Shake Foundation – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Shake Foundation in Santa Fe (front view)

If it seems there’s a glut of restaurants brandishing a much-hyped and often self-glossed as “best” version of New Mexico’s fabled green chile cheeseburger, it won’t surprise you to read that yet another purveyor of the Land of Enchantment’s sacrosanct sandwich entered the fray in January, 2014.  What might surprise you is its most worthy motto and raison d’etre:  “Dedicated to the preservation of the original green chile cheeseburger.” Just what exactly does that mean? 

If, like me, your initial inclination is to question why at its pinnacle of popularity, the green chile cheeseburger needs to be preserved, you’re missing the point.  Likewise, the motto has nothing to do with  mimicking the burgers crafted by New Mexico’s two claimants to being progenitor of all green chile cheeseburgers: The Owl Cafe & Bar and Bert’s Burger Bowl.  The Shake Foundation is all about preserving and honoring the inviolable traditions and impeccably high standards of the green chile cheeseburger.  It’s about crafting the type of green chile cheeseburgers that trigger memories of unforgettable burgers past while creating new memories that will have you eagerly anticipating your next great green chile cheeseburger.

The Shake Foundation in Santa Fe (side view)

Despite its “mission statement,” the Shake Foundation isn’t based solely on green chile cheeseburgers as proffered throughout the Land of Enchantment, but also on founder-owner-chef Brian Knox’s boyhood memories of eating cheeseburgers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Milwaukee, as burgerphiles everywhere know, is famous for slathering its burgers–both bun and beef–with butter: lots of gooey, unctuous, calorific butter.  Milwaukee’s butyraceous burgers are the quintessential five napkin (or more) burger.

For nearly three decades, the name Brian Knox has been synonymous in Santa Fe with fine-dining.  Prior to launching the Shake Foundation, Chef Knox owned and operated Aqua Santa, a contemporary American restaurant which helped pioneer the city’s slow-food movement.  He’s been wanting to make high-quality burgers widely accessible and affordable in a fun and welcoming venue for several years.  The Shake Foundation is the culmination of those dreams.

ShakeFoundation03

Shoestring Fries and a Lavender Shake

Built on a site which for fifty years housed a gas station, the Shake Foundation isn’t much bigger than a roadside stand, but offers an ambitious menu belying its Lilliputian size.  This burger hop is strictly a walk-up operation with a number of picnic tables for seating.  A number of stately deciduous trees provide seasonal shade and help block New Mexico’s winds.

Burgers are the featured fare: cheese burgers with or sans green chile and the classic burger, both available as singles or doubles.  A number of free and optional toppings are available, the latter including such revolutionary items as whipped lardo (seasoned, cured pork fat), house-brined pickles and jalapeños and garlic mayo.  The menu also offers a turkey burger, a portobello burger and a New Mexico Shepherd’s Lamb Burger as well as a fried oyster sandwich with red chile mayo.  Green chile stew and a Caesar salad round out the food menu.

ShakeFoundation04

Double meat green chile cheeseburger with bacon

31 March 2014: If for no other reason than we’re in America and we like to super-size our burgers, you’ll want to order a double meat burger.  The single is all of three ounces (just an ounce shy of the quarter-pounder), but by all appearances doesn’t look much bigger than some “sliders.”  A better reason to order a double meat burger is the beef’s healthful deliciousness.  The beef blend is a combination of sirloin and brisket with no hormones or antibiotics.  All burgers are cooked to medium unless otherwise requested.  True to Chef Knox’s heritage, buns are buttered though not dripping in butter as you’d find in Milwaukee. 

The menu warns that “Our New Mexico green chile is hot!”  That’s hot with an exclamation point.  Frankly, most New Mexicans won’t wince at its piquancy (or relative lack thereof), but we’ll certainly appreciate its roasted flavor and fruity nuances.  A few strips of bacon are a perfect, salty complement to the green chile as is the rich, gooey Monterey Jack cheese.  Even with a double, you might want to order two of these burgers.  With a bun not more than four inches around, they have a subliminal effect of appearing small even though with double meat, they tower above most chain burgers.  The Shake Foundation’s burgers are juicy and absolutely delicious, well worthy of New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail consideration. 

Fried Oyster Sandwich with Red Chile Mayo

17 September 2016: Having lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for nearly eight years, I consumed oyster po’ boys by the boatful, my favorite being the behemoth bivalve sandwich from Cafe Maspero in New Orleans.  In New Mexico, it may be easier to find a prize pearl inside an oyster than to find an outstanding oyster po’ boy or sandwich.  The Shake Foundation’s version, a Gulf Coast meets the Land of Enchantment sandwich may be changing that with its fried oyster sandwich with red chile mayo.  The oyster is moist and delicious and the red chile mayo is slathered on generously.  The combination of flavors is a winner. Note: On occasion, Santa Fe’s Bang Bite Filling Station constructs an even more amazing oyster po’ boy.

17 September 2016:  From 1983 through 1993, a tiny restaurant on Cornell Avenue named Sheepherder’s Café made eating lamb not only fashionable, but immensely satisfying and incomparably delicious. Its specialty was the Lamburger, a thick, charbroiled lamb patty served on a sourdough bun with homemade salsa.   Since its much lamented closure, I’ve sought to replicate that uniquely wonderful dining experience to no avail.   That is, until we discovered the Shake Foundation’s New Mexico Shepherd’s Lamb Burger, a burger I topped with Monterey Jack cheese and green chile.  If taste buds have a memory, my first bite of this super-sized slider transported me back to the Sheepherder’s Cafe and every bite thereafter reinforced the experience.  This burger quickly became my second favorite burger in Santa Fe behind only the Santa Fe Bite‘s green chile cheeseburger.  It’s an amazing burger!  That is, it’s an amazing burger when it’s made with double meat.  To taste and appreciate that meat, you’ll have to strip the burger of the ripe, red tomatoes and crisp lettuce.  Even then, it brought to mind the Wendy’s commercials of yore which lamented “where’s the beef.”

New Mexico Shepherds Lamb Burger

Hand-cut shoestring fries, available in single or double portions, are a nice accompaniment to your burgers.  Made from potatoes grown in Colorado, they’re fried to a crispy, but not potato chip-like texture and don’t require desalinization as do so many other fries.  They’re also not quite as greasy as conventional fries.  Being shoestring thin means they’re also not as moist as other fries. 

True to the name on the marquee, shakes are a point of pride. Rightfully so! These are not the cloying, syrupy, made-from-a mix shakes the chains dispense. You can actually taste the ice cream with which these shakes are made…and it’s great ice cream made from Taos Cow ice cream (one of the “ten best ice cream parlors worldwide” according to Fox News.  It’s a rich, creamy, smooth ice cream available in “viva la differencia” flavors such as lavender and piñon caramel.  Even better is the Mexican Chocolate shake which my Kim calls the best shake she’s ever had.  Unless you’ve got the suck power of a vacuum cleaner, you’ll need a spoon because a straw just won’t cut it. 

It could be debated that the Shake Foundation isn’t as much about “the preservation of the original green chile cheeseburger” as it is taking it to a new level with the type of creativity which made Chef Knox one of Santa Fe’s most acclaimed culinary minds.  

Shake Foundation
631 Cerrillos Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 988.8992
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 17 September 2016
1st VISIT: 31 March 2014
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 18
COST: $
BEST BET: Double Meat Green Chile Cheeseburger with Bacon, Fried Oyster Sandwich with Red Chile Mayo, Double Meat Hamburger, Shoestring French Fries, Lavender Shake, Piñon Shake, Mexican Chocolate Shake, Double Meat New Mexico Shepherd’s Lamb Burger

Shake Foundation Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Loyal Hound Pub – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Loyal Hound Gastropub in Santa Fe

“It’s me or the dog!” That’s the ultimatum my friend Eric was given by his then-fiancee. It was one of several augurs of an ill-fated marriage only my friend with the rose-colored-glasses failed to see. Three years later as the divorce was finalized, Eric tearfully realized he had made the wrong decision. A dog’s loyalty can never be questioned. A spouse’s eyes and heart can–and often do–wander as had been the case in this troubled marriage.

