Bodega Taco Bar Adds Magic to Traditional Mexican Fare
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield County Life Magazine April 2012)
Fairfield, CT – Fulfilling the vision of its three partners, Bodega Taco Bar in downtown Fairfield has been satisfying local palettes for nearly a year now with its own distinctive take on traditional Mexican cuisine.
Forty-two-year-old Partner and Chef Michael Young took a moment recently to speak with FCL about the culinary path that led him to Bodega, his collaborators Mario Fontana and Luis Chavez, and signature menu items.
“My father was a chef in Long Island, where I grew up, in Massapequa on the south shore,” Young said. “He worked at different places – Italian, American, European, French. Sons look up to their fathers and I started dabbling in cooking.”
Young’s mother was also an influence. In his sophomore year of high school, she handed him a BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) school catalog – essentially a guide to trade vocations. “She said to pick something,” Young said. “Being a travel agent seemed inviting, which required one year of experience in the school’s culinary classroom. I liked the cooking aspect and didn’t even move on to the travel portion – just continued on with cooking.”
Instead of going to college, Young moved to Manhattan and kept cooking. “My first job was at Two Boots, on Avenue A, the original location,” he said. “I liked it, was happy and was supporting myself.”
He bounced around over the next few years at different restaurants, meeting a girl along the way who wanted to be with a professional man. It spurred Young to go to college, to Baruch, from which he graduated with a B.A. in Banking & Finance in 1994. He began working as a broker, but was unhappy with the career choice, on the outs with the girl and missing cooking. “I found myself visiting my friend’s restaurant, Erizo, after a long day at work.”
He met another girl, Jennifer, whom he ended up marrying, who told him to do whatever he wanted to do. He went back to cooking.
“As there were almost no new innovative Latin chefs or non-Latin chefs making Latin food, I thought there was an opportunity to pursue Latin cooking,” he said. “I got a shot cooking at Patria in New York under the tutelage of Douglas Rodriguez, where I really learned Latin cooking.”
Several restaurant experiences followed -- Blue Maize, CO; Lansky Lounge, NYC; and Quissano, ME – before Young moved to Fairfield County. Mario Fontana had just opened the first Nuevo Latino restaurant in the area, Habana in Southport, and brought Young aboard as Chef. Fontana then started Ocean Drive in South Norwalk and Young took the cooking reins there. “I hired Luis Chavez, initially as an oyster shucker,” Young said.
After five years, Young left to open Valencia in Norwalk. Chavez came on as his partner. But Fontana came back into the picture in 2010, after finding the Bodega space, and Young and Chavez joined him as partners.
“The concept we created was modern tacos,” Young said. “We put new spins on traditional Mexican dishes and, on June 9, 2011, opened at 1700 Post Road. The reception has been outstanding, everyone wants to be here at the magic hour. Customers are worldly and have a good palette. We give them what they need and desire.”
As a starter, guacamole, always fresh to order, is a popular choice. Among Antojitos, which range from $4 to $12, leaders are the Cerviche de Mariscos – citrus-infused shrimp and scallops – and Bodega Grilled Corn.
The Platos, or main dishes, are priced from $13 to $16, and include Mahi Mahi a la Plancha and Slow Roasted Pork “Lechon”, wherein the pork is marinated for 48 hours in brine and slowly roasted.
A much-requested Side is Blistered Brussel Sprouts, glazed in a secret pineapple glaze.
Salads are tagged from $8 to $14. An excellent choice is the Massaged Kale, which is both nutritional and unique. Tortas, at $8 to $12, include the Drowned Sandwich, comprised of an over-easy egg with chili sauce on an open-faced piece of bread. The Burrito Tinga is spicy pulled chicken with rice, beans and pico de gallo.
Tacos are the foundation of the eatery, comprising half of all patron orders. There are nine different flavor expressions, at $4 apiece. A star is the Lady Tata – a taco in a lettuce cup.
At the bar, visitors will find over 60 kinds of tequila. These can be sampled in flights. There are also many imported beers, such as Modelo, Pacifico Clara and Tecate. A small selection of hand-picked wines is also available.
On the horizon, Bodega will be hosting a Cinco de Mayo celebration, on May 5, featuring a pig roast, tent and live music.
Bodega Taco Bar is located in Heritage Square, 1700 Post Road, Fairfield. Phone: 203-292-9590. www.bodegatacobar.com