When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Fogon Mexican Eatery Location: 7001 North Scottsdale Road, #147 Open: Just over a week Eats: Upscale Mexican Price: $30+ per person
When you first hear the idea "Benihana-style Mexican food," you probably have one of two reactions. Either you think it's a horrible, gimmicky concept or you think, "Well, it might be cool."
(Your reaction is likely to depend on how you feel about onion steam engines and beating hearts of fried rice.)
But when you really stop and consider it, it's not such a far-fetched idea. After all, a lot of Mexican food already is cooked on a grill, so why not just do it in front of the guests to add theatrics to the experience? At least that's what first-time restaurant owner Daniel Correa was thinking when he opened Fogon Mexican Eatery.
The stylish restaurant looks exactly how you would expect a Mexican restaurant in an upscale Scottsdale strip mall to look. There's a spacious outdoor patio with comfortable lounge chairs and a fancy fire pit, as well as a small but well-appointed bar just inside the entryway. Hand-painted tile murals wrap around the walls, giving a nice touch of traditional décor to the otherwise modern design.
Throughout the dining room, you'll find four cooking stations, each of which is equipped with two grills and an oven. The tables branch out from the central area with two grills and an oven, but they don't actually connect. That means you don't have to share your dinner experience with strangers, as is common at other grill-in-front-of-you restaurants. On the other hand, this also means the experience is much less showy -- in short, you're not going to see anything like Benihana's famous chef tricks.
Though Fogon's menus are extremely large -- and we mean that literally, as in they're printed on comically large pieces of wood and covered in plastic -- the selection of appetizers and entrées isn't that extensive. We chose to start with an order of the Guacamole Fresco ($10) and a couple of the signature margaritas.
Our chef whipped up a sizable bowl of guacamole at the grill station and even stopped to ask if we'd like it "mild" or "hot." We requested "medium" but were surprised at how heavy-handed he was with the heat. We told him so, and he immediately made a new batch. Dialing back on the heat helped, but it didn't save the woefully under-spiced starter. Somehow, the combination of avocado, tomato, cilantro, onion, and chile tasted no better than something we could have made at home.
The cocktails fared better. The raspberry ginger margarita ($12) was a nicely tart take on the Mexican classic, made with Don Julio Blanco, raspberries, lime juice, simple syrup, and ginger liqueur. Even the horchata margarita ($10.50), which we'll admit we ordered out of curiosity, wasn't half-bad. The housemade horchata, simple syrup, and chocolate bitters didn't overpower the tequila, resulting in a boozy but flavorful drink.
Of the entrées we tried, the steak fajitas a la parilla ($19) fared best. The sizzling platter offered a medley of peppers, onions, and steak drizzled in a cilantro lime crema, which added a nice flavor but wasn't necessary to carry the dish. The peppers and onions had just the right amount of char but still retained their crunch while the plentiful strips of steak were moist and well-seasoned.
Sides of black beans and rice didn't wow but were acceptable.
At least the sides were fully cooked, which sadly wasn't the case for the Pesacdo al Vapor ($18). The small portion of mahi mahi was supposed to be wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed, but it arrived at our table nearly raw in the middle and on top. The flavor of the chile-, lemon-, and onion-marinated fish did little to redeem the dish.
When it came to the mole poblano, things only got worse. Rather than pieces of tender chicken swimming in a complex and subtle sauce, we got strips of dry chicken breast drizzled with an unremarkable mole-like substance. It was't inedible, just quite disappointing, particularly when you consider the $18 price.
After such hit-and-miss entrées, we were ready to skip dessert, but the call of the churro ice cream sandwich was loud. For $5 you get two, not a bad value but for the execution. The order arrived at our table already partially melted and on a plate, making it difficult to salvage the melting ice cream. We tried to pick up the sandwich to eat it quickly, but even the lightest pressure on the churros -- which were really just churro-flavored cookies -- sent the ice cream squishing out the sides. We resorted to a fork and mopped up the ice cream soup with pieces of churro cookie.
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Our best advice for those who can't resist a place where you witness the magic of your food being cooking right in front of you face is to stick to the basics, at least until the Fogon chefs get their menu down pat. Nothing we ate was horrible, but it seems the kitchen is still finding its way and mastering the more complicated entrées. At least our service was on point, making the experience enjoyable despite the lackluster food.