Psychology professor Stanley Coren correctly postulated that “the greatest fear dogs know is the fear that you will not come back when you go out the door without them.”  You can only imagine the heartbreak Pepper, Eric’s dog, felt when left in the care of strangers.  Dogs don’t abandon their owners.  They love us unconditionally and are unfailingly loyal even when we don’t deserve it.  For those of us whose lives have been enriched by dogs, the term “man’s best friend” doesn’t come close to describing the bond we share. For many of us, dogs are four-legged children.

One of four dining rooms at the surprisingly capacious Loyal Hound

David Readyhough and Renee Fox love their dog Lola so much that they wanted to name their restaurant after her. After agreeing that “Lola” sounded like a great name for a Spanish tapas restaurant but not for the gastropub they envisioned, they decided the name “Loyal Hound” would still honor their beloved beagle. On framed photographs, Lola’s smiling countenance and cheerful figure festoon the walls of the deceptively commodious (75 seats) restaurant. So, too, in a “sunken” back room with comfortable couches and an inviting dart board, do framed photographs of dogs of all types brought in by Loyal Hound’s guests. 

On the wall of one of several small dining rooms hangs a pig diagram which shows from where the various cuts of pork come.  You might expect to see such a diagram in a charcuterie or chophouse specializing in pork, but not necessarily in a gastropub.  The reason given on the Loyal Hound’s Facebook page is “yes, a pig.  ‘Cuz dog is too chewy.”  It’s one of the gastropub’s endearing quirks.  So is wine from the tap.  Before you turn your nose up at that concept, you should know that Renee is a certified sommelier.

Bison Short Rib Nachos, Salsa and Avocado Dips

As you peruse the menu you’ll quickly discern that the emphasis on the portmanteau “gastropub” is on the “gastro” (as in short for gastronomy) portion of the word, but the emphasis on high quality also extends to the pub, a relaxing, contemporary milieu in which you’ll feel right at home.  The menu showcases items made from fresh, local, organic meats and produce.  It’s not an overly ambitious menu in terms of quantity, but that allows for preparing food to order and ensures freshness.  Almost everything, including bread, is made from scratch.

10 September 2016: The “snacks” portion of the menu includes several items bordering on irresistible.  Two print-based restaurant reviews predating mine raved about the fried rosemary Castelvetrano olives and roasted Marcona almonds.  There’s a good reason for that.  Imported from Castelvetrano, Sicily, the green-hued (the color of Kermit the Frog) olives lack the bitterness of most olives and are actually considered dolce (sweet) in Italy.  Loyal Hound coats them in a light rosemary-imbued batter and fries them, not to the point that they’re crispy or stiff.  Bite into them and you’ll find the olives refreshingly fresh and juicy.

Fried Castelvetrano Olives and Roasted Marcona Almonds

10 September 2016: If, like me, you’ve grown increasingly frustrated with mixed nuts being mostly peanuts  and almonds with only a few “token” Brazil nuts, cashews, filberts, hazelnuts, and pecans thrown in, you might try buying a can of mixed nuts without peanuts.  If you do, you’ll find the dominant nut is almonds–bland, boring, banal California almonds.  We’d appreciate mixed nuts so much more if instead of California almonds, Marcona almonds were used instead.  Considered the “queen of olives,” these Spanish almonds are roasted in olive oil then sprinkled with sea salt.  The resultant flavor profile is sweeter yet saltier than most almonds.  It’s a terrific departure.

19 September 2014: The braised bison short rib nachos with Tucumcari Cheddar and Oaxaca cheese, salsa and avocado dip called just loudest during my inaugural visit.  The nachos and all their individual components were well executed and flavorful, but the salsa and avocado dip ensnared my affection.  The fire-roasted salsa isn’t especially piquant, but it packs savory, tangy and piquant notes that will besot your taste buds.  A squeeze or two of lime enlivens the avocado dip in a way all guacamole should be vivified. 

Deviled Eggs

10 September 2016: A fundamentalist acquaintance of yore couldn’t bring herself to partake of deviled eggs, believing the term “deviled” to have Satanic connotations. Even when told the term “devil” has been used in Great Britain since the 1700s to describe different kinds of spicy, broiled, or fried foods, she wouldn’t try them. Not surprisingly, when labeled “stuffed eggs” or “salad eggs,” she ate them with great alacrity.  In recent years, deviled eggs have experienced a resurgence at homes and in restaurants (Jennifer James 101 being among the first in Albuquerque to offer them).  The Loyal Hound serves some of the most delicious deviled eggs we’ve enjoyed, four halved eggs with finely chopped pickled jalapeño and a dusting of smoked paprika.  This gluten-free, vegetarian offering is so good, they should be called “angeled eggs.”

19 September 2014: In recent years, one of the most popular dining trends sweeping across America has been chicken and waffles.  The Loyal Hound dares to deviate from the norm, offering pork and waffles, an herbed Belgian waffle topped with braised heritage pork tossed in house-made BBQ sauce.  My dalliance with that dining option was short-lived thanks to the simple Southern favorite (think Popeye’s, but only several orders of magnitude better) of spicy fried chicken-n-biscuits.  The boneless fried chicken is first marinated in the intriguing combination of buttermilk and Sriracha then coated in panko breadcrumbs before deep-frying. 

Spicy Fried Chicken-n-Biscuits drizzled with honey butter, served with a side of Apple Fennel Slaw

The chicken and a single halved biscuit are drizzled with honey butter. The influence of the Sriracha is subtle, tempering the richness of the buttermilk while the panko imbues the chicken with a texture that doesn’t fall away as some breading tends to do. The scratch-made biscuit is dense and absolutely addictive. This combination is served with a bright, fresh apple-fennel slaw with lip-pursing qualities that contrast beautifully with other components.  Slaw seems to be a specialty at the Loyal Hound though a more generous portion size would be much appreciated.

10 September 2016: In her terrific tome American Sandwich, my friend Becky Mercuri reveals we each devour about 193 sandwiches a year for a hefty 45 billion annual total nationally.  The most popular sandwich across the fruited plain is the simple ham sandwich with the BLT ranking second.  Enterprising chefs the world over have long created more interesting variations on the three-ingredient bacon, lettuce and tomato standard.  The Loyal Hound’s rendition is one of the best we’ve had in New Mexico.  It’s constructed with Zoe’s applewood smoked bacon, lettuce and heirloom tomato on homemade sandwich bread with black pepper mayo (to which we added sliced avocado).  What makes this sandwich transformative is the homemade sandwich bread baked fresh (you’ll want to take a loaf or three home with you), as wonderful a sandwich canvas as you’ll find anywhere.  Zoe’s applewood smoked bacon is an artisan masterpiece cured to bring out the optimum sweet, salty and smoky flavors that define bacon greatness.

BLT

10 September 2016: Included among the more than 8,000 comments on Gil’s Thrilling are a number of threads discussing the best fish and chips in the Albuquerque area.  Should those discussions been expanded to include Santa Fe, the Loyal Hound’s Fish N Chips would certainly have made the list…even sans chips.  Yes, my friends, it may be sacrilege to have fish and chips without chips, but given a choice of house fries, spicy green chile slaw, apple fennel slaw, organic pintos, side salad, or minty mushy peas, chips don’t necessarily bubble up to the top.  Who needs them when the fish is this good (the most popular item on the menu according to our server).  Two thick, lightly breaded fish fillets that are actually mostly fish not breaded air is one of the reasons for their popularity.  Then there’s the tartar sauce, a very good accompaniment, though our preference will always be malted vinegar.    

An old television commercial from our years living in England included a catchy refrain with the lyrics “you’ve had your chips” repeated several times.  The term “you’ve had your chips, an English colloquialism, essentially means “you’ve run out of luck” but it also described my decision not to have chips with my fish.  Instead of chips, we opted for mushy peas, a traditional dish in the United Kingdom which tastes much better than it sounds.  In fact, the Loyal Hound’s version has a remarkably fresh flavor with a texture that’s not at all off-putting.  Flavored with mint, the mushy peas are better than many we had in England.  Add green chile slaw to the mix and you’ve got a party for your taste buds.

