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Restaurant Happenings - December 2004

Fiesta Mexicana
202 South Main
(435) 259-4366
fax: (435) 259-4365

A Fiesta in every Forkful!
by Annabelle Numaguchi

Shimmering, sizzling, and shiny…

Fiesta Mexicana, the new South-of-the-Border restaurant in town, is trying to create a Mexican party for every customer. From the brightly colored décor that is more-Mexican-than-Mexico to the dizzying array of menu choices, the restaurant evokes familiar memories of similar-themed family dining. The distinguishing feature about this place is its claim of authenticity, supported by an all Latin American staff who assured me that the food is truly what they would eat in their home countries.

The spacious restaurant is segmented into rows of booths that recreate the impression of eating in a small cantina. The front displays fountains, lanterns, wooden parrots and bronze bells. A replica of a Spanish-tiled veranda runs the length of the restaurant, completing the image of a Mexican courtyard. Although the set-up of the restaurant creates a cozy feel, both the interior and the enclosed patio are roomy, making Fiesta Mexicana an ideal place for hosting large parties.

It is also well suited to family dining with children because of the booths’ semi-privacy. Upbeat Mariachi music plays throughout the evening, allowing kids to make a little noise without disrupting nearby diners.
If the description of this festive restaurant sounds familiar, it could be because you’ve already eaten in one, located somewhere else. Fiesta Mexicana is the latest of ten to open up. The others are located throughout the west, in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona.

Although the owner is a Durango resident named Martin Rangel, the management of the restaurants is under Dennis Cervantes, who is originally from Mexico City and still speaks English with a lilting Hispanic accent. He started working for the chain when it opened four years ago on July 4, 2000 in Woodland Park, Colorado.
Cervantes has since trained the new managers for all ten restaurants. He arrived in Moab when Fiesta Mexicana opened here in March of 2004. His explanation of why Rangel chose to open his tenth restaurant here is simple and compelling, “We wanted to open this unique, authentic restaurant in a unique place, which Moab is with its arches and red rocks.”

Oscar Ochoa, the corporate chef, is originally from Guadelajara, Mexico. Although he has spent the last ten years in the States, he speaks little English and has kept very close to his Mexican roots. He asserts that the food he prepares for Fiesta Mexicana is truly authentic and his background would indicate as much. He acquired his culinary talents as much from classes as from watching his mother and grandmother, whose recipes he uses.

The menu seems never-ending in its options of seafood dishes, chicken entrees, enchiladas, burritos and salads. There is also a plentiful selection on the kid’s menu and many vegetarian options and side orders. The portions are as plentiful as the choices.

Fiesta Mexicana offers several house specialties, such as Mojarra Rellena (a whole Tilapia fish filled with octopus and shrimp) and Tacos de Pescado (two fish tacos, marinated and sautéed in butter, Pico de Gallo and spices).

For the month of December, Chef Ochoa has planned some particularly tantalizing specialties, particularly for seafood lovers. He plans on offering Camarones Burrachos, a savory dish of shrimp sautéed in brandy and red Burgandy (justifying the name of “Drunk Shrimp”) and a soup called Siete Mares, which consists of octopus, shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams and fresh crab legs. Ochoa is making sure that the holiday season is no time to miss an opportunity of dining at Fiesta Mexicana.

Although Cervantes sounds like he’s quoting a familiar pop song when he describes the restaurant as a “shiny, happy place,” he hits the nail on the head. Fiesta Mexicana succeeds in creating a festive atmosphere fit to celebrate any occasion, evidenced by the bulletin board of birthday photos located in its entrance.
The staff at Fiesta Mexicana makes birthdays fun and special by giving the celebrant flan for desert (watch out for whip cream on your nose - it’s part of the photo op) and singing “Happy Birthday” in English and “Las Mananitas” in Spanish.

Of course, you don’t have to wait ‘til your birthday to celebrate Latin-style. Eating at Fiesta Mexicana is a festive occasion every day, a fiesta in every forkful.

Fiesta Mexicana is located at 202 South Main and can be phoned at (435) 259-4366 or faxed at (435) 259-4365. They are open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., for lunch and dinner. To-go orders are available. Entrees range in price from $6.25 (Tostada) to $13.45 (Seafood Fajita). Fiesta Mexicana will be open all winter, except for December 25. Feliz Navidad!

Recipe of the Month

Fiesta Mexicana

Mole Poblano
(a recipe handed down to Chef Ochoa
from his abuelita, or grandmother)

1 pat of butter
1 square chocolate
(preferably the brand “Chocolate Abuelita”)
3 tsp. Chiles Huajillo
(that have been rehydrated with a bay leaf)
1 tsp. Paprika
10 crushed Animal Crackers
(I was assured that the “elephantes” work the best)
3 tsp. Sugar
1 tsp. Peanut butter
1 tsp. Sesame seed paste (like Tahini)

Blend the chocolate, chiles, paprika and animal crackers to form a mole paste. Heat a pat of butter in a frying pan. Add sugar and sautee for about 5 minutes, until sugar melts. Add the peanut butter, sesame seed paste and mole. Sautee until well blended together. Pour Mole Poblano over chicken or chicken enchiladas and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.


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