New Mexico Road Trip – Day One
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.