On the dark and mellow side of South Laguna Beach sits a long-stemmed glass on a table, inside it, a liquid that is also remarkably mellow and dark. I jiggle it with vigor, noting fresh vanilla beans, desserty bananas brûlée, and even candied golden raisins. No, this isn’t some elaborate pot de crème at a fancy French pâtisserie; the glass is filled with two-fingers of Venezuelan rum, served neat, as part of Eva’s Caribbean Kitchen’s Rum Me Into Submission dinner. It’s Friday the 13th, and I’m ready for anything.
Eva’s is a relaxed and adventurous spot, doors flung open to the seaside air on Pacific Coast Highway. Inside, blue exposed beams, flickering candles, and Eva’s beaming smile match her many rum-filled cabinets on the walls, which house more than 400 bottles from around the globe. “We probably have the largest selection in the world,” says Eva, giddily pouring me a spiced rum back in the kitchen.
This dinner happens quarterly, and is led by rum expert Matt Robold of rumdood.com. He fearlessly walks us through the origin and tasting notes of each of our worldly-based boozes. Eva herself is also quite the encyclopedia of the spirit, and uses her expertise to perfectly pair each dish with each liquid’s nuance. Her preparation of Nicaraguan conch fritters (aka Caribbean Viagra) with sweet corn and pineapple-pimento relish pulls tropical fruit notes out of the Plantation X.O. Extra Old 20th Anniversary Rum from Barbados that I didn’t immediately pull on its own.
Stewed oxtail, cajun-crusted filet mignon, coconut-crusted Alaskan halibut and the darkest chocolate ice cream round out the tasting menu, each dish a new favorite. Each rum gives a glimpse into the booze-space continuum. Dos Maderas PX 5 +5 Year spent time in Barbados, Guyana, and Spain, for instance. Premiere Canne, the only white rum served this evening from H. Clemente, is distilled from a sugar cane wine; the flavor holding a fresh grassiness with a complex minerality, leaving hints of cocoa and black tea.
Dessert doesn’t get simpler than bittersweet dark chocolate ice cream paired with Selvarey Cacao rum from Panama, but here I am on a proverbial cage match mat, getting double teamed. The ice cream, like a dark frozen truffle, has my tongue in a figure-four leg lock with richness. The rum, also chocolately and decadent, somehow beams me on the head with a folding chair while Eva’s not looking. That’s right folks, I am rummed into submission and have to tap out. The evening felt like a genuine party with friends, and the restaurant’s great vibe attracts knowledgeable taste-adventurers.