Allen Pierleoni

Counter Culture: Two for the road – one Mexican, one Chinese

Carnitas at La Fiesta Taqueria in Folsom
Carnitas at La Fiesta Taqueria in Folsom

We were on the way to La Fiesta Taqueria in Folsom as lunch pal Fred Teichert was describing the process for making his family-famous pulled pork. He’s devoted himself to the daylong project every Fourth of July since 1999, from a recipe he found in Cook’s Illustrated magazine.

“I tried not serving it one year, and my kids almost lynched me,” he recalled with a laugh.

He went on to relate how he spatchcocked (removed the backbone) and flattened out a 24-pound turkey last Thanksgiving, finally resorting to bolt cutters to get the job done before cooking it on his Weber grill.

Fred’s surname is most often associated with Teichert Construction Co. (founded in 1887), but for more than a quarter-century he has run the Teichert Foundation. It helped establish the Boys and Girls Clubs in Sacramento, and awards grants to arts groups big and small as part of its “commitment to build and preserve a healthy and prosperous region.”

“The arts are a quality-of-life issue,” Fred said. “The Boys and Girls Clubs and my (own) kids are my two biggest contributions to the planet.”

At the taqueria, we sampled four dishes that impressed us with their freshness and quality. Also making an impression was the decibel level in the well-decorated room, which turned table talk into a shouting match.

We visited the self-serve tortilla-chip counter and the salsa bar (what’s with that big bucket of giant carrots on ice?) and returned to the table just as the carnitas platter was delivered. Seldom have we savored roasted, shredded pork so flavorful and expertly seasoned (we’ve never tasted Fred’s), the ideal companion for creamy whole pinto beans (tastier than the whole black beans; $12). Rice and flour tortillas were standard issue.

As we yelled our thoughts about books (Fred makes regular “sorties” to Beers used-books store) and the arts scene (he and his wife, Nancy, had seen the “disturbing” “The Realistic Joneses” at the B Street Theatre the night before), more heaped plates arrived.

Fragrant camarones al mojo de ajo were plump prawns covered in mounds of cooked minced garlic ($12.45). The cheese-stuffed poblano pepper in the chili relleno was firm and had pleasantly mild heat, but the fried egg batter encasing it quickly turned soggy ($4.45). A mild tomato-based sauce pooled over and around it.

Fred suggested the vegetarian burrito, which was hefty, moist and delicious.

Later, I had questions: Had the prawns been marinated in the citrus-based sauce known as mojo, as its name indicated? What was in the sauce poured over the chili relleno? The full list of ingredients in the veggie burrito? Was the pork shoulder cooked in lard, the traditional method? How long has the taqueria been around? Days and hours of service? And about that huge wall mural …

Alas, no one in authority was interested in talking, including the owner – or owners? – so the questions go answered. Is there an emoji for that? Let’s just say Fred is an entertaining lunch pal who knows food, and we enjoyed the meal.

La Fiesta Taqueria, 1008 E. Bidwell St., Folsom, 916-984-3030

Are we in Macau yet?

“We have to go to Macau for the duck,” enthused a prospective lunch pal, whose travels have taken him all over Asia. He was referring to the Macau Cafe, near the Sacramento Zoo, not the city 38 miles from Hong Kong, though we agreed we’d rather have lunch in China, just for the adventure.

After a few broken dates on both sides, we drove to the strip mall one cloudy day. The doors were locked, the room was dark.

“They’re never closed on Thursdays,” said the chagrined lunch pal.

“They must be vacationing in Macau or Hong Kong,” I suggested.

Recently we tried again, after phoning to make sure it was open and duck was still on the menu. Yes and yes.

The place was slammed, the decibel level high, the activity frantic. The cumbersome menus showed their age (like the room itself), but their contents were an education in ethnic dining.

“They serve a fusion of Chinese, Malaysian and Portuguese dishes,” the lunch pal said. Portuguese? Oh, right, Portugal pretty much ran Macau for centuries, until sovereignty was returned to China in 1999.

We lost count of the number of menu items after 200, speculating about what the kitchen must be like during peak hours. We passed up the dishes involving frog, ox tongue and “preserved meats,” but spotted several that will bring us back – sautéed lamb brisket, whole flounder, steamed lobster on garlic noodles.

As for the crisp-skin roast duck, it was tender, juicy and not overly fatty, with a wisp of five-spice seasoning (a bargain at $8). As a side we went with Thai-style fried vermicelli spiked with egg, chicken and greens, one of the best dishes I have ever eaten in any Asian restaurant ($9). To drink, a house-made “grapefruit-honey” beverage and a mango milkshake, both excellent.

Macau Cafe, 4406 Del Rio Road, straddling Land Park and South Land Park in Sacramento; 916-457-8818.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe