Recently having moved from California, I've been on the lookout for good Mexican food in Austin. I've been generally amused by the local penchant for "chili con queso" (read velveeta mixed with salsa) that is served here and the flour tortillas. Where oh where can I get a good home made corn tortilla, not to mention some Carnitas???
My mom (Mexican American) came here to visit from Vegas this weekend and I was REALLY on the spot to please her (not easy). I had been looking for an excuse to visit La Fonda San Miguel, which is supposed to be a nationally known Mexican gourmet place. I had been for appetizers and drinks a few months before and loved the sopecitos and watermelon martini/margarita. So we went last night for the full dinner with the 'rents. Such a disappointment!
First I asked for that wonderful watermelon margarita/martini which I had been told 2 months before was a specialty of the house. The waiter looked at me with confusion and said there were no watermelons. "Yeah" I thought "... there probably weren't in January, either, but you managed it then.... " So I got a $10 pear margarita that did not taste of pear. It was small and when my glass was empty (quickly) no one asked me if I wanted more. The waiter seemed in quite a hurry to get us in and out.
The appetizers - I was TRULY disheartened that the waiter first suggested that we have some chili con queso with our chips. This is an expensive restaurant. I have spent considerable time in various parts of Mexico and never have I seen velveeta, I mean, Chili con queso on the menu. They say its from Chihuahua. Ok, I've never been there. Maybe Chihuahua has a special brand of velveeta. And I never saw the La Fonda queso, maybe it was something different. I should give them the benefit of the doubt. Nevertheless, I denied our waiter the pleasure of bringing us this regional specialty (guffaw) and I opted for the sopecitos (delicious!) and the ceviche for the table. The ceviche was good, but pedestrian, and not really served so it could be easily shared. It should have been served in a bowl. The fish was tough - typical of a counter-type marisco place. One mangy piece of avocado on top and no hot sauce or chilis served with it. I'd enjoy it as a lunch snack, though.
The fish dishes (all one kind) were all "market price" which seemed scary - we had to ask the price, but it turned out all the fish was $19. I think it was all snapper or something similar. My mom had the Veracruzana (which her mom in Mazatlan used to make.) She said did not taste fresh, was mushy and sat in liquid on the plate. She suspected canned tomatoes. I had an ancho relleno which was stuffed with a chicken mixture in a pool of cilantro cream. It was very pretty and pretty good although I needed a salt shaker and it was a little small. The sauce came on at least 2-3 other things on the menu and was very simple. I would probably not order it again. I do love traditional chile enogada, which has a complicated walnut cream sauce, much more complex than this.
My step-dad had pork chops that he liked a lot - they were rotisserie cooked and looked quite good. My husband had some grilled beef (carne asada) that he said was pretty but not filling nor special tasting. He was still hungry after he ate it. For a $29 beef plate, he should have felt fed.
All of their enchilada plates here are $18. Enchiladas should not cost $18 imho. Maybe they do something extrordinary with enchiladas but I cannot imagine what that might be - they aren't even described except that you can get mole, green (verde) or cream sauce (suizas) with pork, chicken or cheese.
With dinner, we had to ask for tortillas and my mom thought that her second one was flour. This displeased her. I didn't taste them, so I didn't know.
The dessert was the worst. Just awful. My family had what was described as mangos with home made ice cream. This conjured up a vision of juicy fresh sweet mangos with fresh creamy ice cream. The menu said to ask what kinds of special flavors of ice cream were available that day. They did, hoping for a mango ice cream. Well, the special flavor for the day was vanilla. Woo Hoo. So, they got it anyway and 3 large goblets with a small dollop of ice cream on the bottom were placed in front of each diner. Then the waiter poured from a vat of boiling syrup into each large goblet. While the boiling liquid was being poured (glop, glop, glop), it splashed on my mom (she yelled "ow!".) Waiter seemed non-plussed. My husband had three small slices of what seemed like canned mango floating in his syrup, now milky with the totally melted ice cream; my mom had only ONE lonely little mango slice. It was gross. Just gross. They ended up drinking the slightly milky syrup like a fruit drink out of their bowls.
I had what was described as almond flan. Now, there is an almond flan gelatina that is very traditional and which I have made before. Its silken and beautiful. This was a flat hard cold custard pie with chucks of almond in it. It wasn't nice or special or like any postre I've had in any good restaurant in Mexico.
This was an expensive meal, yet the service was rushed, and it did not live up to its hype. The building is beautiful, though. I'd go back for half price happy hour drinks and appetizers, just to soak up the ambiance but thats it. I, of course, got to hear a tirade from mama about how bad the place was and how it just catered to gringos.
I also took her to Curra's Grill which we LOVED. Curra'a grill is the best Mexican in Austin that I have found. Too bad that it has rickety tables and is a tad funky for a dinner house and to take your 78 year old grumpy mom, although my mom loved it and didn't even seem to mind the hippie atmosphere once she started eating her cochinita pibil and platanos. I had fantastic mole there, btw. Just perfect mole. Too many people think mole is chocolate sauce with a hint of chile. Its supposed to be chile sauce with a hint of chocolate! Curras is gooooood. Then we split a huge portion of tres leches cake which was fabulous and some fried platanos with cajeta sauce. I want to put Curra's food in La Fonda's restaurant. This is real and good regional Mexican cuisine!!
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