Saturday, July 7, 2007

Sundays at Fonda San Miguel

Sunday brunch. I have trouble most Sundays waking up and realizing I don’t get to eat a hearty brunch. It’s such a beautiful collocation, Sunday brunch, and such an important part of American life. I had a Sunday at home last month and I had to decide where to go for brunch. Although there are many that tempted me (Stubb’s was right up there), I couldn’t get Fonda San Miguel out of my head. Truthfully, I still can’t get Fonda San Miguel out of my head.

It has one of the most well-known brunches in Austin. It’s often referred to as “authentic, interior Mexican cuisine.” Its décor amazes the eye. I just call it plain good. There’s no other way around it. Endless amounts of Mexican food (by saying ‘interior Mexican’ they just mean not Tex-Mex, but I promise you, there are still chips, and they are homemade, and they are good), paintings and tiles and lamps and colors surrounding you, and little women pressing tortillas in the back by the bar. You know it’s good when they’re making their own tortillas. There are certain dishes that you can expect at every brunch at Fonda San Miguel, and then some things that change occasionally. The buffet stands in the center of the main dining room, four-sided. The first side is hot starters, and one of my favorites is the corn pudding: a yellowy, creamy, sweet corn casserole. There’s also chilaquiles, a spicy dish of chips smothered until they get soft with, in this case, a green chile sauce (I’ve made them before with red chile sauce); black beans with a drizzle of white cheese and sour cream; mushrooms sautéed with chiles, but not too spicy; a sweet potato dish; migas (eggs scrambled with onion, corn tortilla, and peppers. Very delicious dish, but strangely I haven’t tried Fonda San Miguel’s yet). I think the list goes on, but I can’t remember it because if you want any chance at getting around the whole buffet, you’re going to have to be somewhat choosey.

So that’s just the beginning. A waiter comes out when you’re first seated and tells you how things work, brings you a plate, asks you if you want corn or flour tortillas (obviously the answer is both), offers mimosas, bloody marys, whatever your poison may be, and from then on, every time you finish a plate he brings you a clean one. If you have any questions about the food, you ask the chef who stands in the middle of the buffet.

Chef Miguel

Onto side two: the cold starters. This includes different salads, one a nopalitos salad, made from cactus which I didn’t try this time; something with pickled onions surrounded by lime slices (I obviously didn’t try this one either, I’m not a huge onion fan); ceviche (I liked the fresh, sour fish on a salty, crispy chip); fish for tacos to be eaten with a creamy red sauce (looked like remoulade), red onions and a squirt of lime; guacamole and chips; and a spinach salad with smoky-tasting chiles and little nuts that was wonderfully different, that I don’t remember seeing before.

Onto the meats, otherwise known as side three (it must be noted that by now I was wanting to go back and get seconds of many things but knew that I had to persist and get through each of the four sides at least once before heading back for more corn pudding, guacamole, or fish tacos). There were three main dishes: cochinita pibil (a pork dish), quail, and beef (I’m embarrassed…I can’t remember what it was. Carne guisada possibly?). These were served with a spoonful of rice and cilantro sprinkled about. At our table the overall winner was the very tender cochinita pibil. I actually enjoyed the sauce from the beef mixed in with rice, and the rest of my family liked the quail. I thought it was tasty too, but I’m not so big on picking my food apart and eating around its little bird bones and by the time I got to it I was already wanting to put on something with an elastic waist band. I was trying to save room for the fourth side (some of you might guess that much of the food on the last side starts as a dough or masa…)

Desserts: I will admit that the desserts are not the strongest point at Fonda San Miguel, with so many other Mexican goodies to try, and I’m prejudiced by rich American sweets, but they do have a decent selection and I was able to put a few down. Let’s see if I can remember them all: chocolate rum mousse with dulce de leche sauce (had no trouble with that one); tres leches cake; chocolate cake; assorted cookies, bread pudding, a cheesecake which was more a dense, fluffy cake made with cheese than the American cheesecake; poached pears, and as I’m looking at the picture, more things that I actually cannot recall. (I’m very disappointed in myself because my picture of the dessert side came out fuzzy, but I didn’t take another.) I was able to eat my desserts and then pick off other people’s plates. I think we turn into ruminants when it comes to dessert; I always find more compartments to store my food when I had previously thought I was on the edge of bursting. So I found some space for the last little bits before I had to leave my beloved brunch.

I always regret not being able to stuff down more tortillas, especially the corn ones, because when you find fresh, homemade corn tortillas, rather than the dry, gritty things that come packaged at the grocery store, it’s like heaven. So we rolled out of Fonda San Miguel, I looked longingly at the buffet of colorful Mexican delights, some more familiar than others, and knew that in a few short hours, I would want more (although reverting back to a normal one-stomach state, that Sunday brunch could hold you over for a good 24 hours). Through the painted tiles and leather-backed chairs, multi-pointed metallic star lamps and terra-cotta colored walls decorated with portraits, and the sky-lit, plant filled entrance way, we ended our feast at Fonda San Miguel. Dan loves to quote someone or other on the wonderful cuisine that is found south of the border: “The trouble with Mexican food is that in three days you’re hungry again.”

Note: I hope the pictures have spoken for themselves, because I feel I haven’t done it justice simply by listing the foods. I know what they taste like, so I can remember, smile, and salivate, but you, on the other hand, only have words and pictures. I hope they work.


Jerry said...

Oh the dining scene of Austin. It is grand! I suggest Las Manitas for a spanish breakfast before it moves on Congress.

Anonymous said...

These pictures are magnificent. And I want some cochinita pibil...