Name: Fonda Fora
Location: 630 4 Ave SW, Calgary
Phone: (403) 764-6260
Cuisine: Contemporary Mexican
Atmosphere: Elegant, bright and airy
Drinks on offer: Beer, cocktails, wine
Best bets: Kibis Yucatecos, tetela, tiradito de huachinango, carne asada
Vegetarian friendly? Yes
Additional information: Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner with brunch available on weekends. Accessible entry points for people with limited mobility.
If there’s a word to sum up a meal at one of Calgary’s most currently buzzworthy restaurants, it might be refreshing. Not necessarily because the food and drink is an all-around light and bright experience at Fonda Fora, but rather, because of its ambience.
Stationed on the main floor of the new boutique hotel The Westley, part of Hilton’s Tapestry Collection, in downtown Calgary, the one-part-restaurant, one-part-lobby-bar boasts plenty of grand archways and huge floor-to-ceiling windows that let natural light flood the room. From the woven strapped bar stools to the textured white walls, there’s luxury-beach-resort energy radiating from the overall design (by Frank Architecture and Interiors) that helps transport you out of Calgary, if only for the duration of your meal.
Fonda Fora is the latest endeavour from popular restaurant group Thank You Hospitality. The group operates well-known concepts such as A1 Bodega and Calcutta Cricket Club, and it is no stranger to the realm of Mexican cuisine by way of Native Tongues and A1 Cantina. At Fonda, the group aims to further explore it by way of regional specialties from across the Latin American country.
There is much on chef Rafael Castillo’s menu here that you won’t find elsewhere in Alberta. Though warm tortillas and crisp tostadas do make many appearances throughout, this restaurant has little in common with a taqueria.
One visit to Fonda Fora saw a smattering of plates over the noon hour that piqued curiosity, but didn’t always deliver. Both the hibiscus tostada – a glorified mixed-green salad with avocado and preserved hibiscus – and the mussels tostada – mussels in smoked-mushroom vinaigrette with sikil p’aak (a Yucatan sauce made of pumpkin seeds, habanero peppers and charred tomatoes) – lacked seasoning and acidity.
Onward and upward and more rewarding as we dive into the tetela. Made with heritage masa and filled with beans, gooey cheese and slightly smoky morita salsa, I don’t know if describing this as a delicious Mexican version of a pizza pop is a fair comparison, but I do anyway in the most complimentary of ways. The thick, tangy crema that accompanied it was happily scooped up by forkfuls of tetela to balance things out.
Is it just me or are Gibsons coming back in vogue? Perhaps it’s my own tunnel-visioned love of drinks that lean to the (slightly) savoury side of things, but the pickled-onion cousin to the dirty martini has been popping up in my travels left, right and centre.
Fonda’s version of the classic – the pickled red onion Gibson – is a simple combination of Beefeater Gin, dry vermouth, pickled red onion brine and a sweet-pickled pearl onion. The subtle hue of pink makes the stiff drink feel more summery in your hand than it sips. Give it a try if martinis are your cocktail format of choice.
Of course, there are plenty of other drinks on offer, such as watermelon palomas and honey margaritas, and they are fine enough. If you want something truly unique that shatters preconceived notions then Jefe’s Michelada is a must. Made with a combination of house lager and Clamato along with chamoy, worcestershire, Maggi Jugo, lime and tabasco in a chilled glass with a heavily salted rim, it is the most refreshing umami bomb a person can sip on.
I have no doubt it could cure the most severe of hangovers, too.
If Instagram is any indication, the shrimp ceviche seems to be the most popular dish on the Fonda Fora menu. A plentiful portion of prawns are heavily dressed with coconut milk, salsa macha (peanut and chili salsa, always a textural delight) and a touch of yuzu. Prawns aside, I think more conservative amounts of coconut and salsa macha would make this dish more well-balanced, but tasty enough overall.
Then there’s the chorizo verde with warm, homemade tortillas. With an extra side of salsa or crema this dish becomes especially delicious, so make a point of ordering that, otherwise it might be a tad on the dry side.
The carne asada is an indulgent home run. Grilled and thinly sliced prime rib, tender and appropriately salted with chilmole butter, is served with a confit and grilled leek half and tortillas. It celebrates the quality beef Alberta is known for while making it much more memorable than simply a slab of well-cooked meat on a plate.
For dessert, one would be remiss not to order a plate of warm churros. Not surprisingly, Fonda Fora’s does not disappoint in all its cinnamon-sugary glory. The coconut pudding, topped with powdered sugar-coated peanuts and cocoa nibs is another option for a sweet finish, satisfactory and subtle in its overall flavour and sweetness.
This week, the powers that be at Thank You Hospitality informed me that Fonda Fora would soon be undergoing a huge menu overhaul.
“We’re going to shrink down the menu quite a bit to keep it more focused and seasonal while putting more layers and components into less dishes. We will be focusing on bigger, bolder flavours with more complexity in replacement of some of the lighter, more subtle dishes,” Thank You Hospitality owner Cody Willis said.
While I certainly won’t miss the mussels tostada and the hibiscus “tostada,” I certainly hope that the kibis yucatecos and tetela are two menu items that hold their real estate on the food menu.
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