Corks+Forks: Z’Tejas’ Chicken and Crab Rellenos and the Dobel Diamond Smash

Southwestern style food brings spice and spirit to bellevue Square.

Williams Shakespeare once composed that in his youth, he “never did apply hot and rebellious liquors in (his) blood.” Two weeks ago, I applied both hot food and rebellious liquors in my blood at Bellevue’s Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill kick-off for the chain’s annual Chile Fest.

Go big or go home, they say, so I teamed up with Ethan Chung of 425 Magazine and Chris Nishiwaki of much freelance culinary writing acclaim, to take down a feisty triplet of Bellevue firefighters in the name of charity. The team plus the remainder of their fire department were waiting tables that evening in the Bellevue Square restaurant with all tips being donated to the Bellevue Firefighters Community Support Foundation.

In a chile “onion ring” eating competition, each writer was matched against a much larger and hungrier firefighter to see which side could empty their plate down to the list ring first. The first plate (mine – dainty ladies go first in eating competitions?) was loaded with Hatch peppers, the main feature pepper behind the festival. The second plate was stacked with jalapeños while the final kicked it up a notch with serrano peppers. First to finish all three plates takes the cake and earns an extra $300 donated in honor of their team to the BFCSF.

From left to right: Team Foodie versus Team Firefighter

Not that I’m bitter because I slaughtered in my round – tearing through the battered and deep-fried peppers like there was a gun to my head and my country’s diplomacy depended on it, slobber and sauce on my face be damned!  – but the firefighters made a remarkable comeback and were able to contribute in their cause in their own name.

Although that was just the kick-off celebration, Chile Fest – a tribute to the chiles of Hatch, New Mexico – runs until this Sunday, September 23rd with a special menu chocked with heat for the spicy pretenders to the red hot challengers. The purchase of an entree from said menu gets patrons participating in the donation game, with $1 of each sent to the BFCSF.

Z’Tejas first took off in an old Victorian house on Austin’s historic 6th Street in 1989 with a menu that was largely influenced by its surrounding southern flare and the bold, robust flavors it boasts. The Bellevue location is the sole station in the Northwest and proudly plates a cuisine lesser known ’round these parts.

Chicken and Crab Rellenos with Dobel Diamond Smash

The Dish: Chicken and Crab Rellenos ($13.95) — The less rebellious food, this traditional Mexican dish showcases the roasted Hatch chiles that are stuffed with achiote chicken, crab, Jack cheese and coconut polenta, topped with salsa, Cotija cheese, drizzled with chipotle sour cream and served with seasonal rice, borracho beans and green chile sauce. Locked and loaded, this dish is less hot and bothered than its others but, for the faint of heart, it it could fire off at any time.

The Variety: Tequila — Isn’t it obvious? Although tequila is a cop-out for pairing with Mexican or Southwestern cuisine, it is for a reason (which we’ll get to later). Tequila, the distilled spirit derived from blue agave plants, originated in the city which it took its name from, and has been in production since the 16th century.

Fact: Tequila has been pushing a resurgence into the beverage industry as a high-end distilled spirit from a designated region, much like Cognac. The falsity of a worm in the bottle from the agave plant (which was a foul marketing gimmick in the 1940s) is keeping them from achieving its their deserved status.

Why It Works: The spirit complements seafood and citrus based foods, as well as pork and poultry if aged in oak for a woody characteristic of vanilla that’s sweetness plays with the richness of the meat. In this case, the bite of chile peppers and spices are slightly neutralized and relaxed by the citrus flavors of tequila, which pairing well with the vegetal and acidic tones of the dish.

The Recommended Match: Z’Tejas’ Dobel Diamond Smash ($8.95) — The recommended pairing from the masterminds behind all things Z, the Dobel Diamond Smash is made in the classic smash format – mint, sugar and a spirit. The spirit of choice is Maestro Dobel Diamond Tequila, a clear yet oak-aged silver tequila; the sugar of choice is Herradura Agave Nectar syrup and all is cut by the muddled lemon and mint leaves.

You haven’t missed your chance – you can still make a difference with the Bellevue Firefighters Community Support Foundation by purchasing an entree from the feature menu. Pair wisely, my friends.

Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill |535 Bellevue Square
, Bellevue | (425) 467-5911