Sunday, March 24, 2013

Fonda San Miguel - Austin, Tx.

A regal entrance not aptly captured by this darkened photo! 
Fonda San Miguel on Urbanspoon  While in Austin, Tx. recently infiltrating the inner workings of a nationwide telemarketing enterprise, I had the surreptitious opportunity to dine in an establishment that seemingly rose up out of nowhere but quickly exploded into my consciousness with a vibrant exudation of resonance and zest ..... 

The Fonda San Miguel, located in the Allandale section of North Austin, may not be easy to get to as it is intertwined into a residential neighborhood but it is WELL worth the hunt! This remarkable find soon had me recollecting wisps of memory of one other Southwestern Fare offering when Watson and I discovered 'Fidels' in Solana Beach, Ca., an epic experience in an intertwined construct nearly as impossible to find....but only the FIRST time!

Decor mirroring the finest Mexican Hacienda
After the first dining choice of the evening, a recent critical darling espousing menu items such as Boars' Heart Tartare and other such Rules of the Game',  was summarily nixed by the astute Contessa Koutsis, Fonda San Miguel was quickly decided upon. [Although soon enough the Contessa did lose her goodwill with me when she abandoned all hope of my navigation skills for the syrupy voice of her companion Siri, who I found annoyingly slow on the uptake as well as a good three steps behind my own advanced geo-positioning skills.] And with the Honorable Lady Marlene now joining us we were off.
Art and attention to detail convinced that all angles were covered

Driving from our guest quarters in the north section of Austin, I was promptly lost and struggled ever so briefly with my bearings while the Contessa seemed to immediately abandon all hope and sought out the help of her new found friend Siri, who I must point out was slow on the uptake, annoyingly syrupy to the ear, and not all that bright in my estimation!

Suddenly from around the bend appeared a plethora of azure lights that mentally instilled visions of OZ itself coming into existence right before our eyes.....only to discover this WAS our OZ, the Fonda San Miguel, a virtual palace in the Southwest with an entranceway that was breathtakingly exquisite (though not as easily captured with our rudimentary 19th century photography methods). This dining excursion is an experience that should be absorbed fully beginning with a respectful gaze on the front entrance; a start with grandeur which portends your coming adventure.
A view from the bar corner

Upon our arrival, and to our bemused surprise, we learned that this very large, and very expansive bastion of cookery was that very evening teeming with a private party in their large back dining room which thusly pushed the normal Wednesday night crowd into ANY  available area that could be found. Many times in my pursuits when perusing any particular city I find the desire to dine in locations where the locals flock and dine and in a situation like this one where inhabitants were literally found eating and drinking in the foyer awaiting any open flat surface, I sensed a special evening was in store.
Nuevo Estilo

I had already surmised that our chances of a fine table after a 1.5 hour wait-notice gave us chances of success that were slimmer than a rapscallions shiv, I espied three seats at the sumptuous bar and quickly made a break for it anticipating that the Countess and The Lady would soon take up my lead and follow.....and follow they did for their throats were as parched as my own and any move towards the bar area was a welcomed respite to the elocutions we had all suffered thru that long ceremonious day.

Now, another technique sometimes used with my Baker Street Irregulars is to squire my way into the acceptance of the service staff for it is the Rank and File in any establishment that will serve up quickly the true inner nature of any enterprise. Our three end-o-the-bar seats were directly adjacent to the noisy and overflowing service bar soundboard, a point our whippet bartender tried to protect us from at first by sequestering three seats towards the center bar and away from the 'splash' zone, as he had described.......but we were having none of it!

All three of us (again, with all due respect to my two esteemed guests), felt right at home in the confines of this bustling service area and with a toss to the wind of both pomp and circumstance we soon began our escapade.

Lady Marlene, visually caught up in the aura that a well stocked Tequila collection can do to a person, opened with 'Un Numero Una Margarita'....a special blended concoction made by our stylishly Pompadour sporting bartender and delivered in a wisp with nary a splash...... while The Contessa opted for her oft anticipated and highly desired vodka with the juice of the cranberry, brand alcoholic feat that defies expectations on it's surface and one that I will stay focused on for it's continuity as we remain in this investigation.

