Fiesta Puts a Twist on Usual Latin Menu
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I'd been hearing good things about Fiesta Grill (11628 Reisterstown Road [Cherry Valley Shopping Center], Reisterstown,  526-5580), so it is with great expectation that C.C. and I bound from the car, leap over big rain puddles, and dive out of the cold and dreary night into the little storefront. There's not much room in here for a lot of personality, but the owners have done their best, covering the walls with art--landscapes, religious themes, New Age fantasies, all painted on old 78-rpm records. It's eye-catching all right.
The next thing that catches our eye is the specials board--specifically, the first item listed, the soup of the day: cream of plum, with a touch of Madeira wine and roasted cabbage. Mercy. We've had fruit soups before, but plum and cabbage? My taste buds are intrigued.
"What's the soup like?" a cautious C.C. asks Romeo Monterroso, who owns and runs Fiesta Grill with son/chef Christian.
"It's different, you know," he says. We strain forward, listening. "The taste of the plum tomato is very different when you cook with it."
Ah. Cream of plum tomato.
That's pretty much the way it goes at Fiesta Grill. If you're open to getting something a little different than what you usually expect, you'll have a relaxing and pleasurable dining experience.
Soups are a case in point. That cream of plum tomato ($2.95 for a cup) is terrific. A touch of cream and a splash of wine play up the sweetness of the fruit. (Tomatoes are fruit, right?) The color is a beautiful saffron, and slices of roasted cabbage add crunch. It's a tad salty, but not enough to dull our enjoyment. My soup selection, black bean ($2.50 for a cup), is not the thick purée I'm used to but a light, beef-flavored stock with whole beans, onions, and a little bacon. Both soups are originals and showcase the raw talent in the kitchen.
C.C., who likes sweet milk and yogurt drinks, decides to try horchata ($1.25), a classic Latin American cooler. She takes a taste, then announces that it's like drinking rice pudding through a straw. She's right: sweet, sweet, sweet. A swallow is all I can tolerate, but she's enchanted.
Our server, who resembles a very young Christopher Reeve, removes our soup cups and deposits our entrées. C.C. has opted for the daily special again, whole red snapper pan-seared with a white zinfandel and cilantro buerre blanc sauce, accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes ($12.95). Wow. A crispy whole fish is draped over thin-sliced, garlicky potatoes (not mashed at all) and garnished with broccoli florets, yellow rice, and green onion. The flavors are harmonious, the fish sweet and mild, the broccoli crisp, the garlic in the potatoes nicely downplayed. Only the rice, soupy and soft, leaves us cold.
The rice problem also tarnishes my Paella Fiesta Grill ($13.95), which is too soggy. Now, there are probably as many styles of paella as there are towns in Spain. My preference is fluffy rice packed with chorizo, seafood, and tender chicken chunks. Everything kind of steams together toward the end of the cooking process, in the big sloping pan called a paellera, and when the liquid is absorbed by the rice and the clams and mussels open--picture-perfect paella. Fiesta Grill's version doesn't come together. No chorizo, for one thing. The chicken is too dry, and the shrimp are overcooked. The whole dish sinks where it should float.
The meal is nearly finished when I think to order tostones ($2.95), a kind of Latin American snack made with plantains, which are sliced into rounds, smashed, pan-fried, salted, and served golden brown. They're not sweet, though. You eat them like potato chips. While these are very good, the plantains could have been riper.
For dessert we try the homemade pavé ($2.50), a layered confection with a base of ladyfingers and condensed milk, topped with kiwi and pineapple, soaked in a berry-flavored sauce, and covered with whipped cream. Heavenly and, happily, not too large--a few bites is all you'll be able to manage after a meal at Fiesta Grill.
For a strip-mall joint, the Grill offers a pretty extensive menu. You can sample shrimp seviche or a salad made with hearts of palm. I'd like to try the chicken poro, with its sauce of fried potatoes, peas, and fresh tomatoes, or the shrimp carioca, in a creole sauce made with coconut milk. Flavors go from mild to spicy. Portions are big, prices are right, and the cooking is more hit than miss. And who knows? Maybe one day they'll be serving that cream of plum soup.