Brunch – El Catrin

Brunch in Toronto can be a gruesome undertaking. Most restaurants do not: open until late morning, clinic take reservations or offer other options until mid-afternoon. The last point really irks me because if I go out for food after 1 o’clock, seek I want lunch not breakfast.

That being said, pharmacy despite the above and my less than enthusiastic feelings towards breakfast, we have officially become people who brunch. We are trying to cut back on going out for food (which greatly pains me) and in tandem with that, we are trying new places. As most of our free time together is weekend mornings and afternoons, we are people who brunch.

A few weeks ago we had brunch on the patio at El Catrin.

IMG_4571IMG_4560 IMG_4562 IMG_4563 IMG_4564El Catrin has an amazing patio. It is unfortunate that we are slowly edging out of patio weather and many of you may have missed this patio because it is worth a visit. But put it on your list for next spring! I love the combination of bench, chair and stool seating, the large fire pit in the center of the space and the mixture of textiles, materials and colours that give this patio a very bohemian, Mexican/Spanish vibe.

We started with a round of margaritas because all brunches should include booze of some sort.

IMG_4565I think my affair with tequila may be over. The past few times I have had tequila shots, margaritas, or other cocktails with tequila, my stomach cannot deal. I think it is the amount of citrus that throws me off and leaves me feeling incredibly nauseous. Regardless of my dainty stomach, these margaritas are delicious: salty, tangy and with the perfect woody kick of tequila.

We then had guacamole and chips.

IMG_4566I found their guac a little more about the theatrics rather than actual taste and quality. They bring over the fresh ingredients in a mortar and pestle and mix the guac tableside. This is a fun, interactive component of the meal but do you really need to prove to me that you are using authentic, good-quality ingredients? Shouldn’t your food speak for itself? Because of its presentation, I had higher expectations for this guac and it feel slightly short.  I did like that the guac wasn’t perfectly smooth, I like a little chunk and texture to my guac.

GC ordered the Omelet Machado Con Pollo.

IMG_4567 IMG_4570Chipotle braised chicken, green onion, tomato, green bell pepper, and salsa verde.

This was an insane amount of food. I understand that brunch is supposed to set you up for the rest of the day and ensure you aren’t hungry until dinner but omigosh did this omelet do that and more. The chicken could have been a bit spicier and better shredded but the vegetables and salsa were the perfect bit of freshness to pull the omelet together.

I order the Huevos Rancheros.

IMG_4568 IMG_4569Three fried eggs over a corn tortilla with salsa roja, garnished with black bean puree, guacamole.

I love, love, love this dish. The tortillas were warm, salty and slightly crunchy, being substantial enough to hold up to all the mounds of Mexican goodness on top, but soft enough to be cut into perfect bites. The eggs were fried nice and crispy but ensured that the yolks ran beautifully and golden all over the plate. The black beans were slightly sweet and nutty and had a nice gritty texture to them. They were pureed but not pulverized, and served warm. I could have eaten just these beans. The salsa had a nice bit of spice to it which kicked up this dish and made it taste truly Mexican.

Overall, this is good Mexican food with great cocktails and ambiance. A little bit on the pricey side but, given that you are in the Distillery District, you can’t be surprised. I am waiting for the opportunity to arise when I can go back for dinner and enjoy the interior of the restaurant.

Happy munching!

La Carnita – Brunch

Last Sunday was Cinco de Mayo. Now I’ll be honest, I don’t really know anything about Cinco de Mayo besides that it is Mexican and is an excuse for me to eat Mexican food. I used this excuse as a reason to go to my favourite Mexican restaurant in the city, La Carnita, and enjoy brunch with GC.

Brunch at La Carnita is a recent addition to their line up and is something worth checking out. For anyone who has tried to go for dinner and waited hours and hours for delicious tacos, go for brunch. There is no waiting, no crowds but still great Mexican food. We went shortly after the restaurant opened around 11 AM and we were seated quickly. The whole meal, from sitting down to paying, was between 30-60 minutes. That’s my idea of a power brunch. I assume this is a craze that will catch on so go now – but more accurately, this Sunday! But seriously, brunch date this weekend?

