Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Toronto Popup with ESÉ

Peter and Ryan, the duo behind the L.A. style Mexican popup ESÉ, create dishes that reflect the unique style and flavours of the culinary landscape of Los Angeles and the Southwest. Born and raised in L.A., Ryan relocated to Toronto to be with his "esé" Peter (esé is a Spanish slang term for comrade, pal or friend). To alleviate his homesickness, Ryan began cooking the style of Mexican food that he grew up with. Looking to tradition for inspiration, both Ryan and Peter take pride in making everything from scratch — from the complexity of a slow cooked sauce to the routine of hand-pressing their own tortillas. Authenticity is important to the duo but showcasing their ability to be creative and whimsical is just as important. Before long, Ryan and Peter, or ESÉ (Twitter: @ESEsuavecito Facebook: ESÉ), found themselves participating in pop-ups around the city including the Toronto Underground Market, The Junction Flea and The Stop's Night Market.

Toronto Popup (Twitter: @Toronto_PopUpFacebook: Toronto Popup) featured ESÉ two Sundays ago at Monarch Tavern. The $40 five-course dinner, with optional wine or beer pairings, evolved around Mexican small plates or antojitos ("little cravings"). Below is a recap of the ESÉ Antojitos dinner:

Peter double checking his eggs before they are served.

Coddled yolk, housemade chorizo, goat cheese mash, tortilla spear

Toronto Popup founder, Juliana, with Ryan and Peter giving a toast to start the evening off right.

Yucca frites, beef brisket, ancho, huitacoche gravy, queso
Wine: Earth & Sky Pinot Noir, VQA
Beer: Beau's SMoking Banana Peels

Sauteed hibiscus flowers, onions, ancho, cojita, chopped avocado, handpressed corn tortilla

Fried chicken wing, mole sauce

Braised jackfruit in three-chili sauce, corn nuts, cilantro, onions, housemade taqueria sauce
Wine: Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Sauv. Blanc
Beer: Mill Street Palomar Chipotle-Lime Ale

Slow roasted pork shoulder braised in achiote and citrus, poblano rice, pickled onions
Wine: Gnarly Head Cabernet Sauvignon
Beer: Great Lakes No Chance With Miranda

Sweet corncake, dulce de leche, edible flowers, saffron, horchata ice cream, canela

This was a wonderful dinner from start to finish. I especially enjoyed arpege egg...it was a very pleasing start to the meal. Gently and lightly cooked, the egg had layers of flavours and textures that complemented each other really well - from the creamy goat cheese mash on top to the rich chorizo in the middle all the way to the soft egg at the bottom. Very well done. I also loved the playful presentation. The next course was ESÉ's spin on the poutine. Yucca, a starchy tuberous root that originated in South America, has a drier texture and a milder taste to the popular potato. Topped with braised beef brisket, which was tender and lovely, I thought the overall dish could use more robust flavours...perhaps more of the huitacoche gravy and queso? Complete with crispy skin, very juicy meat and thick mole, the chicken wing in the third course was incredible. I also appreciated the use of such unique and interesting ingredients in both tacos (i.e. hibiscus and jackfruit). Next up was a hefty plate of braised pork shoulder on a bed of fluffy green poblano rice. Finished with slivers of pickled onion, this dish was a great ending to our savoury courses. My second favourite course of the night, after the arpege egg, is the dessert. Baked in a water-bath, this corncake was moist, sweet, and loaded with fresh corn flavour. With a texture similar to a cake-y cornbread, it was seriously delicious with the horchata ice cream and the light drizzle of dulce de leche.

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