After glancing over Michael Bauer's top 100 list, my SO and I decided to check it out (1501 Solano in Albany).
We just returned from Mexico about two weeks ago, which was the added interest in checking it out. Unliike a typical fonda, this place is swanky and open for dinner only. It was nice to see things like hibiscus drinks, quesillo, queso fresco, epazote, and tequila w/sangrita on their menu, although I would love to see some beers en michelada or cafe de olla on there as well (to keep with their Mexico and drink themes).
We started with a margarita and a "fonda"( tequila with cointreau and hibiscus infusion). The fonda was good , although a little sweet for my taste; I would have preferred less sweet with a little more of the earthy-ness of the hibiscus coming through. The margarita was nice: very lime-y like the ones we had in Mexico.
Next up was the chips and guacamole which was fine, on par with most other places that serve this. Then the spinach salad with fried tortilla and sesame vinagrette. This one didn't knock me over either, the tortilla (fried in small squares) tasted just a tad overcooked, which detrarcted from the dish. Yellowfin tuna tartare with serranos and chile was served with chips and although it had a nice texture, I found the taste a bit on the bland side. Tosdatidas (small round, fried tortillas with roasted pork, guacamole and chipotle salsa) were served three on rectangular dish. Nice presentation, but not quite as tasty as I was hoping. A large dollop of guacamole on the top
also overpowered the pork and chipotle underneath (which tasted pretty good by themselves once most of the guacamole was removed).
Then came the good stuff. The arepas (corn disks stuffed with quesillo and fried with red bell pepper salsa) were cooked perfectly, with a nice crispy outside and soft inside. The red pepper salsa tasted a little more nouveau, but was spicier than the previous dishes and had a more vinagery taste which we liked a lot.
Quail with peanut mole was the winner of the night for me. The quail was perfectly cooked and the peanut mole, much to my delight, had a good amount of heat to it (something I thought most of our other dishes were lacking). The mole was the perfect couterpoint to the quail. Fantastic.
Dessert was mango; sticks standing straight up in a glass (reminiscent of the presentation we saw in mexico) with lime juice and what we thought to be a bit of simple syrup and lime juice at the bottom. The tops of the mango were sprinkled with lime zest. Very tasty.
Service was good and the place had a nice ambience; my initial reaction was that it would be good for drinks and late night bites (they are open until 12:30 am!) as well as for a nice dinner.
We were looking forward to going back and trying more of the dishes here but after being somewhat shocked by the price ($90 for the food served above and 4 drinks- and that's not including the tip which will put it into the over $100 range), it may be a while before we do.