Friday, June 27, 2014

El Catrin in the Distillery District: Mod Mexican Cuisine

Toronto’s recent romance with Mexican cuisine continues with El Catrin, one of the new additions to The Distillery District, in the cavernous space previously occupied by The Boiler House. Designed by Munge Leung, the interiors of El Catrin are a visual feast of Mexican motifs with authentic Mexican tile floors, custom designed metal screens, laser-cut lampshades and a spectacular two-storey hand-painted bas-relief mural by artist Óscar Flores of Mexico City. The Distillery Restaurant Group, which also runs Archeo and Pure Spirits Oyster House, imported Chef Olivier Le Calvez from Mexico City last summer to run El Catrin. Southern Mexican dishes from Oaxaca and Yucatan dominate Le Calvez’s modern French-inspired Mexican tapas-style menu, with highlights such table-side guacamole preparation, house made corn tortillas and magnificent margaritas. Our server recommended we order 3 or 4 dishes each for sharing, which is what we did, starting with two icy cold Margaritas and a couple of Botanas, or small plates and a selection of Le Calvez's renowned Tacos. Located just steps from The Soulpepper Theatre Company, El Catrin is a great spot for dinner before a show and even worth a return visit just to enjoy the spectacular space and perhaps the best Mexican cuisine I've enjoyed in the city so far. 

The exterior of El Catrin on the former site of The Boiler House in Toronto's Distillery District

The brick lined entry with a canopy of little punched tin outdoor lanterns

A 5,000-square-foot patio is anchored with an open fire pit that roars both day and night

The dramatic interior features a two-story mural painted by celebrated Mexican native Oscar Flores

El Catrin Distileria's beautifully illustrated menu cover

Our barman making our Margaritas behind El Catrin's handsome wooden bar

Close-up detail of the tequila lined 2-storey wooden bar wall

Reposado Margarita made with Milagro Reposado Tequila, Grand Marnier, agave nectar and citrus

A young server arrives with our guacamole and muddles it by hand before setting it before us

El Catrin's 'Guacamole en la Mesa' made with avocado, tomato, onion, cilantro and serrano chili 

The guacamole is served with outstanding house made corn tortilla chips

Pastelito de Cangrejo: Crab fritters made with papaya, mirin, 
crema fresca in a mole negro vinaigrette

Queso Frito: Sautéed Queso fresco cheese served with grape tomatoes, avocado and mint

Sopes de Albondiga: Mexican style meatballs with chipotle tomato sauce, toasted amaranth on black bean purée

'Gobernador Taco' made with house made flour tortillas, sautéed shrimp, lobster, chipotle aioli and black bean purée

Cochinito Ahumado Taco made with smoked pork, charred tomato, spring onion and corn

El Catrin Destileria funky testimonial page from their website

Ceviche Robalo (Mexican Sea Bass Ceviche)
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy chef Olivier Le Calvez 

8 oz lemon juice 
2 lb sea bass filet, diced 
4 pieces of star anise 
4 spring onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp red onion, julienned 
2 tbsp avocado, finely chopped 
1 tbsp agave nectar 
1 tbsp red pepper, cut into 1/8-inch dice
1 tbsp fine salt 
4 tbsp rice vinegar 

Dice the fish into 1/4-inch cubes then place in a bowl with the lemon juice, anise and honey.  Marinate 4 hours then add the remaining ingredients, stirring well to combine. Serve in a decorative bowl and garnish with the red pepper with a basket of baked tortilla chips