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Anasazi Restaurant – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Anasazi Restaurant & Bar at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi

As you gaze in awe and wonder at the luxurious trappings surrounding you everywhere you turn at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, you can’t help but contemplate the irony.  Inn of the Anasazi?  Throughout their existence the Anasazi never knew luxury or leisure, focusing solely and at all times on survival.  Shelter, food and water were of paramount concern in the Four Corners area of the Southwest, a desolate environment which was often brutal and unforgiving.  Amidst the ravages of climatic extremes, the Anasazi scratched out an existence and an lasting legacy.

While the subsistence living of the Anasazi civilization and the opulence of the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi are at polar extremes, even stodgy historians might appreciate that this intimate world-class retreat “celebrates the enduring creative spirit and traditions of the regions early Native American.”  This boutique gem also embraces Santa Fe’s rich cultural heritage and ongoing legacy as an artist colony.  An extensive art collection is a vivid blend of Native, Hispanic and Anglo influences.

The stylish Anasazi Dining Room

In the Anasazi Restaurant and Bar luxury travelers have a restaurant worthy of the stunning three-story Inn.  Richly appointed with the tricultural art of New Mexico, the restaurant is decidedly rich, tasteful and masculine in its furnishings.  Meals are as artistic as the ambiance with a healthful salute to the rich bounty of New Mexico’s farms from where fresh produce is sourced at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market.  Through a Santa Fe purveyor, the Anasazi procures elk from the Rocky Mountains and lamb from northern New Mexico.  The quality is very much in evidence.

In Matthew 4:4, Jesus declared “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone.” For the most part, this man wouldn’t want to, but some breads are so good, it might be tempting to try. The bread at the Anasazi is among the best offered at any restaurant in Santa Fe.  Fresh, yeasty baguettes and a red chile impregnated lavosh offer textural and flavor contrasts.  Both are so good you’ll be tempted to order a second bread basket though you’d risk filling up on bread alone.

Bread Basket

Contrary to what some restaurants might have you believe, bottled Caesar salad dressing does not a true Caesar salad make.  There’s a richness of embarrassment propagated against the dining public when this “faux” Caesar is offered.  The Anasazi prepares, albeit not table-side, a true Caesar salad then it takes a few liberties with the ingredients and calls it a “South of the Border Caesar Salad.”  There’s just a bit of irony there because the salad’s “inventor” Caesar Cardini actually created the very first Caesar salad in Tijuana, Mexico on July 4th 1924. 

The South of the Border Caesar Salad is everything there is to like about the Caesar salad and more.  It’s constructed with Romaine lettuce, tapioca green chile croutons, crispy Serrano ham and a lemon-anchovy dressing with a white anchovy thrown in for good measure.  Every ingredient on this salad is first rate.  The crispy Serrano ham is as thin as carpaccio and as crispy as a potato chip with the unmistakably wonderful flavor of cured, salted pork.  The tapioca green chile crouton has an almost doughy texture and appearance, but inside it you’ll discern the irresistible flavor of roasted chile. The lemon-anchovy dressing is as good as we’ve ever had.

South of the Border Caesar Salad

Even though the quality of seafood–some shipped daily to New Mexico’s restaurants–has improved greatly over the years, all too often we’re reminded that one of the few enchantments with which we’re not blessed is proximity to the ocean.  That’s often the case even at high-end fine-dining establishments such as the Anasazi.  A lobster quesadilla would not have cut it in Maine; it shouldn’t cut it in New Mexico either. 

Even though our quesadillas were brimming with prized knuckle and claw meat (as well as Asadero cheese, chipotle mayonnaise and mango dressing), the lobster was chewy (typically a sign it’s been overcooked).  Served with the quesadilla were the usual quesadilla suspects: sour cream, pico de gallo and guacamole, none of which would probably be served with lobster in Maine.  While we liked the notion of a lobster quesadilla, we found the execution of the concept lacking.  To paraphrase Marlon Brando from On The Waterfront, “it could have been a contender.”

Anasazi Lobster Quesadilla

Argentina is widely regarded as the beef capital of the world, the domicile of succulent cuts of mouth-watering, premium steaks.  One of the favorite preparation styles is Bife Asado, literally grilled beef.  At the Anasazi Restaurant, Bife Asado is a flat iron steak grilled to your exacting specifications (medium-rare is just about perfect), sliced into half-inch slices and served with fingerling potatoes, calabacitas and usually a Serrano chile Chimichurri sauce which my Kim rebuked  because one of its ingredients is cumin in favor of a mango salsa. 

