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Don Fernando's returns [Fresno area]

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Joan Obra reports in the new "7" section of today's paper that Fernando Madrigal has opened a 40 seat Mexican/Southwestern place at Marshall Station near Prather (@ 3 mi SW of where Auberry Road and Hwy 168 come together south of Auberry). The chef says the style of cooking is the same with a few changes. Located at 25527 Auberry Rd, 559-855-8825. Open 11am to 9pm daily.

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  1. PB, I read Joan's column too. What good news. I love his food and it's sure worth driving to. We may opt for lunch as I remember his wine glasses being goblets. :-)

    1. Wife and I drove out for lunch at Don Fernando’s yesterday. Neither of us is familiar with the old Don Fernando’s, so we won’t compare the new to the old in this report.

      First thing I noticed when we walked into the place was the smell of the wood-burning fireplace. Even though the fireplace wasn’t lit, the place smelled like a camp lodge—as if there had been a fire burning in the fireplace every night for the past 40 years. I know nothing about the history of Marshall Station (a quick internet search led me to one brief mention of a one-star restaurant that evidently used to be there) but my guess is that at some point in time this place used to be a dive bar/restaurant for the locals and travelers going to and from the Sierra lakes.

      We arrived after the lunch-rush was finished. At first the service was a bit slow because they had only one person serving all of the tables. To the chef’s credit (I believe it was Fernando Madrigal, but I didn’t ask) he helped out in front (in-between preparing dishes) by bringing food out to the tables, clearing used dishes off of previously occupied tables, and bringing glasses of water to occupied tables. Both he and the server were very friendly and helpful. And we weren’t in a hurry, so we enjoyed looking around at the old digs (half of the stuff on the walls and hanging from the ceiling must have been there for at least two decades), looking to see what others were eating, and anticipating what we hoped would be a tasty lunch.

      We were not disappointed.

      Started with an appetizer of queso fundido ($6.25)—baked/melted asadero cheese with mushrooms, a little diced tomato, and we thought maybe a splash of wine, citrus, or vinegar—served with small, super-thin corn tortillas. Good flavor and a very easy-to-work-with texture (gooey but not messy: we were able to “cut” a chuck of cheese out of the serving plate, put it on our tortilla, and not have it drip all over the place).

      Wife’s entrée was the sizzling (chicken) fajitas ($8.25). Perhaps the word “sizzling” is a bit of a misnomer since it was served on a plate rather than on an oven-hot flat skillet (the old fajita cliché). Chicken was grilled then dressed with a cilantro and cream sauce. Good flavor. Peppers and onions also grilled. Served with a sides of beans (not refried but more ranch-style) and some flavorful rice (prepared with a light pink tinge of tomato). She said she’d order it again.

      My entrée was two a la carta tostadas ($5.25 for two), one with carne asada and one with longaniza. Both tostadas had a wonderful “homemade” quality to them. On the bottom were the same small, thin tortillas that we had with the queso fundido, with little pockets of air around the edges where they puffed up while cooking. The tostadas were then stacked high with toppings: a layer of whole beans, a layer of meat, a little bit of shredded lettuce, and some crema on top. I’d definitely order these again.

      The longaniza was like chorizo in flavor. It had the crumbly and slightly chewy texture of ground meat—as opposed to grocery store chorizos which have the texture of pureed meat with chunks of who-knows-what in it—and it had a better combination of spicy flavors than grocery store chorizo.

      (My internet search for a description of longaniza took me to a lot of conflicting information. Some sources claim that longaniza is a type of Spanish-style chorizo. Other source claim that it’s a Filipino adaptation of Spanish chorizo. It appears that some longaniza is also made in the Caribbean and in South America.)

      Of the two tostadas, the one with longaniza was the better of the two. The chewy, meaty texture of the sausage and its paprika-spiked tanginess was a good complement to all the other flavors and textures on the tostada. The carne asada was good but also pretty typical of other carne asadas I’ve had.

