North of Any Border: Agave Y Aguacate

If you like food, you live in Toronto, and you don’t know who Francisco Alejandri is then you’ve been doing it wrong. Two years ago The Toronto Star named him ‘Chef Most in Need of a Sit-Down Restaurant’. Luckily, with a little time, and the right partnership, that’s exactly what he has now.  

Before stepping into the kitchen at Agave Y Agucate’s new permanent home on Baldwin St., Francisco was cooking up what famed chef Anthony Bourdain called “some of the most amazing Mexican takeout north of the borderany border.” And he was doing it on hot plates in Kensington Market. Just imagine what he can do with a full kitchen behind him.

The two-floor restaurant provides the perfect space for an intimate date or a night out with old friends. Co-owner Keyvan Foroughi may have given the décor a decidedly Mexican feel, but you’ll find elegance here rather than sombreros. Downstairs, a cozy room waits with tables lined against the wall, low lighting, and an open bar. Its warm atmosphere is ideal for lingering over a cocktail or two while you sample several of Francisco’s fresh plates. Upstairs, the same candlelight ambience provides a relaxing affair for larger tables with windows peaking onto Baldwin St. below.

But we didn’t come here for ambience. It’s a huge bonus, of course, and one of the reasons we’d always recommend coming back, however, this is about giving our taste buds a true Mexican treat. So we start out with the Ceviche Verde (market white fish macerated in lime juice, gently tossed in a coriander, mint, and habanero paste, with tomatillos and sweet onion, served with totopos) and are immediately introduced to Francisco’s style. This Ceviche is different than most you’ll find in the city – it seems more solid, less ephemeral. Its punch is thick and heavy and feels more like a meal than a simple tasting. Its drier than we’re used to but also, miraculously, fresher.

The Tostada de Tinga (pulled poached chicken tossed in chorizo, tomato, piquin, and chipotle pepper sauce served on a tostada with well-fried black beans, avocado, crema, and pickled red onions) is another example of why everyone should try Agave Y Agucate. Its been meticulously prepared – one of Francisco’s trademarks – is wonderfully flavourful, and is the perfect size to share. And sharing is what this restaurant is all about. Every one of the dozen or so items on the menu is more than reasonably priced and is intended to be one of many you’ll enjoy throughout the night. Indeed, couples at tables all around us dive into dishes together. As the menu says at Agave Y Agucate: ‘Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged lightly’. We couldn’t agree more.

The night ends with Keyvan insisting we try the Carlota de Limón. It’s a small collection of Mexican biscuits layered with lime custard, drizzled with arbequina olive oil, and garnished with lime zest and black salt. It’s combination of sweet and savoury, of light and heavy, is exactly how we’ll remember our experience at Agave Y Agucate. And its exactly why we’ll be back again soon.