Flat iron steaks are a value-priced cut that is tender, juicy and which some experts say has the “beefiest” flavor of any cut of beef on any steak. The Anasazi Restaurant exploits these qualities to their utmost, grilling a fork-tender steak that is juicy, delicious and absolutely beefy.  The fingerling potatoes, which include purple Peruvian potatoes, are worthy accompaniment while the mango salsa, though no Chimichurri, is so good you might eat it right out of the ramekin and not use it on the beef.

Bife Asado

The Anasazi Restaurant menu claims to “celebrate American cuisine, in particular New Mexico cuisine.”  What passes today for “New Mexican cuisine” at the Anasazi would probably be unrecognizable to abuelitas of yesteryear.  It would be interesting to study Anasazi’s avant-garde approach to  interpreting New Mexican cuisine with my own grandmother, but frankly there are very few dishes on the dinner menu which would pass for anything approaching traditional New Mexican cuisine as she knew it.  The duck enchilada mole is hardly traditional. 

Fortunately, the menu does offer New Mexico lamb chops, long a staple in Northern New Mexico.  My abuelita never prepared lamb chops as tender, meaty and delicious as those found at the Anasazi.  My own memories of Northern New Mexican lamb is of a tough, sinewy and gamey meat, albeit one with a delicious grass-fed flavor.  We certainly didn’t adorn our lamb chops with anything as rich and deeply-flavorful as the mint demi-glace which flows copiously on the plate.  Nor did we ever enjoy broccolini and smashed fingerling potatoes with our lamb.  Though my grandmother would probably have found the Anasazi’s preparation heretically inauthentic, she would probably have enjoyed them.  We sure did.

New Mexico Lamb Chops

Desserts share space on the menu with postprandial digestifs (alcoholic beverage served after a meal, in theory to aid digestion) such as cognac, brandy, grappa and sherry.  The Anasazi Restaurant, by the way, boasts a Wine Spectator award-winning wine list and in 2013, was named by Wine Enthusiast as one of America’s 100 best wine restaurants in recognition of its 300 bottles of Old and New World wines.  Those wines form the backdrop for private candlelight dinners at the restaurant’s intimate wine cellar which accommodates up to twelve guests.

A housemade daily selection of sorbets or ice creams may seem somewhat pedestrian compared with the other sophisticated desserts offerings on the menu, but when made well you can’t beat a good ice cream. At Anasazi, you’ll get three scoops per order, a tantalizing triumvirate of cold deliciousness served atop fruit (watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe) pieces.  By happenstance, the flavors of the day during one unseasonably warm October day were vanilla, dulce de leche and chocolate.  The dulce de leche, which translates literally from the Spanish as “sweet of milk,” has a wonderful caramel-like flavor while the chocolate is intensely chocolate, boasting the adult chocolate flavor aficionados love.

Ice Cream Trio: Chocolate, Dulce De Leche, Vanilla

In a city replete with posh, elegant and refined lodging and dining opportunities, the spectacular Anasazi Restaurant at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi is among the most highly regarded.

Anasazi Restaurant
113 Washington Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 988-3236
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 October 2014
# OF VISITS: 4
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: New Mexico Lamb Chops, Lobster Quesadilla, Bife Asado, Bread

Five & Dime General Store – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe’s famous Five & Dime General Store

The late Fray Angelico Chavez, New Mexico’s preeminent historian once wrote about Santa Fe’s growth, “The only threat to her own distinctive glory, and something to guard against these days, is the kind of hurried “progress” which has, not history or humanity, but only money as its sole aim and purpose.”  Perhaps nowhere in Santa Fe has that hurried progress been more in evidence than in the world-famous Santa Fe Plaza which has seen significant changes over the years. One of the bastions against progress had been the Woolworth’s department store, in place for several generations, but which finally gave up the ghost just before the turn of the 21st century.

In its place stands the Five & Dime General Store which retains much of the charm that made Woolworth’s a throwback to better times.  Best of all, the Five & Dime retained the lunch counter in which the Frito Pie was invented by Teresa Hernandez in the 1960s–nearly 60 years ago. Few, if any, do it better. The Frito Pie is served the old fashioned way, in an open bag of Fritos smothered with meaty red chile and shredded cheese.

The snack bar where dozens of Frito Pies are served

While filming “Parts Unknown” for CNN celebrity glitterati Anthony Bourdain rankled the feathers of proud New Mexicans who have loved the Five & Dime’s Frito pies for generations.  Bourdain claimed the dish was made with canned Hormel chili and a “DayGlo orange cheese-like substance.”   Worse, the acerbic one claimed the Frito pie is a Texas creation, adding that “New Mexico, you have many wonderful things.  I think, let Texas have this one.” Within days after the program’s airing, Bourdain issued a retraction. 

