Special to the Valley News
The 28th Avocado Festival is celebrating everything “avo” and among the celebrants will be two Fallbrook Mexican restaurants, La Caseta and El Jardín, who will again be welcoming diners to their establishments and offering avocado-based dishes.
A wonderful thing happens when an avocado is peeled and the green golden fruit inside is exposed. There are so many possibilities, including biting into the fruit then and there. But, the most traditional avocado dish is guacamole. Another avo dish, which has been gaining popularity in the last few years, is the fried avocado.
Both restaurants serve guacamole as well as fried avocados – so on festival day, if you are looking for a place to sit down and enjoy some avocado – look no farther than La Caseta or El Jardín.
Jon Large of El Jardín tells us that one of the flavor secrets to their “Deep Fried Avocado with Sweet Jalapeño Dipping Sauce” is to use locally grown avocados. The avo is then cut into fourths and battered with a special tempura beer batter with “about eight different seasonings.”
“The batter is very gently worked over the avocados, then rolled in panko,” he said.
The panko crumbs lend a crispy, but not too thick, texture. The avo sections are then deep fried, which slightly changes the consistency of the fruit.
“It’s now warm and soft on the inside with a crispy crunch on the outside,” he explained, “The key to this dish is the jalapeño dipping sauce – there is a lot that goes into it – honey, fresh jalapeño and serrano chilies.” (They add other ingredients, but aren’t telling what they are.)
I agree with Jon that the contrast between the sweet and hot provides a zesty kick of flavor. Squeeze some lime on the avo, then dip in the dipping sauce and you will get a flavor pop. The avo is soft on the inside, but not mushy. An added surprise is the hint of smoky flavor in the dipping sauce. The flavor of the dipping sauce is more evident because it clings to the panko.
El Jardín’s award-winning “Guacamole” is made with locally grown avocados. It’s blended just right – fairly smooth with small chunks of avo to savor. I detected a slight taste of onion and tomato, but the flavor that surfaces is of slightly spicy avocado.
Jon believes if fresh, high-quality avocados are used, then the recipe should be simple. The fresh fruit speaks for itself. This time of year Fuerte avos are available, which are very smooth. He also uses Hass avos during other seasons. El Jardín’s guacamole is made in very small batches throughout the day, is never kept overnight, so it is always fresh.
Their guac recipe is simple, but Jon defends it, “If you source fresh, you get the good flavors. You can use less ingredients and get bold, unique flavors.”
In response to requests, Jon has been experimenting with a spicier, hotter guacamole made with searing serrano chilies and dark chili powder. This new guac is in the tweaking process now and will debut in summer. But, if you are lucky, you might be able to talk Jon into making you a sample batch anyway!
El Jardín Mexican Restaurant is located at 1581 South Mission Road in Fallbrook. The telephone number is: (760) 728-4556 or visit http://www.eljardinfallbrook.com.
“Golden Fried Avocado Wedges,” made with Fallbrook avocados, are smooth, soft, and coated with a light batter. A squeeze of lemon and a bath in La Caseta’s buttermilk-based, house-made ranch is all that is needed for a zesty burst of flavor.
La Caseta’s avo wedges have been delighting diners for a long time – about five years. Delos Eyer, proprietor, said that the restaurant will be ready for the Avocado Festival with extra avo wedges on hand.
“It is our biggest day of the year,” he noted, “and it’s our number one selling appetizer – we will sell well over 100 of them on Avocado Festival day,” he said.
Delos prepares for the big rush by purchasing a half-pallet of avocados, which is approximately 25 cases.
“We use local, primarily Hass avocados,” he said, “and prefer the large avos.” To make the wedges, they take fresh avo slices and dip them in a “secret house batter.” The battered avo is then fried in 100 percent vegetable oil.
On my first taste, I dipped the avo wedges in ranch dressing without squeezing the lemon on top. It was zesty and the texture was soft – both the interior and exterior. However, I soon realized that the lemon slices aren’t sitting on the plate to make it look pretty – no – they serve a purpose. The lemon adds an entirely new level of taste. Squeeze lemon over an avo wedge, then dip it in the ranch dressing and you will see. It intensifies the flavor.
Delos explained, “The acidity and brightness of the lemon cuts through the richness of the avocado, so I always encourage people to squirt lemon on it, then dip it in the ranch dressing.”
La Caseta’s “Guacamole Dip” is a three-time winner in the Avocado Festival’s Guacamole Contest and it’s not difficult to understand why. It’s hand-blended in a process that has a delicate balance because, to create the distinct flavor, the avocado mix cannot get too smooth. House seasoning, diced tomatoes, onions, cilantro and a punch of pico de gallo are blended with the ripe avocado. The result is a guac that’s creamy and buttery with a subtle nutty tone. The pico de gallo lends a bit of zip.
“We will sell a huge amount of guac during the festival,” Delos related. But, he will be ready – with 25 cases of avocados!
La Caseta Mexican Restaurant is located at 111 N. Vine in Fallbrook. Call them at (760) 728-9737, or visit lacasetafinemexicanfood.com.