Fish N Chips (Minus the Chips)

10 September 2016: No matter what you order, it’s best washed down with basil-mint lemonade made on the premises. From your introductory sip when you’re expecting just a slight variation from your run-of-the-mill lemonade, you’ll be ensnared by something even more refreshing and delicious. Minty freshness and the sweet aromatic zip of basil are a nice counterbalance to the sweet-tart flavor of an otherwise just very good lemonade. If you could have the Loyal Hound’s basil-mint every summer day, the heat and humidity of monsoon season would be so much more bearable and delicious.

19 September 2014: Chef Renee is the architect of the menu which features made-from-scratch daily breads and desserts, some of which are unique. Made-to-order cinnamon-sugar beignets, called “The Doggy Bag” on the menu, are a popular choice, but for diners who live by a “viva la difference” ethos will opt for the gluten-free olive oil chocolate cake. The olive oil lends just a slightly oleaginous quality to the moist, dense cake.  More discernible are the cake’s citrusy notes (the combination of chocolate and citrus is terrific).  It’s served atop a smear of caramel. 

Gluten-Free Olive Oil Chocolate Cake

10 September 2016Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans made its reputation largely on the strength of chicory coffee and beignets, a square piece of dough, fried and covered with powdered sugar.  Locals find it humorous to see tourists walking around with more than a dusting of powdered sugar on their clothing.  As often as we had these fried fritters, we never thought them to be as good as sopaipillas.  The cinnamon-sugar beignets at the Loyal Hound are close.  Served three to an order in an old-fashioned paper bag (called a Doggy Bag), the beignets are more roundish than the traditional New Orleans-style beignets, more closely resembling oversized donut holes.  They’re also served with your choice (or both) of dipping sauces, either sea salt caramel or ganache.  The dipping sauces elevate the beignets significantly.

The Doggy Bag

10 September 2016: In four of our last five restaurant visits we’ve ordered cobbler.  No, we’re not in a rut.  We’re trying to relive the delectation we experienced with the peach cobbler at The County Line Restaurant and the transformative rhubarb cobber at the Eclectic Pizzeria and Beer Tap.  Our server raved about the Loyal Hound’s peach cobbler which she assured us is made with fresh, not canned peaches.  It’s a different cobbler than others we’ve had recently.  Instead of a thin pie-type crust blanketing the peaches, a square bread pudding-like slab of sweet dough lay beside the peaches.  My appreciation for this “crust” was heightened by the dipping sauces which accompanied the Doggy Bag.  The peaches themselves were fresh and tangy, a perfect foil for the vanilla bean ice cream.

Peach Cobbler

The Loyal Hound Pub launched in June, 2014 and already has a loyal following of patrons who enjoy the inviting made-from-scratch food and an ambiance you’d love to share with your own loyal hound.

Loyal Hound Pub
730 St. Michael’s Drive, Suite 3RW
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 471-0440
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 10 September 2016
1st VISIT: 19 September 2014
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Bison Short Rib Nachos, Spicy Fried Chicken, Olive Oil Chocolate Cake, Jones Root Beer, Fish, Mushy Peas, Green Chile Slaw, BLT, Deviled Eggs, Fried Castelvetrano Olives and Roasted Marcona Almonds, Peach Cobbler, Doggy Bag, Basil-Mint Lemonade

Loyal Hound Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Plaza Cafe Southside – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Plaza Cafe Southside

Santa Fe’s oldest restaurant (circa 1918), the Plaza Cafe is so popular that long waits to be seated are commonplace. Compound that with the hassle of trying to find a parking spot that isn’t a marathon’s length to walk to and from the Cafe then having to navigate through throngs of awestruck tourists and it’s a restaurant we don’t visit as often as we’d like.  Our visits might become even more infrequent thanks to the 2003 launch of the Plaza Cafe’s sister restaurant (albeit a sister that’s 84 years younger) on Santa Fe’s south side.

Neon Spangled Interior Festooned with Colorful Art

The Plaza Cafe Southside, situated in San Isidro Plaza on Zafarano Drive, is a welcome respite from the challenges inherent with trying to dine in the teeming tourist traversed Plaza area. It’s one of an increasing number of excellent restaurants situated well outside Santa Fe’s well beaten, well eatin’ Plaza area.  It’s also one of several very good restaurants within easy walking distance of the Regal Cinemas 14.  It’s the Plaza Cafe Southside’s second home.  For its first six years, the Cafe occupied cozy, but cramped confines within a motel off Cerrillos.

You Can’t Help But Smile

The Plaza Cafe Southside is the brainchild of Leonard Razatos who “wanted to bring a little of the old Santa Fe to the new Santa Fe.” A “new” Santa Fe can certainly describe the burgeoning south side which has shown tremendous growth over the past decade. “Old” Santa Fe begins and ends with the famous Santa Fe Plaza, fittingly home to the Plaza Cafe, the city’s oldest restaurant. In 1947, Greek immigrant Dionysi “Danny” Razatos, purchased the restaurant and together with his wife and six children has fed Santa Fe ever since. Leonard upholds the family tradition within the trappings of a modern edifice which might not work well in the architectural restricted plaza area.

Karen Webb, One of Santa Fe’s Most Famous (And Beloved) Waitresses

Where the Cafe’s first digs were cramped and cozy, its new home is capacious and comfortable. Despite the modernity of high ceilings, industrial-style ductwork and steel girders, the Cafe retains the appearance of an old-fashioned diner. Undulating neon festoons the service area where an industrious wait staff delivers and picks up orders. Suspended from the ceiling is a colorful four-sided mural depicting the culture of Santa Fe, not so much in an idyllic fashion, but in a mode which might best describe the things that make it the “City Different.” The bar soffit mural painted by local artist Robb Rael depicts the Zozobra, skeletal images from el Dia de los Muertos, pueblo-style architectural homes and more, all in the artist’s unique interpretive style. It, too, is festooned by 1950s style neon.

The first thing you notice when you walk in to the Plaza Cafe Southside is a dessert case that’s wider than it is tall. Behind glass are some of the most sumptuous, calorie-laden confections ever crafted. It’s a wonder there aren’t tongue trails on the glass because behind it, just waiting for hungry diners, are the Plaza Cafe’s famous cajeta apple pecan pie, served in huge slabs with or without ice cream. There’s also the fabulous coconut cream pie (in a macaroon shell), pastel tres leches and other mouth-watering desserts.

In The Event of An Emergency

Step into the restaurant on a lazy Sunday morning and it’s a good bet you’ll be cheerfully greeted by Karen Webb, one of the city’s most famous and beloved hostesses. Karen gained a modicum of fame on the terrific documentary American Waitresses: New Mexico, a feature film that examines the lives, attitudes, perceptions and experiences of waitresses. Karen came across as the very effusive and warm soul she is. A mainstay at the Plaza Cafe Southside, she greets guests with an endearing “darling” or “baby,” eliciting hearty hugs from many of them. She’s a true ambassador for the Cafe, pointing out the historical photographs on the wall and inviting guests to make themselves at home. When I asked if I could photograph her, she joked with another guest about “posing for a nudie.”

The Dessert Case

Their classic American diner showcases traditional cooking methods and time-honored ingredients that would make many a New Mexican abuelita proud indeed.  In addition to excellent New Mexican  and Mexican food, the restaurant features a few Greek entrees as well as American diner favorites and blue-plate specials.  The menu is a veritable compendium of home-style diner cuisine New Mexico style with something for everyone.  Some time-honored recipes have been “improved upon” with inventive ingredients in exciting combinations.  Other recipes haven’t been “tampered” with and might remind you of the home cooking you got at home as a child. 

Peruse the menu and quality-conscious diners will certainly appreciate reading “A Few Things We’re Proud of.”   “We use local New Mexico heritage ranch, grass-fed, antibiotic-free beef.  We use only cage-free eggs.  We bake all our pastries and desserts from scratch daily using only the highest quality ingredients.  All our breads are from scratch using only the highest quality ingredients.  Our corn and flour tortillas are from a local tortillera and are free of preservatives and artificial ingredients.”  How can you not love that if you care about quality?

Three salsas with red, yellow and blue corn chips

Three salsas with red, yellow and blue corn chips

The Southside Cafe shares most of the same menu with its sister restaurant. There are a few notable exceptions, one being the absence of the elder sibling’s roasted garlic and carnitas quesadillas, an appetizer for which you’d brave the teeming throngs.  Similar to the Plaza Cafe, the Southside Cafe features oversized plastic menus emblazoned with a round image of the heavily trafficked Santa Fe plaza at the height of bustling activity. The menu is several pages long and reads like a great novel; it’s very hard to put down and even harder to make a decision as to what to order.

