Thursday, July 25, 2013

El Catrin

Out goes Boiler House, in comes El Catrin, a large scale modern Mexican restaurant in the Distillery District that promises authentic traditional and modern Mexican cuisine. Recruited from Mexico to head El Catrin's kitchen is chef de cuisine Olivier Le Calvez, previously an instructor of Asian cuisine, fusion cuisine, Mexican and French cuisine at the Cordon Bleu Mexico Culinary Institute. A tapas-style menu incorporating chef Olivier's interpretation of both traditional and modern Mexican cuisine and flavours, you can expect staples such as ceviches, tacos, burritos and tostadas at El Catrin. Aside from its large ambitious food menu, another highlight of El Catrin is their impressive list of tequila and mezcal - boasting over 120 brands (some which have never before been offered in Canada) it is currently the country's biggest tequila and mezcal collection.

My first thought when I arrived at El Catrin's grand opening party on Tuesday was "Whoa this place is huge!" then quickly followed by "Whoa this place is beautiful!" The grandeur, the pure gorgeousness of El Catrin (Twitter: @elcatrinca, Facebook: El Catrin) is really something else. Take for example, the stunning forty-foot by twenty-two foot high mural (pictured below) created by Mexican street artist Oscar Flores; the sheer size of it is just mind-blowing. 

Paying homage to Mexican cantinas, El Catrin's decor was inspired by the Mexican traditions of La Loteria Mexicana, Papas Picado paper art and urban street art. The space is designed by Munge Leunga local firm responsible for designig Gusto 101, La Societe and Weslodge. 

 El Catrin's massive fifty foot long bar constructed from The Distillery’s old whisky racks.  

One of two private dining rooms at El Catrin.

(Photo credit: El Catrin)

A display of painted skulls on one end of the dining room.

And a stone chamber on the other end.

The upper floor is the restaurant's second private dining room / area.

The view from upstairs.

Below is a recap of my 8-course dinner with cocktail pairings.

Traditional Margarita
Milagro Blanco, Triple Sec, agave nectar, citrus

Guacamole en la Mesa
Avocado, tomato, red onion, fresh cilantro, serrano chili

(Photo credit: @foodinthecityTO)

Nueces Picante
Glazed pecans, peanuts and walnuts rubbed with a blend of three Mexican chili

Pepino Diablo - Cucumber Devil
Milagro Blanco, mudded cucmber + Serrano peppers, agave nectar, citrus, Tajin rim

Ceviche de Atun
Fresh tuna, lime juice, olive oil, watermelon, chive and habanero mignonette

 Vuelve a la Vida el Catrin
East coast oyster with a ceviche of shrimp, octopus, bay scallops, red onion, cucumber, jicama and Acapulco cocktail sauce

Fuego Sandia - Watermelon Fire
Tromba Blanco, St. Germaine, Agua Sandia, lemon juice, Tajin rim

Taco al Pastor
Corn tortilla filled with shaved pork marinated in axiote with pineapple, fresh cilantro and chopped onion

Hibisco Rosa - Hibiscus Rose
Milagro Blanco, Patron Citronage, hibiscus syrup, rosewater, citrus

Tostada de Higado de Pato
Hot seared foie gras, El Catrin made tostada, mezcal mango syrup, poblano and red onion relish

Mojito Reposado - Rested Mojito
Milagro Reposado, agave nectar, muddled mint, fresh lime, soda

Ensalada de Nopal
Cactus salad, onion, tomato, fresh cilantro, radish with tequila lemon vinaigrette

Zarzamora - Blackberry
Jaral del Barrio Joven, Patron Citronage, muddled black berries, cilantro, citrus

Camarones al Ajillo
Jumbo shrimp sauteed with guajillo, garlic, lime juice, white wine, over red rice, black bean puree and guacamole

Mayahuel - Goddess of Alcohol
Milagro Reposado, Jagermiester, agave nectar, fresh lemon juice, ginger beer

Costilla Corta en Mole Negro
Beef short rib braised 24 hours with black mole sauce, sweet potato puree, sauteed sugar snap peas

Agua de Coco - Coconut Water
Patron Cafe, Amarula, coconut water, lemon

Barra de Chocolat
Double smoked and spiced hazelnut crunch chocolate bar
Cajeta, chocolate and strawberry mousse

El Catrin really pulled out all the stops on Tuesday night and the result was fabulous. Great ambiance and an all-around solid tasting menu with fresh, balanced flavours, there were quite a few highlights for me that evening: 

1) Vuelve a la Vida el Catrin - All you have to do is imagine the following combination in one bite: oyster, shrimp, octopus, scallops, red onion, cucumber, jicama, cocktail sauce. Yes? 
2) Tostada de Higado de Pato - Amazing textures here: buttery foie gras, crispy tostada, syrup-y mango glaze, fresh cubed mangos and slightly crunchy relish. Again, all this in one two bites. 
3) Camarones al Ajillo - The marinated shrimp was so full of flavour I practically wanted to eat the shell too (I did...somewhat). Over hot rice and creamy guac, I polished this dish in less than a minute and secretly wished there was more.
4) Costilla Corta en Mole Negro - Although my friend found her short rib a bit dry, mine was very moist and tender. The mole sauce paired with the potato puree was unique and delicious. I also liked the crisp fresh peas and all the veggies on top.
5) Churros - The churros itself were done nicely but I prefer thicker sauces (all three sauces didn't "stick" to the churro at all). 
6) Barra de Chocolat - Crunchy, chocolate-y, sweet, smoky and spicy. Briiiilliant.

I'm also stoked about El Catrin's cocktails. My stomach could only handle a few sips of each cocktail but man, were they ever tasty. My favourites were the Pepino Diablo, Zarzamora and Mojito Reposado. 

Oh and don't forget, El Catrin takes resos *horray!* and has a 5000 sq. ft patio out front that's absolutely gorgeous.

*This meal was complimentary. The opinions and views expressed on this post are my own*

El Catrin Restaurant on Urbanspoon