El Cortez Tequila Bar + Kitchen

May 10, 2015
El Cortez, a Mexican restaurant just off of Whyte Ave, has invited me to join their Cinco de Mayo celebrations on May 5. It was quite a coincidence actually, as I had just dined there the week before. At the time, I did notice the food was a bit different. It turns out the restaurant has just released a new food menu, as well as a reinvented craft cocktail menu (based on tequilas of course, since El Cortez is a tequila bar). And this Cinco de Mayo event was the perfect chance to showcase the new offerings. It was a bit cold that evening, and as the event was held outside in the patio, I was pleased to find that the heat was on and blankets had been thoughtfully laid out for guests.

On one side of the patio, staff from Calgary's Rodney's Oyster House were busy shucking away for a good portion of the evening. The El Cortez folk really know how to throw a party. All-you-can-eat raw oysters? I'm in. I didn't realize how much I missed Rodney's, or any good oyster place really. There is definitely a shortage of oyster bars in Edmonton.

West Coast - smaller but sweet, the more popular choice
East Coast - fat and juicy, but more brine
In addition to raw oysters, there were also free cigars. My friend convinced me to try it, but can't say I'm hooked.

As the early comers sat and indulged in oysters and cigars, the appetizers started making their rounds. The first was ceviche, with a choice of tuna or swordfish. I found the tuna too mushy, but the swordfish was nice and firm with good flavour and a complementing accompaniment of avocado and tomatoes.

Next up were spicy chorizo meatballs and pork tenderloin served with salsa. El Cortez did a good job with the sauces and seasoning. Flavours were intense, but not overwhelmingly so.

Tacos are usually the main focus of a Mexican restaurant, and El Cortez serves up a variety of different fillings. I tried the beef and fish, and as previously mentioned, the meat was seasoned perfectly with just the right amount of sauce and garnishes. The tortilla, however, did not really capture my heart. I was told it was made in house and it tasted fine, but I would much prefer traditional corn tortilla to this mixed corn and flour tortilla. It didn't have the full corn flavour, and the texture was a bit doughy and gummy.

I have to say, the cauliflower was pretty amazing. One of the guys sitting next to me kept raving about it. It was like the veggie version of sweet and sour pork. The sauce was an appetizing bright orange with sharp tangy notes.

I finished off with a freshly fried churro in warm gooey chocolate sauce. I don't normally enjoy churros too much, but this was light and moist with no greasy aftertaste. I would definitely order this for dessert next time.

Blue Hour Tequila came to advertise their spirits and served up a few tasty cocktails.

These included a lemonade, a tamarind drink, and a Manhattan, all made with the Blue Hour brand tequila. My favourite was the tamarind (lower left). As my friend put it, it was like a spiked chai with rich and aromatic spices.

Overall, I enjoyed the food and drinks at El Cortez. The flavours were bold, but subdued enough to allow one to finish the entire dish without overstimulating one's taste buds. There is an art in this balance, and El Cortez is pretty good at it.

El Cortez Mexican Kitchen + Tequila Bar on Urbanspoon

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