We started off with cocktails – GC ordered the Pina Colada that was on special that day, made with tropical fruits of pineapple, mango, and banana with caramel and rum and I ordered the Southside, St. Ambroise Apricot with fresh squeezed orange juice. This is one of the best cocktails I have ever had. I am very much into the “beer cocktail” as an alternative to the traditional cocktail, an idea inspired almost a year ago by Cynthia. This is a cocktail you should definitely all try at the next brunch you host. It is as simple as it seems: half St. Ambroise Apricot and half orange juice in a pint glass. Mix and enjoy.

dsc0433Crispy Chicken Torta – Guacamole, cream, habanero honey glaze and salsa fresca. All images stolen from It Looks Could Fill.

GC ordered the Crispy Chicken Torta. The chicken was crispy and incredibly moist, with a slight hint of sweetness from the honey glaze. The guacamole added a creaminess that offset the kick of heat that accompanied every bite. The sandwich is not as small as it looks but you may need a little something more than this to feel full. A delicious way to start off your morning.

dsc0412Potato & Yucca Homies (Hash) – Beef cheek, green onions, salsa fresca, pickled jalapenos, oaxaca cheese with a fried egg.

This is one of the most unique things I have ever eaten. It had a little bit of everything you could possibly want at breakfast: potatoes, meat, veggies, egg and a little bit of heat. The beef cheek was incredibly tender and moist, it just continued to fall apart when you tried to scoop it with your fork. The potatoes were crispy and served as a sturdy base for this mountain of food. The various vegetables added a nice crunch and freshness to the dish.  And of course, that necessary Mexican heat from the jalapenos that topped this dish.

The presentation was simple but comforting. For some reason, anything served in a bowl is more comforting to me. I imagine curling up under a quilt, hugging the bowl while I eat the deliciousness it contains on a cold and stormy day. This is my Mexican comfort food.

We finished off our brunch by sharing a cinnamon roll that was rather lack luster. It didn’t taste as if it was made fresh that morning and was not served warmed. The cajeta sauce wasn’t able to save it for me. Skip the cinnamon roll and order a breakfast taco or churros instead.

This was a great way to start our Cinco de Mayo and a great way to start our last day of the weekend. You should try it too! Happy munching!

Milagro – Part II

Before Easter my sisters, order GC and I went for dinner at Milagro.

Milagro - IITop left, clockwise: Tacos Rosarito with sauteed shrimp, refritos, crema, aguacate and salsa rosarito.

Trio botanero: guacamole, refritos and pico de gallo.

Tacos la Perla with battered snapper, tropical slaw, and chile crema.

Panela Burrito with arroz, refritos, guacamole, chipotle-mayo, jalapeno and fresh cheese a la plancha.

As per usual, everything at Milagro was delicious. Highlights for me included the refried beans (both on their own and in tacos), the housemade tortilla chips, the shrimp in the rosarito taco, and the corn that came with the burrito.

Next time, I swear, I will order something other than fish tacos.

Happy munching!

 

Grand Electric

I had first heard about Grand Electric from my sister’s friend, Catherine. Years ago, Catherine had travelled to California and fallen in love with fish tacos and had been searching for the Toronto equivalent for years. Her favourite fish tacos in the city are from Playa Cabana and she has yet to try Grand Electric. I feel slightly terrible for trying  this suggestion without her (and without a few other people I had promised after that) but now I can tell her (and them!) that it is delicious!

Grand Electric is one of the more exclusive and sought after restaurants in the city. It’s exclusivity is not attributed to price, but rather size. It is a tiny little restaurant that jams in about 25 people and slightly more during the summer on their patio. Crowds of people are drawn to this restaurant due to the legend of their tacos and will wait outside in the snow and rain in hopes of getting a taste of these legendary tacos. To avoid the crowds and ensure that we would be able to try all the deliciousness that Grand Electric promises, GC and I had lunch on a Sunday and the restaurant was tightly packed but with no lineup outside.

