El Catrin: Taste Bud City

When i heard that the Boiler House was closing down in the distillery district i literally didn’t think twice about it. The historic area of Toronto, as beautiful as it is, is always in need of some modernizing.

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The good comes to those who wait, and after months of construction El Catrin has taken the place of the once beloved Boiler House, and boy is it different.

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Instead of the conservative open patio and classic, kind of boring cuisine, the patio is a mix of bright colors, whacky seating and oversized hanging lights.  A large open stone fire is placed smack down in the middle of the humongous beer- garden esque front patio. Instead of being open to the street, the designer has built wooden walls blocking the street and creating a heightened air of intimacy.

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When we got to Distillery, i zoomed past all the “glitz and glory” of the cobblestone city and went right for El Catrin. As we waited for our seats, i grilled the hostess on what to get and what were her favourite dishes. She informed us that all employees had tried each item on the menu and each cocktail / margarita before opening. I love hearing this! It allows the servers to be more real and less scripted while serving you.

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When we got to our seats our stomachs were growling. We took most of the hostess’ suggestions on what to eat, and then ordered a little bit more. We also took her drink suggestions which ended up being phenomenal! Too bad i hate all the sugar and liquid in mixed drinks, but that was easily solved by the extensive list of tequila, ranging from $4 all the way to $400 a shot! ding ding ding.

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We decided on the Mayuhel or the 2oz “Goddess Of Alcohol” complete with Jagger and Ginger Beer. The hostess described this cocktail as ‘savory’ which i thought was confusing yet adorable, so we went with it. Savoury it was.  Alongside the Goddess we tried the Pepino Diabolo or the “Cucumber Devil” which was a mix of tequila, chilli peppers and muddled cucumber. Spice-yyyy.

To start we ordered Guac and chips, obviously. Although the menu is ridiculously drool- worthy, how can you go to a Mexican restaurant and NOT order the guac?

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The mortar of magnificence (too much?) came out almost instantly, along with our own man in black to “pestle” our bowl of avocado-y goodness.  We asked him how many times he had done this tonight to which he responded only ten times… i was surprised. However looking at the size of the place they must have close to 60 employees working the front.

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Our server also brought out a plate with 3 separate house made salsas and a handful of sliced up limes for our tacos. How considerate? It was only the beginning.

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Next we were going to order the Sopa De Elote (corn soup), but our waitress easily convinced us that if we had a craving for corn, to consider going for the Ensalada De Esquites. Soon after a buttery corn salad  arrived, mixed with cilantro and chillies and served in three individual shot glasses with spoons. 

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If i could eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would be this. The corn was sweet and plump, covered in delicious butter and salt with the perfect amount of spice. It was popcorn without the pop. I died.

The next plate to arrive at our table were the Baja Fish Tacos. The plate comes loaded with three mini tacos, each topped with the most buttery, plump and lightly fried piece of white fish almost entirely immeresed in a crumble of a smokey chipotle coleslaw. I have had enough fish tacos in my lifetime to know that these bad boys were delicious. Fish tacos are easy to make but even easier to royally f*ck up, but Mexico City Chef Olivier Le Calvez killed it.

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The evening consisted of full mouths, nods and noises of ecstacy as we gulfed down our tapas- style dishes. After the fish tacos, we took another of the Hostesses’ suggestions and ordered the Camaronnes Al Ajillo which was a hot plate full of bland rice, a dollop of spicy guac, and a mouthwatering oversized jumbo shrimp sauteed in a heaping of garlic and char grilled to perfection. I’m not sure how they messed up the rice so badly, but the shrimp was sexy and succulent. This dish literally comes out with only one shrimp, so at $8 a person we decided to share just one. I suggest you do too.

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Next came the Gringas, a clever name that in Mexico means ‘white boy’, the same as when an Italian calls you a Mangecake! The Gringa was a flour quesadilla with pastor pork, pineapple and gouda cheese. it was soft and delicate, and the chunks of pork tasted as moist as meatballs. Our server let us in on a little secret. The white (gringa) flour quesadilla purposely had black marking son the top symbolizing the merging of cultures. I thought this symbolized the chef’s roots, being that he was one of the best chefs in Mexico City, and has now moved to Toronto to open one of the best Mexican restaurants i have ever indulged in. 

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After our quesadilla’s we could feel the fullness creeping up on us, so we ordered some more drinks. We decided to share a mojito, because just like with the guac, how can you go to a Mexican restaurant and not get the mojito?

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We also decided to take a look at the Tequila menu, ultimately to decide on two of the cheapest shots they have. I mean, lets get real here. If i am going to drink tequila i will only do so at a club when i’m wasted with my girls and i need to get a few notches drunker relatively quickly. If i am going to indulge in good tequila, i’m either going to go to my friend Verge’s house, or i am going to pick up a bottle at duty free. I will not spend $14 on a single ounce of ‘fancy’ tequila, no matter how convincing the server was.

Tequila in Mexico is sipped, not guzzled (woops), and comes with what the Mexicans call ‘Sangrita’. The only other time i have heard of Sangrita is when the love of my life Chef Michael Smith had a fabulous Mexican dinner party at his house and explained to me what Sangrita was.

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Basically, the shot arrived on a wood plank complete with two other shot glasses, one filled with tomato juice and mint leaves, the other with a mixture of grandine and poblano pepper. It took 3 sips to finish our tequila, and to be quite honest the sangrita was phenomenal. I now regret now ordering the $14 shot, however i was very amused that even though we legit ordered the cheapest tequila on the menu, we were still worthy of sangrita. Woop!

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Our last dish of the evening (excluding dessert) was another taco called the Gobernador. With so many lobster dishes on the menu, i couldn’t leave without ordering one. These tacos came with a mixture of lobster and shrimp on a bed of black beans and topped with a chipotle dip. Just as good as the Baja tacos. Soft, crisp, warm and saucy, absolute heaven.

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We didn’t want to order dessert but the Churros ,or Mexican donuts, were calling us. They arrived in a small paper bag alongside three sweet dips or strawberry, Mexican spicy chocolate and a really unique tasting caramel. I think it was a cop out to only give us 3 churros but at this point we were too full to care, they were divine.

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At the end of our Mexican fiesta we couldn’t have been more satisfied. The food was consistently delicious, the staff were friendly and helpful, and the atmosphere/ decor truly was unique.

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Not once did i reminisce over Boiler House. Change is good.

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It is always sad to say goodbye but El Catrin truly is a lesson that the best is yet to come.

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