delicious discourse

In Defense of Fonda

Posted in restaurants by delicious:discourse on February 18, 2008

I have been a dedicated fan of Fonda San Miguel since I move to Austin almost 5 years ago. There have been many birthdays celebrated and margaritas had between the Mexican art covered walls. It pains me to hear discourse of Fonda being over priced, inconsistent, disappointing, etc–all amounting to it being much less than par. First, let us note, Fonda is an INTERIOR Mexican food restaurant, not the typical Tex-Mex, or greasy Mexican food one finds in the joints around Texas. I think many misunderstand this fact when they interpret the food they are served. Also, Fonda is considered one of the best Interior Mexican food places in the US. We all know, people love to bring down those on top. It makes them feel superior to find fault in what is highly regarded. Granted Fonda has had some coming-in-to-its-own to do after their praised chef left, but last night, when it really counted, Fonda served a superb meal.

For Christmas I gave my boyfriends parents the Fonda San Miguel cookbook. They have a love for the Southwest and Mexican food, so I thought it fitting. M’s dad was very excited about some of the recipes and wanted to experience the restaurant before trying any of them. It just so happens they were going to be in Austin for the Half Marathon we (M and his brothers and I) were running in, and it was a given we would go to Fonda for our pre-race dinner. Imagine my anxiousness, loving Fonda, but worried it wasn’t going to live up to the expectations of M’s parents. Yikes! This can happen when you hype anything up too much. But boy, did Fonda perform.

We started the meal with some guacamole and Queso Asado. The Queso Asado is just like their Queso Flameado (which for those of you who do not know, is melted mexican cheese served in a skillet, to be scooped into tortillas) but with pork chorizo and sauteed swiss chard, and it was delicious. It fed the whole table (9 of us) and it was cheesy goodness with the spicy flavor of chorizo (spicy pork sausage) and the subtle hint of greens from the swiss chard. The guacamole was clearly made fresh, served with iceberg lettuce on one side and pico de gallo on the other in perfect position to scoop some up on the way down from the guacamole mound. It was not too salty, nice and chunky but somehow creamy, and contained perfect amounts of cilantro, onion, and jalapeno. The chips served on the guacamole plate are perfect, just the way I like them, thick,crunchy and fried. However, the chips they serve with two kinds of salsa for the table are thin, but perfect for the light salsas. When it comes to chips, I have learned, it is a matter of personal preference.

For the main course, I branched out from my usual Carne Asada and ordered the Chile en Nogada, which was divine and almost like a dessert, if you can imagine that. Chile en Nogada is a Chile Relleno stuffed with diced pork, raisins, potatoes, and walnuts. This version was served with a sweet, walnut cream sauce sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. It is almost to pretty to eat. The dish comes with a side of black beans and white rice, which accompanies most dishes. M ordered the Carne Asada, which is a grilled flank steak almost a foot long, but thin. Most flank steak I have had is chewy and too salty, Fonda’s melts in your mouth with the perfect amount of seasoning. It is served with a cheese enchilada, and unless you like mole, I suggest asking for a verde sauce instead of mole for the enchilada. I think my favorite entree of the evening, unexpectedly, was the verde chicken enchiladas ordered by M’s dad, who knows his stuff. These were the best enchiladas I have ever had. I have heard people complain about the price of enchiladas at Fonda simply because they are used to paying ten buck for mediocre greasy, stomach wrenching enchiladas at their local joint. The plate served two very fat enchiladas smothered in a verde sauce, not to the point that they were soggy. The sauce was light and smooth yet had texture and you can tell it was cooked slowly and with care. The chicken wrapped in a lightly fried tortillas was either smoked or cooked on the rotisserie. You can tell by the color of the meat–white on the outside and slightly pink (definitely cooked) on the inside. The chicken was shredded and seasoned with some cilantro. The cheese was served on top of the enchiladas and accompanied by the verde sauce. It was a simple dish, yet every element came together to compliment each other to create the perfect enchilada.

As for dessert, I am now hooked on cajeta, which is a creamy Mexican caramel made with goats milk. Fonda has several dessert dishes with cajeta, including the El Mateo and Crepas de Cajeta (crepes with cajeta sauce). We had two orders of the El Mateo arrive at our table in large orange, frosted, and stemmed glasses with two scoops of cajeta ice cream in each. The waiter then poured a shot of frangelico over each serving along with a generous pour of cajeta. There was not a bite left. To bring back memories of trips to Mexico long ago, M’s dad ordered a shot of blanco tequila and espresso to compliment the cajeta. The smile on his face indicated he was in high-nostalgic-foodie heaven.

Our ONE disappointment was Fonda did not have the Carne Guisada recently mentioned in a review by TEXAS MONTHLY. However, that just gives me a reason to go back.

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