Today we were dining at Manarca, the newer Mexican restaurant in Gastown. This was as part of the upcoming “Meet me in Gastown” preview, hosted in part by the property developer, with bringing general interest to the area in mind.
This was was the conclusion to our casual walk of Gastown, learning that the community is more than just tourist traps. It is home to many specialty fashion boutiques, highly entertaining spots, and great food options. This fell into the latter most.
Located on one of Gastown’s prominent corners it is easy to spot and is one of the few restaurants with a patio to take advantage of. Inside, the restaurant is chic with milk chocolate brown leather seats paired with navy blue throw pillows. And given character through greenery tracing around the space and creeping up columns as wallpaper. A large mass of melted candles greets you at the door, you follow a sky of light up geometric stars to your table, and appreciate the ornate tile pattern that ran across the bar and kitchen.
The crowning decor piece is definitely the repurposed stripped down tree branch strung up and hung with paper humming birds on fishing line for a more dynamic and movement-friendly art piece.
This was actually after the traditional looking craved and coloured wooden cups set at each place setting. Each of a different animal that we jokingly said it was our spirit animal from turtles to foxes, and even a weasel.
These we would use to have a couple of mezcal shots in for the table. As a fun way to start a meal or celebrate one.
We actually began with a round of their house Monarca margaritas. Cuervo Tradicional, House-Made Curaçao, Valencia Orange, and Lime. Zesty and citrus forward, the sweeter fruit notes were heightened by the salted rim.
We then followed it with a round of small plates for the table to share. Starting with a couple of their crunchy toastadas, where they take soft fish and place it on a platform of crispy fried tortilla for a nice contrast of textures.
“Tostada de atún y salsa macha” was Ahi Tuna, Crisp Corn Tortilla, Serrano Aioli, Salsa Macha, and Leek. Juicy cubes of fresh fragrant fish on a crunchy base with a nice layer of thinly sliced, crispy leek strands as accent. This was an exciting mix of flavours and textures finished with a little excess oil on the lips and additional heat on the tongue.
The “Tostada Mixta” was a spicy mix of seafood that included Marinated Prawns, Octopus, Scallops, and Pico De Gallo. Dressed in Dark Lime Jus and Jalapeño Aioli. It tasted lightly salty in soy and was finished with some spicy heat for pop. Both options were great and I would order both again, but this was my favourite of the two because of the multitude of fishy flavours.
But the most memorable and my favourite dish of the night even surprised me. And I am so thankful that we were given a taste, because I would not have ordered it and therefore gotten to try it otherwise.
“Cabbage a las brasas” was a quarter of a head of cabbage chargrilled and dressed with a Au Jus Chiltepín Aioli, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Pistachio. I don’t know how they were able to make cabbage, which is typically a side, so exciting as the main feature. It had an amazing flavour with great heat and spice that had me going back for more mouthfuls. I am sure the sauce would be great on anything, but so unexpected here on cabbage. Highly recommend and a great vegan option.
Also memorable was the “Queso con chorizo”. Melted Oaxaca + Asadero Cheese, House-Made Chorizo, Mushrooms, and Flour Tortillas. A sizzling hot plate of melty cheese that you scoop from and pull in thick strands, to build your own tasty taco. Can’t go wrong with this much cheese over zesty minced pork and thick cut mushrooms. Delicious.
The “Aguachile de ribeye y atun” was an interesting take on surf and turf. Grilled Ribeye, Ahí Tuna Crudo, Chiltepín Lime Jus, Red Onion, Avocado, Cilantro, and Serrano Pepper. I liked the idea, but less so the execution. The fish was so lean and light, and although it sat above the broth, the sauce was so heavy that it overpowered the tuna. You wouldn’t eat the proteins in conjunction, but rather one after the other. At least the meat was tender for both and the sauce tangy and brightening with citrus for the steak.
And to round out the meal we had some Guacamole made with Fresh Avocado, Cilantro, Jalapeño, White Onion, and Lime Juice. Served with Corn Tortilla Chips for scooping and dipping. Pretty standard and as expected.
In closing, this was such a great little teaser of their menu, and enough of one that I would like to return to try more. Specifically their entrees and desserts, which we missed today. More courses in order to get a more fulsome look at the restaurant. But I liked what I tried and now know them for a great stop for some modern Mexican cuisine in Gastown.
Oh and be sure to visit their washrooms for some amazing and fun art to have the perfect washroom selfie with.
Monarca Cocine Mexicana
181 Carrall St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1A1