Last week I was invited to a media preview dinner at El Catrin (Twitter: @elcatrinca), a new Mexican restaurant located in the trendy Toronto’s Distillery District area. I must admit my Mexican dining experiences were only limited to tacos and burritos prior to this dinner, so I was very excited to try out some creative and modern Mexican dishes.
El Catrin welcome drink
vibrant dining scene
El Catrin replaced the old Boiler House location, and was transformed into an energetic and modern space with striking design by Mung Leung Interior Design firm. When I first entered the restaurant, I was blown away by the jaw-dropping gorgeous design and artwork. The wall mural was huge – it was forty-foot long and twenty-two foot high! It was so bright and colorful that kept my eyes wandering for a long time. The mood was mysterious yet energetic and fun.
impressive wall mural
Various decorations and artwork throughout the restaurant were brought in directly from Mexico as well. Kudos to the design team!
Executive Chef Olivier Le Calvez (Twitter: @ChefLeCalvez), a native Mexican, brought over his twenty-four years of experiences in French Mexican cuisine to this new restaurant. We were delighted to try out Chef Olivier’s seven-sampling courses and dessert with cocktail drink pairings in that evening.
Executive Chef Olivier Le Calvez
Guacamole en la Mesa ~ avocado, tomato, red onion, fresh cilantro, serrano chili
Nueces Picante ~ glazed pecans, peanuts and walnuts rubbed with a blend of three Mexican chilies
cocktail pairing: Traditional Margarita ~ Milagro Blanco, triple sec, agave nectar, citrus
three different chili as condiment
Guacamole en la Mesa
I enjoyed the guacamole mashed with a mortar and pestle right in front of me. It’s very fresh and tasty.
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
cocktail pairing: Pepino Diablo ~ Milagro Blanco, muddled cucumber, Serrano peppers, agave nectar, citrus, Tajin rim (cucumber drink)
Ceviche de Atun
Vuelve a la Vida El Catrin
This was my favourite course. Tuna was very fresh, and the added watermelon helped reduce the heat from habanero peppers and added extra sweetness to the fish. Oyster and seafood ceviche was another hit. I also loved the freshness of this cucumber drink. Cucumber flavour was very pronounced ~ perfect for a hot summer afternoon! The rim was seasoned with Tajin powder, a very popular seasoning in Mexico. It is widely used in various Mexican dishes.
Tacos al Pastor ~ corn tortilla filled with shaved pork marinated with axiote with pineapple, fresh cilantro and chopped onion
cocktail pairing: Fuego Sandia ~Tromba Blanco, St. Germaine, Agua Sandia, lemon juice, Tajin rim
Tacos al Pastor
Shaved pork mixed with pineapple cilantro marinate was fragrant. The salty and spicy rim of the watermelon drink balanced out the sweetness perfectly.
Tostada de Higado de Pato ~ hot seared foie gras, el Catrin made tostada, mezcal mango syrup, poblano and red onion relish
cocktail pairing: Hibisco Rosa ~ Milagro Blanco, Patron Citronage, hibiscus syrup, rosewater, citrus (hibiscus rosewater drink)
Tostada de Higado de Pato
I liked the idea of foie gras pairing with sweet mango and onion relish, unfortunately I found my foie gras a little bit too pungent. Would prefer adding more heat to get some kick.
Ensalda de Nopal ~ cactus salad, onion, tomato, fresh cilantro, radish with tequila lemon vinaigrette
cocktail pairing: Mojito Reposado ~ Milagro Reposado, agave nectar, muddled mint, fresh lime, soda
Ensalda de Nopal
It was my first time eating cactus in my life! Cactus has a crisp texture and tangy vegetal taste, yet it’s also a bit slimy. Chef Olivier added a very nice vinaigrette to bring out the freshness of cactus salad. I enjoyed it a lot. It was very unique. Be sure to order this dish next time!
Camarones al Ajillo ~ jumbo shrimp sauteed with guajillo, garlic, lime juice, white wine, over red rice, black bean puree and guacamole
cocktail pairing: Zarzamora ~ Jaral del Barrio Joven, Patron Citronage, muddled blackberries, cilantro, citrus (blackberry and cilantro lemonade)
Camarones al Ajillo
I liked this dish a lot. The shrimp was big and crunchy, while black bean puree was smooth and red rice strong in flavour. I could almost relate this to some Chinese styled dishes. Excellent!
Costilla Corta en Mole Negro ~ beef short rib braised 24 hours with black mole sauce, sweet potato puree, sautéed sugar snap peas
cocktail pairing: Mayahuel ~ Milagro Reposado, Jagermiester, agave nectar, fresh lemon juice, ginger beer
Costilla Corta en Mole Negro
Beef rib was very tender and juicy. However I found this dish a bit salty for my liking.
Churros ~ cajeta, chocolate and strawberry mousse
Barra de Choclat ~ double smoked and spiced hazelnut crunch chocolate bar
cocktail pairing: Agua de Coco ~ Patron café, Amarula, coconut water, lemon (with cinnamon stick and caramelized sugar tortilla chip)
Churros with Barra de Choclat
Agua de Coco
As you can probably tell by the photos, the sampling dishes and drinks were quite big in size. I had to keep reminding myself throughout the courses not to finish every dish in order to save room for the next. By the time I had dessert I was literally full. How could a meal be completed without dessert?! I ended up squeezing out my reserved 10% room in my belly to enjoy them.
For those who haven’t tried churro before, it is a deep fried dough pastry snack often referred to as a Spanish doughnut. The dipping sauce that came with churros was a great compliment. I just wished the dipping sauce be thicker for coating. The double smoked and spiced hazelnut crunch chocolate bar was brilliant. I was told the smokiness came from the hazelnut cream being prepared in a smoker. The spiciness gave a mild kick to the chocolate. This delicious dessert made it worth the extra fullness in my tummy.
separate dining area on the second floor
50 ft long bar
tequila bottles sitting on old whisky racks from the Distillery
I noticed the fully lit up gorgeous outdoor patio on my way out. It was an enormous area – 5000 sq. ft. – centered around a huge fire pit, perfectly enough to host various parties and events for groups. I’m sure it would be extra nice to gather around the fire pit with cocktail drinks when the weather gets cooler at night.
El Catrin is a great addition to the Distillery District. Go visit its impressive decor, try out some delicious Mexican dishes and enjoy some amazing cocktails with friends!
Note: The meal was complimentary but my review remained unbiased.