Toronto’s Distillery District has welcomed the city’s first large scale Mexican tapas restaurant: El Catrin.
The focus of the restaurant is to showcase modern Mexican cuisine such as ceviches, tacos, burritos, tostadas and the Cochinita Pibil – a pork brisket braised for twenty-four hours in Axiote & orange juice in a banana leaf with black bean puree, habanero and pickled red onion and fresh tortilla.
Perhaps the most authentic aspect of the delectable dishes is that they are prepared by one Mexico City’s most acclaimed chefs – Olivier Le Calvez – who was recruited from Mexico and is considered to be among the top ten chefs of Mexico at the Buena Mesa. Calvez was a Chef Instructor of Asian cuisine, fusion cuisine, Mexican and French cuisine at the Cordon Bleu Mexico Culinary Institute.
“I am serious about Mexican food, the cuisine of my ancestors, but I do not want El Catrin to be used as a formal dining room. Eating in Mexico with friends and family should be lively. Eating at El Catrin will be a fiesta,” said Calvez who has created a tapas-style menu incorporating his interpretation of traditional and modern Mexican cuisine and flavours.”
El Catrin’s dessert menu follows the same motto as the rest: small tastes that are meant to be shared. Featured dishes include Mexican fudge with bacon walnuts, Mexican chocolate bar with spiced hazelnut, caramelized tortilla chips, churros and a fresh fruit bucket. Visitors with a bigger appetite can enjoy a sampler platter that includes a mix of all the dishes.
Along with its diverse menu, the El Catrin Bar includes more than 140 brands of tequila and mezcal collections, many of which have never before been offered in Canada. Some of the bottles are valued at $2,000. In fact, producer Los Azulejos is behind the custom hand painted ceramic bottles that will be used to house the tequila exclusively for El Catrin. The tequila gallery is displayed behind a massive fifty foot long bar, constructed from The Distillery’s old whisky racks.
The entire design of the restaurant was created by interior design firm Munge Leung and resembles the atmosphere of authentic Mexican cantinas with tile floors, custom designed metal screens, oversized lamp shades and metal detailing.
The most striking feature is a forty-foot long mosaic, designed by Mexican Street artist, Oscar Flores. Entitled El Camino De La Libertad, meaning “The Path of Freedom”, the art piece includes authentic Mexican motifs which are inspired by the Mexican traditions of La Loteria Mexicana, Papas Picado paper art and urban street art.
The message behind the mural, as described by Flores, is that “in the path of man, there is life and death, there are feelings and joys, and everything goes linked with personality and freedom. Each one chooses their own way of being, doing and live, here i give you the way of the catrin, how he lives, its own origin, and his freedom as well. Life is a cycle, and that’s how Mexicans understand, life’s a constant choice, full of chances and opportunities, that’s the reason of laughing about it. Life’s a constant joke, life is fun, life is food, and enjoy them all, a very different path to find the right time to die well….a path of freedom.”