mediocre meals at favorite Austin restaurants
- Rob Hargrove
Well, August was a big month for my girlfriend, as she graduated from her master's degree program and had a birthday. Each occasion required a "special" meal, and we went to two of our favorite fancy places in Austin. Unfortunately, both meals were mediocre, and the mediocrity was especially dissapointing given the restaurants.
First, for Josie's birthday we went to Mars, which we have always enjoyed. In all fairness, her pork was great. But, on a lark I ordered a stuffed piece of Buffalo flank steak. Now, I've always been skeptical of Buffalo, since any meat that is touted as being "lean" is nothing I usually want to mess with. But, I was feeling feisty, and the dish sounded great on the menu, so I ordered it, and told the waitress I'd like it rare. When it arrived, I was afraid that it was cooked too much, but it was so dim in the dining room I couldn't see the color of my food. I was told in no uncertain terms by my girlfriend that I was not allowed to carry my plate into the bathroom for further inspection. The first half of the steak was tasty, as it was still hot and juicy from the grill, but as I ate and the meat cooled, my fears were realized. The meat was well-done, and the last few bites were almost un-chewable they were so dry and tough. This was just not acceptable for what holds itself out to be an excellent restaurant.
A few days later, after Josie graduated, we went to Fonda San Miguel with her family. I knew that the chef had left, but FSM is one of our all-time favorites, so we went anyway. I got an old standby from the regular menu which was fine, but Josie and her father, on a strident recommendation from our waiter, ordered a chicken special. I had a few bites, and it was lousy. It reminded me of the food our high school cafeteria served on special occasions: plain chicken breasts covered in a spicy and yet flavorless non-descript thin red sauce. If this is the kind of thing the new chef plans on adding to the fare at Fonda San Miguel, I fear for what has always been a place I recommend to anyone visiting Austin. What's worse, Josie asked the waiter when she ordered if she should get a shrimp dish she's gotten before and loved or the chicken special. The waiter rather bluntly told her that "that shrimp dish is my least favorite thing on the menu; I just don't think it's all that good". He then sang the chicken's praises. Now, it seems that either one of two things happened:
1) he was trying to move some chicken; or
2) he really though the chicken was great.
Either way, I'm nervous. I'm not saying that the chicken was objectively terrible because none of the 6 of us who tried it liked it and I have better taste than the professional waiter, but none of the six of us who tried it liked it. Our table ordered 2 of them, so I don't think it was just a bad portion. It didn't fail because it was an adventurous dish that went beyond our palates; it failed because it was absolutely un-interesting, certainly not the kind of thing one goes to a restaurant (any restaurant) to eat. Regardless, the waiter should not have made Josie feel silly for liking the shrimp, which he did.
At any rate, I hate to complain here, but these two restaurants were two of my favorites in a city awash with boring food. I certainly hope none of you have shared these experiences. I do indeed plan to return both places when circumstances permit.