Sherman's Food Adventures: El Santo

El Santo

It isn't often I do repeat visits to restaurants so close together, but that is what I did with El Santo in New West.  After a delicious lunch, I went back shortly after from an equally yummy brunch.  I thought it was all fine and dandy for awhile until Mijune suggested I join her for a dinner tasting.  Well, of course a tasting would be enticing since I wouldn't need to dole out any of my own coin, so that was an easy decision for me to make (especially since I enjoyed my previous 2 visits).  Also to be fair, I do agree that more than one visit to a restaurant is only fair since so many variables are at play.  Only problem is...  I'm not made of money.  LOL.

Anyways, getting down to the food, we started with something I've had before in the Trio of Guacamoles featuring tomatillo & citrus, mango and chicharrón served with house made tortilla chips.  I actually thought this was better than the first time as the guacamole had more impact.  They were smooth and fresh where the spice was most evident with the chicharrón.  My favourite continued to be the mango as it was sweet and tropical.  The best part of this dish was the outstandingly crispy and light chips.  Although it was topped with brunch items, I had tried the Pan de Elote (skillet cornbread with jalapeño jelly) before and this was just as good.  It featured crispy firm edges that gave way to a soft and fluffy interior.  There was a muted amount of sweetness that was nicely complimented by the mildly spicy jelly.  If you have a chance, try this at brunch topped with braised short rib, egg and chipotle Hollandaise.

Sporting the same crispy tortilla chips, the Ceviche de Camaron featured white prawn, roasted tomato, red wine vinegar, avocado, ancho and arbol.  The flavours here were balanced and mildly impactful.  That was not a bad thing since white prawn is delicate where overwhelming strong flavours would negate its existence in the dish.  There was enough acidity to keep things bright and the good amount of avocado made things more robust. The one dish that I had to have was the El Santo Huevo or their version of a Scotch egg.  It consisted of a masa-battered soft boiled egg, house made chorizo and habanero apple jam.  Unfortunately, this time around, it wasn't fried long enough (or the batter was too thick).  Therefore, the outside was not crispy nor aromatic.  Inside, the egg was still money while the chorizo was meaty and delicious.

As you can tell, there is some fusion going on with the menu at El Santo, so it was no surprise to find Croquetas de Jabali with wild boar, braised red cabbage, pickled blueberries, fermented basil crisps and corn jus.  Beyond the crispy fried exterior, I found the wild boar inside to be very tender, yet almost mushy.  I thought the red cabbage was impactful while the blueberries weren't as pickled as I would've liked as the acidity would've livened up the meaty croquettes.  Going with an Italian/Mexican mix, we were presented with the Noquis con Epazote with gnocchi, white bean puree, epazote pesto and black bean sprouts.  Texturally, the gnocchi was on the firmer side but the aggressive sear on the outside added a nice crispiness as well as nuttiness.   Due to the addition of epazote, the flavour profile was definitely herbal with an aftertaste, but it also acted like a balancing agent to the effects of the white bean.

My favourite part of the meal was when we hit the tacos.  We tried them all including the one I've tried before in the Pescado with beer-battered BC ling cod, avocado lime crema, shredded cabbage, tomato, scallion and salsa verde.  Like last time, the fish was flaky, fresh and moist with a crispy thin batter on the outside.  The rest of the ingredients were fresh and vibrant providing both moisture and crunch.  The bright salsa verde on the side was a good compliment to the taco as well as the lime wedges.  For our one vegetarian taco, we had the Verduras (fried cauliflower) with sikil pak and mango salsa.  Even though there wasn't any meat, the meaty cauliflower was quite good with a crispy batter.  Although there was a wealth of flavour to the dish, it was too sweet for me (and the addition of the mango salsa didn't help)

One of the more interesting tacos was the Tuetano or bone marrow with poblano, caramelized onion, confit garlic and salsa verde.  My first thought was that the bone marrow would simply melt away on the hot cast iron plate.  Well part of it did indeed melt, but the pieces of buttery marrow that did remain were sinfully delicious.  The whole garlic cloves really added a beautiful aromatic flavour as well the sweet onions.  I thought the bright salsa verde helped cut through the heaviness of the bone marrow, but only a bit.  Since I've had their Barbacoa de Cachete before, I knew the braised beef cheek would be good.  That it was being tender and moist while accompanied by onion, cilantro and marinated chilis.  Although there was some background spice, it was mostly savoury with some sweet notes from the onion.

