Canal Street Bistro
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Anyone who’s visited Mexico City knows that the cooking there goes far beyond the peasant fare that most Americans associate with that ancient, rich, unique culinary heritage. Mexico City-born, classically-trained Chef Guillermo Peters is one of very few local chefs who cooks that way for all its worth, with great fresh ingredients and advanced techniques. That food dominates dinner. The rest of the time, the Canal Street Bistro competes with neighbors like Katie’s, Mandina’s, and the Ruby Slipper in the traditionally strong Mid-City neighborhood-cafe market.
Except for a scattering of Mexican items, breakfast and lunch here present a straightforward, contemporary American menu, with a bit more than usual in the direction of health-conscious eating. At dinner, the Mexican specialties take over completely. These are bold in flavor and unique in concept, involving cooking at the level of the gourmet bistros.
It opened as the Eco Cafe, a vaguely New Age place with a juice bar, biodegradable take-out containers, organically-grown etc., etc. The owner–busy with a bed-and-breakfast–brought in Mexico City-born, classically-trained Chef Guillermo Peters to manage the substantial breakfast, brunch and lunch crowds. Almost immediately he began running specials and one-shot dinners featuring his classy Mexican dishes. Migas and huevos rancheros turned up at breakfast, chile con carne and quesadillas at lunch, and there we are.
The two-story townhouse is about a century old, and was renovated in a sensitive way into its present configuration by the law office that had been here before the hurricane. The modest but spacious dining rooms string back from the front door past a big old bar to the kitchen. Ceilings are tall, windows are large, the oaks spread over the neutral ground where the red streetcars pass. And Schoen Funeral Home is still across the street. Young, hip servers take care of you.
Ceviche, pico de gallo, avocado, tostadas
»Lobster crepe, Oaxaca-style pasilla cream sauce, roasted corn
»Tequila shrimp, chipotle cream sauce
Drunken mussels, pasilla tequila butter
Gulf shrimp, garlic and parsley wine cream sauce
»Shrimp chipotle, tostadas and queso fresco
»Seafood soup (scallops, shrimp, fish, tomato broth, poblano chiles)
»Esquites (corn, red onions, jalapeños, cilantro, lime juice)
House salad (toasted pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, cucumbers, farmers cheese)
»Queso fundido (melted cheese with chorizo, shrimp or poblano chiles)
Grilled vegetable napoleon
Beef empanadas, chimichurri
»Lamb chops, lime-soy marinade, chimichurri
»Roasted poblano chile stuffed with spiced lamb, blackberry coulis, melted quesadilla cheese, pecan-almond cream
Chile relleno stuffed with fish, shrimp and scallops, tomatillo chipotle sauce
Jager schnitzel (panneed pork loin, mushrooms, red sweet and sour cabbage, spaetzle)
Wiener schnitzel (as above with veal instead of pork)
Filete Guillermo (grilled beef medallions, pasilla chile cream sauce)
»Grilled filet mignon, quesadilla, chipotle tomato sauce, queso fresco
»Fish of the day, spicy chipotle and mild poblano chile cream sauce, or garlic white wine cream)
»Butter-seared diver scallops, poblano cream sauce
»Fish Grand Cayman (poached with coconut milk-yellow curry sauce, pineapple, raisins)
Vegan plate (grilled vegetables, quinoa salad, black beans, roasted corn, pimientos, pico de gallo)
Ice creams and sorbets
FOR BEST RESULTS
The Mexican food is a no-brainer choice at any hour. However, the breakfast and lunch menus are neither as extensive nor as well executed as the dinners are. The small plates at dinner are too large for appetizers; split ’em.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The fact that they’re closed all day Tuesday is hard to remember.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
- Dining Environment +1
- Consistency +1
- Attitude +2
- Wine & Bar +1
- Hipness +2
- Local Color +2
- Good view
- Good for business meetings
- Open Sunday lunch
- Open all afternoon
- Unusually large servings
- Quick, good meal (breakfast and lunch)
- Easy, nearby parking
- Reservations accepted
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
Writing about Chef Guillermo Peters–the city’s best Mexican chef–is more like covering a special culinary event than reviewing a restaurant. Long before the pop-up restaurant phenomenon began, the hard part of getting Guillermo’s food was figuring out where the hell he was. Even during the years when had his own major restaurant Taqueros (on St. Charles Avenue, where the Irish House is now), he opened, changed concepts, and closed more times than one could keep track of.
For the past six months or so, he has been managing the Canal Street Bistro. It was a neighborhood breakfast-and-lunch cafe when he came in–dressed sharply in chef’s whites, as always. He added dinner four nights a week, using a menu that not only included many of his gourmet-level Mexican specialties (this is not Tex-Mex), but also some German, Italian, and Creole dishes. It has been great. Get there soon.