IMG_3263If you hate hipsters you should definitely not visit this place. There are records on vinyl, antlers, craft beer and thick, plastic frame glasses everywhere. It is your grandmother’s 1970s basement meets hunting lodge meets Mexican food. A too cool vibe which is the perfect setting to enjoy some delicious food.

I make it a point to try the guacamole at every Mexican restaurant I visit.

IMG_3265No, this guacamole was not radioactive and poisonous, it is just a camera flash being slightly too powerful. This guacamole was exactly how I like my guac – half creamy and smooth, half chunky and dressed with a little bit of cilantro, garlic and lime. There is no need to put tomatoes in guacamole. It causes the guac to become too running and adds to much sweetness which takes away from the sharp acidity from the lime and cilantro and the vampire kick of the garlic. You can get your fill of tomato from the salsa on the side which was slightly chunky and had a great amount of heat – the perfect following act to the headliner guacamole. The chips were WARM! I am not highlighting this as a point of anger but rather a point of deliciousness! It brought out the corn flavour even more and highlighted that Grand Electric means business – fresh, homemade ingredients coming together to make a delicious meal made to order.

Grand Electric, like La Carnita, allows you to order tacos individually, allowing us to try 5 different tacos that day.

IMG_3266Top left, clockwise: Spicy Arbol Chicken taco, Scrapple taco, Beef Check taco and Pork Tinga taco.

These are easily my favourite tacos in the city. Grand Electric is easily worth the trek out to Dufferin, worth the wait and worth the claustrophobic seating. Omigosh. Taco by taco, here is what I thought:

The chicken taco was spicy, warm and tender. The chicken was perfectly cooked and the pickled cabbage brought out the sweetness in the marinade.

Scrapple is something neither GC or I had heard of so obviously once it was described one of us had to get it. Grand Electric does their scrapple by boiling down the head of a pig until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. Then this meat is formed into a loaf along with other ingredients and then cut into slices and fried. The result is fatty, salty, juiciness wrapped in a light tortilla. Who knew the face of a pig could taste so good?

This beef cheek taco was unbelievable. The meat was tender, falling apart but maintaining all its flavour. It was rich, deep and decadent. It was smoky and crispy. The toppings of guacamole, cilantro and jalapenos were the perfect trio of flavours to match the boldness of flavour that was found in the meat. Apparently some of the best flavours in an animal are found in its face.

The pork tinga tacos had all the qualities of the beef cheek tacos but with pork instead of beef. The crema made this taco even more decadent and rich, with the pork and crema battling for the tastebuds in your mouth.

IMG_3267And of course, the reason for coming, the fish tacos. These have become an area of contention between me and GC. GC loved these, I thought they were just okay.  We agreed that the toppings were the perfect compliment to the fish and the sweet, crunchiness of the cabbage slaw paired well with the crema and the heat of the salsa. The issue for me came from the fish itself which is the reason GC loved them. The fish reminded me of the fish in fish & chips, not the fish you should find in a taco. The fish in fish & chips is about the breading – it is greasy, crunchy and consumes the flaky, delicate nature of the fish. In a taco, the fish should be lightly breaded, adding a slight crunch rather than an overpowering CRUNCH. If that’s how you like your fish then you will love these tacos. Unfortunately I did not.

We finished off with a little dessert, a keylime pie in a cup.

This is the perfect cup of dessert. The whipped cream was homemade, light and airy. The key lime itself was sweet, thick and completely luscious. It felt like such an indulgence and complete extravagance to eat something to velvety smooth and sweet. The crust on the bottom left little to be desired. It did not taste like a good graham cracker crust mixed with butter and sugar but just like crumbs that had been smushed into the bottom of the cup. But after several spoon fulls of the key lime I really could have cared less.

If I am in search of fish tacos (and more accurately, feeling lazy), I will be sticking with La Carnita. If I am craving Mexican food, whether it be guacamole, tacos or key lime pie, I will be going to Grand Electric!

Happy munching!

