A perfect summary of the Toronto restaurant scene came via a Tweet that said, more or less, that if one wants to start a successful Toronto restaurant, one should get a job as a dishwasher at the Black Hoof, then quit and open a place of their own. Its funny because, well, its true; just note the success of the (dearly departed) Hoof Cafe and the buzz behind Grant van Gameren taking over at Enoteca Sociale. So the Twittersphere lit up with excitement after it was reported that former Hoof chef de cuisine Colin Tooke opened a new restaurant. We were given a name (Grand Electric), we found a non-descriptive website and a Twitter account that gained almost 500 followers in 3 days without tweeting anything of substance. No soft opening, no real promotion, no real signeage on the restaurant: nothing but word of mouth (or in this case, finger) to lure people in.
I couldn’t help but buy into the buzz. Their website said that Grand Electric is about “Mexican food, craft beer, brown liquor and loud music.” Seriously, say no more. So with Robin otherwise engaged for the evening, I made plans to meet up for an early bird dinner (Europeans would scoff at our 6 PM meet-up time) with Stella (Food Junkie Chronicles) and Gizelle. The decor is relatively bare bones, with a beautiful wooden bar to display the lovely libations-to-be to thirsty patrons. Being a lover of good beer, my eyes immediately scanned over the drink list.
Any Toronto restaurant or bar that has not one but two Dieu du Ciel offerings on taps is immediately in my good books. Bottle-wise, I was happy to see Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale and BC’s excellent Red Racer available alongside hipster-friendly Labatt 50. Since I was dedicated to drinking beer with dinner, I didn’t read over the hard alcohol list, which apparently is chock full of delicious bourbons and other liver-blowing spirits. They also make two signature cocktails: The Michelada is a mix between a shandy and a Caesar featuring Tecate (a Mexican beer), and the Grand Electric Sour is similar to a traditional unblended margarita. Both are very refreshing and reminiscent of summer.
Stella and Giselle decided that we’d order the entire menu. Keep in mind that the combined weight of these two women equals one me. We started off with the Guacamole and Chips.
The corn chips were made in house and were quite nice, with a fresh crispness to them. In the middle of the guacamole was a light chicharron which had the consistency of a firm shrimp chip. The guacamole was very simple with a healthy amount of fresh cilantro; a nice way to start our meal.
Next came our tacos. We started with the beef cheek tacos, which were well executed. The beef cheek was delicate and perfectly fatty and had great flavour. Fresh cilantro and green onion were carefully sprinkled on top of the tacos. I put a few dabs of the moderately-spicy salsa verde in it to kick it up a few notches. We then moved onto the spicy arbol chicken taco. I think that they should have changed its name to “DAMN spicy arbol chicken taco.” It was delicious, but there was some serious heat coming from those tacos. The spice took away from the savoury flavour of the chicken and I personally think that a little less heat would have allowed us to taste the flavour of the meat and not just spice. The third taco was pork belly al pastor and this was the taco show stopper. There was a nice citrus kick to it and its pairing with the peach salsa made me want more. The next time I return, I’d gladly order 3 pork belly tacos.
The ensalata electrico arrived next. The salad part was quite simple – it tasted like Ranch dressing with a bit of a kick to it. The salad’s simplicity is what I’ve come to expect when I eat Mexican, so I can’t say I was overly disappointed. The treat, though, was the meat croquette that was served with the salad. A crunchy exterior yielded a delicious meaty interior that coated a cheese core. Crunch plus meat plus cheesy goo equals a happy me.
Keeping up with tradition, I passed on all things fishy (the fish tacos and the ceviche, which was served on a crispy taco). Our next arrival was the pollo frito, or fried chicken. It tasted like a hybrid between honey garlic chicken wings and Chinese-style crispy chicken. For $14, it was a nice dish to share. Flavour-wise, it was probably the least impressive of the dishes. It was good but it was missing something to make it memorable.
Finally, we received our pozole rojo, which is a hearty soup traditionally make from pork shoulder. This was my show stopper. It had tender bits of pork, slivers of fresh avocado and an accompanying bottle of hot sauce clearly stolen from Hades himself. I put a dab in my soup and it was more than enough to give it a tasty thermal heat. A squirt from one of the fresh lime wedges completed me and my deepest desires for a flavourful soup. West-enders now have a legitimate alternative to Golden Turtle to beat the winter blahs.
We somehow found room for dessert and, since churros weren’t available, we ordered key lime vasa to share. Whipped cream, lime, lime zest and a graham cracker-esque crust. Need I say more? A nice cool down to a spiced up evening.
We all thought it was a great place to come to for great drinks and great food. Grand Electric isn’t a fine dining or hot date restaurant, but it’s exactly as advertised: good Mexican food, good booze and loud music. Black Hoof, you should be proud of your offspring; Not only was the food great, but Grand Electric had Hoof-like waits (2 hours, we heard) on its first weekend of service!
Blog and photos by Richard.