Frida Restaurant & Bar melds the soul of classic Mexico City cooking with a refined, contemporary fine-dining touch. Chef and owner Jose Hadad has been fulfilling his culinary enthusiasm since moving to Toronto in 2001 to attend chef's school at George Brown College, starting the Mad Mexican line of prepared guacamole, salsas and tortilla chips in 2005 and opening up Frida in 2008. Coupled with his great love for the city of Toronto, Hadad possesses an unwavering passion for the preservation of his Mexican culinary heritage, using traditional Mexican preparations and ingredients with locally curated Ontario products whenever possible.
Chef Hadad was out when we went for our meal, but Sous-Chef Sergio Maldonado and restaurant Manager Vanessa made sure that we got the full-fledged Frida experience, helping us select a 7-course meal to satisfy all the senses and stuff our stomachs.
Like all meals at Frida, we started off with a complimentary selection of fresh handmade salsas and tortilla chips and a plate of their famous guacamole ($8/$11). If you're not into Ceviche ($16), which challenges for best appetizer on the menu, then the Duck "Carnitas" Mini Tacos (3-$12/6-$16) are the must-have starter.
Tiny and crisp fried tortilla shells are packed with juicy, marinated pulled duck and topped with fresh citrusy guacamole, pico de gallo and on the right days, one of the most satanically delicious things — chicharron. A small frissee salad comes on the plate as well with sweet cherry tomatoes and an arbol chili vinaigrette with a hint of heat.
To finish off our string of starters, a lively looking cup of Soupa de Frijol Negro ($4-cup/$9-bowl) was a sweet and smooth puree of black beans with fresh avocado, ancho oil, and house soured cream, crispy tortilla strips and chives.
Though you'll find it in the Little Bites section of the menu, what I would consider a mid-course came in the form of one of my favourite things — beef tongue. Lengua En Escabeche is tender braised beef tongue with a picante sauce of pickled jalapenos, carrots and onion and served over a creamy blend of mashed black beans and herbed bread. While each piece is unique and delicious on it's own, this was truly meant to be eaten together. The softness and sweet flavour of the tongue and beans, flashes of heat and acidity from the pickled chili's, and the fragrant finish of fresh ground rosemary and oregano on the crusty bread; this is a complete dish from the presentation to the palate.
The main courses followed in the form of two homegrown Mexican classics: Chilies Poblanos Rellenos (1-$17/2-$21) and an assortment of Tacos. The Chilis are what my Mexican friends describe as one of the ultimate comfort foods from their childhood. Roasted poblano peppers (a large, mild green chili) dipped in a fluffy egg batter and fried, then stuffed with Oxaca (wah-ha-ka) cheese. The light smoky bite of the roasted pepper is a great compliment to the gooey cheese and a creamy tomato sauce with epazote along with rich, viscous house soured cream.
While all of the tacos on the menu come in threes (between $9-$12), if you ask really nicely, you might just be able to swing a bit of a sample platter. Our exploratory taste buds lead us to a spread of four types of tacos: Carne con Queso (grilled AAA NY Striploin and Oxaca cheese), Barbacoa (lamb), Cabrito en Salsa Verde (braised goat with roasted tomatillo salsa) and Pollo Pibil (pibil chicken with cured onions). Each seemed to want to one-up the other, but we both agreed that the highlights were the barbacoa and pibil.
Nestled in a warm, soft corn tortilla and topped with fresh chopped cilantro and onion, the lamb is braised in a borracho sauce made from tomatoes and several types of chilis. Borracho, slang for "drunk" in Spanish takes it's meaning into cooking (as has been described to me) as a subterranean style of roasting lamb. Cooked in this rich and spicy sauce, you would leave your lamb to slow cook overnight in agave leaves as you went to drink tequila with your compadres. In the morning when your hangover was most potent, you would dig up your feast and eat away the pain.
The only thing that was in pain at this point was my nearly bursting belly, but at Frida, one must always save room for the Churros ($7)! A classic churro is a long, tube shaped Mexican doughnut, warm and soft in the middle and crispy outside, dusted with sugar and cinnamon. The Churros Rellenos con Cajeta at Frida are bite sized, placed on dollops of handmade blueberry and strawberry coulis and oozing with cajeta, a creamy, sweet, tantalizingly finger-licking, plate-scraping goats milk caramel sauce.
The finale at Frida was just a sweet as the start and though I'm stuffed to the brim now, I hope it won't be long until my next mow.