I’ve been excited for the past two weeks about my reservation at El Catrin. If you plan to go and do the evening dinner thing and eat after 7:00 p.m. , it will take at least three weeks to get a table, so just be warned. My two-week wait was hastened by the fact that I took the single remaining reservation for last weekend.
Awarded as one of Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2013 by Sharp Magazine, El Catrin is a cavernous, but spectacularly colourful restaurant in the Distillery District. You walk in to stare up at a grandiose Mexican mural painted by street artist Oscar Flores. The mural took 100 days to complete and is stunning work of art.
On the opposite wall of the restaurant is what can only be described as a temple of Mezcal and Tequila. The drink menu is two pages of Tequilas and ten types of Mezcal straight up or in a variety of cocktails and bebidas – drinks. My first order was a Paloma Brava – Milagro Reposado, agave, grapefruit, muddled citrus and soda.
However, the Miel Quemada (Burnt Honey) mezcaltles is fresh, smooth and soothing. Made with Cha Cha Joven mezcal, Cha cha cha ” ( which means “very, very, very ” good in zapoteco ) is the name of a famous Zapoteco poem which tells the history of mezcal from the beginning, to the present day and this is where the name comes from.*
The drink is a mix of Cha Cha Joven, house made honey, fresh lemon and grapefruit bitters. I had a cold the night I was there and this drink was like a hip, pumped up, alcoholized version of Neo-Citran and I think much more effective in making you forget that you have a cold.
This is a small plate restaurant, where ordering and sharing three plates per person is the recommended standard. Oliver Le Calvez is the Executive Chef and one of Mexico’s top chefs and his menu is based on the traditional flavours of Mexico.
Of the six or so plates we ordered there were some like the Tostada con higado de pato, a foie-gras tostada. If you don’t like foie gras or the taste of “foie”, liver, this is not for you. It was good, but needed something more to accompany the rich flavour.
There are the usual standards like the fish taco. The Baja fish taco here was tasty and not greasy. I’ve had others at the many new Mexican street food places that have popped up over the past year, and this is one of the better ones, it wasn’t bland or greasy.
The Gobernador taco is sautéed shrimp and lobster with chipotle mayonnaise. Refreshing and I probably would’ve just eaten these all evening – it’ll be a great dish to eat out on El Catrin amazing outdoor patio.
If you’re idea of Mexican food is limited to chimichangas, a red and yellow taco kits and your local burrito shop, this will expand your horizon some. There are some creative dishes, albeit somewhat with the hot peppers toned down, but they’re small plates and will give you a good view of the many flavours of Mexico. The food is good, it’s fresh, but I long for a place that serves dinners and not just “tasting” items. But I have to say, it’s the drinks, the bar and the patio that will keep me coming back.
Cha Cha Joven Mezcal – http://trndmonitor.com/product-spotlight-cha-cha-cha-mezcal/