      Both plates came with a small side of a fruity, corn pico-de-gallo. Normally neither one of us goes for fruit salsas, but we both found this little ensalada y salsa piquita to be irresistible to snack on while eating our food.

      And by the way, the iced tea was also very good: mild with a subtle hint of fruit like peach or mango.

      Don Fernando’s has separate lunch and dinner menus—the dinner menu includes entrees with nopal, lamb, chipotle meatloaf, and carnitas. The menu also includes appetizers, a number of seafood entrees, a few a la carta items (tacos, burritos, tortas, and tostadas), and “sopes y molotes.”

      We’re hopeful and confident that the minor service issues we experienced will be worked out as this restaurant gets up to speed in the future. Everything we ate and drank tasted quite good and seemed to be made with care.

      The title of this thread is “Don Fernando’s returns.” Yes he has and so will we.

      12 Replies
      1. re: alanstotle

        Great report, alanstotle! You have my mouth watering. Thanks for reporting about such deliciousness. I want to know if you and your wife are going to try to recreate this in your home kitchen.

        1. re: dimsumgirl

          We're going to start by building a wood-burning fireplace and burning wood in it for 40 years straight! (Just kidding, of course.)

          We may try our hand at the fruit pico de gallo, but otherwise we'll just take the short drive out to Prather to enjoy it. Besides, with summer practically here, we'll be too busy making gazpacho and a variety of salads to try to imitate Chef Madrigal's food.

          1. re: alanstotle

            I will have to add Prather to my list of places to visit; you'd better get cracking on building that fireplace

        2. re: alanstotle

          Great report, Alan. Things have been so hectic lately we can't even schedule the short trip up there. So glad to hear the queso fundido is alive, iirc the only times we didn't order it as a starter was when Fernando temped us with a special item he'd come up with. Lady PB also recalls a shrimp dish in a spicy sauce with peppers and onions that she loved, but of course we can't remember the name. You didn't mention any soups, I'm thinking of his tortilla soup in particular, but everyone he's ever made I think has been fantastic.

          1. re: PolarBear

            That queso fundido was very good, we enjoyed it. There are a couple of shrimp dishes on the menu, a Mojo de Ajo, which is sauteed with garlic butter, a la Diabla, which is the spicy tomato sauce, a la Pimienta, black peppered shrimp, and a la Coco-Chile, which is just described as a speciality of the chef. Right now there is just corn chowder on the menu for soup. In regards to all the items on the menu, be advised that he just has a makeshift menu out right now. When we were eating lunch there the printer came over with his "real" menu for him to preview, so who knows, the "real" menu could have more/different items.

            1. re: PolarBear

              It is, but did you finish reading the rest of the posts to this 4.5 year old thread? Afraid we haven't heard anything positive since but would sure love to be proven wrong.

              1. re: PolarBear

                I believe Lady PB is talking about the same shrimp dish I am still tasting to this day..I also can't remember the name, but it had this wonderful sause with onions, peppers and Jalipenos....We can't wait to go there again

                1. re: ILove2Eat1955

                  Please do report back when you do, I've wanted to try and follow up but unfortunately we don't pass by that often, and the lack of cars during those times has not been conducive.

                  As a sideline, his brother, Miguel Arce, runs a place in North Fork, that during the day is a good quality hamburger, taco, etc place, but at night used to be phenomenal Mexican dishes, people drive through the back roads for miles to eat there, again, hoping it's still happening. Local hounds, any recent sniffs?

                  La Cabana
                  32762 Rd 222
                  North Fork CA
                  (559) 877-3311
                  Tuesday - Saturday 10:30 to 3 and 4:30 to 7:30
                  Dinner Specials Commence at 5:30

                  Old posts:
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/87410
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/315486
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/86693

              2. re: alanstotle

                OMG, please tell me, is this the same great restaurant that was first on Shaw and Maroa, then moved to Palm and Herndon?? If so, first I will make sure it is still open then if it is, we are there this weekend..I acually remember the last time we were there, it was for our friends birthday on July 28, 2000...I can still taste the shrimp......

