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¡Cafe Ole!

La Fiesta
Christopher Gardner

Calling the Shots: Premium tequilas keep the party going at Mountain View's La Fiesta restaurant.

With its steadfast tradition of good, authentic food, La Fiesta cultivates a following

By Andrew X. Pham

WHEN I CAN pick out five good things about a restaurant within five minutes of crossing its threshold, I know I can expect to enjoy a pretty good meal. This happened recently at a well-kept secret called La Fiesta, planted in nowhere land, a short way from gleaming downtown Mountain View.

Two feet inside the door, the first thing I noticed was the minibar--the size of a liquor cabinet--negotiated into the far left corner. Behind glass, rows of premium tequilas in gorgeously sculpted vessels loaded the shelves. These impressed me more than the collection of sombreros, miniature pottery, bright blankets and knickknacks embellishing the dining room.

Although the trimmings seemed touristy at first glance, some reflected the history of the founding family, whose members hailed from Pueblo, Mexico. Twenty years ago, the Garcias opened this humble restaurant amid a few houses and open fields. As factories, warehouses and auto-body shops weeded the area, the family cultivated a strong local following with its steadfast tradition of good, authentic food.

We started with a round of blended margaritas with fresh lime and Patron Tequila ($6.50 each, small but definitely worth it). Later on in the meal, we chased these with Negra Modelo and Noche Buena ($3.25 each), the very beers that in little Mexican towns sell out more quickly than gasoline. As far as mass-produced Mexican brews go, these dark lovelies are the best available north of the border.

Featherweight refreshments aside, this is the place to shoot premium tequilas. The king of this tequila mountain, Seleccion Suprema, pours for $30 a shot. From pale green to gold, all 100 percent agave distillations, these desert golds numbered more than 30 representatives ($5.50 to $30 per shot) from every part of Mexico.

Three appetizers, two salads and two soups headed the top of the menu, a handwritten inventory printed on construction paper. Aside from such familiar amigos as chimichangas, enchiladas and chile verde, three of the especialidades de la casa gave the real reasons for heading out to this neck of the woods.

Among the special dishes were some recipes from "Grandma," which, in my experience, can indicate anything from family heirlooms to frightful creations eaten only under a matriarch's scrutiny. Fortunately, at this casa, Grandma's work lays down a foundation for the restaurant's reputation. Foremost was a family recipe dating back more than 100 years called, of course, Grandma's Especial ($12.95), showboating in a terrine generously ladled full of carved chicken breast that was simmered in thick sour cream tinted orange by mild chiles and a secret blend of spices. If there is a better Mexican chicken and sour cream recipe, it hasn't crossed my palate.

Mole ($12.95), as Grandma made it, was a dish of finesse. Hers defined this ancient sauce as a rich, fragrant stew intimately crafted with some 28 ingredients, including chocolate, nuts, seeds and cinnamon. Served over a grilled chicken breast, this sauce embodied history in its elaborate flavors: sweet, hot, grainy and tangy, even more mysterious than curry.

I had been searching, to no avail, for good Baja-style machaca, shredded beef seasoned and preserved with the hottest chile, and deep-fried with garlic. Not to be mistaken, the milanesa ($12.95) was nothing like Baja machaca, but it offered a delicious diversion for someone with that particular hankering. A thin New York cut was mercilessly tenderized to a quarter-inch. Seasoned and breaded, the beef was fried not to "a golden-brown" as advertised, but to a deep brown with flamed-black edges--not a bad thing, actually. Sweatered with a layer of pan-fried scalloped potatoes, the juicy and pliant steak came accompanied by the standard envoys: rice, beans and tortillas.

The other specialty highly recommended by our waiter, camarones picantes ($13.95), proved to be the list's weak link. The fiery chipotle and guajillo chile flavors, earthy and true, were powerless to undo the gross overcooking of the shrimp.

The salsas, while fairly spicy to some palates, didn't measure up to what is regularly on hand at taquerias with a large Mexican-American clientele. Too bad the kitchen doesn't keep something stronger on hand for the occasional gringo gone way-native.

The service was particularly fast, attentive and friendly. We wound up the feast with some kahlua-spiked chocolate mousse topped with a bonnet of whipped cream. Coupled with coffee, the mousse granted an adequately sweet closure, though it seemed a little powdery with a low-grade chocolate. The flan might have been a better alternative.

Heirloom recipes, professional service and genuine warmth combine to make La Fiesta a draw for anyone with a yen for hearty home-style cooking and premium tequila. Bien delicioso.


La Fiesta

Cuisine: Mexican
Ambiance: festive, home-casual
Menu: $8­$13
Hours: lunch: Mon.­Sat., 11am­2pm, and Sun., 11am­3pm; dinner Sun.­Thu., 5­9pm, and Fri.­Sat., 5­10pm
Address: 240 Villa St., Mountain View
Phone: 415/968-1364


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From the February 27-March 5, 1997 issue of Metro

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