Restaurant Review: Qué pasa, El Cortez!?

An exorbitant amount of talent, work and (obviously) money went into creating El Cortez Tequila Bar & Kitchen just north of Whyte Ave on Gateway Boulevard.  If a category exists for best restaurant interiors, award-winning music video director Michael Maxxis, the artistic cannon behind El Cortez, would surely walk away with the prize.  Maxxis, also one of the owners of this new “American-Mexican cantina”, has partnered with Chef Alex Sneazwell to create a menu of Latin-inspired food.  

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The cantina features close to 100 premium tequilas. If you think you don’t like tequila, you might change your mind after tasting one of these 100% agave-based elixirs. The cocktail list has been created by Brendan Brewster, one of Edmonton’s most recognized cocktail masters.

About the food – let’s address the obvious: when it comes to Mexican food in Edmonton, Tres Carnales has set the bar incredibly high. Try to avoid comparing El Cortez to Tres Carnales; the two restaurants are very different. However, El Cortez does offer tacos, so for that item, go ahead and judge. That being said, the only similarity between El Cortez and Tres Carnales’ tacos is the size. Tres Carnales’ tacos excel in flavour, texture, presentation and price (4 for $11, tax included). El Cortez has some work to do. The adobo tofu and the beef cheek tacos were dry, flavourless, and overpriced, at $4 per taco.

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The appetizer menu offers eight appetizers ranging from a manageable $7 tortilla chips and salsa to an eyebrow-raising $17 taquito.

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I’m not so sure ahi tuna is the right filling for a taquito. Fingers or fork? One bite or two?  Soggy tortilla, the awkward portion sizes and the tepid, tough tuna cratered this dish. It was a fail in every regard: taste, presentation, and definitely price.

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The “Street Corn Named Desire” was a different matter. The slightly charred cobs were topped with chili powder, cilantro, crema and came with lime wedges for added zip. Messy as hell, but very tasty.

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The ceviche was made of a respectable amount of albacore tuna, interesting mix of onion, sweet potato and roasted corn with cilantro and chiles, and accompanied by a bowl of tortilla chips. Good in theory but, again, not enough to make me stand up and join the revolution.

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For entrees we shared the sous vide beef tongue. Beef tongue is a common ingredient in Mexican cooking, and when prepared properly, absolutely delectable.  The tongue at El Cortez was cooked perfectly. The cubes of meat were tender, succulent, and accompanied by a silky smooth cauliflower puree and a huitalacoche stuffed squash blossom. Visually, the entree was a disaster. Taste-wise it scored well but that was only because by this point I had learned to not expect anything that would make my eyes roll to the back of my head and have me call out to a higher being.  All show and no go, if you know what I mean.

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Churros for dessert, naturally. A bowl of scorching hot churro bits with a side of tequila caramel, $8.00 and possibly the best part of the meal.

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I’d say El Cortez has some work to do. The decor? Top notch. The tequila? Impressive. The food? Aye yi yi.

Listen to what I had to say about El Cortez on CBC with Mark Connolly here

Author: Twyla Campbell

World-wide wanderer, CBC Edmonton AM Restaurant Reviewer, Member of Edmonton’s Slow Food convivium, oenophile, epicurean explorer and a freelance writer whose works have appeared in several magazines and newspapers including More, Above & Beyond, Avenue (Edmonton), Up Here, Northern Flyer, Opulence, City Palate, the Edible Prairie Journal, The Edmonton Journal, Slow Food Canada, Lifestyle Alberta, and on Slow Food Edmonton’s website. Grant MacEwan University (Professional Writing Program) Bachelor of Applied Communications Degree (in progress). I’m a Tweeter @wanderwoman10