Milagro (Spanish for miracle) has a principled approach to their dishes that truly does hone in on the best of what Mexican cuisine has to offer. The Cantinas distinguish themselves by relying on big, bold flavours that are inspired by a true cantina style of cooking. Chef and Co-founder Arturo Anhalt and his staff work as cohesively as if it were one big family serving each meal – warm and attentive.
On a recent visit for a media tasting, Chef Arturo and his team prepared a four-course feast that celebrates his home country’s cuisine through well-prepared Mexican dishes that use treasured family recipes and traditional techniques. We dined at the flagship location on Mercer Street (one of three locations) in the heart of Toronto’s Entertainment District.
When you walk in, the décor is invigorating with a honey vibe as if you’ve discovered a back alley celebration with frescoesque paintings, wooden tables, and blackboard-painted walls that project a truly laid-back atmosphere.
Our first course started with a perfected fresh bowl of guacamole, which was delightfully creamy and tangy – a definite standout presented together with three salsas of varying spiciness. This was paired with their Milagrito ‘Ven a Mi’ Mezcal Reposado, which is the smoky agave cousin of tequila. This drink compliments so well with its earthy and citrus blend.
Moving into the second course, we were treated to a romaine lettuce Ensalada Cesar with a rich, savoury taste highlighted by anchovy, garlic and egg vinaigrette topped with a homemade garlic crouton. Following that, there was a marinated octopus tostadita (crisp corn tortilla) with lime, tomatillo, and chipotle chilies en adobo. This was tender and perfectly marinated and begged to be indulged upon. The other tortilla was a moist and tender pork carnitas with warm tomatillo-serrano salsa topped with crema fresca (sour cream) and queso cotija (goat cheese). These dishes were a great match with the Michelada – Negra Modelo beer served with fresh lime juice – as it pulled out the flavours well without being overpowering.
Let’s delve into the main courses… First, a savoury dish called the Cochinita Pibil, which had an interesting and richer depth to the palate. This fiery pork butt in achiote and orange juice marinade is roasted in banana leaves, then pulled and served with fried plantains, pickled red onions and salsa pancho. Then, there was the roasted chicken in a Poblano style red mole sauce prepared in-house with chipotle, mulato, ancho and pasilla chilies, peanuts, raisins, almonds, Mexican chocolate, and 20 other ingredients. Complex and with nuanced flavours, this dish should be eaten with your hands for full enjoyment! Both dishes are well-defined specialties for Milagro, and were nicely paired with sweeter Spanish wines that went well with these spicier dishes.
I brim with over-excitement when it comes to desserts that sometimes I feel like my expectations are set too high. Milagro delivered by way of their re-imagining of the classic flan and brulee. Their Flan de Queso al Caramelo moves away from a classic egg base and uses creamed cheese, which created a far richer and dense taste that is nothing short of decadent. The Natilla de Cajeta (the “brulee”) uses goat’s milk as a base, and has a rich caramel flavour that is amped up with a burnished sugar top. The deep caramel and custard mix results in a truly delightful treat. These sweets were complimented with a Cazadores Añejo Tequila aged 12 months in new, American white oak barrels; it had a bouquet of vanilla, caramel, apples, and black pepper.
In a city like Toronto where there is a plethora of places to eat that oscillates from traditional to trendy taco spots, it’s comforting to know that there are staple places, such as Milagro Cantinas, that honour the true culinary heritage of Mexico.
If you’ve dined at Milagro, what were your favourite dishes? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.