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How I learned to stop worrying and love 'Christmas': A Milwaukee Chowhound in Northern New Mexico (long)

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How I learned to stop worrying and love 'Christmas': A Milwaukee Chowhound in Northern New Mexico (long)

Fydeaux | May 2, 2006 10:07 PM

First, let me say that the culinary portions of our recent trip would have been much less successful without the previous reports from other Chowhounds.. Equally helpful was the book NEW MEXICO CHOW by Scott Sherot and published by The Intrepid Traveler. This was my fourth trip to New Mexico, and I was in total agreement with the descriptions of the places I had been to, so I felt assured of being able to trust the descriptions of the places I had not .

I have stated on other boards that I am a low-key chowhound, the type who rejoices more in discovering a fry cook who makes wondrous corned beef hash than in discovering a five-star chef who fuses cooking techniques learned from an Amazonian Chief’s wife with dishes native to a particular region of a European duchy that ceased to exist in the aftermath of World War I. I like to think of myself as a pioneer of the palate, but not a knee-jerk reactionary one.

With that in mind, I give you my report on a well-spent week in northern New Mexico.

We arrived in Albuquerque too late at night on Thursday the 20th to do anything other that get our rental car and drive to our hotel in Santa Fe. Our motel said they offered a ’continental’ breakfast, and thus we figured on coffee and maybe sweet rolls, but it turned out to be coffee, sweet rolls, bagels, fruit juice, cereal, yogurt, muffins, hard boiled eggs, and some other things. I would have wished for tortillas, but this was a gift horse whose teeth did not require too close a look. I cant speak highly enough of the Sage Inn Santa Fe.

Day 1 (Friday) was spent walking around the Plaza area, and we found ourselves at The Shed at lunch time. My6 wife had what she said was a very fine turkey breast sandwich and a cup of posole, while I had the enchilada plate, which was also excellent. One bite of my blue corn cheese and onion enchilada with red chile was more than enough to remind me that I was not in Milwaukee any more, just as the posole as a side instead of rice was a nice reminder that I was in NORTHERN New Mexico.

Dinner was at the Bobcat Bite, and everything you have heard and read about the green chile cheeseburgers there can not do justice to the reality. I don’t know what else to say about it. We had American fries on the side, but neither of us finished them, good as they were.

On Saturday, we woke to discover that there was a large and wonderful farmer’s market directly across the street from the motel!. We made our first purchases of Chimayo Red there, sampled many organic vegetables and breads, and some delicious goat milk cheese (more about that later).

We then headed down to Albuquerque to the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center for the Indian Market. While there, we got a frybread taco and a buffalo burger. The taco was quite good; the buffalo burger was pretty good too, and would have been great had it not been eaten in tandem with the taco.

Still in Albuquerque, we had dinner at Garcia’s. I have not read a lot about Garcia’s on this board, and I have a feeling that it is usually dismissed by Chowhounds as a tourist trap. I don’t care. My wife had a breakfast burrito with salsa verde and cheese, while I had a bowl of menudo and an order of cheese enchiladas. The burrito was pronounced to be excellent, the enchiladas were superb, and I cant imagine that there has ever been a better bowl of menudo to be had anywhere (and Milwaukee has many excellent places to get this).

Sunday was a day to head north. We stopped at the Tusuque Flea Market and had some great, huge fresh fry bread from a stand there, and then we headed to Chimayo and Leona’s for lunch. The carne adovada burritos we had were without peer anywhere. It was hard to tear myself away, even to shop for more Chimayo red chile. Regrettably, Leona no longer markets the incredible flavored tortillas that first led us to her years ago. But to me, this is the carne adovada by which all other will be judged.

Along the road to Taos, I was beset by tailgators, and before I blew my stack, I decided to pull over at the next wide spot in the road to let them pass. But ultimately I thanked them; the next wide spot in the road was the parking lot for Sugar’s BBQ in Embudo. Since we were there, I picked up a brisket burrito with green chile to snack on on the way to dinner. It was pure heaven, and I am determined to have a full meal there on our next trip.

Dinner was at the Trading Post in Taos, a favourite from a previous trip. We were ready for a break from chiles, and we knew this would be an excellent choice. My wife had the Linguine Carbonara and it was a rich and flavorful delight. Unfortunately the chilled Cream of Avocado soup that I had there previously was not available. So I opted for a Carpaccio, delicious with raw beef and a variety of greens, and a dish that I adored which involved escargot served on a bed of angel hair pasta that had been fried to a crisp. It is not my usual practice to order any type of seafood in a landlocked area, but this was a most worthy exception to the rule. We topped it off with a shared order of flan for dessert. Service was flawless also.

