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Monday, July 23, 2012

Agave y Aguacate- Oro Puro in Kensington!

 Update: Restaurant Closed

This, admittedly, is not the kind of shop entrance to entice the unadventurous: a hodgepodge of banners and signs, most of them in a language many would recognize as Spanish but not necessarily understand, in a riot of distracting information, followed by the sight of two or three miniscule food stands if one dares to stick head through door. Unless you know there's a good reason to cross the threshold and mount a few steps that lay ahead you would probably be tempted to keep on walking. But you mustn't. If you pass this by you'll miss out on one of the city's richest treasures laying buried within.

Once home to El Gordo's excellent empanada shop, the so- called Latin American Food Court on the west side of Augusta just north of Baldwin now has seven or eight food vendors in its cramped quarters, but the anchor tenant is without a doubt Agave y Aguacate.
No larger than its neighbours, it is nonetheless a standout, firstly because of its vibrant orange wall adorned with a sunburst of Mexican motifs, secondly because of the lineup of patrons patiently waiting to place their orders, and thirdly (and most importantly) because of the amazing food being meticulously served up.
Owner/ Chef Francisco Alejandri, who hails originally from Mexico, is both a graduate of Stratford's prestigious chef school and a veteran of numerous Toronto high-end kitchens. His pedigree is on display as he works, often single- handedly, to prepare each order. Precision, fussiness over detail, and fastidious cleanliness are his hallmarks.

Below he's making Agua Chile. A half cucumber is peeled & seeded, drizzled with lime juice and seasoning. Half a tomato is sliced super-thinly and nestled in the cucumber. The cooked shrimp bathed in Aguachile is piled on top and dressed with sliced red onion. A touch more seasoning to taste and you're set. Absolutely delicious, especially on a day as scorching as the last time we visited.
One thing we were completely impressed with while watching Chef Alejandri work was how he constantly tasted then adjusted the ingredients. He keeps a small spoon in his sleeve pocket, he uses an additional implement to drop the food on his tasting spoon, then after tasting cleans his spoon and returns it to his pocket. The tasting spoon never comes into direct contact with the food you will be served. This is indeed the mark of a well trained professional! A small sink behind his counter is also continuously used to clean his implements. Like we said earlier, he's fastidious.
You can see from the picture above just how tiny the food prep area is at Agave y Aguacate. The young lady is standing at a counter atop a fridge. The three induction hot plates are used to cook anything that requires heat. It can be a slow process, but there's the theater of the kitchen to keep you enthralled while you watch your order (and those of several folks ahead of you) being prepared. Inevitably the waiting patrons break into conversation: "Oh, that looks amazing! What did you order?"

Here our Anita Tostada is being readied. Avocado (aguacate) is scooped in flat segments to create a layer atop the fresh tostada. A generous portion of cooked beans and chorizo (again, tasted and seasoning- corrected  by chef) is ladled onto the avocado, drizzled with crema, topped with queso fresco which quickly wilts from the heat of the beans, and finally finished with a smoky sultry chile sauce. This plate is divine!
On another visit we tried the Chicken Pipián. The chicken is juicy, tender, and oh-so flavourful. But of course this dish is all about the mole. Our quick research tells us that Pipián is often a green sauce, but that Pipián Rojo, the red version, is a variety from central Mexico. In all its permutations pumpkin seeds seem to be the constant and essential ingredient, but we also came across recipes using sliced almonds, sesame seeds, or various combinations of all three, plus (of course) the building block of all moles, smoky chili. We're not sure of how Chef Alejandri builds his personal Pipián, but we're here to tell you it is sensational!
In the confusing space that is the Latin American Food Court it's not obvious that there might be seating on a bright hot patio out back. There are indeed a half dozen tables, though, with tablecloths barely hanging on in the breeze, and no shelter from the sun. Somehow, the blazing heat and the infectious salsa music coming from the adjacent parilla stand (barbeque, which we plan to try on another food court visit) whisk you to an imaginary place way down south. As you tuck into your fabulous fresh food, all is immediately right with the world.
You may or may not be familiar with celebrity chef and crusty New Yorker Anthony Bourdain, or his current Travel Channel TV series The Layover, but recent word is that he will be covering Toronto in the show's second season, now being shot. Apparently when presented with a short list of locations to visit, the man who travels the globe looking for "real" food put Agave y Aguacate at the top. 

In the time before the Toronto episode airs we suggest you visit this hidden gem. The lines are already long enough; why wait till the rest of the world discovers it?!
Image courtesy Now Magazine

Agave y Aguacate
214 Augusta Avenue, Toronto 
 (647) 208-3091

Agave y Aguacate blog

Agave Y Aguacate on Urbanspoon

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