Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Perfect Choice for a Fine Afternoon: La Fogata

When I look at the ratings I assign to La Fogata, I wonder why it isn't my favourite Mexican restaurant in town.

I think La Fogata must have the most pleasant patio dining in town. Seated in a small courtyard, seven tables around a central fountain, with flowering plants growing all around in such profusion as to make it seem that those seven tables are the entire restaurant (they aren't, not even close), we could really appreciate one of those fine September afternoons that so quickly make up for summer in this subtropical desert. 

We started with shelf margaritas, which were large and cold and tangy. White and purple orchids in each were a slightly frou-frou touch that emphasized the bahia atmosphere --- I felt at times like I was in Guanajuato or San Miguel de Allende ---  without seeming just too girly. The drinks were potent and tart, and if they never make anyone's Ten Best list, still they serve their purpose well. The chips were reasonably fresh for the down-slope from the lunch rush, but they could easily have been a little better. The salsa wasn't the tomato-based traditional salsa that I generally prefer,  but was roasted dark and spicy and good. The sparrows like it, too: one threw a small bit of tortilla chip into our bowl and waited while I fished it out, then pounced on it like a cat on a cockroach. (Ooh, I maybe shouldn't mention cockroaches, even in passing, when favourably reviewing a restaurant. Oh, well, too late.) And the tortillas were fresh from the grill, hot and soft and yummy.

My lunch was chile relleno, served with rice and charro beans (substituted for the frijoles refritos that are normally served with the dish). It was lightly fried in a good batter, generously stuffed with beef, but the mixture seemed to lack something: it was all beef and seasoning, and while some people might actually prefer to have just meat in their chile relleno, I like the mixture of meat and veggies that I think of as customary in the dish. It wasn't until I looked up their on-line menu while writing this that I realized I hadn't gotten the guacamole that was supposed to come with the plate; but since I don't much like guacamole anyway, and would have pawned it off on my tablemate, I'm not going to count off for that ... though I will mention it.

My lunch partner had fajitas rancheras. He didn't say much about it, but considering how quickly it disappeared, leaving nothing but a small puddle of juice on his plate, I guess he liked it just fine. 

As revenge for him not offering me a taste of his dish (and since he was paying for lunch) I tried the pastel de tres leches, which was served in an elegant presentation with small designs of chocolate sauce around the plate and a mutilated strawberry on top (I'm too snobbish about strawberries to eat any that don't come from my grandfather's farm), and it was sooooooooo good. Just writing about it makes me think maybe I'll go back for another piece. But better not. Still, it will incline me to think of La Fogata when lunch rolls around. As will good weather.

So: overall, the food at La Fogata is good, but there are at least 37 Mexican restaurants in San Antonio with better. The prices are reasonable, and when you compare them to the prices at those other 37 restaurants, they seem better than average; hence the three-chile rating. What really sets La Fogata apart from its competitiion is the excellent service --- in our case, provided by Xavier --- that is attentive, courteous and prompt (and thorough, except for the guacamole issue) but not at all overbearing; and, of course, that marvellous patio. This is the time of year to enjoy La Fogata.

La Fogata on Urbanspoon

2 comments:

  1. OK just read your review and I am not convinced that I would like this place.
    Just wondering where you would go for mexican....real mexican food.
    I am a mexican food snob so please help out. I am going with some friends who are depending on me to find a great mexican place. I lived in Mexico for a few yrs so I do know the real thing.
    Thanks in advance for your help!
    Suzanne

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  2. Well, wow, that's a tough one.

    First, "Mexican food" varies so much from one part of the country to the next that the overall term "Mexican food" is as meaningless as "Chinese food" or "Indian food." You can have a delicious, completely native dish in Veracruz, then order the same thing in Zacatecas and get something completely different. So what I, or you, mean by "Mexican food" can be as different as fish from turkey.

    Second, when you look for "Mexican food" in another place, like here, you're up against the fact that the ingredients normally available in one place are likely to be different from what's available in another. Even in our relatively homogenized markets in the US: when I go back to New Orleans, I find different ingredients there than I do in San Antonio. Sometimes it's just a difference in brands, that may or may not conceal a difference in processing, a difference in sources; sometimes they have things I can't get here, or lack things I can. When I was in Toronto, trying to make chilaquiles for some friends, I couldn't find corn tortillas (my friends found them later, but only after asking around and checking out mom-and-pop tienditas in a distant part of the city).

    If you're looking for the type of Mexican food you would get in the northeastern part of Mexico, from San Luis to Durango Boulevard, you can go pretty much anywhere on the south side and get food done in an authentic style with basically the same ingredients as are used beyond the River. If, however, you want the kind of food you'd get at an upscale restaurant in Mexico City, your choices around here are pretty limited. My favourite dish, chilaquiles, can be gotten in the Mexico City style at Marioli Meals To GOurmet, off Stone Oak, but only on weekends. (See my review from last January.) But otherwise, the kind of fru-fru food that's popular in Pedregal doesn't seem to succeed commercially around here. The best place I've found for it in the US is in Austin, which probably won't help.

    My best advice, which you probably won't like, is: set aside your snobbishness, and try to find something you like, a place that serves tasty food that will remind you of Mexico, even if it doesn't transport you there. Apologise to your friends without denigrating the cuisine of this city, and enjoy their company. The food will be secondary anyway.

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