It never fails to amaze me the many unique opportunities and experiences Toronto has to offer. There are the obvious: the CN Tower, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Hockey Hall of Fame, and the many orchestras, ballets and theatres, to name a few. It’s the hidden gems that continue to inspire me, delight me, educate me and make me thankful to be living in such a dynamic, colourful, and culturally diverse city.
El Caballito is one of these hidden gems. How does a tequila and tacos cantina qualify? First off, El Caballito, located in the heart of the entertainment district, is not just another tourist trap. The robust and lively atmosphere, with dimmed lighting and music pumping, instantly transports you from the hustle and bustle of traditional downtown Toronto to the vibrant streets of Mexico City. The place oozes authenticity and Manny Contreras will attest to its street cred, Certified Master Tequilier and bar manager, was born and raised in Mexico City.
El Caballito offers patrons more than just incredible Mexican cuisine. Whether you’re a scotch aficionado, a wine sipper with penchant for Merlot or a lover of craft beer, after some time in the private tequila tasting room with Manny, you’ll leave El Caballito at the very least with an appreciation for the art of tequila and quite possibly a new affection for the spirit.
Manny Contreras himself is a hidden gem. There are less than one thousand tequiliers working in North America and Manny is one of only two working in Canada after years honing his taste buds in Mexico City. He began at the age of 13 working behind his father’s bar and he is truly steeped in the tradition of tequila.
“You need to know everything about each tequila before you can sell it,” his father told him. Manny sipped from each bottle, discerning the various flavours before he had his first full glass at the age of 21. Manny’s interest in his country’s national drink was more than just a means to make money; it became a passion that propelled him to enroll in a five-year course to become a Certified Master Tequilier.
Tucked away in a room lined with his collection of tequila, that includes everything from Jose Cuervo to Clase Azul, the candle light flickers on the brick wall and the scene is set.
Manny explains with vivid detail how tequila evolved from being the drink of the peasants to the kings and cycled back again to the peasants. Folklore, European invasions, wars, and big corporations have all had a hand in transforming tequila from pulque (fermented sap from the agave plant) to what we know it to be today.
“You have to be ready to really taste the tequila. You have to take your time with it. Let it be still in your mouth.” Manny guided us through our tasting with patience while describing the proper way to enjoy tequila. Drinking tequila is somewhat analogous to the vision that I have of the quintessential Latin lover.
There is much fore play: rolling it around in your mouth, breathing in the heady sensations, allowing the first sips to cleanse and prepare the palate.
There is much sweetness and intensity: the lightest in colour the blanco is young, and bites the tongue, while the darker anjeo is aged and has a sweeter, lasting flavour.
There is also the morning after that can leave one groggy and remorseful but Manny maintains it’s not likely if you savor the experience of a fine tequila instead of absently shooting it back in a flurry of debauchery.
If you’re looking to experience something truly unique, even if you think you hate tequila because of a wasted night in Mexico on your 18th birthday, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised. Book an evening with Manny. He offers a variety of tasting experiences that are suited to all tastes and budgets.
All Time Favourite: Don Julio 1942
Best Value: Tromba
Under-The-Radar: Casa Amigos
For Deep Pockets: Clase Azul