Quetzal is named for one of the most beautiful tropical birds on the globe, sacred to the ancient Maya and Aztec peoples.
This is appropriate seeing as the cuisine is a celebration of those cultures and their staple ingredients, along with the Spanish influences that later arrived in Mexico.
Low, undulating creamy white ceilings imitate marketplace tents. Ventilation set into the ceiling controls the smoke from fires fueling multiple grills and a wood-burning oven running the length of the restaurant in full view.
Ceviche de Zanahoria ($14) is a carrot ceviche, thin but snappy ribbons of carrot and slices of radish bent and scattered about the plate, dressed with a sal de gusano that makes this small plate a recommended pairing for mezcal.
Aguachile de Camaron ($24) takes a steep uptick in price, but it’s a super fresh combination of juicy little shrimp with orange, habanero and crunchy jicama topped with a fan of rich avocado and dressed tableside with a slightly smoky racado negro sauce blackened with squid ink and charred tortilla.
Vidalia Rostizada ($8) is far less pricey and could be enjoyed as a small plate or part of a feast. Seasoned with cumin and pasilla oaxaqueño and roasted whole in the wood-burning oven until tender, juicy and smoky, it’s plated on a thin layer of contrasting herb salsa and topped with crispy onion.
Arrachera ($28) is a fatty, wood-grilled, porcini-rubbed 10-ounce cut, accompanied by a caper-jalapeno salsa and onion grilled until charred outside and shiny and deeply flavoured inside.
This makes a great accompaniment for the steak as well as the briny salsa, which is surprisingly heavier on the caper than the jalapeno.
Tlayuda ($10) tortillas are part of a short list of inexpensive masa dough tortilla small plates. All tortillas are made fresh by hand using corn from Oaxaca ground with lava rock, cooked on a traditional comal clay plate oven that rests on an open flame.
The Tlayuda tortillas are stuffed with soft smashed beans, quesillo and cabbage for a crispy, cheesy snack that necessitates being eaten immediately.
We accompany with a smooth avocado and serrano Aguacate and slightly spicier chili de arbol and grilled tomatillo Molcajete salsa ($3 each).
The Velvet Krush ($28) is one of two “large format” drinks, a unique but tasty mix of Novo Fogo, Campari, Havana Club, El Dorado, Appleton, cocoa nib, pineapple, sherry honey, lime and coffee.
This is one of many Grant van Gameren projects in the city, having opened hot on the heels of also Mexican but entirely vegan Rosalinda, co-owned by Owen Walker.
Chefs Julio Guajardo and Kate Chomyshyn head up the kitchen, having travelled far and wide through Mexico for research before opening Quetzal.