Factory Girl

Waiting for a girl who’s got curlers in her hair. Waiting for a girl she has no money anywhere. We get buses everywhere. Waiting for a factory girl.

Last week GC and I went to see The Rural Alberta Advantage and Dan Mangan at the Danforth Music Hall. This is a great venue – it is a former movie theatre that has had its seats torn out and is now general admission for shows. Both bands are great – high energy but with tunes to sway and relax to, a great example of contemporary Canadian music.

We never venture east of Yonge – we typically don’t even venture east of Spadina so we were a little lost along the Danforth. We wandered along Danforth just past Broadview and we settled on Factory Girl (hence my Stones reference).

Factory Girl is your standard gastropub with exposed brick walls, dark corners and booths and tables. The walls are adorned with classic rock posters and classic rock is playing from the speakers. It has a very laid back, casual vibe – if I lived out here I think I would spend many a night on its back patio. Yes, it has a fenced in back patio.

Thursday night was that night last week that was about 20 degrees and full of sunshine but Hurricane Sandy ruined most thing so we were able to sit on the patio. I love any time I get to sit  on a patio in late October – it is just one of the many reasons I love October and fall in general.

We ordered a couple of pints and some dinner to munch on before the concert. I ordered the nachos.

Nachos covered in cheddar, mozzarella, tomatoes, beans, jalapeno peppers, shredded lettuce and Cajun chicken. Served with guacamole, salsa and sour cream.

These were amazing! Not as good as Sneaky’s but pretty close. The looked gorgeous, which is something you don’t usually hear about nachos. They were piled in a neat little pile, perfectly covered in cheese and they didn’t get soggy. I liked that a blend of cheese was used instead of just one type, as you typically find. All the ingredients were in large quantity and well spread out except the beans but I didn’t really notice/care. The chicken was spicy, tender and moist – I definitely suggest you add the chicken to your nachos and don’t waste time with the grilled chicken. These nachos were yummy enough that I might considering making the trek down to the Danforth just to eat them…

GC ordered the Prime Rib Hoagie.

Prime Rib Hoagie topped cheddar, sauteed mushrooms, and onions with au jus on the side.

GC liked this sandwich and it was so juicy that he didn’t need the au jus on the side.

A great meal, followed by great music with the greatest person I know.

Happy munching!

Crock Pot Carnitas

In the past year I have become a huge fan of Mexican food. It started off with the arrival of Chipotle in Canada and then the Mexican restaurant that opened up on Main Street in Newmarket. Sicne then, I have tacos at least once a week and crave some form of Mexican food at least once week.

Last week I broke out my Crock Pot again and made homemade Mexican pulled pork or Carnitas.

1. Of course, being something that is made in a crock pot, this is extremely easy to make. It is worth getting a crock pot just to make this recipe. Before I went to work in the morning I through all the ingredients in, and set it on low for 8 hours. I called GC around 3:30 to put the crock pot on warming and when I got home it was ready to shred. The meat just fell apart with the touch of a fork.

2. After tearing the pork apart you put it on a baking sheet to get brown and crispy. It takes the pork up a notch. I would suggest spreading the pork in a thin layer to allow it to become incredibly crunchy. You will probably have a ton of leftovers if you aren’t serving about 6-8 people so don’t crisp all the pork. Crisp it when you are ready to serve it next.

3. The pork is moist, sweet, and spicy. This pulled pork is comparable to any that I have had at Mexican restaurants. Next time I would kick up the spice a notch. I didn’t add the beer because I didn’t have any in the house. I used a chunkier salsa to allow larger chunks of tomato to shine through. The citrus flavour was subtle, yet apparent and was highlighted once more lime was squeezed on top of the completed taco.

4. We topped our tacos with avocado, sour cream and cilantro. Simple but delicious.

Recipe below the cut. Happy munching!

