SANTA MONICA - If Tony Packo is Toledo's favorite son in the restaurant world, then Susan Feniger is Toledo's favorite daughter.
Thus said, I made it a point to stop at Border Grill last week as we were tooling down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to San Diego. After all, I was too close not to stop at the restaurant made famous by co-owners and chefs Ms. Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken.
Those who watched the duo known as "Two Hot Tamales" on Food Network Television will be glad to know that another series is planned for public television, to be taped late summer. The new show will be called Border Girls, according to Carollynn Bartosh, director of marketing and public relations.
Authors of five cookbooks, the partners opened Ciudad (pronounced See-U-Dad) in Los Angeles in 1998, and Border Grill at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas last June.
The classically trained culinary grads met in 1978 at Le Perroquet, one of Chicago's best French restaurants. In 1981, they opened City Cafe on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, which became the Border Grill before finally moving in 1990 to its current home on Fourth Street, just a few blocks from the Santa Monica Pier.
We made reservations for an early dinner, walked from our hotel to the restaurant, and happily were shown to a cozy seat by the window. Tortilla chips are served with three salsas: fresh tomato, chipotle, and green tomatillo, which was my favorite.
Among the restaurant's signature dishes is ceviche, the Latin-American appetizer of raw fish marinated in lime or lemon juice. Three choices included shrimp, smoked mussel, and snapper. The latter was the only one that was raw. I chose the steamed shrimp ceviche, which was heaped in a martini glass, in a lime and clam juice mixture.
Menu selections include plantain empanadas, grilled skirt steak, and sauteed rock shrimp. The entree, Mulitas de Hongos, is layers of portobello mushrooms, pickled onion, guacamole, red pepper, swiss chard, and a chipotle glaze. It was delicious. Equally tasty were the grilled pork chops with acorn squash filled with chipotle lentils and garnished with spicy cinnamon apple-pears.
Desserts include Oaxacan Mocha Cake and Key Lime Pie. That night, the special was Guava Cheese Tart.
Border Grills in Los Angeles and Vegas present authentic foods and flavors of Mexico. Ciudad, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, presents foods and flavors of the Latin world from Havana to Rio and Buenos Aires, and across the Atlantic to Lisbon and Barcelona.
So how did a Northwest Ohioan become an expert on authentic Mexican cooking? "My mom is a great cook," said Ms. Feniger from her car phone as she was driving to the Los Angeles Convention Center last Tuesday. "I got very inspired by her. I cooked in French restaurants and worked with Hispanic guys - I was influenced by their cooking."
In fact, she was on her way to speak at a media event sponsored by the Democratic National Committee, which will hold the Democratic National Convention in August in Los Angeles. "We're talking about why we opened a restaurant and why we are excited about downtown L.A. We think it will be the next area to boom."
Our waiter said that many Toledoans stop at the Santa Monica restaurant. Little wonder, for Ms. Feniger and Ms. Milliken have given a new meaning to a run for the Border. Border Grill, that is.
Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.