UPDATE:  In 2011, Kaleta Doolin wrote Fritos Pie, Stories, Recipes and More where she dismissed any claims about Santa Fe’s Woolworth’s having been the inventor of the Frito Pie. What gives Doolin credibility is the fact that she was the daughter of the founder of Frito Lays so she had access to company records. Her research found that the “Fritos chili pie” was first served in 1949, more than a decade before Teresa Hernandez “invented it” in the 1960s at the Santa Fe Woolworth’s.

The world-famous Frito Pie

In 1962, the recipe for “Frito pie” appeared on millions of bags of chips: “Heat can of chili, pour into bag of Fritos, and sprinkle with grated cheese, and chopped onions.” That could well have been from where Teresa Hernandez found the recipe…but she most assuredly used New Mexican “chile” and not some dreadful Texas “chili” in concocting her version. For that she should be canonized.

So, while Anthony Bourdain was right about Frito pie having been invented in Texas,  he was wrong in calling it a “warm crap in a bag” and “colostomy pie.”   It’s for his scatological description that New Mexicans have not forgiven him.  Despite his criticism, Bourdain claims to have enjoyed the Five And Dime’s Frito pie.

The Food Network’s popular “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” program gave New Mexico much more love. The premise of this show is that restaurateurs and chefs know where to eat. It answers the question “where do food stars and chefs eat in their free time–when they’re paying.”  Chef Rahm Fama returned to his hometown of Santa Fe for a “Best Thing…” episode entitled “Childhood Favorites.”  In the episode, he recalled the joys of noshing on Frito pie from the original Five & Dime General Store.

The menu includes several other items, but you rarely see anyone order anything but the Frito Pie which made Woolworth’s a Santa Fe institution. The lunch counter doesn’t have much counter space and there are very few tables, so you just might have to walk around the plaza with your Frito Pie in hand, but you might never have a better one. 

Five & Dime General Store
58 E. San Francisco
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 992-1800
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 18 October 2014
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Frito Pie

Five and Dime on Urbanspoon

Del Charro Saloon – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Del Charro Saloon at the Inn of the Governors

Can it truly be that the more things change, the more they stay the same? In 1776, Fermin de Mendinueta, governor and captain-general of the Spanish province of New Mexico, declared that “Santa Fe settlers are “churlish types” who are “accustomed to live apart from each other, as neither fathers nor sons associate with each other.”  In 2013, Travel & Leisure published a list of America’s “snobbiest cities” and Santa Fe made the list at number five.  The list was based on surveys of the magazine’s readers.

Mayor at the time David Cross attributed the perception of Santa Fe snobbery to the enjoyment of the arts, a point validated by the article which quoted a writer as saying “without a certain appearance or air about yourself, gallery owners barely acknowledge you when you walk in.”  Then there’s the former Santa Fe restaurateurs who had a very strict “no fragrance” (as in no eau de toilette, eau de parfum and even no Old Spice) policy at their splendorific Italian restaurant.  Even some food snobs believed that was taking haughtiness too far.

Outdoor dining with murmurations of starlings

Fortunately Santa Fe has its own version of the place where everybody knows your name…and if they don’t, they’ll still treat you well.  One of the city’s most down-to-earth (or least pretentious, depending on your perspective) venues is the Del Charro Saloon scant blocks south of the Snob Fe Plaza.  Adjacent to the Inn of the Governors, one of the city’s most reasonably priced lodgings, Del Charro is so friendly even murmurations of starlings frequent it or at least they frequent the fireside patio which is covered and heated during cold weather.  The inviting fragrance of woodsmoke permeates the warm, amiable milieu.

Named for the nattily attired Mexican horseman, Del Charro is one of Santa Fe’s most popular watering holes. In 2012, readers of the Santa Fe Reporter voted it Santa Fe’s best bar in its annual “best of” issue.  Del Charro also garnered acclaim as “the most affordable restaurant” in Santa Fe, a tribute to its no-snobbery prices.  The menu’s pub fare is as good as higher priced “cuisine” served at other restaurants in town.

Chips, Salsa and Guacamole

You’ve probably noticed the scarcity of New Mexican restaurants serving complimentary chips and salsa.  Not only do they charge you for something which until recent years has always been free, if you want to make it a triumvirate by adding guacamole, you’ll pay a king’s ransom.  It’s almost shameful how highly some restaurants think (based on ridiculously high charges) of their chips, salsa and especially their guacamole.  While Del Charro’s chips and salsa aren’t gratis, they are inexpensive ($3) and the cost ($1.50) to add guacamole won’t break the bank.  It’s refreshing to pay appetizer prices for appetizers. 