Our last taco was the Pollo al Carbon with adobo marinated Farmcrest chicken, onion, cilantro and habanero salsa.  On the surface, it looked like any other grilled chicken breast, but there was the hint of tang from the adobo.  It was nicely charred with noted smokiness.  Since chicken isn't the most exciting protein, it was nice to see the addition of habanero salsa for just a touch of heat.  From here, we moved on the larger dishes with the Pescaito Frito consisting of fried BC ocean perch, mezcal chipotle glaze, green rice and tortillas.  In terms of aesthetics, the whole fish looked grand.  It was fried up crispy where the meat was tender and moist except for the edges where it was drier.  I thought the sauce was too sweet, where it emulated a sweet n' sour rather than something that should've had spice.  As much as I appreciated the amount of rice on the plate, there was too much of it.

One of the more interesting dishes was the Salmon con Mole al Sarten with BC Sockeye salmon, carrot and garlic mole, pickled carrot salsa, radish, refried beets, sauteed greens and rice.  Okay, nothing out-of-the-ordinary with the salmon, it featured crispy well-seasoned skin with a moist centre and more dry edges.  Rather, the refried beets was the curveball of the dish.  Yes, I've never had something like that before and it was actually quite good with a soft texture and caramelized sweet flavour.  There was some background spice as well.  I thought the mole was decent with a smokiness accented by sweetness.  Rounding out the meats, we had the Lomo de Cerdo Asado or roast Berkshire pork loin with brown butter & jicama puree, grilled scallion, roast carrot, paprika cured egg yolk, arbol and mint salsa.  The pork itself was fairly tender and moist only in the middle as the edges were a bit dry.  Wasn't really feeling the puree as it was aromatic and nutty, but lacking some punch.  

Moving onto dessert, we had them all (of course we did) including the Capirotada (house made bread pudding, cascabel hot chocolate and candied walnuts).  This was pretty good with soft chunks of bread that was nicely spiced and not overly sweet.  Although there was a large pool of hot chocolate on the plate, it wasn't too sweet either, so the entire dish looked heavy, but didn't eat like it.  Nicely plated in a paper cone, the Churros were crunchy and hot.  However, they were a bit underdone in the middle and the amount of cinnamon sugar was excessive.  If these 2 things were corrected, the churros would've been some of the best I've had (sounds strange how I said that, but it is true).

Our last actual dessert (before the complimentary marshmallows) was the Horchata Gelato.  I really give it to them that they are making things in-house because it is a lot more work.  Flavourwise, this wasn't too sweet and plenty aromatic from the cinnamon but the texture was inconsistent with plenty of ice crystals strewn throughout.  Much like every other time I've been to El Santo, we were presented with house-made Marshmallows which were pillowy soft and a real treat to end the meal (even if you didn't order dessert).  So from my 3 visits to El Santo, it appears to me that the strength of their menu lies within the more traditional Mexican fair.  These include the appies, tacos and tortas.  I also enjoyed their brunch items as well.  Once again, El Santo proves to be a little slice of Downtown Vancouver in the heart of New West.  Come for beverages and order the aforementioned dishes and you'll have a good time.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Downtown vibe in New West
- Solid traditional Mexican dishes
- Extensive bar

The Bad:
- Some of the more fusion items are hit and miss
- Inconsistent deep fry on the eggs


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