7.1.11 § 11 Comments
Day three of the road trip (Can you call it a road trip if you spend like three days in one place? I’m going to.) was supposed to be our last day in Santa Fe. I woke up in a great mood because I knew we were going to eat at my (up until then) favorite restaurant in Santa Fe, Tune Up Cafe. This place Rocks. My. Socks.
The first time I went there was with a then-boyfriend who was visiting New Mexico for the first time. He ordered the special of steak and eggs, and, like everything in New Mexico, it was smothered in chili. Christmas style. I had the rockingest breakfast burrito Of. All. Time. I know. It may sound extreme. But in my memory we were still happy in love (my boyfriend and me, not the burrito and me…we’re still happy together), and this breakfast was a moment when all was right in the world. So, needless to say I was excited to go back to my love. My darling. My burrito.
There are so many awesome-looking things on the menu here. My mom has tried a lot of them and assures me that everything is lick-your-plate good, but I was not to be deterred. The breakfast burrito, please. With bacon. And avocado. Smothered. Christmas style. It. Was. Bliss. I know. I’m still sounding a bit too enthusiastic about this burrito, but y’all, it is my second favorite burrito in the whole world, and I’m telling you, actually…I don’t know what I’m telling you…I lost my train of thought looking at that burrito picture.
My mom had the combination lunch plate, which came with a chicken pesto quesadilla, a side salad, and, wait for it, chilled corn-avocado soup. The salad and quesadilla were pretty run of the mill, good, but not spectacular. But the soup? Oh the soup! I love all things avocado, but I was hesitant about eating it in soup form. I don’t know why. Avocado is always good. And the Tune Up kids know what they’re doing. This is where it’s at, folks.
So, after Tune Up, we walked around Santa Fe looking for something a friend had asked me to get for him. We couldn’t find what he wanted, but we spent enough money on…well, other things. Whoops.
As we were getting ready to make the 1.5 hour drive from Santa Fe to our family’s cabin near Rociada, NM, I decided it would be prudent for us to eat once more before leaving town. We played the phone-a-friend card to get some more recommendations and ended up going to The Shed, which we were told had “the best red chili.” Turns out what The Shed really has are the best margaritas. Mom and I had one with our meal (which was great, we’ll get to that in a minute), and then, we decided to let fate decide our course. “Okay, we’ll call the inn (that we just checked out of this morning), and if they have a room available tonight, and if they give us a good price, we’ll order another margarita and stay the night.” They had a good room. At a good price.
The food was really good too. We started off with guacamole and chips. Now, when it comes to guacamole, my mom and I are tough customers. We’ve been known to ask for extra lemons to squeeze into the bowl, to add copious amounts of salt, etc. But this guac was pretty great, and it was spicy, which was a nice change. I didn’t ask what was in it…and I’m blaming that brainfart on the margarita(s).
For dinner we split a combination plate: a blue corn, ground beef enchilada topped with red chili, a chili relleno (which, for those of you who don’t know, is a chili pepper stuffed with cheese then breaded and fried) topped with green chili, beans, and posole. The meal was really good, as was the red chili, though I’m not sure I’d call it “best ever.” It is worth mentioning, however, that The Shed received a James Beard “American Classic” award in 2003. And it’s been around for like fifty years or something crazy like that.
Bottom line (well, my bottom line, I don’t pretend to be an authority on the matter), if you’ve got two days in Santa Fe, I’d say you have to haveto havetohaveto go to Tune Up Cafe. You can skip The Shed though, because the next morning mom and I did succeed in finding my favorite ever red chili. Thank god for that second margarita! Without it I wouldn’t be able to tell you where you have to haveto havetohaveto go for red-chili-smothered everything. Stay tuned.
6.23.11 § 5 Comments
I intended to post this a bit sooner, but I guess it’s pretty natural that during our road trip I got caught up in the road-tripping. Anyway, here is day two…better late than never! Right? (If you missed day one, it’s right here!)
First, before we can go any further, I need to talk to you about something really important: green chili. If you’re from New Mexico, feel free to skip ahead, you don’t need to read this. However, if you aren’t from New Mexico, read on, because I’m about to change your life. Green chili is magic that comes from Southern New Mexico, and I’m pretty sure it’s the reason that our little old state has earned the slogan “Land of Enchantment.” I won’t go into the long history of green chili (for some more info, click around this site), I’ll just say this: when I come home to New Mexico, it’s basically a requirement that at least 85% of my meals contain some form of Hatch green chili.
In Santa Fe, which is where we landed on day two of our road trip, that isn’t a problem. We started the day off at Counter Culture Cafe, an awesome little place that’s relatively new to the city. They have all sorts of breakfast items, sandwiches and salads for lunch, and great-sounding dinner entrees. If you are in Santa Fe looking for New Mexican food, I wouldn’t send you here, but if you’re just looking for a menu with great food and enough variety to make anyone happy, I’d say this is the perfect spot.
