There are three things one should know about Ernesto’s.
• The menu is only a security blanket. While there are set meals and appetizers, you can request any combination that strikes your fancy.
• The eponymous chef and owner will greet and guide you through his menu, a French Mexican fusion. He is a gracious host who borders on too-attentive, but he is extremely helpful when it comes to pairing sauces with entrées.
• You will definitely get your stick of butter for the day.
Ernesto’s menu focuses on seafood and steaks, with a few enchiladas thrown in, and a special section of Mexican appetizers. The chef offers eight different sauces (all containing butter — yes!), and these are his pride and joy. In some of them, you can see the Mexican and French influences working together — the jicama, lime, and cilantro butter sauce, for example — while others lean heavily toward France.
The shrimp and crab stuffed crêpe appetizer — a tempting example of this New-Old World fusion at work — is served in a cheesy garlic-butter sauce laced with pieces of tomato and onion. It wasn’t soggy, nor did the sauce muddle the flavors of the shrimp and crab. It’s a buttery, seafood heaven.
The chilled avocado soup is not to be missed, either. Topped with freshly toasted croutons and chopped hard-boiled egg, the creamy pale-green soup is packed with light avocado flavor and hints of garlic. This could be one reason Ernesto’s has kept a steady legion of regulars for 30 years.
When my red snapper stuffed with crab covered in the jicama, lime, and cilantro sauce arrived, the presentation was nice, but not as elaborate, eye-catching, or appealing as the price suggested. But the fish was flaky and lightly crusted on the outside from a quick sear. I wanted a glass to drink my sauce straight; thank goodness the meal comes with a loaf of French bread to sop up the overflow.
THE SKINNY The inventive
French-Mex sauces and fresh
fish dishes outshine their
surroundings at this
neighborhood strip-mall staple.
DON'T MISS the avocado soup
and the cinnamon ice cream
Ernesto’s serves a broiled tomato and white rice with each entrée. My rice was flavorless and damp, and the extra sauce from the fish only partially concealed the excess water it retained. The broiled tomato was simple, but flavorful — its main function is to highlight the flavors in the sauce.
We finished our meal with house-made cinnamon ice cream topped with a light caramel sauce that pooled around the base of the scoop. The slight presence of ice crystals and the unprocessed
consistency proved that it was truly hand-made. Other dessert options included a light strawberry-chocolate cake and a crêpe covered in a pecan-praline sauce.
Ernesto’s dishes, particularly the dessert, made me want to keep eating, even at the risk of rolling uncomfortably out of the door. The slightly kitschy candle-lit, burgundy-walled dining room added to the experience — although the ambience and the prices are better suited to a restaurant not tucked in a strip mall.