Fun, Fresh, Fiesta
By: Gabrielle Tieman
A new retreat for pure food indulgence has moved into the entertainment district of Niagara Falls. Cabo Cantina is serving up traditional Mexican cuisine and Latina infused entertainment at its finest. But Cabo Cantina is anything but your conventional Mexican restaurant – introducing a city dominated by chain restaurants to an entertaining dining experience executed with creativity, life and finesse.
Filling a niche in Niagara’s culinary and entertainment scene, the 300-occupant restaurant boasts a trendy contemporary atmosphere, unique live entertainment, outdoor patio and twists on classic Mexican dishes; all marrying in a welcoming atmosphere that has the ability to appeal to every individual and taste bud.
“We all thought there was something missing in Niagara,” said world-renowned Chef Olivier Jansen-Reynaud, the head chef and a co-owner of Cabo Cantina. “[Our family] all agreed there was a niche to be filled. There was a void for a good, Mexican, family oriented restaurant with great live entertainment.”
Taking cues from energetic Las Vegas lounges and restaurants, the family team has fashioned a well-rounded live experience for patrons to simultaneously enjoy authentic Latin infused music, modern Mexican cuisine and even an educational lesson on tequila if they so choose.
“We want to sell people an experience,” said Chef Jansen-Reynaud. “It is not just a meal. We want people to come back time after time after time.”
The result is the collaborative effort of four creative minds that have taken Niagara’s entertainment and culinary scene by storm in recent years. Cabo Cantina’s owners Chef Jansen-Reynaud and Veronica Rudan alongside their family and business partners Jonny Boz, Nightclub Operator at Club Seven Nightclub and Ghost Bar in Niagara Falls and Milica Rudan, have each added their rich culinary and business backgrounds towards creating Cabo Cantina’s unique presence and design.
Inspired by Mexico’s celebrated holiday Day of the Dead, the Rudan sisters along with Julie from the Ker Design Group vowed to stay away from the stereotypical Mexican symbolism more traditionally found in Canadian Mexican restaurants and collaborated to create a design esthetic that reflects today’s more modern take on Mexican culture. From sugar skull wallpaper to the hand-picked custom furniture and fixtures they had delivered straight from stores in Mexico, their design esthetic flows effortlessly, enhancing and complimenting the food and overall vibe.
Just like the interior design, the menus are fresh and uncomplicated. A combination of Mexican classics and updated mainstream dishes, customers are given the opportunity to enjoy their favourite classics like hand-blended guacamole made tableside and AAA ground beef tacos alongside soon to be favourites like sea scallops, lime-Caesar dressing and diverse larger plates. Like all of Chef Jansen-Reynaud’s dishes, everything will be big on flavour but with a twist.
“Guacamole is guacamole but with Olivier’s you will be able to add mango and pork rinds and habanero peppers and bacon,” said Milica. “His forte has always been taste. All his food just really tastes good.”
Chef Jansen-Reynaud stresses the menu will not feature the usual deep-fried heavy dishes, but focus in on authentic and basic flavours from Mexico and the South West; utilizing the finest traditional spices, sauces and salsas made in house.
“We are going to use traditional spices, original Mexican oregano, chilies from Mexico, that will add a depth of flavour to dishes,” said Chef Jansen-Reynaud. “Where a lot of others will cut corners and not use authentic ingredients, with us, everything is authentic.”
Though Chef Jansen-Reynaud’s culinary background and past experiences have stemmed in French and Mediterranean cuisine – he is both the Chef and owner of the famous Clafouti Patisserie et Café in Toronto (the birth place of the Crookie) and the new Marilyn’s Bistro and Lounge in Niagara Falls – it is Mexican cuisine that stays close to his heart in his personal kitchen at home. It was only suitable that he introduced his own flair for the cuisine to Niagara.
“I am always cooking Mexican at home,” said Chef Jansen-Reynaud. “We have travelled a lot throughout the South West, Arizona, Sedona, Mexico City. Veronica’s first husband is from Mexico and we went to visit her son’s grandmother and she took us to all of these funky markets where you are having pork for breakfast and tortillas and true Mexican so the inspiration started like that.”
“You could stay in your comfort zone and say ‘Oh I am always going to do French and stick with the Bistro and that is easy’ but when you do something different, you are pushing yourself to grow and get better as a person,” said Chef Jansen-Reynaud.
Continuing to separate Cabo Cantina away from the crowd will be the music and entertainment promised to serenade patrons throughout their meal; hosting Mariachi bands and a live DJ on weekends to spin Latin influenced table music and local favourites.
“We wanted people to have a live experience, to have someone actually mixing the music like you would see at a high-end lounge,” said Boz.
“A couple can have an appetizer and a cocktail, dance at the table a little bit and enjoy some live music in the background,” said Veronica. “We wanted it to have something for everyone.”
Prices are incredibly reasonable for a fashionable new place, with side dishes and appetizers averaging between $5-$15 dollars, tacos $12-$18 dollars for three and main dishes all under $30 dollars. A late night menu and kids menu will also be offered at different points throughout the evening.
The food is not the only thing on the menu that will have you returning to Cabo Cantina time and again. Their extensive bar menu boasts innovative cocktails crafted by an in-house mixologist, Mexican classics like margaritas and a separate tequila tasting bar guided by the only Tequila Masters in Ontario and one of two in all of Canada.
“The drink menu reflects a bit of the food,” said Chef Jansen-Reynaud. “It is eclectic, you have your traditional margaritas and cocktails, but it has been pushed by having between 50-60 tequilas and each drink is based on that tequila.”
The tequila tasting bar will also be available for reservation by private parties who wish to have a guided tasting tour and education on tequila.
Though theme nights are not yet set and will evolve organically with time, Boz guarantees that whatever the theme nights evolve into, they will keep one common trend: it will be lively.
“We want to give people a value for their dollar and a restaurant with entertainment,” said Boz.
Though success may sit at the forefront, the owners all agree that their overall goal is to make both tourists and locals alike feel welcome, catering to both their individual needs when in Niagara Falls.
“We want the tourists to feel like locals and the locals to come and not feel like tourists,” said Veronica. “At the end of the day, we want everyone to enjoy some incredible food, dance and have a great evening – and hopefully want to come back again and again.”