On the first page of the menu at Tei-An, there’s a rule: you serve sake with soba, not sushi. I’m not sure if the Japanese have another rule, but it would appear the thought is you serve whisky with cigars.
Two weeks ago, halfwheel was at Tei-An, Teiichi Sakurai’s esteemed soba house in Dallas. Whereas most of my visits to Tei-An are preceded by me trying to pick a cigar to pair with my eventual meal, this time the meal was made to pair with a cigar. This dinner wasn’t for me, rather, a dozen or so guests were there to be the first ones to smoke the new Davidoff Limited Edition 2022 Year of the Tiger, which began shipping to stores last week.
Two weeks ago was not the first halfwheel dinner at Tei-An. In 2019, we hosted a pretty similar event with Davidoff, though the focus of that event was to have a cigar dinner, not a dinner around a cigar. While I enjoyed the first dinner we had at Tei-An, this dinner was actually the full realization of a concept I suggested to Brooks many years ago.
There are a lot of cigar events, most of which seem more focused on how much stuff can be given to consumers at the lowest possible price. That is not very halfwheel. Instead, my idea focused on something that would be special. Special food, special drinks, special cigars—a special night. While the dinner we did in 2019 focused on a cigar that was not available for sale, the 2021 version was centered around a cigar that was not yet available for sale: the Davidoff Year of the Tiger.
If you want a more detailed explanation about Tei-An, I’d recommend reading the recap of the original event. In short, first and foremost, Tei-An is a soba house. It’s a restaurant centered around the creation of soba, a Japanese noodle created using buckwheat.
When people ask what soba is and why it’s special, my response is always the same: it’s unforgiving. Soba is a simple noodle, but one that encapsulates the adage that sometimes simple is more difficult. The noodle isn’t the most flavorful; unlike ramen, it must be made daily; it is cut by hand using a special knife; and perhaps most importantly, there’s just nowhere to hide. Traditionally, soba is served with a dipping sauce, meaning a customer will know if the noodles themselves are incorrect. And like many things in Japanese culture, mastering soba is a lifetime commitment, usually practiced daily.
But Tei-An is more than a soba house. My dad foolishly once asked Sakurai if he was “good at cutting fish.” With a bit of restraint, Sakurai explained that the one rule at Tei-An is that every piece of sushi is cut and formed by the man himself. In fact, a few times during our dinner, Sakurai went back to the kitchen to prepare the final sushi orders of the night. There’s also a long list of dishes you are unlikely to find elsewhere, at least not in Dallas: Tei-An’s signature white seaweed salad, sweet corn tempura is a seasonal favorite of mine in the summer, and if you are hungry, Tei-An is the only restaurant I know of that regularly offers a whole tuna collar, grilled and served with brussels sprouts; and those are just the items that appear on the menu. This dinner featured very little from said menu.
Our evening actually started downstairs in Tei-An’s private dining room, which also doubles as a hangout of sorts for some of Tei-An’s regular customers. Shiah Goldberg, brand ambassador for Davidoff, welcomed guests and answered questions about Davidoff and cigars in general. We hadn’t planned on starting downstairs, but we needed to kill some time for the staff to get the upstairs area ready for us, so the short Davidoff Aniversario Short Perfecto and a few glasses of Billecart Champagne filled that time, as Davidoff would say, “beautifully.”
From there it was off to the elevator to Tei-An’s private rooftop. This is where I had hoped our 2019 dinner would take place, but there was too much rain to make it work. Fortunately, the weather in Dallas was as good as you could have hoped for in early November, just a bit chilly but still warm enough that the patio was more than comfortable thanks to the heaters.
Tei-An hosted a Japanese whisky dinner—featuring Yamazaki 55—earlier in the week, so the restaurant decided to feature (The) Macallan for this dinner. In front of each guests were pours of:
- Macallan 18 (Sherry Oak)
- Macallan 25 (Sherry Oak)
- Macallan 30 (Double Oak)
- Macallan Rare Cask
- Macallan Estate
Because there is no smoking in the elevator, once we got up to the roof there were more cigars offered to anyone that wanted: a choice between Davidoff Nicaragua or Winston Churchill in the Churchill vitola. I was admittedly surprised that most people, if not everyone, lit up another cigar.
Goldberg explained the different profiles of the cigars and also gave some hints about what he thought the more ideal pairings would be, then it was time to eat.
The first course was described as an amuse-bouche. If the goal of an amuse-bouche is to tingle the sensations to wake up the palate, this seemed like a great way to let everyone know that some gout medication might be needed later on. From left to right: Tei-An’s white seaweed salad, kumamoto oyster quiche, Ossetra caviar, haggis—yes haggis—and soba chips.
Next up was otsukuri, which at Tei-an usually means off-menu sashimi. The star of the show was the Boston Super Toro. Spanish Super Toro is regularly on the Tei-An menu and it’s excellent, this was just sublime. If for some reason fatty tuna isn’t your thing, there was also a variety of other fish including that shrimp head in the back.
Technically, otsukuri is not the sea portion of the contrasting land and sea courses, meaning the third plate was also a seafood dish. This was a dish that I’d never seen at Tei-An before, labeled “uni miso lobster & macallan flambé.” Given that I had not seen the dish before, I actually asked if there was anymore left in the kitchen and was fortunately above to try it. This was fantastic, particularly on a night like this. There was a soup base of miso, a cylinder of seasoned rice—a bit firmer than sushi rice—topped with lobster and some uni to the side. I suspect there was some curry added to the broth as well.
Whatever the case, this would be a great soup for a great winter day, I mean, assuming you have access to good lobster and uni and are comfortable using Macallan to season rice.