For myself, I wanted to avoid the ubiquitous Margarita.....Mango, Watermelon, Numero Uno, or any of the other specialty choices offered with so much regality for despite their effervescent delivery and ready acceptance at any Bolero', my temperament was pushing me in another libational direction. Avoiding my requisite Bombay Sapphire Martini I chose to challenge the fine Whirling Dervish behind the bar and ask for his recommendation in a Whiskey variety and without a beat missing he chose a 'Nuevo Estilo' of Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Amaretto, and Angostura bitters (and who this Angostura is and why he remains so bitter after all of these years just escapes me.....)

My royal guests were soon completely smitten with their choices while I was a tad intrepid in my first sip, and rightly so! This was no ordinary bromide as it elicited a most delicious and immediate cranial orientation and was a pronounced delight to the palate but set me to wondering just exactly how many sips might be made before unconsciousness were to visit....and the number I arrived at was rapidly approaching!
La Camarones Especiale

With his bona fides firmly in place, we jointly decided to throw caution to El Nino and rely on our ferret-like Elvis look alike mixologist for recommendations and again, without a quiver of arrows hesitation he selected La Camarones Especiale, which both of the ladies chose immediately (the decision making process already beginning to dull) while I elected to test the standards of Southwestern fare with the Enchiladas de Pollo if only so that I may continue to use this as a base for my comparisons with the others I have had the pleasure and thus make apt reference on the differences....such is my scientific method.

Our tired and weary outer selves soon gave way to an almost boisterous effervescence as our now wonderfully relied upon bartender extraordinaire was pouring the last vestiges of many a fine cocktail into private 'tasting' glasses for the Royal Ladies who were soon opining on the delicate tastes of various locally made margarita's, smoothies (indeed!) and the like...... and while every intention appeared on the surface to be simply proper, my wits told me to remain alert for these VIP's were in my care and I was to assure that nothing would happen untoward them while in my presence...however happy and joyous they appeared to become while 'tasting'....(ahem!)

Enchiladas de Pollo, midway thru!
And amazingly a satisfying quiet soon descended upon our little group as the entrees were served and our suddenly empty vessels were rapidly (however daintily)  replenished, allowing our overextended vocal chords their own tiny respite.

The Camarones Especiale on seasoned vegetables ....extraordinary....... Enchiladas de Pollo.....succulent and smoky, almost to the point of sublime....the 'smoke' appearing to rise right up out of the black beans and were unlike any frijoles negro I have witnessed in any part of Florida (with all due respect to the Cubano influences rife throughout La Peninsula.)

El Mateo Postres
The only difficulty I sensed with our outing was that I began to feel the effects of the long and tiring day mixed with the effects of all things alcoholic and delicious and I 'sensed' that I was falling prey to the magic that is the Fonda San Miguel....not that any of us were putting up much of a fight!

By nights end a dessert of some nature was in order and, again proffered by our now new best friend behind the bar, El Mateo - A Cajeto and Vanilla Ice Cream with Frangelico liquer proved to be the glaze on the evening's festivities and was devoured in such rapid fashion that a photo of said dessert was not taken until it was nearly devoured and melting; not unlike our withering gray matter by that point and a hasty exit was soon in order but certainly NOT before tipping both the hat AND the pipe to a most memorable experience in the city of Austin and one that I would not hesitate to partake in again! THIS is a keeper for many a future visit!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Ceviche Tapas - Many, Many visits will be needed!

Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon
There exists a restaurant from the Clearwater, FL region that has so delighted many that for Watson and I it has become the de facto "Pre-Ruth Eckerd Hall Concert" venue....a delicately perfect mix of just-right portions and eclectic libations, imbued ambiance and perceived resident hipness. You leave feeling worldly, satiated, and still light in step!

And SO well accepted has this concept amalgam become that an expansion was then successfully executed into the Downtowns' of  St. Petersburg, Sarasota, and Orlando...and all to  well deserved and continued popular acclaim.

