Fonda San Miguel is always up to something.
Founder Tom Gilliland, who started the restaurant more than 40 years ago with chef Miguel Ravago, is always on the hunt for new art to hang or a big Day of the Dead party to plan. He’s currently revamping the bar and is constantly encouraging longtime fans of the restaurant, 2330 W. North Loop, to try some of the specials that will deepen their understanding of his favorite cuisine.
This month, however, Gilliland has several pieces of news up his sleeves. The first (and not-so-secret) is that the University of Texas Press has released a new edition of the 2005 cookbook “Fonda San Miguel: Thirty Years of Food and Art” that Gilliland and Ravago wrote with longtime Austin Chronicle food writer Virginia Wood.
For this new edition, “Fonda San Miguel: Forty Years of Food and Art” (University of Texas Press, $39.95) they worked with the Mexico City-based food writer and culinary tour guide Cristina Potters to include more than 20 new recipes, as well as plenty of the old favorites, including the corn soup and cochinita pibil “because they were too popular to take out,” he says. As with the first edition, you’ll find lots of photos of the art inside the restaurant and biographies of the artists, too.
“It’s funny because the dishes we think of as classics — pollo pibil, enchiladas suizas, rellenos en nogadas, carne asadas — at one time, 40 years ago, were not classics,” he says, at least not in Austin, where you couldn’t find black beans or chipotle.
“The challenge for a restaurant like ourselves is that we have hundreds of regular customers, and when they come in, they want their favorites,” he says. “We may have some new things, but they might not venture forth and try something new, like the French-influenced crepas de camarones or con huitlacoche that I first had in Mexico City 50 years ago. We have those on special sometimes now, and I tell them, remember when you first had chile rellenos? That was brand new to you then. Let’s be adventuresome again. I still want that. We don’t want to stay stagnant. We want to do new things,” he says.
In this effort, Gilliland, who is close with famed Mexican food authority Diana Kennedy, will be hosting a guest chef dinner on March 15 with Enrique Olvera, the internationally renown chef behind Pujol in Mexico City and Cosme in New York City.
Olvera and Kennedy might not get along about what constitutes “authentic” Mexican food, but Gilliland is excited to bring Olvera’s talent to Austin for a six-course dinner. Tickets aren’t yet on sale, but will be available through the website, fondasanmiguel.com. He says that this will be the first of a guest chef series curated with the help of Sergio Remolina, who works with the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio.
The final piece of news is more personal. Ravago, Gilliland’s longtime business partner and friend, will be moving back to Austin after a decade in Europe with his husband. They were living in Spain for some time, but more recently have been in Brighton, England. Since he left the country, Ravago would return every three months “and get onto us” about all the stuff we’re doing wrong, Gilliland says, but he’s looking forward to having Ravago around more regularly.
That will allow him to continue his culinary exploration of Mexico and acquisition of new art for his beloved Fonda, where you’ll find him nearly every day that he’s not on the road.
Camarones al Mojo de Ajo
This garlic shrimp dish is one of the recipes in the latest edition of the Fonda San Miguel cookbook, which came out late last year.
For the fried garlic:
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup minced garlic
For the shrimp:
1/4 cup butter
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/3 cup olive oil
36 raw shrimp, peeled and deveined (21/25 count)
Chopped fresh parsley leaves (to garnish)
To prepare the fried garlic: In a heavy, 10-inch skillet, heat the oil over high heat until the oil is shimmering but not smoking. Add minced garlic, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring often. (Be careful not to burn it.) Remove garlic from the oil with a slotted spoon, strain through a fine strainer, and drain on paper towels.
For the shrimp: In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat; add the sliced garlic, reduce heat to low, and keep warm on top of the stove. Do not brown the garlic. In a nonreactive skillet or saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and saute the shrimp until they curl and turn pink, about 4 to 5 minutes. Divide the shrimp among 6 dinner plates and spoon the warm garlic-butter sauce over each serving. Sprinkle with fried garlic and chopped parsley. Serve with rice. Serves 6.
— From “Fonda San Miguel: Forty Years of Food and Art” (University of Texas Press, $39.95) by Tom Gilliland, Miguel Ravago and Cristina Potters