That menu includes several “aguas frescas,” the refreshing at any time beverages becoming increasingly popular in New Mexico. The Cafe has its own interesting twists on traditional aguas frescas.  That includes a prickly pear lemonade made with tangy prickly pear puree and even prickly pear horchata, an exotic blend of almond, cinnamon and rice water with tangy prickly pear puree. The latter is an interesting departure from what can be a cloying beverage and will amaze you at how well two unique flavors meld together.  For those cold mornings in which your belly needs some anti-freeze, the Ibarra Mexican hot chocolate has your number.  It’s a strong hot chocolate with a rich flavor.

Side salad with citrus vinaigrette dressing

Side salad with citrus vinaigrette dressing

The appetizer section features New Mexican, Mexican, Greek and American options.  If in the mood for something Greek, hummus and pita are available. The hummus, a puree of tahini, lemon, garlic, onion and garbanzo beans is oh so garlicky delicious. This terrific appetizer is served with warm pita bread.  Typical of the surprising inventiveness of the menu is the fried calamari with jalapeños, tender calamari dusted with flour, flash-fried and garnished with salt, pepper and jalapeños then served with a habanero dipping sauce that’s positively piquant.

28 July 2007: If a more traditional Mexican appetizer is what you’re after,  the Cafe’s housemade blue, yellow and red corn tortilla chips and three salsas (Chipotle, tomatillo and pico de gallo) is a terrific triumvirate. All three salsas are sensational and all have capsaicin enriched potency (translation: they bite back). The Chipotle salsa has a wonderfully smoky taste and is perhaps the most piquant of the three. It may also be the most addicting and will probably be the first one you finish. Guacamole and chips are also available as is a mountainous plate of nachos (tortilla chips, beans, chipotle salsa, chile con queso, chorizo, jalapeños, lettuce and tomato).

Cilantro Salmon with Tomato Habanero Lasagna

Cilantro Salmon with Tomato Habanero Lasagna

28 July 2007: The “Specials” section includes several items in which the chef’s artistic interpretations crossed into the realm of non-traditional mixing of cultures. That would apply to the Cilantro Salmon with Tomato-Habañero lasagna.  The salmon filet is entree sized in and of itself. It’s a flame-grilled six-ounce slab of salmon marinated in garlic, cilantro and olive oil. It is fork-tender and surprisingly moist as well as imbued with discernable smokiness courtesy of the grill.  See the word “Habañero” attached to any entree and you’re bound to think incendiary, pain-inducing, eye-watering, mouth-scalding, too hot to handle, torturous pepper.

At the Cafe, the Tomato-Habañero Lasagna is surprisingly scaled down heat-wise. In fact, the hotter-than-Hell pepper’s most discernable quality is the fruitiness with which it imbues the lasagna. It complements the acidic tomatoes and rich ricotta cheese very well. This is an excellent lasagna.  As with other Italian inspired entrees at the Cafe, the tomato sauce is applied lightly so that it ameliorates, not dominates, the flavor profile.  The sauce has a flavor quite like fresh tomatoes seasoned with garlic and basil.  It’s an excellent sauce for lasagna or any other Italian pasta.

New Mexico Meatloaf, a specialty of the house

New Mexico Meatloaf, a specialty of the house

28 July 2007: What best defines comfort food?  Many surveys will tell you it’s meatloaf and that just happens to be the Cafe’s specialty. Appropriately, it used to be found on the menu’s Blue Plate section; now it’s  the special of the day on Tuesdays. This isn’t your mama’s meatloaf, unless you’re from New Mexico. This is New Mexico meatloaf stuffed with vegetables (sweet corn nibblets stand out), cheese and green chile.  Unlike the meatloaf at many a diner, the Cafe’s version doesn’t have that annoying crust you have to cut through to get to the moist part. This is one of the most moist meatloaves you’ll find anywhere…and the green chile, vegetable and cheese combination imbues it with qualities that render it sublime. The meatloaf is served with mashed potatoes and gravy as well as sautéed broccoli and carrots.

23 January 2011: From the blue-plate special comes a spaghetti and meatballs entree which might have you saying “That’s amore!” with every bite.  It’s the Plaza Cafe’s spaghetti with meatballs served with a tomato-marjoram sauce, bacon and Parmesan cheese.  Bacon, as everyone knows, makes everything better and the Cafe’s menu boasts of “Santa Fe’s best bacon.”  You won’t find bacon in every bite, but oh those spoonfuls blessed with bacon are special.  The tomato-marjoram sauce is light and thin, emphasizing the flavor of tomatoes and not some thick tomato paste.  Marjoram, by the way, is a member of the oregano-mint family.  It’s similar to oregano, but somewhat milder.  The spaghetti noodles are perfectly al dente.

Spaghetti & Meatballs with Bacon Tomato Sauce: Meatballs, tomato-marjoram sauce, spaghetti, bacon + parmesan cheese, grilled focaccia

23 January 2011: Yet another blue plate special which takes off where ordinary fish and chips leave off is a spicy rendition made from beer-battered cod served with a habanero tartar sauce and jalapeño malt vinegar.  It’s the type of fish and chips the irascible Captain Quint from the movie Jaws would eat while daring the scholarly Matt Hooper to follow suit.   Just as the two tried to out-macho one another by showing off their “battle” scars, it’s easy to imagine the two dousing their beer-battered cod filets in the jalapeño malt vinegar then chasing them down with the habanero tartar sauce all the while daring the other to spice it up even more.

To be honest, neither the jalapeño malt vinegar nor the habanero tartar sauce are that piquant, but it makes for a good story to tell.  It also makes for a very good, very different fish and chips dish.  The cod filets are light and flaky with a beer-batter that’s light enough to allow the superb malt vinegar to impregnate the filets with a terrific tartness.  The “chips” are red chile fries, actually just fries lightly dusted with red chile.  They’re great fries.  Instead of some insipid salad cream, the slaw is made with an apple cider vinegar-like sauce that makes the slaw lip-pursing tangy.

Spicy Fish & Chips: beer-battered cod fillet with habanero tartar sauce, jalapeño malt vinegar and red chile fries, slaw

28 July 2007: For just a pittance, you can add a dinner salad to any entree. As is the case with every item on the menu, this isn’t a blasé and boring salad. It’s mixed greens, strips of jicama, julienne carrots, wedges of tomato, garbanzo beans and more. Ask for the citrus vinaigrette to enliven the salad even further.  If a satisfying salad is what you crave for your entree, consider the menu’s six salads which include a Greek Chicken Souvlaki salad and an inspired Middle Eastern salad (mixed greens, roasted beets and carrots, red cabbage, toasted almonds, cumin seeds, hummus, falafel, pita bread served with a cumin-lemon vinaigrette).

It may be entirely possible that breakfast, served day and night, is even better than lunch and dinner. The menu lists five early morning themes–eggs & omelets, pancakes & French toast, breakfast specialties, bakeshop offerings and platos nativos–and it will be a challenge to figure out what eye-opening entree to have.  One certainty is the thick-cut, sugar-cured bacon which surely must be the best bacon in Santa Fe.  It’s a must have.

Blue corn enchiladas Christmas style

Blue corn enchiladas Christmas style

5 August 2007: The platos nativos (native plates) section features traditional New Mexican entrees such as blue corn enchiladas. Layers of blue corn tortillas, Cheddar cheese and eggs are slathered with the Plaza Cafe’s dark red chile and served with hashed browns and beans.  Because the red and green chile are equally wonderful, ask for your enchiladas “Christmas” style and each mouthful will be a treat. Neither chile is mild.  Red and green chile are available at medium-hot or extra hot and if you’re not certain as to your tolerance level, ask for a sample or order your chile on the side.  The menu’s disclaimer reads “We cannot be responsible for chile that is too hot.” 

14 August 2016: For some strange reason, my Kim prefers her breakfast burritos “deconstructed,” that is with the tortilla on the side. She prefers folding bits of tortilla into “New Mexican spoons” and loading them up with the burrito’s constituents in the proportions and combinations she wants. Usually that means I inherit at least half the frijoles. Whether served the way New Mexico’s chile gods intended or deconstructed, the Plaza Cafe’s breakfast burritos are the bomb! Credit much of that to the piquancy and deliciousness of the chile. The green chile, in particular, not only bites back but has a fruitiness that’ll open your eyes (and nasal passages).

