Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I Was Going to Eat Italian…

so why am I eating Gringo Mexican? It’s a long story. We had finished our walking tour of downtown Lafayette and were ready for lunch. I had “Googled” best Italian restaurants in Lafayette and found one with a menu item calling to me—the Pasta Funghi di Bosco with porcini, portabella, and button mushrooms sautéed with fresh herbs, shallots, and garlic and tossed with a Madeira cream sauce and served over fettuccine. I had the address. Up and down the street we drove. Three times. No sign of the restaurant. Could it be closed?

Time for Plan B—a Thai restaurant on Johnston Street that had gotten rave reviews. We drive down Johnston. We drive past the restaurant. We backtrack while encountering one dead end street after another. We pull into the parking lot. “It looks closed” I say to Chuck. “That plumbing sign in the window is not a good omen” he responds. He walks to the doors to scope the situation. He returns to the truck. “It’s closed for renovations” he explains.

On our drive on Johnston, I noticed La Fonda which is considered to be one of the best Mexican restaurants in Lafayette. We’ll give it a try.

“Wheeling and dealing over lunch and enchiladas is the hallmark of La Fonda’s…where margaritas and two-fisted cocktails enhance the handshakes of money makers. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in the early evening is another crowd, with children and grandparents in tow. Friday and Saturday nights bring a crush of people awaiting tables at the bar (the record is somewhere around 100 gallons of margaritas served daily). The Mexican restaurant has an awesome reputation as a gathering spot.... La Fonda’s is a Lafayette institution. It has seen the conclusion of more business deals, the celebration of more birthdays, and the sparking of more romances than any other restaurant in the area. Owner Leebob Cox has said that “there has to be some explanation, but it is hard for me to define.’

“Defying the local loyalty to Cajun cuisine, the popularity of the restaurant’s classic Tex-Mex fare is a puzzling phenomenon. The noise level is often raucous. This is the kind of place that feels like Galatoire’s on a Friday afternoon (instead of champagne, it is margaritas). People know each other at different tables, and if they don’t, they get to know each other, especially while waiting for tables at the bar” (Lisa LeBlanc at berryourhouse.biz).

Let me emphasize how busy this restaurant is. The parking lot was full, but we found a spot across the street in the parking lot for a closed grocery store. The lobby was full of waiting diners. The noise level can only be described as caco-phonous. And, unlike most Lafayette restaurants where at precisely 12:55 p.m. the lunch crowd stands up as one and returns to work, La Fonda was still busy when we left sometime after 1:30 p.m. As soon as a table was vacated, it was refilled.

The menu was what you would expect—tacos, enchiladas, tostados, quesadillas, chalupas, chili relleno, chimichangas, combo plates containing two or more of these with rice and beans—along with chicken and steak selections. But there on the appetizer listing was an item I have never seen on a Mexican restaurant menu—rabbit—bite-size pieces of fried rabbit garnished with guacamole and sour cream or con queso. According to the Cajun Foodie: “…I’d like to spotlight what I believe to be one of the best appetizers in South Louisiana: fried rabbit with queso. The dish is comprised of a pile of tender marinated rabbit, deboned and fried up chicken tender style and served alongside a bowl of the restaurant’s excellent queso dip. Original…creative…deep fried, what else do you need?” (thecajunfoodie.com).

I so don’t think so.

We were given a basket of tortilla chips and a small bowl each of bean dip and tomato salsa. The latter tasted if though the spice came from cayenne pepper rather than chilies and was in dire need of cilantro. The bean dip was OK. Enough said.

We both decided to play it safe. I ordered three shrimp soft tacos with a side of guacamole salad (right).

Chuck ordered three beef tacos with a side of refried beans. None of these will have us hurrying back for more.

The shrimp on my tacos (left) were small and few. The beef in Chuck’s tacos tasted like Old El Paso seasoning. And the shredded cheese in each was ice cold and therefore chilled all of the fillings. The beans and guacamole were both pretty good. But not great.

So what then, after having eaten Gringo Mexican, possessed us to order the sopapillas for dessert? (“Sopapillas are a type of fried pastry which originated in New Mexico, although they are related to many South and Central American fried doughs.... A New Mexican sopapilla is a pillow-like puff of fried pastry accomplished by making a special dough which puffs up as it fries, like a doughnut” [wisegeek.com]). These turned out to be the most authentic part of the meal. They were light and puffy and had the crisp outer shell that we enjoyed when dining in New Mexico. Dusted with sugar and cinnamon, a drizzle of honey was all that was necessary.

Perhaps I am being overly harsh. I am frustrated that we couldn’t find that Italian restaurant with the Pasta Funghi di Bosco. And I wouldn’t go to Albuquerque, NM and expect to find great Cajun food. Still, all I can muster is a 2.5 Addie rating.

And that Italian restaurant we couldn’t find? I went back to the computer and there was the address—312 Main Street, Lafayette. So far, so good. Except I neglected to notice the IN after Lafayette. Yes, we were looking in Lafayette, Louisiana for an Italian restaurant in Lafayette, Indiana.

Is my face red. But, if I am ever in Lafayette, IN, I know where to find Italian food.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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