This review of Frida Mexican restaurant in midtown Toronto suggests that the bar has been set high for other Toronto Mexican restaurants wishing to compete.
When a resident of Oaxaca, arguably the gastronomic capital of Mexico, reviews a Mexican restaurant such as Frida in Toronto, take notice. How can any Mexican restaurant in Canada stand up to the scrutiny of someone whose palate has been primed for 20 years by the best of Oaxaca’s barbacoas, tlayudas, estofados, moles and pozoles? After all, Canada cannot compare to the United States’ sheer number of transplanted Mexicans available as chefs and restaurant owners, nor the longstanding tradition of both American and Mexican – American demand for a diversity of home – style Mexican restaurant dishes.
The success of Frida Mexican restaurant in Toronto evidences Canada’s coming of age. Forget the high – end trendy Toronto Mexican restaurants (at least one of which already has two branches, a testament to the tendency of Torontonians to throw money at mediocrity as long as it’s chic). Don’t let complacency stand in the way of experimenting with a Mexican restaurant aside from the three or four longstanding fixtures on the Toronto ethnic restaurant scene. Go out on a limb, if only once, and pass over Taco Bell, since there’s more to Mexico than tacos and burritos, as Frida affirms in full splendor.
Ambiance, Decor, and Pedigree for Service & Culinary Excellence at Frida Mexican Restaurant in Toronto, Canada
Upon entering Frida, several framed black & white photographs of Frida Kahlo adorn the deep sea blue walls, paying homage to one of the most acclaimed Mexican artists of the mid – twentieth century.Aside from a few well-placed pieces of contemporary art, the restaurant is by design non-descript in its contemporary styling, with a dozen or so tables with comfy chairs, and bar towards the back.
Staff is friendly and efficient, seeming to have a vested interest in pleasing patrons. Fact is that maitre d’ Brenda Amaral is the sister-in-law of executive chef / co-owner Jose Hadad. Pepe, as he’s affectionately known, has a pedigree hard to match. As a child growing up in Mexico, his family knew he was destined to be a chef. As a young adult, prior to moving to Canada he worked at a well-known restaurant in Mexico City. Then upon moving to Canada he studied culinary arts at the chefs school of Toronto’s George Brown College. After graduating he worked at some of Toronto’s best restaurants. His Canadian influences in gastronomy include Mark McEwan and Michael Stadländer. How better to combine tradition and training with cutting edge culinary arts!
The Wining & Dining Experience at Frida Mexican Restaurant in Mid-Town Toronto
It’s Chef Pepe’s use of several small “bites” on the menu in addition toappetizers, which enables patrons to sample from the broadest range of culinary delights. And with rock bottom pricing for these samplings (as low as $3 apiece), diners are urged to indulge with a view to experiencing and appreciating. Where pricing at tapas bars serves to inhibit diners from letting loose, Frida’s bites invite. Where supply of a seasonal ingredient is limited, such as huitlacoche (the Mexican delicacy which is literally a mold which grows on corn), by incorporating the ingredient into a bite, Pepe is able to expose a larger number of Mexican food aficionados to something unique and scrumptious. Try his empanadas de huitlacoche whenever available!
Appetizers run the usual range of traditional Mexican fare (i.e. queso fundido using Oaxacan string cheese; an excellent chunky guacamole) for those less daring, but include the more unusual, such as slices of marinated beef tongue floating on a bed of fiery salsa made with a combination of chiles. The dish works exceptionally well, with the heat of the salsa tempered by the tang of the tongue and refried beans.
Of particular note under entrees are the tender succulent lamb barbacoa, perfectly prepared halibut Veracruz style, spicy shrimp and of course whatever chicken mole is available, either from the menu (poblano) or a daily special. Each main course integrates julienne vegetables, locally grown where possible in keeping with Chef Pepe’s philosophy, and cooked to a perfect crunch.
For imbibing, since the menu includes wine pairing, there’s little left to chance. Chef Pepe takes care in consulting the experts to ensure that his cuisine is complemented by the wine of the right grape, country and vintage. On a recent visit, a peppery 2007 L.A. Cetto Petite Sirah (underpriced at $27) with notes of blueberry, was met with the highest accolades.
For dessert, regardless of the number of diners in the party, request a sampler which includes the fresh mini churros.
Future for Chef Jose Hadad, Frida Mexican Restaurant in Toronto, & Mexican Cuisine for Canadians
Chef Jose Hadad has already proven himself as a top-notch restaurant owner and culinary arts genius, judging from his triumph with Frida. Pepe’s personality of humility, warmth and ever-present desire to further develop his gastronomic arsenal, add to his recipe for success. Last year he invited acclaimed Oaxacan Chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo (owner of La Olla restaurant and Casa de los Sabores Cooking School, both in Oaxaca) to cook with him at Frida. He’ll once again meet up with Chef Pilar, later this year in Oaxaca.
On the home front, Chef Pepe will continue at the helm of Frida in Toronto, while at the same time work on one of his longtime goals, to expand Canadians’ awareness of and appreciation for Latin American cuisine. He participates in food festivals showcasing dishes of Mexico as well as Central and South American countries. And he goes further: “My range of salsas with a variety of flavors and using a diversity of Mexican chiles is already on the shelves of 44 stores, under my Mad Mexican label. I want to expand distribution throughout all of Canada, not only in the gourmet shops, and to develop other products. That way I can better expose Canadians to a real Mexican food experience, not just in my restaurant, but in their homes.”