Breakfast Tacos

A word about the hashed browns–they’re amazing! Most hashed browns look and taste like confetti, but not at the Plaza Cafe. These shredded tubers are prepared with onion and are just slightly crispy. Best of all, they actually taste like potatoes and not some paper derivative. You won’t leave any on your plate. The beans are also terrific.  They’re the type of means your abuelita might have prepared years ago. 

14 August 2016Breakfast tacos are oft-attempted, but rarely imbued with the eye-opening deliciousness you crave first thing in the morning.  Plaza Cafe Southside’s version are the best, by far, we’ve ever had.  Picture two soft corn tortillas engorged with scrambled eggs and calabasitas with your choice of meat (Santa Fe’s best bacon, of course) or veggie sausage as well as avocado, cheese, cilantro, onion, chipotle salsa and a side of pinto beans and hash browns.  Individual ingredients coalesce into a mouth-watering whole with several flavor stand-outs.   Among them are the al dente calabasitas, as fresh and delicious as you’ll find anywhere.  The chipotle salsa is so good we requested a second ramekin which we spooned directly into our eagerly awaiting mouths.   The accompanying frijoles, blanketed by molten white Cheddar, and hash browns are wonderful.

“Deconstructed” Breakfast Burrito

14 August 2016: For some reason my Kim prefers her breakfast burritos “deconstructed,” that is with the tortilla on the side.  She folds pieces of tortilla into “New Mexican spoons” into which she piles on the other ingredients in the proportions and combinations she wants (meaning fewer frijoles).  Whether in the form New Mexico’s culinary gods intended or deconstructed, the Plaza Cafe’s breakfast burrito is a paragon of deliciousness.  Credit much of that to an incendiary chile that’s not only piquant, but oh, so flavorful.  It’s impossible for me to chide her for her non-traditional approach to burritos because I usually inherit most of the beans on her plate.

5 August 2007: If your sweet tooth is acting up in the morning, the lemon ricotta pancakes will take care of it. Topped with fresh blueberries, these magnificent orbs are so sweet you might not even need syrup. An equal pronouncement of tanginess and sweetness make these pancakes dessert-like and absolutely delicious. The pancakes are available in quantities of one or two per order.  The Plaza’s pancake line-up also includes made-from-scratch buttermilk pancakes and blue corn pancakes with orange butter and cinnamon syrup.  It’s a terrific triumvirate.

Lemon ricotta pancakes

Lemon ricotta pancakes

14 August 2016: Perhaps better than the pancakes, amazing as they are, are the restaurant’s signature French toast made from a thick-cut crunchy coated (with Kellog’s Corn Flakes) Challah bread.  Challah bread, a traditional Hebrew bread makes the best French toast, especially when sliced thick.  It has a pillowy-soft texture and an rich, egg enhanced flavor.  Challah bread also absorbs syrup (or honey, if you prefer).  The French toast are served in half (pictured below) or full-sized portions.

Challah Bread French Toast

14 August 2016: No matter how good your entrees might be, you absolutely must save room for desserts.  Make that a lot of room.  The desserts are humongous!  The green chile apple pie with a Cheddar crust, for example, is a huge slab of pie with about seven layers of stacked apples.  The Cheddar crust bottom and the crunchy top crust provide textural and flavor contrasts.  Ask for the pie to be served warm and for a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on the side, an unbeatable combination.

The other apple pie dish, the one made famous at the original Plaza cafe, is topped with cajeta, a Mexican caramel made from goat’s and cow’s milk.  It’s fully addictive, a far better caramel than the squeeze bottle variety.  The pie, of course, is delicious with sweet-tart apples.  A la mode is the best way to experience it because the Plaza Cafe uses a premium vanilla ice cream in which flecks of vanilla bean are prominent.

Green Chile Apple Pie with a Cheddar Crust

The Plaza Cafe Southside Cafe is so good it should be considered a dining destination in its own right, not a consolation prize for not wanting to face the challenges of eating at the Plaza. A reasonable bill of fare, excellent food, accommodating service and almost as important, easy parking make this an excellent choice at any time.

Plaza Cafe Southside
3466 Zafarano Drive (San Isidro Plaza)
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 424-0755
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 14 August 2016
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 23
COST: $$
BEST BET: Salsa & Chips, New Mexico Meatloaf, Cilantro Salmon with Tomato-Habañero Lasagna, Prickly Pear Horchata, Mexican Hot Chocolate, Blue Corn Enchiladas, Lemon Ricotta Pancakes, Challah French Toast, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Spicy Fish & Chips, Breakfast Tacos, Chipotle Salsa, “Deconstructed” Breakfast Burrito

Plaza Cafe Southside Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chez Mamou – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Chez Mamou on Palace Avenue in Santa Fe

When she asked me to repeat the name of the French restaurant where we were dining one slightly breezy Sunday morning, I knew my clever bride had something in mind.  Relaying that we were dining at Chez (pronounced “shay”) Mamou, she retorted “are you sure it’s not called “Shame on you.”  That was her reaction to a server having deposited a stale, probably older than day-old baguette on our table.  She followed up with “no self-respecting French restaurant, especially one claiming to be a bakery would serve bread baked by Napoleon’s baker.”  Whether or not the fossilized (her term) bread was indicative of Chez Mamou’s daily performance, it was enough to rile my usually saintly patient wife.

By this point, she had already dissed the coffee, an Allegro Coffee blend, which she found entirely too strong and “more bitter than supporters of England wanting to remain in the European Union.”   (In the interest of full-disclosure, she finds coffee too strong if it can’t be “cured” by five or six packets of Splenda.”)  She would later repeat her “what’s the name of this restaurant” comment while eating some of the restaurant’s highly-touted pastries and croissants, reputedly baked by a master baker (and I won’t repeat how she twisted that term). That, my friends, is why she leaves the reviewing to me…and lest you think she’s nit-picky, the only time she’s ever compromised on her exceedingly high standards is when she said “yes” to me.

Dining Room at Chez Mamou

You should certainly set your expectations high when visiting a restaurant as highly touted as Chez Mamou.  Never mind that it earned rave reviews from both the Albuquerque Journal and Santa Fe Reporter, where it really earned its creds with me is from a Facebook post by Daniela Bouneou, erstwhile owner of the fabulous  Torinos @ Home.  When Daniela posts about a restaurant, you’re well advised to heed her recommendation.  Chez Mamou also earned a 3.5 rating (out of 4) from Yelp, 4.5 (out of 5) from Trip Advisor  and 3.9 (out of 5) from Zomato. Interspersed among mostly glowing comments in these three crowd-sourced review forums are a few opinions which would make excellent roast material.  At least our experience wasn’t an outlier.

Chez Mamou is one of several French restaurants serving the City Different, not really a surprise considering the long and storied history of French people in New Mexico.  Launched in 2012, its East Palace Avenue location is scant blocks away from the Santa Fe Plaza, but in ways it seems almost an ocean away…as far away as a Paris sidewalk cafe.  That’s especially true on a Santa Fe summer morning if you’re trying to escape the sweltering heat of Albuquerque as was the case during our inaugural visit.  A light, cool breeze and the courtyard’s sun-shielding shade transported us to a better time and place.  Had we known Chez Mamou was so pet-friendly, we might have brought our four-legged children Tim and The Dude.

Al Fresco Dining at its Finest

Weather-permitted, the courtyard is definitely preferred seating.  If the courtyard is full, there are a few tables preceding the front entrance that’ll give you a great view of the street activity.  The space which houses Chez Mamou is bisected into two halves, one occupied by Noëlla Jewelry Couture.  Decor is tasteful and homey.  Step up into the cafe and your eyes will immediately gravitate toward the pastry case with its colorful display of pastries, breads, croissant and other French baked delicacies.  Few display cases in New Mexico are as lovely.  You’ll want to order the chocolate croissants the minute you walk in or you risk the cafe running out entirely.