Ceviche de la Casa
Black Grouper, Squid, and Fish marinated in
Lemon Lime Juice w/tomato's, onion, peppers, and cilantro
Thusly, when during a recent South Florida sojourn, recent arrangements were made in Delray Beach to clandestinely dine with esteemed associates at a 'NEW' restaurant called 'Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant', my sensitive gastronomic antenna went up and into high alert. Dining on Atlantic Ave. in and near the Downtown Delray Beach area has become part of my investigative 'beat' so to speak, a confluence of locales and grottos as varied as there are countries under her Majesty's domain. And fortunate do I feel for my high frequency visits have allowed me to investigate all types of simply wonderful creations in and around this multifarious beach town. 
Ceviche de Atun

Upon arrival at Ceviche, my early appearance needed to assure my finer sensitivities and be sure of it's pedigree before our guests arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to see the familiar red and black 'Ceviche' logo and I knew that another question had been answered....that being 'Will our guests be treated well and enjoy themselves with this evenings fare?' This would certainly be proven tonite! 

My Investigative Associates this evening included the Earl of Schindelholz, a frequent participant in many cases when Watson is not in attendance, and Lord Frederick of Cucamunga, he also a previous and increasingly frequent guest in many recent cases.

Mahon, Machengo, Cabrales, and Tetilla Cheeses
With several well chilled Cervezas from the puckishly young yet well prepared bartender for the Earl and I along with a double Don Julio Margarita for Lord Frederick (he of large and domineering stature yet with the manner of a revered and fiercely loyal Buckingham Palace Sentinel) we soon welcomed our evenings other esteemed guests: Lady Marlene and Contessa Koutsis, delightful dining companions whose royalty and lineage has brought us into closer working relations over the past many months and will likely do so again in the next many as well. 

Tabla Mixta
Chorizo, Morcilla, and Serrano Ham w/cheeses, fruit, and pate
As a true Tapas style restaurant we experimented with all manner of offering in the attempt to assay with all and be tied to none, partaking in the domain's namesake 'Ceviche' offerings choosing the 'Ceviche de la Casa', the 'Ceviche de Atun', and the 'Ceviche de Gambas', three of the seven introductory Signature Ceviche dishes.

The Ceviche de la Casa with it's Black Grouper, Squid, and Market Fish marinated in a lemon and lime juices and blended with onions, peppers, tomato's and cilantro was easily the winning choice of the three....offering such an amalgam of tastes that I truly believed I had ascended into the realm of Marquis Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dali i Domencho.....aka Salvador Dali - this was surrealism at it's best!

And such Surrealism in dining, especially in the Tapas-sized portions of Ceviche-stuffed Martini Glasses allowed us, is as delicious a morsel of happiness as any that one is likely to have. The marinating fish in lime and lemon juices with onions and such....inspiringly allows the various textures to meld with it's spices and sweetness to create a wonderful melange of joy to the palate... truly surreal......or perhaps that is part of my addiction?

Vieras Puerros
Large Sea Scallops w/Leeks, Herbs, Machengo Cheese,
and Spanish Sherry Cream Sauce
Content but left wanting for more of our ceviche introduction, our next delivery included delights from the Tapas Frias section (of 17 offerings) including 'Tabla Mixta, a variety of sliced meats and Blood Sausage, and the Tapas Calientes apportion (of some 45 listed.... including 15 Vegetales) with Vieras Puerros, or Sea Scallops with Leeks and Machengo Cheese in a Sherry cream sauce. 

The only adjustment that Delray diners might need to make at Ceviche is that the true 'sharing' nature of the Tapas experience sometimes leads to all manner of food eaten in ways and at paces unexpected and the plates disappear much more quickly than expected so ordering MORE than you think you will want becomes the preferred modus!

Paella Valenciana
Lobster, Scallops, Shrimp, Clams, Mussels, Squid, Chicken, and Chorizo served
in a Saffron Rice
And STILL we extended ourselves further with one of the 5 Paella's offered, selecting the Paella Valenciana, made up of so much seafood and saffron rice that it sumptuously led us into the Posters where with the Tres Leches, Torte Valenciana, and a decadent Cafe Ceviche of Gran Torres Orange Brandy and Licor 43 that quickly put away any desires I had of Ireland and Whiskey!

Torte Valencia
At evenings end the back of the restaurant Valet was quick and efficient and we were all soon off into the night satiated but STILL yearning for the next visit..... 
Tres Leches
Merangue Cake with Three Fresh Creams
and Nutmeg - served with fresh berries