By Julian Geneen
Toronto restaurateur Grant Van Gameren adds to his world domination coverage of cuisines with Quetzal. It's emphasis is on the camal, a Mexican process of placing a clay plate over an open flame to cook proteins and produce. Chefs Kate Chomyshyn and Julio Guajardo discovered a passion for this method on several exploratory trips to Mexico. This is the second new restaurant in Toronto that uses the open flame as a centrepiece of their menu; Momofoku Kojin, is the other.
Like Bar Raval, the space is designed by Toronto-based firm Partisans, whose bright and open look may be their finest work. The menu, like every trendy establishment of its ilk, is designed to be family style, and is split into six key sections. These sections are Barra Fria (cold bar), Para Accompañar (to accompany), Verduras (vegetables), Embuditinos y Carnes (meats and sausages), Los Grandes (The Big Ones) and Masa (Corn Dough). The staff was quite helpful in navigating this large menu, and the service was efficient and accommodating.
For our first round of cocktails we each tried something different in order to get a feel for the bar offerings. The Cheladas, like a bloody Mary with Mexican beer, were generally met with a warm reception as they were inventive and felt very on brand, even if the taste wasn’t earth shattering. I ordered the Ensenada, their play on margarita, which basically tasted like a good margarita.
For dinner, the sauce came first which make up the accompaniment section. The sauces are considered a focal point of the meal at Quetzal, as you are instructed to try mixing and matching them with all your food. It’s suggested that you order all nine of the sauces, which we mistakenly did. All of them are good to a certain degree, (some better than others such as the more traditional pumpkin seed mole and the more unique Asian-inspired one) but it’s nearly impossible to keep track of all of them throughout the meal. Additionally, the kitchen skimps out on serving you enough corn tostada to sample them all without having to resort to finger dipping. I’d suggest ordering three and getting an extra of a favourite.
The raw bar’s focus is the ceviche. I tried the scallops and the clams. Aesthetically, they all look amazing and Instagram-ready. The flavour is light and refreshing, although slightly too acid-heavy. Then the vegetables arrived and I first began to see the potential for the restaurant. The sweet potato and onion dishes were simply executed but flat out tasty and have a more inventive texture and flavour profile than the baked potato and blooming onion they are clearly riffing on. The sausages and meats followed, which were another highlight. The hanger steak with anchovy-jalapeno-caper sauce was the standout of the meal and remarkably tender for what can be a chewy cut. The sausages were quite tasty, but I can’t say they really stood out in what’s quietly become a sausage trend in Toronto. Finally, we ate a couple of the masas, which were decent but not particularly unique. The black bean crème fraiche mix was strongly reminiscent of dishes at Mexican restaurants that strive for a lower bar than this one.
There is a lot to like about this new restaurant, and I suspect that it will get even better in the coming months. In particular, the dishes which properly use the open flame like the steak and vegetable sides make Quetzal stand out from its counterparts. With an increased focus on what makes them unique, and maybe a trim of the menu, Quetzal could cement itself as one of Toronto’s most original and fun places to dine.
Price: $80 dollars per person, including two drinks.
Rating: Three stars (out of four). An excellent restaurant.