From among the baked goods we shared, the chocolate croissants stand out.  While no croissant will ever have enough chocolate to sate this chocoholic, the chocolate chunks on these beauties are strategically placed so that you’ll experience sweet and savory tastes in virtually every bite.  The croissants are buttery, light and flaky, but they’re served with a hard butter which is a challenge to spread.  Fortunately a housemade strawberry jam accompanied our croissants.  The jam, nearly pureed in texture, was very reminiscent of fresh strawberries plucked at their optimum ripeness, neither too sweet nor too tart.

Mussels Mamou

Where Chez Mamou really stands out is in the large variety of its menu, particularly its brunch offerings.  While many restaurants feature an abbreviated brunch menu usually short on lunch-type offerings, Chez Mamou’s brunch menu is staggering in its variety.  Like me, the cafe doesn’t believe 7:30 in the morning is too early for Frog Legs, Escargots, Fettuccini Carbonara or any number of sandwiches on a canvas of freshly baked bread.  If you’re more of a traditionalist, the menu also includes a number of omelets (made with eggs produced by local, happy, free-range, Nambe hens) as well as sweet and savory crepes and even a Croque Madame…all because sometimes you feel like breakfast and sometimes you feel like lunch.

In England, as in much of Northern Europe, mussels are so readily available and relatively inexpensive that they’re often dismissed as a poor man’s shellfish.  During our years in England, we enjoyed mussels by the bushel, but we never contemplated the possibility of incorporating New Mexico flavors (not that we had red or green chile readily available) into either the wine- or cream-based broths we regularly prepared.  Thankfully restaurants in New Mexico, regardless of genre, know their patrons practically expect a little red or green in virtually every menu, even on dessert items…and as we all know, chile improves the overall flavor of everything it touches.

Steak Frites

In an inspired example of France meets New Mexico, Chez Mamou offers an eponymous appetizer called Mussels Mamou which showcases the lively flavor of red chile paired with the incomparable flavor of applewood smoked bacon in a light wine sauce punctuated by shallots and parsley.  Although comprised of only a paltry six mussels, everyone knows that more than half of the enjoyment of mussels is in sopping up the broth with a good bread.  Because the bread we were provided lacked the dredging qualities of great broth sopping bread (hence my Kim’s dissatisfaction described above), we had to spoon up the broth instead.  While still good, the sensory–tactile, olfactory and taste–experiences were diminished somewhat.

Because she missed the French fries often served with mussels (who doesn’t love moules frites?), my Kim’s choice of entree was the Steak Frites, a flank steak served with a pile of French fries and assorted vegetables.  After recent encounters with sinewy, tough ribeye steaks, we were delighted to find the flank steak tender and absolutely delicious (in Kim’s estimation, better than a much more expensive steak at Ruth’s Chris).  Prepared and seasoned to her exacting specifications, it didn’t even need the delectable mushrooms in gravy (not quite duxelles style) though they, too, were mouth-watering.  So were the vegetables (carrots, broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower) which were so good even avowed vegetable-haters of all ages would enjoy them.  Alas, the frites were strictly out-of-a-bag quality, a far cry from the twice-fried frites we enjoyed in Europe and now in La Quiche Parisienne in Albuquerque.

Duck Confit

One of the more challenging decisions we faced during our inaugural visit was how to enjoy the duck which is prepared three different ways: duck confit, duck confit pasta and duck confit salad.  The duck confit (red wine demi glace over slowly cooked duck) served with fresh roasted tomato, seasonal vegetables and potatoes au gratin had me at au gratin, a potato dish served often at French restaurants bur almost nowhere else.  A layer of Gruyere blanketed the perfectly prepared potatoes, imparting a creamy texture, richness and saltiness.  As with the aforementioned mussels, the superb red wine demi glace beckoned for bread so as not to leave a single drop on the plate.  It was one of the best demi glace preparations we’ve had at any French restaurant in New Mexico.  The duck, too, was well prepared and nicely seasoned with dark meat qualities showcased in every bite.

As beautiful as the pastries under glass appeared to be, we must have ordered the wrong ones because their appearance was certainly deceiving.  Kim opted for the cherry tart, the most redeeming quality of which was that real, whole cherries were used, not some gloppy gelatinous mix.  Alas, the thickness and plenitude of the breading was off-putting.  Such was the case as well with the almond tart of my choosing.  Topped with almond slivers and walnut pieces, it would have been far more enjoyable had there not been so much breading.

Pastry Tray

As with virtually all restaurants we visit, our experience was a mix of good and not-so-good.  That’s not surprising.  What is surprising is the delta between the good and not-so-good.  Our entrees were outstanding, as good as prepared at any French restaurant in the Land of Enchantment, but the baked goods (save for croissants) were lacking.  It’s quite possible this was an anomaly, but it’ll take additional visits to know for sure.  That’s something this gastronome and his oft-fussy better-half are happy to do.

Chez Mamou
217 East Palace Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 216-1845
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 26 June 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$
BEST BET: Duck Confit, Steak Frites, Mussels Mamou

Chez Mamou French Cafe & Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Comal Cafe – Santa Fe, New Mexico

El Comal Cafe, Serving Great New Mexican Food in Santa Fe for Thirty Years

From a social connectedness perspective, 1995 was the dark ages. The internet as we know and love it today was in its relative infancy.  There was no Urbanspoon, no Yelp, no Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog…no trusted online resource to enlighten and entice diners.  My only knowledge of Santa Fe’s restaurant scene came from fading memories and a 1994 article on Fortune magazine naming the City Different as one of the fruited plain’s ten best dining destinations.  The article listed such stalwarts as the Coyote Cafe, Santacafe and the Tecolote Cafe as among the city’s best.

After nearly two decades of wanderlust and travel courtesy of the United States Air Force, I had finally returned home to New Mexico and looked forward to introducing my bride of ten years to one of Fortune magazine’s anointed restaurants.  It was our first excursion together to Santa Fe and my first opportunity to impress my Kim with sophisticated Santa Fe cuisine.  My mom who’s infinitely more intelligent than I am had other ideas, steering us away from Fortune magazine’s popular tourist destinations and introducing us to one of Santa Fe’s quintessential off-the-beaten-path, mom-and-pop restaurants, a gem named El Comal.

Chips and Salsa

By 1995, El Comal had already been serving New Mexican cuisine for over a decade.  Tucked away in a small, nondescript strip mall that already had an anachronistic, timeworn look and feel to it, El Comal was the antithesis of Fortune magazine’s anointed restaurants, devoid of the trappings and superficiality that so often defines what unenlightened diners often consider signs of good restaurants.  El Comal is named for the heavy cast iron griddle used to cook tortillas.  It appeared to be a magnet for blue collar workers and Hispanic families, preparing New Mexican food as they would prepare it at home.

Just as El Comal itself is receded from the well-trafficked Cerrillos Road, over the years memories of the restaurant receded to the back of my mind.  Frankly, it wasn’t until the well-traveled Lobo Lair owner Mark Chavez mentioned it on a tweet that I fondly remembered a very good meal there so many years ago.  Chavez captioned a photo of his lunch “real recognize real.” Real is an apt description for El Comal, one of the least pretentious and most authentic New Mexican restaurants in the Land of Enchantment.  Not much had changed in the nineteen years since my last visit, but it did secure a commitment not to let so much time pass before my next visit.

Breakfast Enchiladas Christmas Style

If you have a number of restaurants on your “rotation” of frequent favorites, one visit to El Comal will probably  convince you to add it to that rotation. It’s that good!  It’s that real!  A comprehensive breakfast and lunch-dinner menu is replete with all your favorite New Mexican dishes while a chalkboard lists a handful of daily specials which the wait staff dutifully pushes.  During a visit in 2014, neither the red or green chile were made with cumin.  Two years later, cumin is used on the red chile and salsa, but the wait staff will swear it’s in moderation (though for someone who can discern one part cumin per million, it’s intensely present).  The green chile tends to be more piquant than the red so the heat obfuscates the influence of the cumin.

Chips and salsa have become so de rigueur that we often take for granted that they’ll be good and that they’ll be the most piquant items on the menu.  More than often the chips and salsa live up to those expectations.  At El Comal, they exceed all expectations…even though the presence of cumin is certainly discernible.  During my 2014 visit, I thought the chips and salsa were among the best served at any New Mexican restaurant in Santa Fe, but the addition of cumin has changed my opinion.  The salsa, made with red chile, is incendiary, offering a piquancy that is heightened by the restaurant’s scalding hot coffee.  The chips are crisp, lightly salted and perfect for dredging large scoops of the superb salsa.

