Restaurants & Bars

Frontera Fresco Report (San Francisco)

susancinsf | Jan 12, 200804:07 PM     20

Wow. what a major disappointment. Probably my biggest eating disappointment in the past year or so. at least....which could have had something to do with my expectations being WAAYYY too high...but still....

Haven't seen any reports yet on the food here, but a few posts have speculated whether Rick Bayless has just put his name on this place, intended for quick meals, which the menu calls 'Gourmet Fresh Mexican'...or whether he was going to really put effort into it. Well, I don't know, but it would take more than just his effort to make this somewhere I'd want to go back to...

but I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning and give my full report, such as it is:

My teenage niece, A, and I have a tradition to hit the Union Square shops and let her pick out her own Christmas/birthday present, since her birthday falls just after the New Year. We had to postpone when the big storm hit on her birthday, but finally today was the day: sunny and crisp, a beautiful day in the city, and since she is a suburb girl she really looks forward to soaking in the big city ambiance...after a morning admiring the Westfield Mall and picking out a teenage suitable outfit, I needed to rest and refuel and hear all about her latest boyfriend. She was game for Mexican, so this was my big chance to check out Frontera Fresco, and we made the trek down to Macy's basement.

We arrived just after noon; it was busy, but no problem to grab a table for two right away. You order at the counter and they give you a number and bring your food.

First disappointment: yes, I know this is intended as being just a step above a fast food place, but the menu still was smaller and less innovative than I imagined. There are a total of four tortas ($7.50 each); four huaraches ($6.95 each); four quesadillas with a small salad each ($7.25); a taco salad with choice of grilled 'steak' (I will explain the quotes in a minute), chicken, or shrimp ($6.95); chipotle chicken or sweet corn and green chile tamales ($2.95 each); gaucamole ($1.50); chips ($1.25); tortilla soup or corn and poblano chowder ($3.50); and a green salad ($3.50; add grilled chicken for a dollar more).

and that's it. no tacos, no sopes, and certainly no enchiladas or mole or any such. There is a version of a torta cubana but I wouldn't get one's hopes up.....

To drink there are several Mexican beers, red or white wine by the glass, standard soft drinks, and three varieties of limeade. Desserts consist of chocolate pecan pie bar or a key lime square.

There are three types of salsas (jalapeno/cilantro; chipotle; and tomatillo), and you get one very small container of salsa free with your meal. Not sure what they would do or charge if you asked for more than one. I didn't notice that on the menu until after I ordered, and I was not asked which type I preferred. However, after hearing someone at the next cash register ask their customer for their preference, I told the young woman running our register that we would like the jalapeno cilantro salsa. She looked startled by my request, and said she "would let them know" but made no written note of my preference anywhere. Sure enough, what came to our table was the chipotle salsa. It was only slightly hot (despite being designated as the hottest of the three salsas on the menu) and nothing special. (but then, I am not a chipotle fan). There is no salsa bar or any such place to get more salsa; I suppose you'd have to wait in the ordering line and again, don't know if or what they would charge you.

A ordered a coke, I asked for a mango limeade. Both A and I agreed that the limeade was too sweet, though it did have good mango flavor. I couldn't really detect much lime.

A had wanted tacos, so her disappointment also started early, but settled for a chipotle chicken torta. I got the 'grilled steak torta', and a sweet corn and green chile tamale. Tortas are advertised as being served with 'avocado, Frontera (copyright sign here!) black bean spread, dressed greens, pickled tomato, and 'smoky chipotle or cilantro crema'.

The food did come quickly. No complaints about service, other than the salsa incident.

But my heart sank when I saw those tortas: They are on panini bread...pressed thin and grilled. actually, since fillings were cold, I am not sure if the sandwiches were grilled, or just the bread. Oh heck, I guess a bolillo would be too much to ask? As for the fillings, A asked for hers without 'pickled tomato' , probably a wise move since it was really just sun dried tomato (and I thought its flavor was somewhat overpowering.) Both sandwiches had unadvertised but not very spicy jalapenos. As for the 'bean spread', I could see it but not taste it. The avocado was in some type of dressing, and between that, the 'crema' and the dressing on the greens, the sandwich tasted mostly of dressing. Frankly, I think that 'crema' was mayo. Certainly tasted like mayo. Couldn't taste any cilantro. Biggest disappointment, however, was the 'steak' on mine: it was sliced very, very thin, and I don't think it was steak at all: it looked and tasted like pre-sliced deli roast beef. and not much of it at that. A's chicken was a bit better: at least you could taste that it was chicken.

The tortas come with no sides for $7.50, other than the container of salsa. They are large, however, though I was ready to quit after just a few bites....

Now, the sweet corn and green chile tamale wasn't bad. Of course, for just under $3 for an average sized tamale, it should be pretty good. The best part was the bit of tomatillo salsa on top: spicy, complex and much better than whatever came with our sandwiches. It does have a goat cheese filling: a bit unusual for a tamale, but not bad. Overall: nothing special, and I would much rather have the tamales at All-Star for what, half (?) the price, but it was the only thing I tasted that I would order again if stuck there in a pinch...

We saw the taco salad going to other tables: it was big, but looked to me to be mostly romaine lettuce with dressing, and none too appealing. Also noticed some quesadillas going out: they were made with standard flour tortillas and looked like something you could find at a TGIFriday's. No lovely hand made DF style quesadillas to be had here....

Total for lunch before tip: about $24, and while the food is filling, it is just this side of tasteless. Doubt if I could be persuaded to go back. Unexciting menu, and poor to middling execution.

Post script: we wandered back through Westfield Center after lunch, and A was captivated by the see-through windows to the kitchen at Out the Door. I had never noticed those: on the mall side: you peak through flowing water at the chefs hard at work on the wok line....sort of made me wish I had taken A there instead....or to somewhere that she definitely couldn't find in the suburbs....bottom line: we could have been anywhere at Frontera Fresco: silly me, hoping for a bit of Mexico off of Union Square....

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