                1. re: ILove2Eat1955

                  If you find out anything, please post back I'd follow him anywhere. My husband would wrestle tigers for his lamb dish!

                  1. re: Gail

                    Gail, this is what we found out.. My husband mike called there, and Fernando answered the phone, we were such good customers he remembered us..So it is the same place. and my mouth is watering at the prospect of going..Unfortunatly I am having major dental work done, so I will have to wait until I heal, and I have no idea how long that will be, but as soon as I can, we are there......I have never had the lamb, I just love the wonderful shrimp...Mike however has had the lamb and he loved it

                    1. re: ILove2Eat1955

                      Love2Eat, are you saying Fernando is still at the Marshall Station place? This is great news. The last I heard, it was still a Mexican food place, but not close to Fernando's quality.
                      Sorry about your dental work. Hope all goes well and you heal fast and are eating Fernando's wonderful dishes soon.

              3. We returned to Don Fernando's for lunch the other day. Glad we did.

                The place has been worked on and cleaned up a bit since our first visit there in April. New chairs and new table cloths (albeit nylon) make the place look more like a Mexican restaurant rather than a biker bar. New wooden shingle sign out front. Beverages served in pleasant slightly green glasses. I hope, ultimately, they're able to make the place seem new & fresh while still hanging onto some of the roadhouse feel of the building & furnishings.

                Items from the dinner menu were available at lunch, so I ordered the chipotle meatloaf. It was dense and very moist, and though served with a cracked pepper gravy, didn't really need it for moisture. The chipotle flavor was present but not strong, and though it put a little chipotle heat on the back of my throat, it was lightly spicy hot. I'd probably like it spicier, though anyone who likes only a little bit of spice would probably enjoy this. The gravy tasted like a homemade beef gravy.

                The meatloaf was topped with grilled peppers and onions--much like you get with fajitas. I'm not a big fan of onions and peppers, but these vegetables were well-grilled, and the slightly burnt taste of the grilling, along with the green and moist flavors of the vegetables, were a wonderful compliment to the meatloaf. Served with a side of their wonderful rice, ranch-style beans, and their fruity salsa (the salsa was not the same as our last visit, so we decided it's probably made from the fruit available in season). I would definitely order this again.

                Wife ordered shrimp mojo de ajo (in garlic sauce). Sauce was pretty garlicky, though not necessarily bad. Served on a bed of stewed onions and peppers, which she liked. Shrimp were already peeled, so they were less labor intensive. She said she's order the dish again. Served with a side of ranch beans, rice, and salsa.

                Wife's "dinner" also came with a bowl of soup, which is the corn chowder. Good chicken flavor in the soup. Corn taste is present but not too strong, and a yummy garnish when mixed into the soup. Soup may have also had a bed of crispy corn tortilla pieces.

                Once again impressed with the iced tea. Our lunches also came with an order of chips and salsa--both were warm having just come off the stove we assume. Our server was again friendly and helpful.

                1. You know you're in trouble when the beans and rice are the best tasting food on the plate.

                  The Sturdy Wench and I just returned from DF's and our dinners were... well, I'll use "edible" because it's technically accurate without being perjorative. (Fed-Ex hasn't shown up with my weekly shipment of bile, so I've nothing to splash onto this review.)

                  alanstotle's great reviews cover the decor and service, so I'll focus on our food. I had the Coco-Chile Shrimp (shrimp cooked in coconut milk and lemongrass) and the corn chowder soup. The SW had the Nopal Huizteco (nopal [cactus ear] with chicken, peppers and onions.)

                  First on the table were the chips and salsa. The chips were thick but cold and dry, and the salsa was of a type I've never seen before: Spicy tomato soup. The heat was moderate and the salsa, which was served cold, tasted exactly like tomato soup, had a nice punch of what tasted like cumin, salt, garlic and finely minced cilantro, plus others I couldn't identify. It was a better soup than a salsa. As a salsa: F. As a soup: C.