The salsa and guacamole are served in red corn tortilla “bowls.”  The salsa is thick and made from fire-roasted tomatoes.  It’s not especially piquant and is made with just a bit too much Mexican oregano which really changes its flavor profile by making it overly acerbic. The guacamole is infused with a hint of lime and with chopped tomatoes.  It’s creamy and rich with a fresh avocado flavor.  The chips are light, crispy and relatively light in salt.  The chips, salsa and guacamole are quite good, especially considering the pittance you’ll pay for them.

Two Sliders with Housemade Potato Chips

Mustard and ketchup dispensers are positioned next to the salt and pepper on every table.  Order the two sliders plate and you can apply mustard and (or) ketchup to your liking, not as some overzealous dispenser squeezer applies them for you.  In fact, the sliders are served naked–only beef patties on a brioche style bun.  You can ask for other ingredients if you’d like.  A few grilled onions and with more than a little imagination you can almost convince yourself you’re enjoying White Castle sliders.  Given your choice of sides (French Fries, Cole slaw, Potato Salad or Potato Chips) opt for the chips.  They’re housemade, crispy, low in salt and fun to eat.

Over the years, innovative restaurateurs throughout the state have attempted to place their own stamp on New Mexico’s sacrosanct green chile cheeseburger.  The avant garde versions–those that deviate most from the delicious simplicity of green chile cheeseburgers–are the most interesting.  Their departure into heretofore untried methods and ingredient combinations don’t always work.  I’d heard tell of a daringly different approach to the green chile cheeseburger at Del Charro and had to try it.

Stuffed Green Chile Cheeseburger with Beer-Battered Fries

Del Charro’s signature burger is a stuffed green chile cheeseburger.  While “stuffed” has been done before, Del Charro’s version has actually drawn praise from respected burger connoisseurs.  The “stuff” in the “stuffed” includes applewood smoked bacon, autumn-roast green chile and Gorgonzola all mixed into the chipotle barbecue sauce-tinged beef before the patty is formed.  Served with crisp lettuce, red onion and a thick, unripened tomato on the side, if you want to taste the stuff, you might want to dispense with the aforementioned sides.  Adorn your burger instead with the contents of the ramekin of green chile relish so wonderfully reminiscent of the fabulous Cajun chow-chow relishes we enjoyed in New Orleans.  The green chile relish is mildly piquant, sweet and tangy.  It’s so good it should be bottled and sold!  Not only was it the highlight of a much-touted burger, it enlivened the accompanying beer-battered fries, too.

With a menu which might best be described as “bar fare with a Southwestern leaning” and not strictly New Mexican, it’s not surprising to see Del Charro’s menu list some items as including “chile” and others being made with “chili.”  Perhaps it doesn’t make a difference in any of the other 49 states, but in New Mexico there’s only one way to spell chile and that’s ending with an “e,” not an “i.”  Just to make sure, we asked if the Frito pie (for which the spelling “chili” is used) is made with New Mexican chile or with Tejano chili. Our server assured us the Frito pie is made with New Mexican chile.  

Frito Pie

Alas, not all chile is created (or seasoned) equal.  The New Mexican red chile, while pleasant enough, doesn’t have much of a bite (perhaps out of deference for tourists who frequent Del Charro).   The Frito Pie, large enough for a small family to share, is a mound of beef chili (SIC; my Mac is chaffing at that spelling), Frito’s corn chips, Cheddar-Jack cheese, chopped onions, shredded lettuce and pico de gallo.   Though not especially piquant, Del Charro’s Frito pie is not one you’d kick off your table.  Made with fresh ingredients which go well together, it’s a solid Frito pie.

There are only three desserts on the menu, the most popular of which are the natillas. Served in a “bowl” fashioned from a fried tortilla, the natillas  (a thick, creamy custard-like dessert) are served at just about room temperature and are sprinkled with a generous amount of cinnamon.  With virtually no lumps to distract you, you may want to close your eyes and luxuriate in the smooth, sweet vanilla deliciousness in front of you.  The fried tortilla “bowl” is more utilitarian than it is edible.

Natillas

Del Charro calls itself “Santa Fe’s watering hole” and while adult libations are certainly a popular draw, value-conscious diners who want a quality meal will enjoy one of the best “cheap eats” options in the vicinity of the Plaza.

Del Charro Saloon
101 West Alameda
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 954-0320
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 13 October 2014
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Stuffed Green Chile Cheese Burger, Natillas, Frito Pie, Sliders, Salsa, Chips and Guacamole

Del Charro Restaurant on Urbanspoon