Zocalo aims to duplicate top Mexican fare

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

As if 20 types of tequilas isn’t enough, restaurant will aim for dishes adapted from the traditional with local ingredients

Linda Bates

Zocalo chef and owner Tanya Shklanka has spent a lot of time in Mexico and has incorporated that culture into her restaurant. Photograph by : Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun


Overall: 3 1/2

Food: 3 1/2

Ambience: 3 1/2

Service: 4

Price: $$

2515 Main St., 604-677-3521


Open Tuesday to Sunday at 5:30 p.m.

Restaurant visits are conducted anonymously and interviews are done by phone. Restaurants are rated out of five stars.

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Zocalo chef and owner Tanya Shklanka isn’t Mexican — you might have guessed that from her name — but she’s a passionate traveller who spent time in Mexico and says she came back to Vancouver wishing she could find a restaurant here like the ones in the cities there.

“The culture of Mexico is so diverse,” she says. “I wanted to put something together and just show people there’s so much more than burritos and pinatas.”

There are no burritos at Zocalo, but there are more than 20 types of tequila and three types of tequila’s lesser-known cousin mezcal. On monthly tequila nights patrons can sample and learn about the liquor, which in Vancouver, as Rodney Dangerfield would say, don’t get no respect. (Shklanka sometimes has to explain that quality tequila should be sipped, like scotch, not thrown back like a shooter.)

The tequila quality comes through in the margaritas, made not from a mix but with fresh organic juices.

In the food, too, Shklanka aims for fresh, local ingredients, which means that dishes are adapted from the traditional to make use of B.C. products.

Over several visits we were impressed, especially with the appetizers and desserts. The plump, juicy Saltspring Island mussels with chorizo were possibly the best mussels I’ve ever had. And the ceviche consisted of large chunks of tender white fish in a perfect balance of lime, cilantro and chiles.

The extensive appetizer menu would easily make a tapas meal for a group.

Less spectacular but still good were the mains — chicken mole poblano with Mexican rice; puerco con chile ancho (pork with chiles) and a very un-Mexican-sounding coho salmon steak.

Mole, that savoury chocolate-based sauce that always sounds weird until you’ve tried it, is made with chilies and spices and isn’t at all sweet. This dish consisted of a lean chicken breast baked in mole atop a mound of rice — a change from stew-type moles I’ve had in the past. It’s often hard to keep lean chicken moist, and here the breast was somewhat dry.

The pork dish was like a stew, tender and flavourful and served with tortillas for dipping.

Anytime Shklanka wants to move into my house and cook desserts all day long, she’s welcome. I’ll weigh 400 pounds but be happy. The coconut flan, pastel tres leches (a traditional Mexican cake topped with Mexican chocolate) and helado (homemade ice cream), were delicious.

Zocalo has live music, too, and in keeping with the theme of breaking through the stereotypes, there are no mariachi bands, but rather (on various nights) a DJ spinning Latin alternative, a Colombian singer and guitarist, a Mexican jazz ensemble and, on Fridays, a Guatemalan salsa band. For the latter she got a special licence from the city so patrons would be free to get up and dance — which, she assures me, they do.

This restaurant provides a sophisticated but warm atmosphere and and excellent value. Our meal of two margaritas, two glasses of wine and two appetizers, mains and desserts came to just $90, including tax.

Hasta luego (until next time), Zocalo.

© The Vancouver Sun 2008

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