Fusion Hypotenuse 

 
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From front: Catfish prepared in a tropical mango sauce mixed with coconut slivers and a tomato basil sauce with a hint of tequila; roasted turkey sandwich on Focaccia bread with lettuce, tomato, cheese, cilantro, onion and mustard. Though the Triangle Cafe does not serve wine at this time, they encourage customers to bring thier own. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Triangle Cafe serves up Euro-Mex, Mom-and-Pop style

This is one of those "don't-y'all-go-at-once" reviews. It's just too small. Slipped into a 12-foot wide sliver of a strip-center storefront, The Triangle Cafe is tiny. It's also run entirely by one married couple, making it the quintessential mom-and-pop operation (she's up front, he's in the open kitchen) - except "Mom" and "Pop" aren't your typical café-culture couple at all.

Both are Mexico City natives, and "Pop," at least, is from a very prominent family. He trained at the Cordon Bleu in Paris and at hospitality school in Switzerland. This couple presumably could live anywhere, but they have selected San Antonio because they, like many Mexican national expats, feel comfortable here. They feel especially comfortable in the "village" atmosphere of Leon Valley, the restaurant's location. I never would have found this place if not for a reader tip, so a certain local, and a loyal customer base is clearly working for them after only about six months. Turns out there's a reason for that loyalty.

I should mention up front that "Triangle" is not an arbitrary name and that it has nothing to do with spatial configuration or decorative motifs. The decor, in fact, consists of sponge-painted coral walls the couple decorated themselves, along with whimsical murals created by the chef. "Triangle" refers instead to the three cultures of Mexico, Europe, and America. Pop has baptized his menu Euro-Mex, recognizing Mexico as home of one of the world's first fusion cuisines. Experience and observation suggest that the most "Mex" part of the equation occurs at breakfast, where dishes such as Ranchero Eggs, Triangle Eggs ("similar to migas"), and Barbacoa with Eggs ("of the Triangle in unique 'culebra' sauce") appear. The daytime appetizer section also features tacos and a couple of quesadillas.

The American corner of the triangle is characterized by burgers and sandwiches (salmon and house-baked turkey are just a couple of the non-beef options), all served on focaccia. It's not until evening (or afternoon, if you prefer - The Triangle is only open until 7:30 p.m., and only Wednesday through Saturday), that any Euro-Mex fusion takes place, and even here it's sometimes subtle to the point of evanescence - not necessarily a detriment.

The Triangle Cafe

6733 Bandera,
Leon Valley
509-3262
8am-5pm Mon & Tue
8am-7:30pm Wed-Sat
11am-5pm Sun
Price range: $3.99-9.99
Major credit cards
Handicapped accessible
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Take the Friday soup special, for example. We happened on a red bell pepper rendition, and rather than being thick, lusty, and creamy, it was light (though with a touch of butter), delicate, and milky. Tiny shreds of bell pepper provided visual clues, and a hint of onion also perfumed the stock. Functioning for us as an appetizer, the soup gently teased the taste buds into action. Toasted (fried, really) cheese, not listed on the menu, was also a paragon of politesse. Maybe too polite; the cheese was said to be smoked, but we detected none of it, and we had to try hard to pry the tastes out of the thinned, tomato-based sauce that had been filmed over the toasted round. The sauce intrigued, however; if the teased taste buds didn't deceive, it appears in various forms in several other dishes.

Tomato, perhaps even roasted, and basil were the major flavor components of the dipping sauce served with Triangle's "Calamary" appetizer. Lightly breaded in panko, or an equivalent dried-bread crumb mixture with herbs, the calamari were tender, the coating crisp, and the sauce good but unremarkable. Euro-Mex makes no appearance in this dish - even though it's a praiseworthy take on what has become a very common appetizer.

The breaded chicken breast, stuffed with mozzarella and served in a sauce of feta, sunflower seed, and poblano, with a whiff of white wine, holds out more hope for the fusion fanatic. The true aficionado will be disappointed by a sauce that seems to lack all but the most minuscule traces of poblano, but the reflective eater will find much to admire - starting with a very handsome presentation in which the golden, breaded breast has been split apart to reveal the melting mozzarella within, placed around a mound of rice, and decorated with tiny slivers of red bell pepper, slices of black olive, and shockingly green florets of steamed broccoli. Appearance alone suggests that, on fancier china in a flossier setting, the dish could be peddled for twice its price of $7.49. And despite my suspicion that the audience would tolerate un poco más poblano, the tastes don't belie the look; this is a dish done with a sure hand and sophisticated intent.

 
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But if the poblano sauce could be termed almost timid, the wild cranberry and chipotle sauce that surrounds "Pop's" take on a surf 'n' turf is anything but reticent. There's a perfect balance here, and the smoky heat is just enough to play with both the heft of a perfectly prepared New York strip, and the delicacy of impeccably panko-breaded shrimp. As "Pop" proves, chipotle and cranberry make for felicitous bedfellows in their own right, and serving them with steak would seem a slam-dunk, but they also work surprisingly well with shrimp that almost melt in the mouth. (Shrimp fryers everywhere take note: This is the way it should be done.) The accompanying french fries, dusted with finely ground black pepper, aren't exceptional, but they serve the valuable function of sopping up any remaining sauce - just my kind of fusion.

Even more exotic is the catch of the day - usually catfish - prepared in dual sauces: mango with flaked coconut and tomato (that master sauce again), with a touch of tequila. I wouldn't have thought this would work, either, but it does. The plate in general is less disciplined than the previous two, but its relative exuberance is altogether welcome, both visually and, to use a two-bit word, gustatorially. The golden mango sauce marries most directly with the sautéed catfish in this case, and it's up to you to swirl in traces of the surrounding tomato. A molded mound of white rice, decorated with a single bay leaf straight from the tomato sauce, anchors the whole composition.

Working the long hours this devoted and disarming couple do, it's not surprising they don't make their own desserts; a purchased cheese cake (in three flavors) is the only offering. But it's presented with the same flair as all the dishes, and if you like your cheesecake dense and deep, as I do, you won't begrudge them this one deviation. Frankly, I don't see how they do it as it is, and my hat's off to them for both their dedication and their execution. Let's also hope that a little more exposure - emphasis on little, mind you - will allow "Mom" and "Pop" to throw some culinary caution to the wind. Maybe they could even add a wine list. Eventually - let's not rush. So, if your last name begins with A, B, or C, you can go this week; D, E, and F next week, and so on. Nobody will be happy if the world beats a path to Bandera Road all at once. •


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