                  We asked the waiter for some salsa fresca, but there was none except the corn/fruit salsa they had, which he brought us. Corn kernels, diced onion, cucumber, cilantro, mango, diced peppers. The heat was mild and the flavor took me a bit to accustom myself, but the flavor never got past "barely acceptable" with me. The SW saw it more as a fruit chutney, not a salsa. Grade: D.

                  Next to the table was my corn chowder soup. Olive drab in my bowl, a spoonful of corn kernels, diced onion, cilantro and a dusting of crumbled cheese decorated the center of the soup. A thin trail of red liquid (Tabasco?) made line around the outer perimeter. There was no taste of corn in the soup unless you ate the kernels in the middle. It was thick and the flavors were muddled together to the point it tasted of not-corn. It was a spicy soup, it was thick, green, it had stuff in the middle on top, and it wasn't bad but it wasn't good. Grade: D.

                  Coco-Chile Shrimp: I've never had shrimp mush, but now I know what it tastes like. Which was odd because the shrimp were served headless, peeled, tail-on, and looked plump and tasty. The first one I put in my mouth collapsed into mush as soon as I bit down. I wasn't expecting it and I didn't like the sensation. I had been expecting a well-cooked, tender shrimp, but this took "tender" past the fence and into the no-fly zone. Well, at least it tasted good, right? Wrong. It tasted of nothing. Flavorless. Had you fed it to me and I was blindfolded, I would not have guessed it was a shrimp. The SW asked the waiter if these were old shrimp, and he said the seafood dishes were the most popular, so that killed our "old shrimp" theory. (It's possible the restaurant got bad shrimp--shrimp can become mushy if their heads are not quickly removed after catching.) Grade: F.

                  Accompaniaments were olla beans with (I believe) queso fresco crumbled on top, white herbed rice, and more corn/fruit salsa. The beans were well-cooked, plump, with good flavor which was complemented by the cheese. The rice was a one-note song, while it was moist and individual grains barely clung to one another, the strident voice of the herb it was cooked with dominated it. Grade: Beans: B+. Rice: D.

                  I tried a bite of Nopal Huizteco, and the first flavor to my brain was char from the grilled peppers and onion. Then, dawdling and poking at the scenery along the way, occasionally flopping down to rest, came some laggard tastes of pepper, onion, and the bit of chicken in my bite. The chicken came in last, defiantly unseasoned and dry. Grade: F.

                  Both of us ate a few bites and then pushed our plates away. This stuff made Taco Bell look good. I asked the waiter (who was friendly, pleasant and efficient when he could get to us, due to the high volume of customers) if the chef was cooking tonight, and he said Don Fernando was indeed back there.

                  Maybe our food was cooked and went out when Don Fernando was called elsewhere, or he was let down by a new sous chef. Perhaps the chef just had a bad day. This was the worst meal I've ever had in the Fresno area.

                  When the waiter asked how our food was, we told him our reactions. He apologized, then comped us the meal, so we only paid for our drinks. This was such a professional gesture, it bought Don Fernando's a second chance from us. I'm willing to return one time, and I'll order sopes or a carne asada taco and we'll see what comes out.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: KenWritez

                    That's too bad that you had such a horrible experience. I have only been up there once when it first opened (see : http://www.chowhound.com/topics/427899) and will be back once my busy schedule allows for the drive. I frequented his restaurant almost once a week when it was located at Palm and Herndon and was never dissapointed. Apparently there was something very amiss with that night and I hope it will be corrected.

                    1. re: KenWritez

                      Yikes! I have no idea what happened! It sounds like you were at another restaurant or something. I hope that was just a huge mistake and not a portent of things to come. If you return, please do post your experience. I am glad he comped your meal, hopefully any issues have been corrected.

                    2. Linking:

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                      Don Fernando's At Marshall Station
                      25527 Auberry Rd, Clovis, CA 93619