While the sea course was new, the land course was familiar. Once again, Tei-An took Davidoff tobacco and used it to smoke A5 Kagoshima beef. And because this is Tei-An, some white truffle was added.
If you are curious about Japanese beef, once again, I’d recommend reading the write-up from the 2019 dinner where I explained what makes it special (it’s not because the cows drink beer or listen to classical music) and why that Kobe beef hamburger you paid $22 for was almost certainly not beef from Japan.
While soba is traditionally served plain and with a dipping sauce, Tei-An has numerous soba preparations. My personal favorite is a black sesame soba salad—cold noodles seasoned with black sesame and served with a mild amount of greens—but for this evening there was a choice of soba bolognese or carbonara, each served with matsutake mushrooms.
After that is a dessert course—dark chocolate sorbet, soba ice cream & triple berry compote is what the menu said—but I’m not sure that ever happened. Just as people were finishing up their soba courses, Shiah Goldberg was back to introduce the Davidoff Limited Edition 2022 Year of the Tiger.
I’m not sure there are many cigars that could produce excitement based on the appearance alone but the Year of Tiger did just that. First, the packaging is something that I’ve stared at for five or so minutes and I’m still not sure I fully understand it. That’s not an insult, rather, it’s commentary about just how different it is and the layers to the elements. Furthermore, it just doesn’t look like a cigar box. This becomes even more unique if your point of reference for cigar boxes is traditional Cuban packaging and not the various ways Davidoff has packaged its previous Zodiac Series releases.
The same could be said about the cigar. The wrapper is unique and well-executed. Goldberg explained that Davidoff used other pieces of tobacco to help get the stripes to appear in the wrapper, which are there to mimic the coat of a tiger. Even before people were smoking the cigar, they were already intrigued, which isn’t something that normally happens at dinners like these.
After that, it was time to relax. The kitchen closed and Sakurai came back to smoke his first Year of the Tiger. There was an appearance of a Macallan 55 bottle and then lots of conversation.
Cigars by their very nature are typically viewed as elitist. Visitors of this site will likely know that as far as hobbies go, this is pretty affordable compared to those who build cellars of wine or whisky; and even compared to products that aren’t consumable, cigars are more affordable than many people’s golf or firearms habits.
But there’s nothing affordable about a dinner that costs $1,250 per person. I’m not sure that either Davidoff and/or Tei-An are particularly interested in being marketed as “affordable,” but there’s a difference between unaffordable and unapproachable. Despite the cost of the dinner, despite the cost of the cigars smoked and the whiskies poured—the feel of the dinner was quite relaxed.
That balance between doing something special and also unique but also avoiding making it feel unapproachable is something that we’ll try to carefully balance as we look to do any more of these events. It’s something that Tei-An does quite well. The restaurant probably produces some of the highest average checks in Dallas, but it’s also a place where people routinely stop in for a late-night beer while wearing jeans.
And for halfwheel, I think that balance is key. It’s not just because I don’t want to fulfill the stereotype of acting like an asshole while enjoying the finer things of life, but it’s also because it doesn’t make events like these fun. There’s far more enjoyment to be head when the pretentiousness gets left at the door and people can just relax, it’s one of the most compelling reasons I continue to go to Tei-An as a customer. And I hope it’s something that we can continue to emulate as we do events in the future.
Speaking of the future of these events, it’s bit clearer than it was in 2019. The plan is to be back at Tei-An next November for the Davidoff Limited Edition 2023 Year of the Rabbit launch. There’s also a chance we might decide to do another one at some point in the first half of next year, but I would say the more likely outcome is we will wait until next November.
I happened to be at Tei-An last weekend and one of the people who attended the event stopped by with someone who wasn’t at the event. And I was thrilled to listen to him describe the event to the other person: we had an incredible meal with some dishes I’ve never had before, there was plenty of whisky, we got special cigars and we had great conversations throughout the night.
That’s the point. It’s always going to be the point for us. Events like these aren’t going to be moneymakers for halfwheel and they aren’t necessary for Davidoff to sell through the Year of the Tiger—but it’s great to be able to take some of my favorite things and put them together for other people to enjoy and remember.
Everything at Tei-An starts and ends with Teiichi. He’s simultaneously a Dallas institution and also operates a restaurant that most of this city has never heard of, let alone been inside. Teiichi is also a friend and someone who appreciates cigars and what makes them special. His passion for both food and cigars are why this event happens like they do. It would be one thing if he just went along with having this dinner at his restaurant but the fact that he’s an active participant in every part of the dinner is what makes nights like these special. Every night at Tei-An is something I’m thankful for, but some nights I’m more thankful for than others, this is one of those nights.
The staff at Tei-An had a particularly busy week and I feel for them. In addition to the Davidoff dinner, the restaurant hosted a special Yamazaki 55 dinner two days previously, and the night of our dinner had another private party on the rooftop before our event started. I’m thankful for their work in making this dinner go incredibly smoothly, assisting Shiah and I, and—of course—their regularly hospitality and friendship to me over the better part of the last decade.
Readers of this site likely have some context of how big of a release the Davidoff Year of the Tiger is, but if you don’t, for some context, the release should generate more than $7.2 million in retail sales. There are very few cigar launches that are that large of a revenue driver and I’m thankful that Davidoff was willing to let us use the cigar for a dinner like this. In addition to the box of cigars that guests paid for, Davidoff brought a surprise gift for each attendee as well. I’d especially like to thank Shiah and Lana Fraser for their work over the last few months to get this event to run smoothly.
All photographs were shot and edited by Brooks Whittington.