Que Tal: Authentic Mexican in HRM

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Being a lover of Mexican food, I’m always on the lookout for authentic offerings in Halifax. Embarrassingly enough I’ve never made it to Que Tal’s booth in the historic brewery market… but when I heard they opened a full-service (and licensed) restaurant on the Dark Side, I knew I’d have to make the trip soon. Yesterday, this finally happened.

Que Tal is located on Portland Hills Drive right off Portland Street. When we got there around 2 p.m. it was entirely empty. The space is small, bright and colourful (decked out in full cantina mode) and the open kitchen allows customers to see what’s going on at all times. We were hoping to catch the brunch menu, but learned that it ended at 1 p.m. The rest of the menu looked so fantastic, we weren’t that disappointed.

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We were hungry and overly excited about the offerings and unbelievable prices, which is why we ended up ordering a silly amount of food. I kicked off the meal with a shaken lime margarita (awesome).

Our starters were: queso fresco, chicken taquitos, jalapeños con queso and sopa azteca. You can’t really find queso fresco anywhere in Halifax as it has almost no shelf life, and we don’t have many Mexican restaurants. It’s a soft, fresh white cheese made on-site. Delicious; a treat for cheese fanatics like ourselves. While the taquitos and stuffed jalapeños were both tasty, it was the sopa azteca that made an impression: tortilla soup garnished with ancho chiles, fresh avocado, queso fresco and sour cream. It was the broth that got me. Not much heat, just an extremely memorable, complex and satisfying flavour that screamed it was made with time, effort and care.

sopa azteca

sopa azteca

My main, the fish tacos, I enjoyed: battered haddock, cabbage salad and roasted tomato salsa. But it was the chile rellenos that really impressed. I hadn’t seen this dish served like this before: the pepper of course stuffed with cheese, battered and deep-fried, but then served actually swimming in a bowl of chunky tomato salsa. Topped with sour cream and cilantro, it almost looked like another soup. So the chile’s batter does lose it’s crunch, but.. this salsa was absolutely incredible. The combination of everything in this dish and the fact it’s all swimming in this amazingly bright, flavourful sauce was wonderful.

Service was fast and friendly, and the owner came out to greet us as well. We complimented her on the authentic dishes, which she claimed to have learned from her grandmother. It shows

Odds and ends: gluten-free lunches

Working from home has allowed me the convenience of making fresh lunches every day in my own kitchen. If you read the blog regularly you might know that I love both cooking and eating out. So, while I definitely find excuses to swing by Indochine for fusion tacos after meetings downtown (at least once a week, it’s an addiction — I’m dealing with it), or easily agree to that Friday sushi “business” lunch, most days I am challenging myself to whip something up, at home, that’s somewhat healthy.

I’m definitely not gluten-free and personally don’t have any health reasons to be, but for the past week or so have felt compelled to make gluten-free lunches that I still really enjoy. A midday challenge, I guess. Using whatever I have in the house, here are a couple recipe ideas I considered gluten-free successes.

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The first is a baby kale, sautéed leek and garlic pesto frittata I coincidentally made on National Kale Day last week. I wasn’t aware of this super important holiday (who makes these up?) but was happy to find out I inadvertently participated, after the fact. We have a perfectly-sized cast iron skillet for making personal size frittatas. This one was sprinkled with chives, and lots of goat cheese after I took the photo.

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Second, some gluten-free fusion. Here we have a spicy quinoa stir-fry. The sauce is made from coconut milk, Sriracha, garlic, ginger and fresh lime juice. I had bok choy in the fridge along with peppers, carrots, corn and green onion. Then, because I felt like it, I put a fried egg on top. The creamy yolk toned down the heat and added some protein.

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Third is an odds-and-ends frittata. Whatever vegetables you have will work. Throw in some fresh herbs, your favourite cheese, and you’re good to go.

I must mention something else I experimented with this week. Putting quinoa in the frittata, with roasted garlic and corn, and also a touch of cornstarch as a binding agent. I finished this in the oven on broil; it puffed up and turned into somewhat of a savoury quinoa pancake. I topped it with freshly-made salsa, hot sauce, and some greek yogurt. It had a real Mexican feel… I’d make that again.