Saturday, November 15, 2014


Mexican food in New York has solidly evolved beyond street tacos and Americanified cheese laden and fried-everything adulterations.  Alex Stupak may have started it, and certainly the arrival of Michaelin-starred Enrique Olivera's Cosme will up the ante once more.  But on a more approachable scale, Roberto Santabanez (who is certainly a name for himself) gives us Fonda, which first opened in the east village spawned a second location near me in Chelsea, and while it won't steal any of Stupak's thunder, it might help to handle a bit of Rocking Horse's overflow.

Dark and modern, Fonda is still retains a quaintly neighborhood feel.  We had such pleasant rapport with the hosts and servers, as well as the bar tender in front of whom we sat, as we arrived reservationless and opted to be seated immediately at the bar rather than waiting a tad for a table.  Bar seating gives you full view of the t.v. monitors, which is a less fetching perspective than the tables surrounding from which you can appreciate the vibrant modern Mexican art on the walls.  The art is a good indicator of the cuisine, as well, which edges on contemporary Mexican rooted in his native Mexico City.

And the food is solid.  Guacamole is made tableside, offered to your spiciness specifications. It's an enormous portion, divisible amongst three or four, I'd say, in addition to your meal.  Otherwise, they'll be remaining guac, which should be conserved to dab into throughout the rest of your meal, because few things don't go with a little extra guacamole.  An appetizer of Carne Asada Taquitos is served with with it's own chile di arbol and cilantro salso, and is a great opportunity to use up any of that remainder, although it performs just as well in its own right.  They're spicy, meaty little envelopes, and pretty filling for under ten bucks.    These aren't, but the  fish tacos are offered in both appetizer and entree sizes.  And as is typical of Mexican cuisine, we're short
on veggies here, so the sauteed spinach with mushroom is a welcome respite, although not much more to expound about beyond that.  And they're the only cooked vegetable-vegetable amongst the sides, the alternatives being a kicky nopales slaw, spicy buttered corn and fried plantains, all of which are tweaked a little cooler than those simplistic descriptions imply.

For their own part, entrees are similarly midgy on the vegs.  At least so far as the menu implies, and my Camarones Adobados were no exception.  Fat shrimp, grilled and served over a formation of green  rice, described as creamy, although I'm unsure how to make granular rice take on a creamy quality unless it's risotto-ified, and this decidedly was not.  The rice was flavorful, though, the vegetal puree adding cohesion (maybe that what they were referring to?), with a
 velvety sludge of black beans pooling around, which provided some lubrication and heft.  A small salad accompanies entrees, as if a token gesture to ameliorate the lack of vegetation.  Although the vegetarian enchiladas feature an appreciable array of dirt candy, I wanted something a little cheffier... and some protein.

Desserts are fairly classic and hearty: a caramelly banana bread pudding, a chocolate brownie with cajeta or the iconic tres leches.  But it's hard to want more starch after all of that that constitutes the dinner menu, so this time desserts were skipped. A return visit could be formatted strategically to make dessert more appealing, however, and for my take on Fonda, that isn't at all an unreasonable prospect.

189 9th Avenue @ 21st Street
 · tel. 917 525 5252

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