Carne Adovada Taco

25 July 2014: When your server pushes a dish such as the breakfast enchiladas with alacrity, not ordering them is not an option.  Thank goodness I’m such an easy mark.  These are among the very best breakfast enchiladas I’ve had: two rolled corn tortillas engorged with scrambled eggs and chorizo topped with shredded cheese and red and green chile (Christmas-style).  Chorizo is the Rodney Dangerfield of the breakfast meats, usually mentioned after bacon, sausage and ham, but when it’s made well, there is no meat quite as rousing in the morning. El Comal’s chorizo is rich and flavorful with a pleasant spiciness and just a bit of char.  The corn tortillas are redolent with the enticing aromas of corn just off the comal. 

The highlight of the breakfast enchilada entree is most assuredly the red and green chile, both of which are quite good.  The red chile has a depth of flavor very few red chiles achieve. The green chile also has a real personality, one that reminds you chile is technically a fruit.  The breakfast enchiladas are served with pinto beans and hash browns.  The hash browns are of the “take it or leave it” variety, but dip them in the chile and they’re addictive.  In fact, the chile is so good you’ll finish off the oft-annoying garnish with it.  The beans are top shelf, as good as they can be made. 

Chicken Enchilada with Guacamole

25 July 2014: El Comal offers a la carte tacos filled with ground beef, shredded beef, chicken and get this, carne adovada. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a carne adovada taco. It’s a life altering experience, one that might entice you to order the carne adovada plate on your next visit.  The carne adovada is porcine perfection, tender tendrils of pork marinated in a wondrous red chile (albeit tinged with cumin).  It pairs wonderfully with the corn tortilla in which it’s nestled.  My Kim now wishes all tacos were carne adovada tacos.

5 June 2016: When consternation crossed our faces upon hearing that both the red and green chile were made with cumin, our server insisted we wouldn’t even notice.  That wasn’t the case (not even close), but the green chile has such a pleasant piquancy that it offset the McCormack’s seasoning flavor of cumin.  There was plenty of green chile blanketing flat enchiladas engorged with chicken with a dollop of  guacamole on the side.  Yes, in an example of truth in labeling, the menu described the dish as enchiladas with guacamole and that’s what we got.  Mary & Tito’s seems the only restaurant capable of actually using guacamole as a filler as well as a topper.  In any case, the green chile and the pronounced corn flavor of the tortillas made these enchiladas a winner.

Migas

5 June 2016:  Santa Fe is home to the best migas we’ve enjoyed in New Mexico with the very best being found at Cafe Fina (The Chocolate Maven’s version is also excellent).  Despite the addition of jalapeños, El Comal’s rendition lacked any real bite…and that’s not this asbestos-tongued fire-eater talking, but my infinitely more delicate wife.  A molten blanket of cheese covered scrambled eggs, tomatoes and torn ribbons of tortilla chips.  Should we order migas at El Comal a second time, we’ll ask for the green chile instead of the tepid jalapeños.

El Comal may not be on any national publications touting the best in Santa Fe restaurants, but locals have a high regard for this small mom-and-pop. It’s a great restaurant warranting a greater frequency of visits.

El Comal Cafe
3571 Cerrillos
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 471-3224
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 5 June 2016
1st VISIT: 25 July 2014
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 20
COST: $$
BEST BET: Coffee, Breakfast Enchiladas Christmas Style, Chips and Salsa, Carne Adovada Taco, Migas, Guacamole and Chicken Enchiladas, Sopaipillas, Tortillas

El Comal Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Museum Hill Cafe – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The Museum Hill Cafe in Santa Fe

Widely reputed to have the most spectacular views in Santa Fe and boasting of four world-renowned museums, Museum Hill may be the only location where visitors are more in awe of the site’s breathtaking backdrop than they are of the contents of the magnificent repositories that house the area’s cultural and historical heritage.   Set in an idyllic haven surrounded by panoramic views of hills dotted with dessert flora, colorful weather-worn mesas and verdured mountains, Museum Hill inspires awe and wonder.  Whether bathed in clear, unobstructed cerulean skies or punctuated by ethereally wispy clouds painted red, yellow and orange by  fiery sunsets, incomparable vistas surround you.

Perched on a hillside a scant two miles off the historic Santa Fe Trail, Museum Hill area is home to the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, Museum of Indian Art and Culture, the Museum of International Folk Art and the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.  A new addition, Santa Fe’s Botanical Garden sits across the street.  Atop Museum Hill’s “upper deck” is the expansive Milner Plaza which houses two of the quadrumvirate of museums.   The concrete plaza is surrounded by a beautifully manicured array of native grasses, sages and trees interspersed with stunning Native American sculptures.

Stunning East-Facing Hills of Rolling Hills and Native American Statuary

Sandwiched between the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the Museum of International Folk Art is the Museum Hill Cafe.  Weather-permitting, a seat on the cafe’s capacious patio will reward you with east-facing views that include not only the rolling hills backdropping the City Different, but famed architect John Gaw Meem’s  Pueblo Revival Laboratory of Anthropology of the Museum of New Mexico and a towering sculpture depicting an Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer.  Should you dine indoors, your west-facing views through large picture windows are of the Jemez Mountains.  Both options present you with opportunities to enjoy some of the best views you’ll experience anywhere in the Land of Enchantment.

The Museum Hill Cafe has quite a challenge.  Anything less than ambrosial cuisine worthy of its dramatic setting and diners will cast it aside as just fodder for a captive crowd.  The Cafe is open for lunch six days a week (from 11AM through 3PM) and offers an extensive brunch menu on Sundays.  With an eclectic menu showcasing a wide diversity of New Mexican, Asian, Mexican and American items, there’s something for everyone–and as author Anne Hillerman pointed out in her Albuquerque Journal review: “With its unmatched location, the Museum Hill Cafe could coast along with a less interesting menu or average food preparation.  After all, thousands of visitors and locals cruise by each month.  But, thankfully, the first-rate food here reflects the same commitment to quality you find in the museums and at the garden.”

Smoked Duck Flautas

The extensive menu is segmented into four sections: soups and starters, Museum Hill specialties, sandwiches and salads.  If you’re thinking that’s pretty standard cafe fare, peruse a bit further into each section and you’ll see such inventive items as corn custard with a poblano sauce to start off your meal.  Several satisfying bites later, the terminus of your dining experience could be any one of several housemade pies, including some (such as the pistachio cream pie) you won’t find just anywhere.  In between bites, you’ll remain entranced by the arresting views surrounding you.

Almost artistic in their presentation are smoked duck flautas, a Museum Hill Cafe specialty.  Three flour tortilla wedges filled with smoked duck confit and served with a mango dipping sauce are reminiscent of a similar offering at Albuquerque’s Zinc Wine Bar & Bistro.  The duck is moist and flavorful with finely shredded tendrils nestled tightly into the folded tortilla.  While the mango dipping sauce may have a texture and appearance similar to Gerber baby food, it provides a nice contrast to the savory flautas.  Even better is a side of mango-pineapple salsa (finely chopped jalapeños, red peppers, red onion and cilantro) which has just enough punch (courtesy of the jalapeño) to titillate your tongue.

Curried Lentil Stew

The curried lentil stew (slow-cooked green lentils, carrots, tomato, celery served with orzo, edamame and a sprinkling of feta cheese) had me at curry.  Served in a swimming pool-sized bowl (easily portioned for two), this stew is a wonderful study in the way ingredients work together to form a flavorful composite that’s better than any of the ingredients by itself.  The shredded feta in particular provides a sharp, tangy contrast to the sweet carrots while the orzo and green lentils meld to provide a dissimilarity in texture and flavor that goes very well together.  My sole complaint and it’s a nit is that some of the qualities of curry, especially piquancy and pungency, aren’t more prominent.

