Fuegos, a Latin American-inspired restaurant that opened on Madison’s near-east side in May, brings together steaks, tapas and vegan dishes in a single kitchen.
It’s the concept of executive chef Oscar Villarreal, who recently had two restaurants in Janesville (Hy-Vee Market Grill and Fusion 5) and his daughter, who owns the new restaurant on Williamson Street with partner Jordan Wegner.
Fuegos opened in a remodeled building and offers several dining areas that are separated by half-walls, providing a sense of intimacy in an otherwise large space. The restaurant is easy to find thanks to a bold neon sign outside.
Fuegos’ menu is almost as expansive as the restaurant itself. Actually, there are several menus: separate dinner, lunch and brunch menus for vegans; a regular menu for lunch, brunch and dinner, and also a children’s menu.
The dinner menu offers about a dozen tapas, several soups and salads, eight big meat entrees and a dozen more that include seafood or a combination of meat and seafood.
The restaurant has gotten mixed reviews so far, and it makes a point of stressing its use of local ingredients. Our meal last week was mostly positive, with a few missteps.
One of those came in the form of a $12 tapas plate: albondigas de Borrego (lamb meatballs with pumpkin seeds mole and walnut cream). The latter two-thirds of the recipe added some fine flavor, but the meatballs were disappointingly overcooked and tough.
Another tapas plate was better, but not stellar. Cincos de venera ($12) is a plate of five scallops, each atop an organic corn chip with guacamole. Again, the supporting elements were fine as the guacamole featured ample chunks of avocado and the chips were nicely seasoned. But the scallops themselves came off as a bit bland.
We had better results with a tomato salad ($9), which featured locally grown tomatoes with fresh micro greens and Mexican farmers cheese. The plate was served as a large portion, enhanced with a fragrant and pleasantly bitter rioja vinaigrette and cilantro oil.
The main courses helped overcome any misgivings we had about the tapas.
A salmon filet ($20) came with a pink interior and crispy crust, flavored nicely with a chili rub, on a plate with wilted greens and Mexican street corn. My companion referred to it as “sashimi-grade salmon” and praised its preparation.
Another winner is the kitchen’s pozole rojo ($20), a flavorful Mexican soup with white hominy and tender chunks of pork in a spicy broth accented with lime, chilis and oregano. The order comes in a large bowl with grilled bread crusts. This is a meal I would gladly return for repeatedly.
When it came time for dessert, our server—who was helpful, courteous and professional—brought a tray with five examples to illustrate our choices. The dos chocolate cake ($5) deliciously features two round layers—one chocolate and one white chocolate—with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. A flan ($5) had caramel flavor and came with fresh berries.
Fuegos offers a comfortable, attractive setting, with a large bar and wood accents. With a small flower arrangement at each table, the place generally exudes a romantic feel.
Prices are on the high side, and not everything here hits the mark, but Fuegos has good things for vegans and carnivores alike.
Bill Livick is a freelance writer who writes entertainment stories and Madison- area restaurant reviews for The Gazette.