Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chicken a la king

Travels with Frenchie

Posted on Wed, Nov 25, 2009 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge Jesse Mata, Fabien Jacob, and Carlos Montoya at Pollo Regio.
  • Jesse Mata, Fabien Jacob, and Carlos Montoya at Pollo Regio.

Release Date: 2009-11-25

It’s the end of the month and therefore another installment of Travels with Frenchie, the monthly food series in which a trio of culturally mismatched San Antonians explores the city in search of dining adventure. As always, the culinary vice squad consisted of: Frenchie (aka Fabien Jacob, sommelier for Andrew Weissman’s growing family of restaurants), Carlos the Bike Mechanic (aka Carlos Montoya, a man who lives off of beef and ice cream), and me (a recovering vegan). We’re always trying to find something new, and for San Antonio this often means discovering what is hidden in plain sight. Based on a strong recommendation from artist Beto Gonzales and a team of Kell-
Muñoz architects, we tried Pollo Regio, a fast-food place that offers chicken al carbon in the Mexican street style. As our special guest this month, Frenchie brought along Jesse Mata, a comedy writer for the popular Fiesta event Cornyation.

Though Pollo Regio is technically a chain, its Fredericksburg Road location has all the charming yet sloppy personality of a family-owned establishment. What other chain moves into an ex-Thai restaurant and it still looks like a Thai restaurant from the outside?

The initial lure of Pollo Regio was that if you buy a whole chicken, they will give you an additional half chicken for free — for $11! Some extensive googling turned up cyber tales of a magical verde sauce as well as a discussion of how the chicken is cooked “Sinaloa style,” which means over coals and onions with a quick orange-juice marinade and an achiote rub.

Pollo Regio’s menu does offer a few unlikely items, such as a volcano of a baked potato called the Papa Regio, which comes with small chunks of carne al carbon piled on top. The potatos are huge, as if they were invented in a lab somewhere by Monsanto.  The al carbon, like the al pastor tacos we also tried, were dry and overcooked. The Papa Regio was still a great deal at $4.99, and was much better than the average Spanish rice and charro beans.

I was happy to see a few agua-fresca options. Frenchie enjoyed the tamarindo while I tried a non-alcoholic Mexican sangria soda. I attempted to trick Frenchie into using his sommelier skills to critique my sangria soda, hoping he would take me seriously when I described its “leathery undertones,” but he wisely avoided my bait.

And then we tried the chicken, which is unbelievably good.  The only thing better is the incredible verde sauce made from avocado and jalapeños. Together, they make a great combination. We rolled up our sleeves and began tearing away at limbs and wings. Luckily, we ordered extra verde sauce.

Pollo Regio avoids the potential grilling pitfall of unevenly cooking either the white or dark part of the chicken. Typically I stick to the dark meat and avoid the often bland chicken breast, but Pollo Regio magically finds a way to keep the flavor from vanishing into the air. The spice rub has an enticing flavor with minimal heat. The heat comes from the verde sauce that both burns with the jalapeños and soothes with the avocado. (Vegetarians, I would highly suggest ordering a half-pint of the verde sauce, or whatever you can get from them. The next day I succumbed to my vegan tendencies and put the leftover sauce over some lightly braised kale with brown rice and tempeh and it was delicious in an entirely different context.)

The chicken brought a chorus of approval from everyone involved, including Jesse, who favorably compared it to his uncle’s barbecue. Pollo Regio offers a variety of Godzilla-sized combos for catering, but for the money, the chicken-and-a-half special is the way to go.

Final Thoughts

Frenchie: I really liked the chicken and agua fresca. A great bargain.

Carlos: The chicken had a nice, mild citrus flavor on the outside. Way better than Pollo Loco, which actually isn’t that bad.

Jesse: After the cavalcade of food, the chicken stood out best.

Mark: I went back later to the drive-thru to buy some verde sauce, but was unexpectedly denied. I’m not used to restaurants playing hard to get, but I guess it’s working. •

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