You’ll want to save room for desserts which your server will ferry over to your table on a large tray. For the most part, dessert consists of pies made for the Cafe by an obvious practitioner of perfect pie-making.  It’s an exercise in willpower to pass over such tempting treats as pecan pie and a strawberry-rhubarb pie, but as an adventurous epicure, it was the pistachio cream pie that ensnared my interest.  When is the last time you had pistachio cream pie?  If, like me, you answered “never,” that’s reason enough to try this masterpiece, a thick wedge topped with a fluffy cream topping sprinkled with chopped pecans.  This pie isn’t overly sweet as some pies are apt to be and it definitely tastes more like real pistachios than like some artificial flavoring out of a box.  Not since the avocado pie at Orlando’s in Taos has a sliver of pie intrigued me quite as much.

Pistachio Cream Pie

A visit to the Museum Hill Cafe is an experience not only in visual stimulation, but in making challenging decisions–where to sit, what to order, which museum to visit next and more.  These are the type of decisions visitors will enjoy.

Museum Hill Cafe
710 Camino Lejo
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 984-8900
Web Site | Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 29 May 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Smoked Duck Flautas, Curried Lentil Stew, Pistachio Cream Pie

Museum Hill Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Clafoutis – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Clafoutis French Bakery & Restaurant

According to the Oxford Dictionaries, you only need to know 10 words to understand 25-percent of what native [English] speakers say and write. You need to know 100 words to understand 50-percent of what native speakers say and write, and 1000 words to understand 75-percent of all the words used in common, everyday English. To understand 95-percent of the text used in blogs (even this one) and newspapers, you need a vocabulary of only 3,000 words. Considering the Oxford English Dictionary lists more than 171,000 words in current use (and another 47,000 obsolete words), knowing 3,000 words doesn’t sound very impressive.

Many years ago before my first trip to France, I took an inventory of how many French words I knew, arriving at somewhere near that magical number of 3,000. While knowing that many words in English would make me fairly conversant, knowing 3,000 words in French (from a language boasting of 100,000 words) certainly didn’t endow me with conversational fluency. Not even close! French orthography, the spelling and punctuation of the French language, comes easy for me compared to pronunciation. If you’ve ever seen the episode of Friends in which Joey Tribbiani attempted to speak French, you’ll know of what I speak.

Clafoutis on a very busy Saturday afternoon

While enjoying the relaxed ambiance and luxuriating in the intoxicating aromas of freshly roasted coffee at Clafoutis French Bakery and Restaurant in Santa Fe, my ears perked up upon hearing a Mexican server and Mexican busboy merrily greeting guests with “Bonjour Madam” or “Bonjour Monsieur” as appropriate. It brought to mind my own failed attempts at speaking French at a sidewalk café in Normandy lo those many years ago. In Spanish I asked the busboy how much French he could actually speak and smiling shyly, he admitted to not knowing more than a handful of words. That, however, was not the case with Samantha, our statuesque server.

Samantha, a Rutgers graduate who majored in theater and guided us through an exquisite meal, is conversant in both French and Italian. She even taught us how to pronounce Clafoutis, prompting Kim to chide me “I told you it wasn’t Claw Footies.” Kim did a much better job at reciprocating all the “merci beaucoups” and “sil vous plaits” than I did. Decades-old memories of speaking French like Aldo the Apache (the Brad Pitt character in Inglorious Basterds) had rendered me more than a bit bashful. Samantha, similar to most (but not all) servers in France, was very patient and kind, grateful that we would make the effort to engage her in French.

Duck Breast Salad

Named for a luscious French dessert made by baking fruit in a custard-like batter, Clafoutis could just as easily be named Déjà vu for the “haven’t I been here before” sensation you experience as you take your place in the long queue of guests waiting to for a table. More than any other French restaurant we’ve visited in New Mexico, Clafoutis looks, feels, smells and tastes like the French cafes of my travels to France. That’s not just my experience. Santa Fe’s scintillating four-time James Beard Award-winning author Cheryl Jamison describes Clafoutis as “pretty much like a mini-trip to France and, to me, that pretty much equals a trip to Shangri-La.”

On her 10Best column for USA Today, Billie Frank, one-half of the fabulous Santa Fe Travelers notes that this “bustling boulangerie/patisserie…will take you to Paris.” Or at least Paris meets Santa Fe. Clafoutis is located at the northern terminus of Guadalupe Street next door to a Land of Enchantment landmark, a LotaBurger. You’ll want to heed Billie’s advice: “Parking is a bit challenging here. Arrive at 7AM when they open or mid-morning after the early rush.” We arrived shortly before noon and faced the dual challenge of finding a place to park as well as having to stand in line behind a dozen or so equally ravenous diners. Those ravenous diners became rather long-faced when they were finally seated only to find the pastry case nearly empty and learning that the beignets (a Saturday morning special) had run out.

L’Assisette Francaise (The French Plate)

Because of close proximity seating, you can practically imbibe all the aromas and flavors of dishes being delivered to your neighbors. It exacerbates the challenge of deciding what to order. You’ll likely change your mind several times before deciding, but it’s probably impossible to make a bad choice. The lunch menu is organized into categories: les quiches, les salads, soup al’oignon (onion soup), les sandwiches, les bruschettes, les crepes and los croques (Croque Monsieur and Croque Madame). Entrees are spelled out in French with English translations immediately thereafter. Descriptions of each item are in English. Your server will recite the specials of the day.

If the daily special is the duck salad, shout your order if you have to, just don’t miss out on one of the best salads you’ll have. This entree features a generous number of duck breast medallions seared to a lovely pinkish hue in the middle with a slightly caramelized crust on the outside. With a fatty (but not greasy) richness, moistness and tenderness, the duck may be the star of this stunning dish, but it’s got an excellent supporting cast: juicy and tart grapefruit slices, walnut halves, fresh greens and a light drizzling of Dijonnaise dressing. The Dijonnaise leans much more toward mustardy qualities than it does mayonnaise. That’s a good thing for those of us who appreciate lively flavors.

Sandwich Prosciutto

In the spirit and tradition of the Charcuterie, Clafoutis offers an L’Assiette (French plate) brimming with cornichons, ham, prosciutto, hard salami, pearl onions, cheese, mixed green salad, butter and brie. It’s nearly everything the French version of Dagwood would want on a sandwich. Indeed, if you are inclined to pile onto the accompanying sliced baguette, you could have several beautiful sandwiches. Alternatively, you could savor each and every morsel of these French “cold cuts” sans pain (bread). For palate cleanser in between meats and cheeses, don’t use the cornichons, delightful little French baby “pickles,” with a zesty, tangy snap. Instead delight in the simplicity of French butter on baguette slices. We often crossed the English channel just to pick up bread, butter, cheese and wine. Clafoutis reminded us how thoroughly enjoyable those experiences were.

There are a number of superb options on the sandwich menu. Unlike their American counterparts, most sandwiches in Europe don’t tend to be adorned with so many ingredients piled on that you lose a sense of what it is you’re enjoying. Sandwiches at Clafoutis tend to have no more than a few ingredients, including lettuce and tomatoes. As with the bakery-fresh sandwiches we enjoyed in Europe, butter and not mayo or mustard, is the preferred condiment on several of the sandwiches. The Sandwiche au Prosciutto (prosciutto, butter, tomatoes and lettuce) is an exemplar of why butter is sometimes better than say, mustard. The saltiness of the prosciutto and the tanginess of mustard would cancel one another out. The fresh, creamy butter allows the prosciutto to shine. Sometimes it’s the simple touches that work best.

Nutella Crepe with Ice Cream and French Jams

Savory and dessert crepes are offered all day long as are the large house waffles. For us there is no better crepe than one topped or stuffed with Nutella then heaped with a scoop or two of ice cream. That’s how we ordered our crepe at Clafoutis though we also asked for jam which, thankfully was presented on the side in tiny jars we took home. It took one bit for both of us to proclaim these the best crepes we’ve had on this side of the pond. Thankfully we were given spoons with which enjoy the crepes because stabbing someone with a spoon isn’t as painful and we both wanted the last morsel of that crepe.

Julia Child once said “In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport.” Be that the case, Clafoutis is a gold medal winner, an absolutely wonderful piece of French heaven meeting enchantment in New Mexico.

Clafoutis
402 Guadalupe Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 988-4809
Facebook Page
LATEST VISIT: 13 February 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Nutella Crepe with Ice Cream and French Jams, Sandwich Prosciutto, Duck Breast Salad, L’Assisette Francaise

Clafoutis Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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