My mom, who I dare say gets her fill of green chili because she still lives here, went for the lox plate instead of a New Mexican option, and it was very good, though, in my opinion, nothing to write home (or to the blogosphere) about. After debating between huevos rancheros and the smothered breakfast burrito (smothered in chili that is), I settled on the huevos. I ordered it “Christmas,” which means that it’s drowned in both red and green chili. I was not disappointed. For those of you who haven’t had huevos rancheros before, let me explain what you’re seeing. (It’s exceptionally difficult to take pictures of New Mexican food because everything is covered in chili!) Anyway, the basic idea is fried eggs served on top of corn or flour tortillas that are resting on a bed of beans. Usually, it’s refried beans, but in this case, they were black beans. Then, the eggs are covered with either red or green chili (or both) and any number of other accompaniments like sour cream, guacamole, cilantro, salsa, etc. It’s delicious.
We spent a leisurely hour on the restaurant’s patio nomming on our breakfast and, obviously, discussing where we were going to get lunch. We also talked about how we might have to return to Counter Culture for lunch at some point, because their sandwiches and salads all looked tempting.
A few hours later, after writing a blog post and taking a nap, it was time to eat some lunch. We headed to Bobcat Bite. While I had never heard of this place before, it came highly recommended by more than one person, and since the phrase “best green chili cheeseburger in the world” had been thrown around, we thought we had better check it out. (I was serious about my commitment to eating green chili.)
It was a tiny little place a few miles out of town, and despite it being nearly 2 pm, the parking lot was full of cars when we arrived. I was shocked at how small the restaurant was on the inside, and without even ceiling fans to keep it cool, I was kind of worried I’d be too warm to enjoy the food.
However, as soon as our burgers arrived, I forgot all about being uncomfortably hot and dug into a perfectly cooked, medium rare burger covered in green chili and cheese. As I mentioned before, it’s terribly difficult to capture the glory of food when one thing is covering up everything else, so I pushed some of the cheese to the side to get a picture where you can see the chili.
The burgers were huge, and while we were both afraid we wouldn’t be able to finish them, I’m proud to say that we did. It would have been more difficult to leave some on the plate than to force ourselves to eat until we felt sick – it was just that good. And of course, as I was googling later that afternoon, I found out that this burger was named as one of the 3 finalists for best burger anywhere in the US by Bon Appetit. Go, New Mexico!
After a lunch like that, mom and I were hurting, and there was a definite need to walk it off. In an effort to do something cultural, instead of just bouncing from one food experience to the next, we decided to visit the Georgia O’Keeffe museum. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures (not allowed!), but it was really nice. The museum is pretty small, and I like that because it’s definitely do-able in just an hour or a little more. The exhibit we saw was about the interplay between photography and painting, and it was fascinating to see how many artists use one medium to help them with their work in the other. Anyway, if you’re in Santa Fe, I definitely recommend putting this museum on your itinerary. (I did wish that there was more of O’Keeffe’s work on display, but it was still pretty great. My favorite work that we saw is below. The watercolors are WAY brighter in person.)
When we felt that it had been an acceptable amount of time since our last meal, we still weren’t that hungry, so we decided to head to a tapas joint for dinner. Mom had a place in mind, but we had been told by a local that there was a different place that was a bit cheaper and, in his opinion, better. So, always opting to trust the locals, we headed to El Meson.
Unfortunately, the menu was a bit disappointing. Usually, even when I’m not hungry, I order way more than I can eat, but nothing on the menu was really calling my name. We settled on grilled bread with tomato, garlic, and serrano ham; goat cheese-stuffed artichoke hearts that were friend and served with romesco sauce; and a special of roasted piquillo peppers stuffed with shrimp and crab and served with a roasted corn coulis. While the food was fine, I wasn’t impressed enough to suggest this restaurant to anyone. The best thing we ate was a salad with four different kinds of goat cheese, pine nuts, pears, and balsamic. Needless to say, if a salad is the best thing you have, it’s kind of disappointing.
Despite the lackluster food, the ambiance was nice. There was live music, which, I believe, happens nearly every night at this place, and the band was really fun to watch. However, unless you’re into the music scene, you can probably skip this one. Mom’s summary was, “The whole time, I just kept wishing we had gone to the other tapas place.” (Sad face implied.) I guess you need to make sure which local it is whose recommendation you’re trusting.
While the ending was less than fabulous, the day was a success overall. I’d say the burger was actually a highlight of the trip. If you’re within driving distance, you should probably go check it out. Like right now.
6.16.11 § 5 Comments
Since I last wrote, I’ve moved to a new apartment in Fort Greene, Brooklyn (kitchen tour coming as soon as I get all the boxes unpacked) and landed a new job (which I’ll tell you about later). Thankfully, that new job didn’t interfere with a plan that was already formed: to come home and eat my way through New Mexico. My mom and I have been talking about doing this for awhile now, but unfortunately, when we sat down to make a plan (which, let’s be real, didn’t actually happen until yesterday morning when we were getting ready to leave town), we realized it wasn’t realistic to try to hit six locales in six days. At least not without the ability to teleport. So, we’ve narrowed it down to the area around Santa Fe, including but not limited to Taos, Mora, Las Vegas, and some little tiny spots I’m sure most of you haven’t heard of. The following is a chronicle of our journey and most importantly, of the food.
