Unless you’ve been to Mexico City, your chances of having tasted mixiote are slim to none. This traditional pit-barbecued meat isn’t the type of fare typically served at the standard taqueria. And that’s why Whistler’s Mexican Corner is a niche worth visiting.
Recently relocated to the centre of the village, Mexican Corner doesn’t actually have a pit roaster. But its 12-hour-steamed lamb – darkly marinated with pasilla and guajillo chili peppers, diced cactus and sweet spices – is one of the most deliciously authentic Mexican dishes to be found north of the Peace Arch border.
The resort restaurant doesn’t look awfully contemporary. I wish they’d do away with the sombrero-hatted hombre outside the front door. The copper countertops, leather chairs, hardwood tables and ceramic tiles may all be imported from Mexico. But the spangly lighting and yellow sponge-painted walls don’t convey the seriousness of the cuisine.
Helmed by Edgar Navarro, a French-trained chef who has worked at Michelin-starred restaurants across the United States and Europe, this unassuming open kitchen offers traditional, regional and nouvelle dishes unlike any available in Canada.
Sure, you can order a cheesy quesadilla if you want. Or better yet, a seafood sope – with its tangy blend of octopus, shrimp, calamari and mussels tangled in a red-wine reduction atop a softly steamed handmade corn tortilla.
Mr. Navarro, who brought the first Food & Wine Magazine festival to Mexico, uses fresh ingredients and exacting techniques to put scrumptious twists on traditional dishes.
His slow-roasted cochinita pibil pork tacos come from a Mayan recipe chock full of annatto seeds that lend the silky meat its sour punch and ruby-red colour. Chilorio shrimp, simmered in ancho chili peppers and vinegar, are finished with a little bit of duck fat to give the sauce some of its classic pork-based heft.
The chef isn’t beholden to orthodoxy. He uses local micro-brew for his festive birria soup. And he punches up his guacamole with crunchy jicama, sour pomegranate and a flourish of truffle oil.
But he doesn’t cut corners. His dark mole polano takes three days to prepare. Much like a rarefied ratatouille, he roasts all his peppers, onions and tomatoes separately before blending them with Mexican cacao and avocado leaves. You can try it crusted on a duck confit salad or thickly ladled over pulled-chicken enchiladas. And it pairs very well with a black-skinned petite sirah from Mexico
A refreshing cactus salad, lightly pickled in champagne vinaigrette, is layered with beans, roasted corn, jalapeno mayonnaise, arugula and crispy corn dough. It looks so simple, but comes together in an exquisite balance of smooth, crunch, spice and tang.
Owner Pepe Baraja, a former Intrawest marketing consultant, honestly believes that customer satisfaction always comes first. Thus, after listening to guest feedback, he down-scaled his original fine-dining ambitions. His customers wanted big cheesy platters, not nine-course tasting menus.
But that lamb mixiote, an ancient Aztec specialty wrapped in banana leaves, will always be on the menu. And one luscious bite will help you understand why Mexican cuisine was recently added to UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list.