When we got the invitation to attend a Secret Dining Society event here in San Diego, I wasn’t quite sure what it would entail. Sounds cool, but what the heck is that? After a quick Google search, there wasn’t a whole lot of consistent information out there. Each experience I read about differed from the last and only one thing was certain, you’d regret passing this one up. Good enough for me! In order to get an invite you have to join their Patrón Social Club. Once joined, if there is an event in your city they email everyone a question or riddle that must be solved immediately. There are also ways to win tickets by following Patrón on Instagram @patron. I hear the riddles are not super tough, so if you are quick to the hip you have a good chance of grabbing one of the precious spots. Did I mention the event is free if you can score a seat? These events feature a pairing of a top chef and an acclaimed mixologist. On this fine evening we would have the pleasure of tasting food from Chef Sweeney, a Top Chef alum who recently started cooking at his new restaurant Florent. While a very talented Jennifer Queen of Juniper and Ivy would be crafting our cocktails. This post might be a little lengthy, but hopefully I can capture each moment properly so it feels like you went on this journey with Anh and I.
It all starts with an email the night before giving the location of the Patrón Secret Dining Society event, and the time to meet. Thirty minutes before dinner there is a scavenger hunt which is Instagram driven. Actually, the entire event is Instagram driven, which will make more sense later. So Anh and I roll up to our location: Hotel Del Coronado. The first thought when we found out we’d be at the Hotel Del was outdoor dining in back maybe? I get ahead of myself. We enter the doors and were told to wait in the lobby for the first clue via their Instagram.
Oh look, there’s a lot of other people here waiting on their phones too. I think we’re all here for the same thing. The waiting game is intense. Everyone lingers for a few minutes and then bam! Like the bell for recess, everyone is out the front door in the quickness.
My Instagram crashed so all I could do was follow the herd. Said herd stopped at the tree on the left which was featured in the Marilyn Monroe film, Some Like It Hot. Anh and I were always one of the last ones to make it to each stop, but I think the first person to find each clue received a shot of Patrón as their prize. The next clue brought us to the courtyard in back.
People gathering around a stand usually means one thing: drinks!
We hit the ground running with the Patrón Silver Welcome Drink. It had a smooth cucumber essence that kept us happily scurrying to our next clue. Patrón is really attacking social media and they encouraged us all to use #secretdiningsociety on Instagram for a chance to win an invitation to their next secret dining society event. It really did tie us all together as we were constantly checking out the slick pictures people were able to capture throughout the night.
The final clue: the first electrically lit Christmas tree which happened to be back outside in the front of the hotel. And then the buses! Looks like we aren’t dining at the Hotel Del Coronado afterall!
We pack into two party buses on our way to an unknown destination. After a few minutes we are on the road and someone hooks up their iphone for some party bus music. If the party didn’t officially start yet, it just did. About 15 minutes later we hear someone say “dolphins!” I think to myself, “yeah right.” What do I look over my shoulder to see? A freaking school of dolphins! This all occurs right as we pull up to our stop at Silver Strand Beach. Well played Patrón, well played…
The dress code on the invitation said outdoor cocktail attire with a light jacket and flats or wedges for the ladies. Now I understand why. Dining on the beach could be a little chilly! Patrón would have almost everything you could think of covered for the night, including flip flops so you don’t have to get your fancy schmancy shoes all sandy.
As we got comfortable in our new footwear, our seafaring band plays classic rock while more cocktails are served.
The first food of the evening is served in the form of two appetizers. Pictured here are small apples stuffed with bacon and cheese, topped with a quail egg. Also a salmon fish taco with cabbage, greens, and I believe a cilantro lime sauce. What a way to welcome us to the beach.
I was reading about other Secret Dining Society dinners and typically they have ~30-60 guests. Ours seemed a little larger with close to 70 if I counted right. There were three tables just like this one situated so close to the water, you were almost in it. With our names resting neatly next to each place setting, passers by most likely thought we were attending a wedding with this stunning setup.
Before we took our seats we noticed a small prop plane going back and forth. After the second pass we realized it was towing a sign that read “Patrón Secret Dining Society.” What else could they think of? Maybe dolphins? Oh wait…dayum.
Another drink I suppose was in order. All of the drinks for the evening were clean and crisp with intention, with each seemingly stronger and stronger throughout the night. Sipping on this one made me feel like the most sophisticated beach bum around.
The dinner menu seemed quite diverse. Read the menu and you yourself would get excited with names like “Sunset at the Cliffs” or “Silver Lonesome Dove.” Before our meal Chef Rich Sweeney and Mixologist Jennifer Queen walked us through each course they would present to us. They teamed up to put together “A Tour of San Diego,” highlighting several different areas of San Diego and of course, the Patrón.
The “Craft Beerviche” was delicate and full of tang with a tiny hint of heat. It paired nicely with the also delicate and refreshing “Silver Lonesome Dove”, my favorite drink of the night.
After the scavenger hunt, bus ride, dolphin show, outdoor beach concert (ongoing), and beautiful sunset, it started to get dark and good pictures were hard to come by. Therefore, I’m using some of the pictures their photographer was able to capture so you get a better idea of what we had. In between courses they played us a short video on how Patrón is made and the history behind the famous brand. Did you know at least sixty different hands touch each bottle of Patrón that ends up in the consumers hands?
We were taken to Little Italy with”Picking Thru Suzie’s Farm,” featuring a nicely seared scallop alongside different colored cauliflower, and possibly shallots and other fruits. There was also a dollop of panna cotta on the side which was interesting. “Postcards From Italy” ramped up the Patrón Añejo content with Meyer Lemon Cello. Easily Anh’s favorite cocktail of the evening. Stronger than the last, with lemon through its core.
This is their take on Convoy Street. “Taste of the Mesas” featured a Patrón XO Cafe Dark and Sambal braised pork cheek, crispy noodles, charred bok choy, enoki mushrooms, and pickled carrots. The pork itself was a little sweet, tender, and pulled apart easily. I wish I got more sauce on top of the crispy noodles for it was tasty. If the photographer gets to eat the food he took pictures of, he would be set. The “Convoy” had Roca Patrón, sesame nori syrup, sweet vermouth, and bitters. After taking a sip of this you can ever so slightly notice the lingering nori flavor. Would it be wrong for me to say it tasted like the fruit punch of the sea Ms. Queen? Sweet, beachy, smooth and fun, the “Convoy” had us dazzled.
Last up was the dessert “Sunset At The Cliffs” which featured a delicious salted caramel ice cream with cinnamon crisps and smoked chicharon. Did you say smoked chicharon!? One of the very many highlights of the meal. It was paired with the “Borderline” cocktail with Patrón XO, cinnamon, and horchata. A stunning combination to conclude our meal, and a cinnamon lovers dream to boot.
Remember how I said it could get cold near the ocean, and do you also remember how I said Patrón had most everything covered? They had Secret Dining Society blankets for those that needed the extra warmth! After an impressive meal, many of us migrated to the bonfire to relax before we left this beachside wonderland.
If this is what secret dining is all about, I’m going to track each and every one of them down. The duo of Chef Sweeney and Mixologist Queen are pictured in the middle alongside their excellent team who helped shape our magical evening. Patrón held nothing back, and with heavy hitters at past events like Marcus Samuelsson, Rick Bayless, and Michele Bernstein, you’ll want to sign up for the Patrón Social Club in hopes one day Patrón comes a calling. It’s not everyday you can enjoy an evening of mystery, music, excellent cocktails, scrumptious food, all while watching dolphins play in the ocean while the sun sets on the beach. Patrón, you have set the bar high and left me with an experience I will not soon forget.