rick mcginnis/metro toronto
Address 5 Mercer St.
Mon - Thurs: 5:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Fri - Sat: 5:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip $80
**** (out of five)
When temperatures dive and a brief walk outside seems to freeze the capillaries in your face, Mexican food makes even more sense than when the weather is balmy.
A restaurant like Milagro, designed to echo Mexican cantinas where the afternoon sun pours past the patio and bounces off the stuccoed arches, is the most natural place of culinary refuge.
Andres and Arturo Anhalt opened Milagro two years ago, having done time in the food business here and in their hometown of Mexico City. Then, as now, Tex-Mex dominated the field, and except for Chris McDonald’s thoughtful references to Mexican cuisine at Cava and Rebozo’s, a tiny taqueria on Rogers, there was little authentic Mexican fare to be gotten in the city.
The brothers’ first challenge was sourcing ingredients they deemed both genuine and reliable — a single phone number provided by the Mexican consulate led Arturo into creating a network of suppliers for everything except precisely the right kind of chorizo sausage. Nothing close to what they ate at home has ever presented itself, and to this day the brothers have never served a chorizo dish on their menu. Authenticity was the key, they agreed.
“We even had a discussion,” Arturo recalls. “Milagro is a cantina — it’s like a pub. And in cantinas, because the origin is Spanish as well as Mexican, you find a lot of Spanish food. And we said no Spanish — we didn’t want to confuse the customers. People would wonder why we’re serving caldo Gallego in a Mexican restaurant. Every time we choose a dish, we ask whether it’s hardcore Mexican.”
The next problem was even more crucial — how much chile-powered authenticity could they preserve in dishes like their rustic salsa or albondigas al chipotle without frightening local palates? “If we used chiles only to make the food burn, we would only use one chile — the spiciest,” says Andres. “But at least in Mexico there are a hundred different chiles with a hundred different flavours.”
“In Mexico people use chiles because they like the flavour, not because they want to get burned,” adds Arturo.
Since opening, they say their regulars’ comfort level with chiles has improved, and they’ve let the spice creep back into their dishes, but if you think that a meal at Milagro will be an endurance test, you’d be wrong. The filete poblano, with its buttery tender grilled steak medallions and creamy poblano sauce, is hardly a trial by fire, and the range of flavours in their chicken and shrimp tacos — complimented with a trio of sauces on the side — is both subtle and forthright. A bar full of tequilas — for sipping, they insist, not slamming — and monstrous margaritas do more than quench the thirst, while an unspeakably rich flan, more cheesecake than custard from Andres’ own recipe – will cap off a fortifying meal, in either summer’s torpor or winter’s blast.