Four of arrived around 7:30 p. m. at Playa Cabana Cantina in Toronto. This spot defines itself as offering Mexican Cuisine. The place was very crowded and very noisy! It is hard to find a place to talk in Toronto. We were seated in a booth that you had to crawl over to get into and we were literally up against the kitchen. There is barely any space between the tables- you are literally rubbing elbows and legs with the other diners.
Squeezed in beside the kitchen allowed me a great view because I could to and watch my order get cold for 20 minutes before it arrived. I could also see other tables food being put up even though we ordered long before they did. That always pisses diners off!
The trend is toward small menus especially in the Junction restaurants that I have been to. I have eaten at many “Mexican” spots – this menu once again had as many drinks to offer as food items- I did not see much that i would recognize as authentic Mexican. It was more like Confusion Mexican. I found the menu difficult to interpret – We ordered drinks – the wine list had 2 white and 2 red choices- lots of cocktails- pricey- the margaritas were mostly ice- costly at 10 dollars a shot. The white wine reminded me of homemade wine I tasted in the 70’s . The drinks took a very long time to arrive. I did see servers chatting on several occasions while tables waited for their orders.
We ordered salsa and chips – which in most places comes free- not here and we ordered guacamole- the guacamole arrived in a warm dish in minutes and the menu claims it is made to order- not true – the salsa was not salsa it was pico de gallo – I could taste no cilantro at all and the kitchen should learn what salt is for – and add cilantro and lime juice to that as well. Cantina should throw away the squeeze bottles and give you a real portion of sauce- that is the authentic Mexican way-
I ordered chilli rellenos – deep fried chilli stuffed with cheese- mine arrived cold and in a sauce that resembled italian tomato sauce – with the texture more like Campbells tomato soup- no herbs no heat. The dish was cold and the batter that tasted more like a waffle- sweet. The batter was not adhering to the chill- it tasted sweet. One question why rice batter for dipping ? this is Mexico. I had to send my rellenos back as the cheese was set and the chilli was cold and soggy. When it came back- everyone had finished eating and it was just as bad the second time around.
One of my dinner companions ordered a seafood burrito that had lobster, shrimp and octopus in it. It arrived lukewarm and absolutely flavourless. One good thing was -there was large pieces of seafood inside the soggy burrito. My daughter ordered A burrito with chipotle chicken and it was small, cold, insipid and soggy. The final dinner companion ordered a series of tacos which were priced at around $5 apiece. You could choose between pork, octopus, scallop, chicken or beef. It felt like Mexican tapas- This is an interesting way to sample what the kitchen can do but none of it was very flavourful or imaginative. The food produced by the kitchen seemed formulaic- food truck quality. We had to wait a very long time to re order our drinks. The servers seemed frantic.
I have eaten at many many Mexican restaurants all across the United States. This is a pretentious spot that is trying to attract a crowd that is not very familiar with true Mexican flavours. The kitchen was not overwhelmed and yet the timing was off. – we waited far too long for our meals. As I sat beside the line cooks I observed how they prepared their food and how they chatted. I was not impressed.
I would not recommend the Cantina to anyone who’s truly looking for authentic Mexican meal. I wouldn’t recommend this place to any foodie interested in discovering the bright, spicy and bold flavours that Mexican food offers. I think the kitchen needs a trip to Mexico to understand how to cook with the proper native produce and to learn to take pride in what you produce.
The meal for four was $170.00 with 3 cocktails and 2 beers. I have eaten all over the Western United States and that is a steep price to pay for the food and service we were offered.
This is the one place where I was very sorry I did not bring my salt and pepper shakers. I really don’t like it when a restaurant refuses to have these much needed condiments on the table- the server was impossible to chase down to ask for them.