In last week's Parade Magazine, trend spotter Faith Popcorn (a name that either instills confidence or fuels cynicism) predicted mixed ethnic foods such as "peanut/chili/ginger Southwest Saute" would become the latest fad.
While such "fantasy adventure foods" might end up in Christmas stockings more for conversation than consumption, I predict an opposite trend favored by a vast majority of the dining public. Today's restaurant patrons are going to favor well-prepared basic menu items that are both inexpensive and healthy. If this holds true, ethnic restaurants will continue to gain a lot of attention.The uncluttered and essential meals we sampled at El Farol during a recent weekend visit typified the popularity of reasonably priced basic ethnic cuisine. Nothing fancy, exotic or trendy could be spotted on the menu. There wasn't even a hint of seafood on the moderate menu, let alone an attempt to mix ethnic cooking styles.
The first taste of the watery thin salsa with the complimentary chips was disappointing. It was more like a mildly seasoned tomato soup. The combination bean dip and cheese chip appetizer ($4.60), a platter of bean-covered corn chips topped with shredded cheese and diced green and red peppers, was good but just average.
Even before we tried our promptly served entrees, we were slightly disheartened by the stringy shredded lettuce that came with the platters.
But our anticipated dismay quickly turned to delight. Each of the four entrees we sampled, including a side order of the chicken and cheese enchilada ($2.65) covered with a vibrant green tomatillo sauce, was wonderfully fresh and flavorful.
The smoky red chile sauce with the chile Colorado ($5.70) bathed tender chunks of pork. It was just earthy enough. The chile verde burritos ($5.95) were smothered as well as filled with a lively but not overpowering blend of green chile and pieces of pork.
The rellenos ($6.50), mild green peppers stuffed with cheese, fried in an egg batter and topped with a mild tomato sauce, were also well-prepared as were the cheese enchiladas ($4.70).
We especially enjoyed the tomatillo-sauced enchilada. Usually used as a fresh salsa in some taquerias or added to chile verde as a foil to the hot green chiles, tomatillos are often overlooked in many Mexican restaurants. Tomatillos, commonly called "Mexican tomatoes," are actually related to gooseberries and have a slightly sour taste. They are an essential ingredient in authentic Mexican recipes and used appetizingly by El Farol.
Other items on El Farol's menu include chimichangas, soft and hard shell tacos and tostados. Dinner entrees come with creamy refritos and rice. Desserts include flan, fried ice cream and sopapillas.
El Farol, which translates as the lantern, beckons diners from around the valley who long for uncomplicated, essential Mexican food.
Rating: * * * 1/2
El Farol, 7223 S. State Street, Midvale. 255-3742. Another location in Holladay: 1769 E. Murray/Holladay Road, 272-4737. Open from 11 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday. Accepts major credit cards and check with guarantee card.