer Lemon Gelato, & Vanilla Tuile
Paired with the Lunazul Añejo

Blood Orange Panna Cotta with Meyer Lemon Gelato & Vanilla Tuile
Blood Orange Panna Cotta with Meyer Lemon Gelato & Vanilla Tuile

IL Ritorno is one of the only places we eat the bread at, and this goes for the dessert too.

The Añejo tequila was slightly sweet, mildly fruity with a full bodied mouthfeel. What better to have with a sweet, creamy panna cotta with the citrusy gelato balancing out the other flavors and mouthfeels.

Chef David Benstock & Master Distiller Francisco Quinjano
Chef David Benstock & Master Distiller Francisco Quinjano –
The “Lennon & McCartney” of tequila and Italian Food Pairings

Great job IL Ritorno and Chef David Benstock & Master Distiller Francisco Quinjano!

There are three more spirit pairing dinners coming up, but they are selling out fast, so you should follow the links below to get your tickets right away.

March 20: Rum
April 11: Bourbon
May 22: Cognac

IL Ritorno
  • Readers Rating
  • Rated 4.9 stars
    4.9 / 5 (5 )
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  • IL Ritorno
  • 727-897-5900
  • Italian, Northern Italian, Modern Italian
    • Mon - Sat 5:00pm - 10:00pm
  • View menu
  • Take Reservations: Yes!
  • 449 Central Ave #101, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, US

Northern Italian food with a modern flair.

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DISCLAIMER: Kevin, Lori, Abby, Haley, Lindsey & Mahika do not dine anonymously (this would be impossible) and we sometimes get free food (though never expected). However, we dine with the locals and we support our own. You will always get honesty in a respectful manner. We do not include any large national or regional chains in our ratings and reviews. We focus on independent locally owned eateries exclusively.

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