“Tell Jorge to save me a Padrón Family Reserve,” I managed to say. It was my last request before bolting out of John Besh’s Restaurant August in New Orleans to vomit up the first few courses of a perfectly good dinner.
Let me rewind.
That afternoon I was strolling the French Quarter the day before the start of the IPCPR trade show. To avoid getting soaked in a summer downpour, I ducked into an oyster bar with the intentions of nursing a beer or two until the rain subsided, and who happened to be there at the counter—Carlos “Carlito” Fuente Jr. And he’s eating raw oysters. Lots of them, judging by the pile of empty shells. Before I knew what was going on, he put an OpusX Lancero in one of my hands, an Abita beer in the other and ordered me a dozen raw gulf bivalves. “They’re fine,” Fuente assured. “ I eat them all the time and I never get sick.” The rain stopped, I slurped down my last oyster and was on my way.
Fast forward back to that evening at Restaurant August on Tchoupitoulas Street. I’m at a small dinner of only eight people, including Jorge Padrón and his wife, Mary, and Litto Gomez with his wife, Ines. Two courses was really all I could get through before I fell into a cold sweat and started drifting from the conversation.
First course is served. Some hollowed out egg, with—I don’t know—foam? Veloute? Summer truffles? I’m sure it’s great but my stomach gurgles so I send it away and sip some ice water with false hopes of relief. Next course: pork belly topped with cooked peaches. “Yes, that’s right, Ruston peaches are in the height of season now,” I say to myself as if reciting this will somehow erase my nausea. It looks great, and although my stomach was saying “Don’t you dare send that down here,” I did anyway, knowing full well the consequences. I had to excuse myself. “Are you alright?” I hear somewhere in the distance. I guess I couldn’t hide it any longer. Senior Editor Dave Savona orders me a club soda, but it’s too late. Associate Publisher Barry Abrams escorts me to the door, and before I leave, I belch out my last request: “Tell Jorge to save me a Padrón Family Reserve.”
I won’t get into the dyspeptic details, but suffice to say it was a very long night.
The next day it got back to Carlos Fuente Jr. how sick I got and when I saw him on the showroom floor at the tradeshow, he starts handing me lancero after lancero after lancero. Some were OpusX, some Casa Fuente, some Don Carlos. None of them are part of Fuente’s regular brand portfolio. He had that “you poor S.O.B.” look on his face and I suspect he felt a little guilty for my sickness. The more I told him how sick I was, the more lanceros he handed me. Then later, I met up with David Tourgeman of La Casa del Habano in Cancún. He happened to be toting around a box of Cuban Behike BHK 52 cigars. I told him about my night, and I must have looked pathetic telling the story because he very tenderly offered me a Behike or two. And when I saw Jorge Padrón again, he asked me how I was feeling and handed me a Padrón Family Reserve No. 46. Furthermore at the My Father Cigars booth, I spoke to Janny Garcia while standing in front of a roped off display of Limited Edition My Father cigars. Only 2,000 boxes of 12 were made, each individually boxed in a coffin. Ostensibly, there were no samples available for this release, but after telling her my story, she produced one. Another pity cigar.
Later on, I examined all the pity smokes I collected, the OpusX with it’s rich red pigments and papal-looking gold trim; The Cohiba Behike with it’s stylishly high-tech holographic gold impressions; and the My Father with a king’s ransom worth of monkish gold leafing on its primary and secondary bands. They glittered even under the sterile glow of the convention center’s fluorescent lights, and I realized, as my stomach churned a bit, that I have never received so many cigars that carried so much sympathy—and so much guilt