The Latin-American/Mexican/Spanish renaissance or what-have-you has – we sort of hope – reached critical mass. (Remember last year how pretty much every second restaurant opening was Italian? Yeah… we’re starting to feel that same sense of boredom.) There’s a new spicy eatery on every corner it seems, which is great when cravings hit but rough when it comes to decisions. (Which of the 972 Mexican restaurants do I want to try tonight…?) And recently entering this great growth spurt is El Catrin, a (mostly) authentic Mexican restaurant that took over the Boiler House space in the Distillery District. We went, we ate, we took in the vibe, and here’s why we loved it…
It’s Effin’ Snazzy
We’re big on decor here at VTV (d’uh!), and El Catrin’s digs are near-perfection. Designed by powerhouse firm Munge Leung (Gusto 101, Hawksworth, Weslodge, La Societe, etc.), it’s a mix of Canadian heritage and Mexican authenticity. (Or rather, what Mexico could look like if they had a few million bucks for every street corner.) Sitting on the expansive patio you’ll feel… not like you’re in Mexico… but like you’re in a really cool restaurant in a really cool city that isn’t Toronto. (Maybe Chicago, or LA, or somewhere that has freakin’ rad restos like this peppered across their urban landscape.) We didn’t want to leave… and that’s never a bad thing when it comes to dining out.
It’s More Than Just Tacos
Many in the new wave of Mexican/Latin-American eateries focus heavily on those soft-shelled wonders that everyone in the city is enamoured with. We get it, tacos rock. But after awhile we’re left craving something… different. El Catrin offers up a wide range of dishes, from grilled goodies to snacks aplenty. It’s the everyman’s Mexican shop… in that there’s something for every man. (And woman, obvee.) Oh! And the guacamole is made table-side, so you know it’s fresh as can be and not slopped in a bowl from a massive vat.
One Word: Tequila
With about 85 on the menu now, and an ambitious dream of reaching 200, El Catrin is bringing respectability to tequilas and mezcals the way last year’s crop of restaurants brought bourbon back to prominence. College kids, stay the eff away. This is tequila for adults, not waste cases looking for a chance to black out. The margaritas made us weep while the mojitos made us weak in the knees. (And that was before a second round was even ordered!) Tequila, you’ve been traipsed through the mud time and again, but now you’re the cool comeback kid of 2013. Bask in the glory… while it lasts.
The Chef Has StrEAT Cred
We had the privilege of chillin’ with Chef Olivier Le Calvez prior to dining on his dishes… and dude has some top pedigree. Yes, he’s Mexican, so the “authentic” angle is covered. But even cooler is his French-training to get techniques down pat. His history at famed establishments like China Grill in Mexico and Hotel Aqua Bosques. His teaching at Le Cordon Bleu Mexico. His ranking as one of the top chefs in Mexico (list by Buena Mesa). This fella’s got the goods, and he’s imported them to Canada.