With so much media coverage and critical acclaim, it’s safe to say that Montreal is an eater’s city. From low brow comfort food, casual cuisine to upscale fine dining, we have it all. Like any other big city, we have almost any kind of cuisine that you can ever want. But what’s most impressive about Montreal is the accessibility to these kinds of restaurants. Regardless of which neighbourhood your in, walk 5 minutes in any direction and you’ll be bombarded with enticing dishes from some of the city’s best restaurants that will guarantee to stop you in your tracks. Montreal’s Mexican restaurant representation is modest but steadily diversifying. The newest player in the game is Emiliano’s in old Montreal upping the Mexican food scene.
I had the opportunity to check out the newest Mexican spot in the city putting a finer dining spin on the cuisine. Emiliano’s is named after Don Emiliano Zapata, “the son of a family of peasants that became the head of the Mexican Revolution in the southern part of the country.” The inspiration of the name is echoed in the concept of the restaurant, leading the charge and being the change. Emiliano’s is flipping the script on typical Mexican food and presenting it in a way never seen before in Montreal.
The menu features some unique dishes that I’ve personally never had (let alone seen on a menu) before. We started with a couple of their appetizers. Guacamole with spicy crab. Diced avocado, roasted cipollini onion, cilantro lime juice, roasted pineapple, red thai chili pepper and spicy crab. I appreciate the avocado not being macerated to death being smashed into a paste inundated with lime juice. The flavour was bright and the tartness was evenly balanced by the mild heat from the chilli peppers and inherent sweetness of the crab. As delicate and perfect as the avocado cubes were, made it difficult to eat on the warm and perfectly seasoned homemade tortilla chips. But this version of guacamole literally gives you a reason to eat it by the spoonful.
Octopus Infierno Ceviche – “extremely spicy” (aguachile) marinated octopus, served with red cherry tomato, pickled red onions, avocado and strips of crispy tortillas. Quotations around extremely spicy because that’s how they describe it on the menu. The dish does have a bit of prickly heat to it, but it was still very palatable with every mouthful being cooled by the ripe and creamy avocado. The octopus was incredibly tender.
The queso fundito was a large seared slab of fresh Oaxaca cheese, served with grilled chorizo and slices of mango. The salty chorizo was subdued by the warm and creamy cheese. Sweet tropical tones of mango made each bite a perfect balance of flavours that tantalized all areas of your tongue.
The carnitas tacos – confit pork served in corn tortillas, garnished with onions, cilantro and radish. I’ve had bad experiences with carnitas before; with the meat being dry and flavourless, luckily this wasn’t the case at Emilianos… well not entirely. The meat was definitely NOT dry, it had great moisture – the meat was juicy. However, the flavours were a bit too subdued for my liking. Granted you could taste the inherent natural flavour of the pork, but I still would have liked to taste more of the earthy aromatics typical of carnitas, oregano, cumin… a little bit of salt wouldn’t have hurt either.
This photo doesn’t do this lobster and shrimp quesadilla justice. Just take a moment and think of all the positivity in your life, all the good in the world, the warm feels you get when you see viral reposts of “Faith in Humanity: RESTORED” videos on Facebook. Wrapped that up in an awesome flour tortilla and you get this. Each flour tortilla is stuffed with sweet cherry tomatoes, cilantro, pineapples and ooey gooey melted Monterey Jack cheese. Each bite is a euphoric experience that leaves you wondering if you still have your clothes on when you finally open your eyes after having them roll back in your head in a pure seafood and cheesy lust fog.
We also tried Emiliano’s rendition of a Mexican lasagna. Layers of corn tortilla, tomatillo sauce, al pastor marinated pork, cojita cheese, lettuce and crema fresca. This very hearty dish screamed rustic more than it whispered “fine dining”. Not that that takes away from the dish itself; it was tasty, but heavy. The savoury tender morsels of pork peppered its way through the bulky layers of tortillas. Garnished with shredded iceberg, cream and crumbled cheese, the dish was a bit clumsy under the guise of fine dining.
For dessert, taco ice cream sandwiches. Slabs of vanilla ice cream drizzled with chocolate and strawberry coulis topped with crushed walnuts sandwiched between fried tortillas dusted with sugar and cinnamon. They were light and fun. A delicious way to bring an awesome meal to an end.
Emiliano’s is definitely not the typical Mexican “street food” angle that we’ve become accustomed to when it comes to dining out. They do have a “street food” section on their menu however – a nod to what is familiar – but the emphasis of the menu goes beyond that. It invites diners to explore that other facets of the cuisine that isn’t as common. I went on a Monday night and the place was happening, both floors of the restaurants representing an eclectic mix of locals. A concrete indication of the reception of fine dining Mexican Cuisine. I’m confident that we’ve passed the hurdle of training the public’s perception of Mexican food as a birthday dinner you get a free sombrero with and frozen party drinks served in a tacky exaggerated glasses.
260 Notre-Dame W.