April 27, 2007 | The Sacramento Bee

As The Worm Turns: Zocalo Tasting Features the Good Stuff

By Lisa Heyamoto

It's not that I have anything against tequila, per se.

It's just that it had not, until recently, ever occurred to me to sip it.

In margarita form? Yeah, sure.

In shot form? Not so much. That stuff is going down as fast as I can manage it, and yes, I'll take a lime.

Unlike many of my barfly brethren, I've never had The Tequila Night, the one where, in a fit of ill-advised enthusiasm, you take down six shots and promptly revisit them in a much less appealing form, inspiring you to swear off tequila forevermore.

Well, OK, that did happen once. But I've always believed in second chances.

Since then, I've dipped a toe or two in the tequila scene over the years: I'll drink it, although I'm not exactly making a mix tape for it.

So when I heard Zocalo was offering monthly tequila tastings for the hitherto uninformed, I figured it was the perfect chance to give tequila, ahem, another shot.

The midtown Mexican hot spot hosts a tequila tasting on the first Monday of each month, complete with samples of the good stuff and an expert to tell you all about it. It's a great chance for Zocalo to bring tequila to the people, says beverage manager Joe Anthony Savala, and to educate customers about their signature sauce.

"We just wanted to be on the cutting edge," Savala says, "and make sure everyone likes what they're drinking and knows what they're drinking."

Tequila, you see, suffers from a bit of a bad rep. Too many people were weaned on the cheap stuff, too many people have had The Night.

But more and more, people have started to develop a new appreciation, helped in no small part by a certain Jalisco tequila called Patron.

In the last few years, Patron has joined the ranks of Cristal and Hennessy as a drink du jour of hip-hop culture. It's been lyrically imbibed in at least 22 songs, and the resulting pop culture cred has made it a staple of bar shelves everywhere.

Still, Patron is not necessarily a favorite of the true aficionado.

Take Tequila Joe. Tequila Joe leads a local tequila-tasting group called the Tasting Aficionados, a 66-member club formed last year to drink and discuss the fruits of the agave plant.

He rates each tequila on the kind of meticulous scale that any wine buff would applaud, making notes in his binder on the liquor's color, aroma, flavor and finish, among many, many other characteristics.

He just so happens to rate Clase Azul, the brand of tequila we were trying at the tasting, as the best reposado (aged for anywhere from two months to a year) that he's tasted so far.

"It's extremely different from any other reposado," says the 28-year-old, whose full name is Joe Horrigan. "In very few reposados do you get a lot of caramel and vanilla."

Or, in the words of a novice:

"This is tripping me out," says Barry Brooke, 35, as he sipped his sample shot.

And indeed, the Clase Azul is far from your typical Cuervo. First of all, it's brown, evoking a peculiar feeling that you have a whisky in hand even as you smell that typical tequila tang. Second of all, it didn't make me want to retch when I tasted it, which, I'm sure, is the kind of praise any quality spirit maker just loves to hear.

Could it be? I actually like this stuff. A lot.

Too bad it normally costs about $15 a shot. Looks like I've got a way to go before I hop on the tequila train.

But not so for Brooke and fellow sampler Julie Eshelman, 31, whose experience at the tasting inspired them to do, well, a little more.

"I think we need to do shots at the bar," Brooke declares.

A fine idea. But do tequila a favor -- don't make it six.

May 10, 2008 | The Sacramento Bee 

Lisa Heyamoto column: Mayoral hopeful Padilla willing to kick down doors to improve capital

    By Lisa Heyamoto

First off, there's the hat.

Black, like the bad guy in a good Western, it's a hat that demands respect for the man beneath it.

Then there are the aviator sunglasses, so dark his eyes are more imagined than seen.

Toss in the booming voice, the unapologetic candor and the ever-present toothpick and we can only be talking about Leonard Padilla, the first of the lesser-known mayoral hopefuls to be profiled in a series here.

There's something about the inimitable bounty hunter/mayoral candidate that flirts with hyperbole, a grandiosity of character that would be more persona than person if it weren't so clearly who he really is.

Despite having no political experience, he's run for virtually every public office imaginable, his current quest for mayor being his fourth attempt at the title.

He has turned his Natomas property into a homeless camp, his familial squabbles are often ugly and public and he makes no secret of the year he spent in prison for failing to pay his taxes.

"But I'll tell you one thing," he says. "Two months after I hit that prison, I was in charge."

And let's not forget the whole hunting-down-fugitives-for-a-living thing. There's a reason he has his own show on the National Geographic Channel. The man makes for good TV.

But how would someone with more experience kicking down doors than banging a gavel run the capital city of California?

Well, he'd start by kicking down the door.

Padilla has little patience for what he considers "arrogant bureaucrats," and the first thing he'd do is toss out the current city manager system and put the power where he believes it belongs -- in the hands of an elected official.

"The mayor of Sacramento has to take the next step," he says. "A strong mayor pounds the table and says 'Look, we're gonna change some of the things that are happening here.' "

And Padilla has plenty of ideas for how to do it, delivered with his characteristic lack of pulled punches.

Too many criminals on the street? Round up the parole violators.

City budget woes? Cut a bunch of jobs.

Revenue problem? Bring in a few casinos.

Under a Padilla administration, the city would pay for exactly nothing that doesn't directly serve the public. No subsidies for developers, no catering to businesses, no trying to make Sacramento something it's not.

You want to live in a city like Portland? He invites you to pack your bags.

"A lot of people consider me a no-nonsense kind of person," he said. "But they don't see me as a politician."

Indeed, you're unlikely to see Padilla shaking hands and kissing babies. But for a man who trudges daily through the troughs of the human experience, he has a devotion to the disenfranchised that belies his tough guy stance.

After he hunts down the scofflaws, after they curse his name and do their time, they often have nowhere else to go. So they call up their old buddy Leonard and ask for a little help.

Padilla estimates that he spends thousands of dollars a month getting those he once wrestled to the ground back on their feet. He finds them jobs, arranges housing. If they need $23 for the DMV, he'll have someone in his office write them a check if that's what it takes.

Beneath the hat, it seems, there is also a heart. Now if only he could write it off on his taxes.

Up next: Shawn Eldredge.