Come Monday, we were back in Santa Fe and had lunch at La Choza, having discovered it was quite close to our motel. My wife enjoyed her Chile Verde very much, while I had Carne Adovada (ranked only slightly below Leona’s offering) and a tamale, also very good. I know that La Choza and The Shed have the same owners, and while the menus have similarities, eating at one should not eliminate eating at the other from consideration.

Monday’s dinner was at Harry’s Roadhouse; Grilled Salmon tacos for my wife, Duck Flautas with mango sauce followed by White Pizza for me. It was all excellent, but I stopped halfway through the pizza to save room for their highly touted desserts. The Chocolate Mousse Cake and the Brownie Sundae lived up to the reputation, and we left stuffed.

A bit of an aside: Shortly before our trip, for Employee Appreciation Day or something like that, my wife’s employer gave her this combination backpack/cooler that had a separate zippered compartment containing plates, silverware, salt & pepper shakers, and even a cutting board. I used it as a carry-on bag during the flight, and it was ideal for Tuesday when we made a trip to Bandolier National Monument, a place of enormous beauty and majesty, even if one has already seen Chaco and Puye as we have. We had the delicious goat cheese (Sweetwoods Dairy) that we had gotten at Saturday’s farmer’s market, a fresh baguette from Sage Bakery (just a short distance from our motel), and our leftover White Pizza from the night before. (It being a very sunny day, the pizza heated up very nicely in its plastic container sitting on the dashboard of the car while we walked the park. After two hours or so, it was nice and warm if not hot.) Wine would have been nice, but I did not know that this was government land and not Indian land, so I thought it would not be permitted. Additionally, the still un-accustomed-to altitude together with a long drive on unfamiliar roads had me thinking that it would not be a good idea. So we stuck to Diet Coke and bottled water.

No such problem at dinner. By now I was ready for red meat that was neither ground nor otherwise cut up, and my wife had a taste for brisket after our Sugar’s encounter, so we went to The Cowgirl. We sipped Patron, luxuriating in its warmth. My wife had a brisket sandwich & fries, I had the sirloin. The brisket was very good; my steak was excellent, covered with sautéed mushrooms and fresh asparagus. It also came with grilled squash and scalloped potatoes. The meal fed our respective yens perfectly. For dessert, my wife had Tres Leches, a wonderfully rich almond cake with mandarin orange slices. I had the ice cream baked potato. Don’t ask. Just order it.

Much of Wednesday was spent going around to places we saw things we wanted on our first day in Santa Fe but didn’t want to buy yet incase we saw stuff we liked better. At lunchtime, we were at the Santa Fe Design Center where we found Carlos’ Gosp’l Café. My wife had a half BLT, I had a half turkey club and a cup of tortilla soup. The sandwiches were very good, but the soup was sensational.

I scoped out the menu at Senor Lucky’s for dinner, but it just wasn’t what we were in the mood for. We will definitely hit it on our next trip, but we opted for Tomasita’s instead, having heard a lot of good buzz about it from several locals.

My wife’s chicken quesadilla was fine, as was my shrimp enchilada. If it were being judged by the judges on Iron Chef, they would be complaining that the shrimp were overwhelmed by the red chile, but I am not so picky. Besides, almost anything would be overwhelmed by the red chile, which was probably the best I had on this trip.

This was the only place we ate where the service was at all dicey. Our waitress was slow in getting our drink orders and bringing menus, to the point that we said “two more minutes and then we leave,” but then she showed up in the nick of time. Later in the meal, she came to refill our water glasses. Unfortunately, one of the ‘waters’ that she refilled was my wife’s ice tea. But she was very apologetic about the error, and having brought a second ice tea earlier (she had evidently forgotten that she had already brought one to our table and ran off before we could stop her), it was not a problem in the long run.

Desserts were Midnight Chocolate Cake and a Pinon Cheesecake with caramel sauce, both of which would have been enough for two. They made for a perfect finale to this trip.

And on Thursday, fortified with string cheese, dried fruit, and beef jerky for the meal-less plane ride home, we returned to Milwaukee, several pounds of Chimayo Red, pinon coffee, and a bottle of Sauza 100 Anos safely triple-wrapped in our luggage.

We cant wait to return.

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