4750 Grand Avenue
They call is Grand Avenue, and I call it good eating. But to give credit where credit is due, let’s just re-name it Hector Ruiz Street.
The excessively-talented Mexican-born and French-trained chef/patron now operates three cafes on a short stretch of that avenue: Café Ena with a Latin-fusion menu at 4600; Rincon 38, serving tapas at that intersection; and now La Fresca (4750), which he dubs “nouveau Mexican.”
Siblings, yes; triplets, no. They’re similar in their warm, upbeat dining rooms and in the kitchens’ meticulous techniques as building blocks for plates as alluring in taste and texture as they are pretty. So, why isn’t Hector yet a culinary bold name? Dunno. But let’s fix that.
That “nouveau” hints that this isn’t the stuff of taco trucks: There’s an intelligent use of French practices, like never leaning on salt and fat for cheap-shot satisfaction (if there’s a fry station here, it’s surely under cobwebs). Rather, vibrant herbs, pristine produce, and proteins timed with a stop-watch and enhanced by complex (but not heavy) sauces: the fare of high-end restaurants at Grand Avenue prices.
Choose among 10 sized-for-sharing starters ($7-10), such as the flautas de hongos: crisp tortilla tubes filled with a creamy ragout of mushrooms wafting their enticing, earthy siren song. Their ultra-indulgence is checked by an acid-forward, cilantro-green salsa and crème fraiche ramped up with a hit of heat.
Next up, a plump pair of empanadas, whose corny casing clasped unctuous bits of long-roasted duck and sweetly caramelized onions and peppers melded with pepper jack. They rest on a raft of watercress fulfilling its pungent, cleansing job description. Dual sauces—one fruit-sweet, the other a suave aioli punched up with chipotles—tied the dish together.
On to the mariscos con calavacitas, composed of a single fat corn cake topped, like a Rose Bowl float, with bouncy, fresh and winsome starlets in the form of shrimp and scallops, mingling with poblanos, squash, black beans, crème fraiche and dollops of cilantro oil.
OK, we’re sated. But we just can’t quit. Skipping the soup and salads ($7), we chose a single main ($16-22) to subdivide: a juicy, fleshy piece of snapper in a near-transparent avocado-cilantro crust, served aside a toss of baby fingerlings and hardy greens, a crisp and juicy jicama-cucumber slaw underscored with lemon, and a jalapeno cream.
No dessert, thanks. Oh, wait: Let’s split the Mexican-slanted one on the French-leaning list (all $6), the tres leches cake. It proved one of the best in the metro—super-moist as it should be, yet light and only faintly sweet under its cloud of crema and berries.
Affordable, Latin-forward wines and bottled craft beers are available, delivered by an attentive-but-not-intrusive server, who mentioned, after we’d paid our bill, that business could be better: “It would help if the critics discovered this place.” Well, that was this one’s intention. Glad to spread the word.