In the millennium year, after years of planning and lobbying, the dream was finally realized of a haven dedicated to the preservation, promotion, and advancement of Hispanic culture, arts, and humanities. In 2000, the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC), launched along the Camino Real in the Albuquerque’s historic Barela’s neighborhood. The Center is an architectural anomaly in a largely adobe-hued area, its unique structures including a renovated hacienda-style school, a stylized Mayan pyramid with interior elements modeled on Romanesque architecture and a torreon (tower) housing a 4,000 square foot concave fresco depicting over 3,000 years of Hispanic history.
Ironically the complex chartered to preserve, protect and promote Hispanic culture had to displace several families, thereby disenfranchising some of the very families who embody the Hispanic culture in Albuquerque. One resident–the late Adela Martinez–stared down bureaucrats and made them blink, refusing to move. The forty-million dollar Cultural Center had to be redesigned to accommodate her family in the home she moved into in the 1920s. Today, her family’s two small houses stand out, not like a sore thumb, but as a testament to the courage of one 80-year old Hispanic woman whose treasured memories were worth much more than the monetary treasures government offered.
Since November, 2000, the converted Barelas Elementary School on the sprawling NHCC complex has served as the home of La Fonda Del Bosque, a stylish 280-seat restaurant. La Fonda, which translates from Spanish to “The Inn” almost immediately garnered recognition. Within three years of its launch, Hispanic magazine named it one of the 50 best Hispanic restaurants in the United States for two consecutive years (2003 and 2004). It was also named one of Gourmet Magazine’s “Best Kept Secrets.” A higher compliment is that many locals love it, too, especially during the Sunday brunch when they can sample a greater bounty of Hispanic favorites.
Over the years, a number of catering and restaurant management companies have tried their hand at running La Fonda Del Bosque. The most recent to take the helm is A KayTahRing Company which began operating the restaurant in June, 2012. After several years of serving New Mexican food, the new operators are taking the restaurant in a new direction, showcasing “flavors, cooking styles and ingredients from the 27 countries comprising Central and South America and the Latino Caribbean islands” according to the restaurant’s Web site.
La Fonda is open for breakfast and lunch as well as for brunch on Sundays. Dinner is served only for special events when the upscale milieu really shines. While the menu offerings may have a Latin fusion flair, the ambiance at La Fonda Del Bosque is most decidedly Southwestern with a pronounced New Mexican influence. The centerpiece of the dining room is a wood-burning fireplace that may make you wish it was winter so you could imbibe the aromas of piñon wood. On bright New Mexican summer days, the tinwork light fixtures aren’t much needed because the large windows let in so much natural light. Service is impeccable.
The restaurant’s Web site describes the menu as “one bold statement after another.” At the very least, it’s an ambitious menu that crosses over several borders and culinary cultures. That’s especially true of the prix fixe menu for brunch which couples a buffet and a number of items from the menu. Stainless steel vessels hold such buffet items as smoked salmon lox, Argentine prawn and chili quiche, seasonal fruit, Cuban Torrejas, Peruvian Ceviche Limon and twin crepes. Don’t fill your plate too much because you’ll also have the opportunity to order an entree from the “kitchen” menu. This menu ranges from the simple (huevos rancheros) to the complex (Seafood Valencia Paella).
The attentive wait staff does their best to ensure the buffet items are replenished so diners will always have fresh and warm food. Their efforts are more successful when a passel of diners empties the serving vessels almost as quickly as the servers fill them. Such was the case during our inaugural visit which transpired on the same day the Japanese Fall Festival was being held on the grounds of the Center. Apparently a number of diners preferred Latin inspired cuisine to Japanese fare because La Fonda was quite crowded when we arrived.
Among the buffet items which would have stood out was the smoked salmon lox with cream cheese, capers, red onions and eggs. Alas, the toasted bagels intended to be the canvas upon which to heap the other ingredients were stale and dry. Still, who can resist salmon, capers and cream cheese, a triumvirate of taste. Also good were Cuban Torrejas, essentially pain perdu (French toast) stuffed with strawberry and mamey glaze, and topped with whipped Cream. The Peruvian Ceviche Limon, fresh raw fish, calamari, octopus and shrimp served with yam and Peruvian corn was rather uninspired, a far cry from Peruvian ceviche we’ve had elsewhere. It lacked the freshness and the citrus-tinged zip of a great ceviche.
My choice from the menu was paella, but not just any paella. According to the menu, it was Seafood Valencia, named for the city in Spain in which paella originated. Valencia isn’t just where paella was first made, it’s where it’s best made. Paella is a great source of local pride for Valencianos where it’s made so well that, much like some Italian food, its flavors improve into the next day. Similar to the paella made in Valencia, La Fonda’s rendition has a slightly crunchy edge. It’s replete with bite-sized pieces of chicken, seasoned pork sausage, prawns, mussels and green peas embedded in a mound of saffron-infused rice. The portion size is more than generous, but the experience would have been even more authentic and fun had it been served in a paellera, the flat steel pan in which paella is traditionally prepared. Exercise caution not to ladle out the paella on the buffet table (unless you really like paella) because it will count as your entree.
Another palate pleasing entree is the carne asada con huevos al gusto, a plate native to Northern Mexico. The carne asada is a half-pound charbroiled sirloin steak prepared to your exacting level of doneness. In some Mexican restaurants–both in Mexico and in New Mexico–a half-pound sometimes means two portions of thinly cut, usually tough as leather steak so it’s a surprise to find a thick, juicy steak that’s almost fork tender. Literally the term “huevos al gusto” translates to “eggs to your pleasure,” but really means “eggs made the way you want them.” The breakfast potatoes are excellent, but the adobo sauce lacked any real punch.
The brunch menu also includes a dessert bar featuring such sweet-tooth favorites as tiramisu, truffles, and fruit tarts. The tiramisu would never be mistaken for the tiramisu made at Torinos @ Home, not by a long stretch, but it’s better than out-of-the-box.
La Fonda Del Bosque offers catering services for special events such as weddings and anniversaries. With a patio which can accommodate as many as 1,500 guests, it’s a perfect venue for a good time.
La Fonda Del Bosque
Hispanic Cultural Center
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 30 September 2012
# OF VISITS: 6