We just returned from our honeymoon in the Big Bend area. We ate some darn bad food, particularly in Ft. Davis (and expensive to boot!), but we also had a sublime meal-- better than anything in recent memory back home in San Diego-- at Cochineal in Marfa. So read on for the new Marfa skinny, and be forewarned.
COULDN'T HAVE BEEN BETTER
After 3 days of the worst TexMex food and hamburgers of my native-Texan life, we stumbled into Cochineal. It was like Alice down the rabbit hole. You enter Cochineal through a French-inspired "alley," a gravel courtyard with parallel rows of small trees. Inside, the adobe, contemporary space is both festive and serene; authentic and yet daring. There is a small dining room, an open kitchen area, and a hallway back to the kitchen garden, out back. The night we dined, the owner sat with his son and the chef for dinner, and we felt like we were in a happy home.
The food? Almost perfect. The menu, as literature, is one of the most satisfying of my (menu-reading) life. It's simple and direct. Anything can be ordered as the diner chooses. No source attributions (Hallelujah!) just simple descriptions.
To start, I had Crusted Sweatbreads sauteed in Champagne, served over Balsamic-dressed Greens; my HusbandChef had an intriguing Morrocan Faroosh Salad dressed with Sumac and Red Chili. Then, we shared Gnocci with Pesto and Red Chili, Rack of Lamb with Garlicky Beans and Spinach, sides of Ratatouille (the absolute BEST I've ever had) and Sauteed Chard-- and the Chef's Special Date Pudding, prepared to order. The pudding was outstanding.
An interesting wine list offers a great range of prices, and there are lots of half bottles -- a sophisticated touch more forward-thinking than the average San Diego restaurant.
The owners have brought NYC style, quality, service, and saavy to the TX hinderland, and the combination is entrancing. Thank you, Tom, Tom's wife, and Toshi, for one of the best memories of our honeymoon. Yes, it was expensive. But it was worth every penny. We would have eaten there again and again, but like all the restaurants in Marfa, they have a weird schedule, and it was closed our last night there when we wanted a Cochineal dessert to wash the taste of Maiya's from our mouths.
Yes! We went for breakfast to fortify ourselves before the Chinati tour. The chorizo burrito redeemed my faith in highway Tex-mex.
3. Food Shark
This food truck sets up in the middle of town. Diners eat on Judd-inspired tables, a wonderful conceit since everybody eats here: cowboys, truckers, ranchers, smartypants NYers. The food is excellent. My HusbandChef had the Pibil pork with Black Beans and a Guacamole with Pepitas. I just dug into a big bowl of Banana Pudding. I wanted the Egg Salad sandwich but was too full from breakfast.
4. The Get Go
A gourmet grocery for snacking, picnics, and noshing in your room at the TBird. Just watch out for the prices. A small package of Spanish almonds is $10. Great wine selection for the middle of nowhere.
SAD TO DREADFUL
1. Lupitas, Ft Davis TX - It may look like a taco truck but it's really a SYSCO outlet. We ordered 6 items trying to find something to eat. Nothing.
2. Alicia's, Alpine TX - I'd read the hype on CH, but our food was inedible, even for a TexMex roadhouse.
3. Maiya's, Marfa TX - A huge disappointment. We'd been to Maiya's two years ago and loved it. In fact, we planned our honeymoon to go back there to celebrate. But our recent meal was an insult. My entree arrived and looked so unappetizing, I managed only a few bites. It was a grilled chicken breast glopped with some kind of tomato sauce and the presentation resembled a dogmess. My HusbandChef had a big bowl of Penne in (Prago? MamaMia?) Spaghetti Sauce with Walnuts (Walnuts?) tossed in. Thank goodness our server was a handsome, insouciant rancher boy, otherwise we would have been angry at how poor the service was. It's still a pretty place, and I still have my memories (Ah, the Celery Salad with Anchovies!) from two years ago.
4. The Brown Recluse, Marfa TX -- Alas, we had heard they've closed and are looking for buyer.
5. The Drug Store, Ft Davis. Don't bother unless you're starving, as we were. Another SYSCO outlet.
Take it from us. Pack your own coffee maker, buy some fresh-roasted Big Bend coffee at the Get Go, and you'll start your day off right. Breakfast at Alice's. Lunch at the Food Shark. Dinner at Cochineal. That's Marfa! (Check for hours. Everybody but Alice's seems to stagger their opening times around the weekend.)