What was once The Boiler House restaurant in the Distillery District is now a vibrant (and trippy) Mexican restaurant called El Catrin (18 Tank House Ln.), serving traditional and modern takes on the country’s food. At yesterday’s grand-opening party, diners took the time to soak in all the little details in the giant Día de Muertos–themed space, which was designed by local firm Munge Leung (also responsible for Weslodge, Gusto 101, La Societe, and Salad King). An enormous black light-lit mural (pictured top) by Mexican artist Oscar Flores is the restaurant’s main anchor. In the back, a wall of psychedelic painted skulls stare down at the private dining room on one end, while an alcove of glimmering candles and trinkets sit on the other.
“We didn’t want to just do Mexican food, we wanted to bring out the culture, the dancing, the drinks, the iconography,” says Matthew Rosenblatt, whose Distillery Restaurants Corporation also owns Pure Spirits Oyster House and the now-closed Boiler House, which shut down at the beginning of the year. Tiles were brought in from Mexico, metal screens were cut to resemble paper folk art, and little framed dioramas were created to line the walls at the entrance.
Click here for a closer look at the photo above.
Heading up the kitchen is chef de cuisine Olivier Le Calvez, who moved to Toronto (along with his wife and baby) from Mexico City a little over a month ago. He most recently served as an instructor at Le Cordon Bleu Mexico and chef at the luxury hotel Live Aqua in Mexico City. “I’m learning a lot about producers and what’s available here,” he says. “The meat, the fish, the oysters, the pork here are, like, 10 times better than what I used to working with. Tomatoes and cilantro are also great here, and I even found epazote. There are so many people here of different cultures, it’s great that we have that to put a lot of ideas together.”
The menu (brunch/lunch, dinner, plus kids and gluten-free options coming soon) is served tapas style with starters like chips and guacamole prepared at the table. Below is a look at some of the new restaurant’s tasty dishes. —Karon Liu
The Vuelve a la Vida El Catrin: oysters topped with a ceviche of crisp shrimp, octopus, scallops, red onion, cucumber, jicama, and Acapulco cocktail sauce.
Ceviche of tuna, watermelon, lime, olive oil, chives, and a habanero mignonette.
Tacos al pastor: juicy shaved pork marinated in an earthy achiote sauce, pineapple, cilantro, and onion.
Buttery and rich seared foie gras with mango, poblano, and red-onion relish atop house-made tostadas.
A refreshing cactus salad with a light tequila-lemon vinaigrette.
Jumbo shrimp sautéed with guajillo chilies, garlic, lime juice, and white wine served with guacamole, black beans, and rice.
Tender short ribs, braised for 24 hours with mole sauce, sweet potato puree, and snap peas.
Dessert of churros with three dipping syrups: tart strawberry, bitter chocolate, and cajeta, plus a spicy hazelnut crunch chocolate bar with a sprinkle of salt on top.
Lastly, it wouldn’t be a massive restaurant in the Distillery District without an equally big patio. El Catrin has 5,000 square feet of space in the front, with a separate bar and (because they can) an open fire pit.
Click here to for a closer look at the photo above.