Showing posts with label cricket ice cream. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cricket ice cream. Show all posts

Quetzal (Toronto)

Quetzal certainly looks and feels different compared to other Mexican restaurants. The dining room is white and sleek and there’s no images of skulls or Frida Kahlo anywhere, they’re bringing an upscale flair to Mexican cuisine.

Things haven’t gone so smoothly since its opening on August 2018. The restaurant had to temporarily close down in January when two of their chefs and co-owners quit, citing they felt overworked.  Chef Grant van Gameren stepped in and after adjusting the menu (so long, nine types of salsa) things are simpler but still relies heavily on the 26-foot wood-fired grill. They also stopped serving bugs and grubs (you heard right), with the exception of crickets found in their dessert (more on that later).

While some establishments serve complimentary salsa and chips, at Quetzal their amuse bouche is a tostada adorned with spiced salmon and guacamole. It gives you a taste of things to come - fresh neutral ingredients combined together to provide flavour, but nothing tastes overly harsh (any use of lime and cilantro is restrained).

The kanpachi tiradito ($21) is absolutely delicious. The fish is first grilled so the skin has a slight crispiness and a mellow smokiness that hangs in the distance. Yet, the flesh remains raw and after sitting in the light acid sauce starts to break up so it’s even tenderer than typical sushi.

Nonetheless, it’s a dish I’m torn about. Sure, it tastes great but when you’re visiting to experience bright Mexican flavours, you can’t help but feel a bit disappointed with something that tastes like tataki. Perhaps it’s where this dish sits on the menu, under ceviche, when this is noticeably not ceviche. The flavours are rather neutral sitting in a liquid that’s not overly tangy and merely adorned with chili oil and micro greens. Delicious, but not Mexican.

Luckily, the memelas ($16) that followed has the traditional tastes. Blue corn masa tortillas are freshly pressed and toasted so they emit such a lovely aroma when mixed with the cheese and morels. It is dishes like this that reaffirms why I love sitting at the Chef’s table … the aroma, at its peak strength, may only last a minute so you want to be sitting close by.

Covered onto the masa are asiento (a thin layer of pork lard) and plenty of quesillo cheese so they form an almost squeaky cheese curd layer. It sounds like it’d be heavy, but with the plump morels and dollops of refreshing salsa cruda everything works nicely together. Just don’t bother eating it with a knife and fork – it’s difficult to cut through – hand-to-mouth is definitely the way to go.

Almost all the mains are cooked on the wood-fire grill. The whole grilled sea bream ($58) was an excellent suggestion from the chef near our seats (consequently, he’s also the one preparing it so we had an excellent view of our meal being created). Our waiter’s suggestion of adding on an order of tortillas ($2.75 for six pieces) was another smart suggestion as it helped make tasty fish tacos.

The sea bream is butterflied, deboned, marinated with salsa roja (a slightly spicy red sauce), and then grilled over the fire so the skin get crispy and the meat retains a lovely smokiness. On arrival, the fish is moist and tender, but because the plate is heated, starts to become overcooked halfway through the dish. Indeed, the heated plate helps ensure the fish stays warm until it’s served, but perhaps provide bigger sharing plates and suggest to customers that they move it onto these dishes, if they’d like the fish less done.

Having had the fish by itself and sandwiched inside warm soft tortillas, both work and taste delicious. However, since the tortillas are rather plain, I had to really layer on the salsa verde to give it flavour, so an extra dish of the condiment is required if customers pair the sea bream with tortillas. In fact, I wish there was the option to purchase an order of pico de gallo to add to the experience.

Quetzal’s dessert menu is sparse: with only two options, I almost wanted to call it quits and find something elsewhere. However, the helado de hoja de aguacate ($11) sounded so interesting that we had to taste it once.

You really need to dig straight through to the bottom to get a bit of the avocado leaf ice cream, chamomile and tropical fruit espuma, cocao nibs, and of course one of the candied crickets. It’s a dessert that reminded me of a margarita – there’s sweet citrus flavours that ends with a salty finish. As a person who only occasionally enjoys salty and sweet combinations, it really wasn’t something I warmed to.

And the candied crickets? If you don’t think about it, they’re really just crunchy bits in the ice cream. As soon as I saw a leg, my stomach turned and I could only manage it get down two of them. My previous statement that eating bugs should be left to Fear Factor contestants remains.

Quetzal’s service really excels compared to Grant van Gameren’s other restaurants. We were appropriately brought to an ideal spot at the Chef’s table: closest to the centre of the restaurant so I could still see what’s happening elsewhere and right by the fire but not under the drafty venting system. The experience was much better than the terrible encounter at Bar Isabel. Moreover, the Chef manning the fish and meat station immediately started speaking to us – offering suggestions on what to order, so there wasn’t that period of awkwardness when I wondered if I should ask questions.

For those who are really stuck on what to order, you can even ask the waiter to put together a customized tasting menu. In retrospect, that may have been a smart idea as he would have likely steered me towards a more traditional ceviche and away from the crickets.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 419 College Street

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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Quetzal Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato