After its initial LTH-buzz Fonda del Mar had quieted down a bit when my friend Wyatt, who lives a walkable distance away, reported that he'd been a couple of times recently and thought the place was really firing on all cylinders these days. (Though I doubt he used that archaic phrase precisely.)
Having been twice now in the last two weeks, I have to say that I agree. What was a promising, but only about half successful (in retrospect, I may have been slightly kind) Mexican seafood restaurant four months ago seems to me to be one of the best modest-priced options in town-- and easily the best deal in higher-end Mexican these days, certainly much preferable to the warmed-over Ixcapuzalco (sad to say).
I notice that above, David H. had said that FdM's fish taco was no match for the late Tacos del Pacifico's. Well, as that fades into memory, I can't really evaluate them head to head, but this sure seems close, and certainly the best one I've had anywhere in Chicago since then.
We also had the trio de ceviches. The shrimp one I still thought too ketchupy, much as it had been several months back. However, the fish one-- simple and decorated with an intriguingly spiced salsa-- and the smoky crab one were both excellent.
Cochinita de pibil, pork slow-roasted in achiote, is one of those things I keep ordering just because I had it in Mexico and so I feel like I know how it's supposed to taste. Thus, for instance, at Fonda San Miguel in Austin, I could observe with confidence that it was roasted properly but far too bland. This, by contrast, was extremely bright and sharp with the achiote and other spices, really terrific, especially rolled up in one of their freshly-made tortillas.
One of the disappointments the first time at FdM when it first opened was that the fish dishes weren't all that great-- competent but little more-- and were blown away by the lamb in mole. I have now had this dish, the pescado in crema poblano with its little Chichen Itza of rice, twice with two different fish-- once skate and once that pseudo-grouper that comes from Uganda, whatever it's called (I want to say "West Nile Grouper"), and both times it was excellent. The buttery, slightly hot and olive-like cream sauce and the freshly pan-fried fish are a great combination.
These pictures are all from today's lunch; the only notable different things we had at dinner a couple of weeks ago were chicken mole (fairly good, but a bland chicken breast sliced and fanned rather than a more flavorful chicken on the bone), and some little torpedo-shaped fried shrimp empanadas which were fairly forgettable. Today's lunch, however, was first-rate on every level, and if you haven't been back since the early days, you should.
Incidentally, we didn't sit out there today but it also has a back patio under a tent that looks like it would be pleasant-- and expands capacity significantly on a Friday night.
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