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Nachos from Sneaky Dee’s

As someone who has lived in Toronto for the past 6 years it is shocking that I had never been to Sneaky Dee’s. That’s not altogether true – about 2 years ago I went to a birthday on the second floor but left shortly after saying my “Happy Birthday” to the birthday girl. Sneaky Dee’s is a little seedy, a little grungy, with walls covered in graffiti and the staff wearing shirts ironically. The crowd is a mix of young and aging hipsters, everyone there to enjoy the classic rock and Mexican food.

Last Friday night I went for Birthday Nachos (this should become a thing) with my friend Jaclyn. We split the Kings Crown Nachos, which have been named the best nachos in Toronto by BlogTo.

The Kings Nachos – Crisp corn tortilla chips covered with salsa roja, piled high with frijoles, ground beef, tomatoes, onions, mixed peppers, jalapenos, melted cheese, topped with guacamole & sour cream.

1. I think nachos fall into the category of “do not photograph well” along with chili, stew and raw meat.

2. These were the best nachos I have ever had. There was more than enough topping for the amount of chips we were given. I actually wish we had been given a side basket of chips because we ran out. There was a good blend and distribution of all ingredients; no chip was lacking a certain topping or flavour. There was a good heat from the salsa but it was not overpowering. Every bite was creamy and cheesy, topped with the perfect dollop of sour cream and guacamole.

3. This dish needs to be eaten quickly. Everything quickly becomes soggy due to the amount of moisture from the salsa, sour cream, guacamole and beans.

4. I honestly could have done without the beans. I am not a huge fan of beans, and usually only enjoy them in a burrito but they have to be pinto beans, not black beans. These beans turned into a slightly mush which had an off-putting texture.

These nachos were delicious and have started me off on a nacho kick. It is my goal to try all the nachos on Sneaky Dee’s menu (apparently even the vegan nachos are delicious) and I want to try all the nachos that BlogTO deems as delicious.

Happy Friday and happy munching!

Canadiana and La Carnita

Tonight I found myself in Little Italy. First, I went to a screening of the two new Heritage Minutes at The Royal with my sister Liz. This was a great event – a free Isaac Brock shirt, a free DVD of all the old Heritage Minutes and two new minutes about the War of 1812. I love Canada and I love history.

And I also love food. After the event, Liz and I went to La Carnita and Liz’s friend Laura joined us. We each ordered three tacos:

1. Liz had 2 Crispy Avocado and Frijoles and 1 Special

2. Laura had 1 In Cod We Trust, 1 Crispy Avocado and Frijoles and 1 Special

3. I had 1 In Cod We Trust, 1 Special and 1 Beef Cheek Taco. The beef cheek taco was on special during one of my previous visits and it looks like it has permanently made it way onto the menu.

The Crispy Avocado & Frijoles taco: beans, crispy avocados, chipotle sauce, queso fresco, and cilantro.

The girls liked these tacos: to quote Liz they were “omg yums.” Crispy, spicy and the perfect size to balance and hold all the flavours. This is a taco I have yet to try and I contemplated ordering it tonight but I had to opt for meat. Next time, I promise. There is something about a deep fried avocado that I find incredibly intriguing.

The Special – a blend of mushrooms with cheese and hot sauce in a hard shell taco.

This taco was amazing! I think this might be my favourite taco I have had at La Carnita. Sorry In Cod We Trust, you have some competition. The hard shell was still tender and soft, but firm enough to support all that goodness. The blend of mushrooms were hearty and almost had the texture of meat. They were caramalized and juicy, but retained their earthiness. The cheese was melted to resemble a cream cheese, but still slightly stringy. The hot sauce was hot and zesty, it took the mellowness of the mushroom and cheese up a notch. The greens were a nice touch of freshness. I hope this taco has the same luck as the Beef Cheek and graces the menu permanently.

I didn’t post my pictures of the In Cod We Trust and the Beef Cheek because you have all seen them before. If you want to see them again, I would suggest you visit La Carnita, it’s obviously worth it.

We finished off our meal with churros. It was Laura’s first taste of churros and she loved them. The combination of cinnamon sugar and salted caramel was perfect for her – not too overwhelming or sweet. A delicate balance between sweet and savoury. Yums as always.

Happy munching!