La Fonda del Bosque (Spanish for “the shade of the forest”) is tucked into an interior corner of the National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 Fourth Street SW), with a sunny patio and large glass doors that light the place up inside. It’s gorgeous inside, too: With heavy, carved wooden chairs and pristine blue and white linens, it has the appearance of an upscale Mexican inn. Tiny potted orchids on each table add to the formal vibe. “I bet a lot of people come here for business lunches,” said my dining companion—and I suspect she’s right. The full bar that’s open for lunch hours would certainly lend to that conclusion. The waitstaff at La Fonda del Bosque is as professional and knowledgeable as you’d expect from the setting. There’s always a long list of specials—they have a special crêpe, taco and soup that changes each day—and both times I visited, my waiter was prompt in explaining them all to me. The profound silence was the only thing that subtracted from the ambiance: It was I-could-hear-a-pin-drop quiet in there, which doesn’t make for easy mealtime conversation. A little bit of music would make it more comfortable, and I’m sure it wouldn’t detract from the classy feel of the joint.Although La Fonda certainly has quite a few New Mexican dishes, it doesn’t strike me that it’s trying to be a strictly New Mexican restaurant. They have a variety of fresh salads and sandwiches that keep it on the lighter side of, say, a Cecilia’s or a Mary and Tito’s. Their website suggests “Latin fusion” as a classification, which I think fits quite well.On my first visit, I ordered the wild mushroom chile relleno ($13), one of the standard entrées. The way this dish is prepared is not so standard, though: The beer-battered chile is stuffed with asadero and goat cheese along with flavorful wild mushrooms cooked with sage, and the batter is perfectly thick and soft—almost like tempura. Served sans chile or cheese on top, this relatively pared down version of the New Mexican classic is pleasantly light, and the mushrooms add a great savory note to this satisfying vegetarian dish. The side of corn slaw was undoubtedly fresh and wonderfully flavored with cilantro and lime. This came with a small green salad as well, topped with an herb-infused vinaigrette. It’s a generous lunch portion for one person, and I was thankful to have a cup of coffee ($2.50) and time to digest afterwards. On my second visit to La Fonda, I brought a friend along and we had that proper business lunch by starting with a well margarita ($8) each. They were pretty standard on-the-rocks margs made with what tasted like a mix—but, that said, we were informed that the bartender wasn’t in that day, so perhaps the drinks on a typical day have a little more going on.The guacamole and trio of salsas ($8) was a perfect start to the meal—in fact, one of those “man, I really ought to stop eating these chips and save my appetite for the entrée” situations. The chips came out piping hot from the fryer, and the salsas—one chipotle, one pico de gallo, and one pico de gallo with mango, along with the guacamole—were fresh and tangy without being too spicy. The green chile chicken soup ($6 for a cup, $7 for a bowl) came next. It had just the right amount of spiciness, offset by a creamy base and slow-stewed chicken. It’s more than hearty enough to be an entrée if you order the bowl, especially with the healthy portion of buttery sage bread that comes with it. This would be a great way to warm up and fill up on a chilly day.I ordered the crêpe of the day ($12)—filled with spinach and mushrooms and covered in a white wine cream sauce. Though the crêpe was cooked perfectly, the cream sauce was so rich and so much that the dish was, overall, pretty one-note. (That one note being cream.) The addition of a side salad lightened it up some, but it was still much too heavy to finish in one sitting. My companion had the chorizo burger ($11), a combination of pork chorizo and lean ground beef on a brioche bun. The lean beef is a blessing, as the chorizo would be a little too messy on its own. The chipotle mayo added a little bit of spice to the mix, and the brioche bun was a perfect vehicle for the somewhat greasy burger. A side of either salad, fries or potato chips (let’s be real, we got the fries) completes this hearty, nap-inducing lunch.The weird part? La Fonda del Bosque is, at the time of this writing, only serving from 11:30am to 2pm, Tuesday through Saturday. Although I know the rules are a little different because it’s attached to the NHCC, this still seems like a strange oversight on the part of the owners, who really ought to be offering dinner service as well. The same menu could be served at dinner, and the formal setting of the place might make more sense in the evening. It would be a great date night dinner, or somewhere to take your visiting family to impress them with the quality and breadth of New Mexican food. For the meantime, though, La Fonda del Bosque will certainly be added to my rotation of lunch spots. To say that I remember that mushroom-stuffed chile relleno fondly is an understatement: I’ll be recommending it to everyone I send there. And I suspect I’ll be sending quite a few people there.
La Fonda del Bosque1701 Fourth Street SW 800-7166Hours: Tues-Sat 11:30am-2pmAlibi Recommends: Wild mushroom chile relleno, chorizo burgerVibe: Business lunch classy