We got waylaid before we even got out of my hometown (which is Clovis, for those of you that don’t already know). This happens to us all too often: “Oh, let’s stop and get taquitos at Foxy!” “How about some Taco Box for the road?” “I know it’s out of the way, but should we run by Bill’s and get a breakfast burrito?” We’ve got problems. Anyway, this time the trouble came in the form of Leslie Gibbs Candy Company – the candy factory right next door to our dog’s kennel that supplies peanut patties to most of the area’s distributors. Peanut patties are ubiquitous in New Mexico and other parts of the South, but for those of you who weren’t lucky enough to grow up eating them, a brief description: peanuts encased in a red candy made with sugar, corn syrup, and artificial coloring. Depending on how old the patty is, the temperature outside, and the humidity, the candy can be hard or soft, but it’s always delicious.
So, peanut pattie in hand, we hit the road. I love driving through New Mexico. It’s so flat that you can see for 50 miles, which is beautiful and also makes it pretty easy to speed. It only took us about 2.5 hours to get from Clovis to Clines Corners – not really a food spot but a pretty well-known stop on the NM portion of what used to be Route 66.
Once we got to Sante Fe, the really tough part was deciding where to get dinner. We’ve gotten tons of recommendations from friends in the area, and with so many options, it’s already proving tough to narrow it down. We finally settled on Restaurant Martín – the domain of Chef Martín Rios, a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef of the Southwest Award in 2011.
While we’d been advised to make reservations, we walked into a nearly empty dining room, which was a bit disconcerting. The host assured us that in Santa Fe the busy season doesn’t really begin until July 4 weekend, but it still made me worry that New Mexico can’t support fine dining restaurants and the prices that go with them. My inquietude quickly vanished as I looked over the menu. Everything sounded so delicious that I thought I’d never be able to choose. With our server’s help, we finally settled on two appetizers:
Chilled Spring Pea Soup with Mexican Prawn Salad, Meyer Lemon, Fennel Sponge Cake, Greek Yogurt and American Caviar
And Maple Leaf Duck Confit Cannelloni with Organic Coddled Egg, Pea and Spring Onion Fricassee, Sunchoke Veloute, and Red Wine Syrup
I’m always skeptical of dishes with so many components if it seems as if they can’t possibly blend, but both appetizers were completely harmonious, and we scarfed them down with many “mmmms” and “oooohs.” The coddled egg with the duck cannelloni was an especially nice touch, the runny yolk mingling with salty duck in each bite. We took our server’s suggestions for our main courses as well:
Maine Diver Sea Scallops with Yukon Potato-Shallot Puree, Heirloom Grape Tomatoes, Wild Mushrooms, and a Chorizo-Tarragon Foam
Prime Beef Tenderloin with Potato Terrine, Asparagus, Fennel Puree, Shallot, and a Red Wine Sauce Mignonette
Again, we were blown away by the flavor combinations. The scallops were perfectly seared, and the roasted tomatoes added a just the right amount of acidity to the richness of the scallop-mushroom-foam combination. And, not to go on and on and on, but the tenderloin was such a beautiful medium rare that the meat seemed to melt in my mouth as easily as the scallops.
Thankfully, we had a chance to heap our admiration on Chef Rios, who came by the table as we were finishing up our entrees. He and his wife Jennifer were both so lovely, and we greatly enjoyed getting a chance to talk with them. It was especially fun to hear about their recent trip to NYC for the Beard Awards and to learn of their time living in both New York and France. Before Chef left our table, he gave us a few more restaurant recommendations, counseled us to sit on the patio for our next visit, and of course, advised us about to order for dessert. I oh so sweetly asked our server if we might have our dessert on the patio, and the migration to semi-darkness is what accounts for the decreasing quality of my photos:
Soft Chocolate Ganache Tart with Almond-Chocolate Pain de Mie, Peanut Butter Creme, Peach Sorbet, and Crispy Lime Meringue
Caramelized Apricot Panna Cotta with Lemon-Poppyseed Cake, Coconut Milk Foam, and Hibiscus Sorbet
By this time, I had put my hesitations about crazy flavor combinations aside, knowing that Chef Rios has definitely got it going on, and dessert didn’t disappoint. There were also small meringues floating in the foam around the panna cotta, adding a surprising little crunch to the soft texture of the panna cotta and accompanying sorbet.
All in all, it was quite a magical evening. I’m so glad that such a fine chef has made a place for himself in New Mexico, and I can only hope that others will follow suit. If you have a chance to eat here, definitely do. And if it’s warm, go for the patio seating. The view of the full moon from our table was unbeatable.