Sunday, June 21, 2009

Italy of the Southwest

Years ago I went to Italy for the first time and marveled at how good the food was. We ate in little holes in the wall and in the equivalent of Howard Johnson's and still the food was delicious and far superior to what I usually ate at home. This past few days in visiting Santa Fe we had a very similar experience. No matter where we ate, there were no bad meals. Even the restaurant at the mall served exceptional chile rellenos (according to hubby) and veggie enchiladas.

Our first meal in Santa Fe was at Anasazi Restaurant at Inn of the Anasazi, where we stayed. I ate salmon in some New Mexican sauce that was delicious. They also made a mean cosmopolitan which intoxicated me quickly after a day of traveling on only a few hours sleep. Breakfast the next morning at the Anasazi Restaurant was also good. Paul had some breakfast burrito which he declared excellent. I stuck to steel cut oatmeal and french roast coffee that was surprisingly drinkable.

Lunch that day took place at a mall on the way back from 10000 Waves. Also surprisingly good, particularly for a mall restaurant. Dinner that night we ate at Santacafe. I had citrus crusted halibut which was a bit overcooked. Luckily the atmosphere was delightful since we were able to sit on the patio outside. Paul loved his chile relleno dish.

The following day we ate breakfast at the Plaza Cafe where the real charm was the waitress who happily accepted my offer of Advil to help her sciatica. She also sat down with us for a while to fix her shoes. Again, Paul liked his food more than I since he ordered a traditional New Mexican dish--some sort of breakfast burrito-- and I ate scrambled eggs and fruit. That day we drove up to Taos via the High Road so we stopped in Chimayo where we tried the famous (and rightfully so) tamales of Leona next to the church. Later on the way back from Taos we stopped at Matilda's Cafe in Espanola. Matilda herself waited on us and served us some delightful NM puff fried pastry in addition to what we ordered. Matilda is a small white haired woman who must be at least in her 80s. She was very amusing when she talked about the traffic she expected from the Sikh gathering in the hills above Espanola. "We call them the diaper-heads" she said impishly without any malice which caused me to laugh so hard that I twisted my neck. Apparently Sikhs love NM food and Matilda loves the business.

That night we went to La Boca late for tapas. We wound up with a liter of sangria which mostly Paul drank. The tapas were unbelievably good-- including a mediterranean salad with fig, asparagus with salmon and goat cheese, a lamb croquette called kefta and a lump crab and lobster canelone with manchego cheese sauce. Our waiter was a bit of a sourpuss and largely absent throughout the evening but thankfully the sangria kept us from being put off by the lackluster service.

The next day, Saturday, we headed out early to Cafe Pasqual to beat the crowds that swarm there for breakfast. We still wound up waiting about 15 minutes and agreed to share a booth with an interesting couple our age from Boston. The wife was a chemist and an executive at a large international consulting firm called ICF and apparently consulted on the Katrina cleanup. I talked to her mostly about macbooks and facebook as well as her many trips to Moscow. Her husband was a character-- five years free of throat cancer and a connoisseur of gemstones which he chose for his wife to make into jewelry. Never found out what he did for a living but did learn that he had been in the Marines and had adopted a Korean boy who was now 25. Unfortunately, I did not order well in Cafe Pasqual and my breakfast was no where near as good as the decor and company. However, Paul loved his breakfast quesadilla and wanted to come back for dinner, which we did. Dinner was much better food. We also had a terrific table to oversee the crowd. There were an eclectic group of diners including numerous gay couples and a group of "Woo girls" having a bridal shower for one of their own. This time I ordered something New Mexican and enjoyed chicken enchiladas mole with a sweetness backed up by the spicy kick of whatever chili pepper found its way into the sauce. Cafe Pasqual purports to serve natural and organic food although those who have read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma would suspect that Mary's Chickens (sold at Whole Foods and featured at Cafe Pasqual) likely are "corporate organic" and the "vegetarian" diets of those chickens are corn rather than grass etc.

Two other great meals on our trip that I want to mention were lunches. On Saturday we ate at the O'Keeffe Cafe next to the Georgia O'Keeffe museum. I had a delicious blue corn pancake with a venison sausage. Paul had salmon eggs benedict with one of the most delicious hollandaise sauces (touched with dill) that either of us have ever had (and we spent one entire trip up the California coast one year sampling eggs benedict everywhere we could). The other lunch was on the way to the airport home. We stopped in Bernadillo about 15 miles north of Albuquerque on I25 and ate at the Ranch Cafe. Paul declared his relleno superb and I enjoyed Tom's meatloaf which Frommer's had recommended. The decor was also a hoot.
Now I must try to restrict my calorie intake to make up for all the indulgence of the past 5 days. I have ordered Hungry Girl: 200 Under 200: 200 Recipes Under 200 Calories which as Paul points out I can use to create tapas type meals so each meal will include 3-5 recipes. Great plan!

No comments: