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Orlando’s New Mexican Cafe – Taos, New Mexico

Orlando's Marquee Bids All Welcome?

Orlando’s Marquee Bids All Welcome?

During his 2005 visit to Taos for the taping of the Food Network’s Food Nation program, über-celebrity chef Bobby Flay, likely the best known grill chef in the world, probably didn’t do as much to put Orlando’s New Mexican restaurant on the culinary map as you might think. Ditto for all the many first place awards hanging on the restaurant’s walls–”Best Mexican Food in Taos County” every year since 2005, best red chile, best green chile, and more than 25 other awards.  Flay’s visit and the accolades on the wall are merely validation of what locals and visitors in the know have long known: Orlando’s is a “must visit” dining destination in Taos.

Located in El Prado, a “suburb” of Taos about two miles northwest of the world-famous Taos Plaza, Orlando’s is as colorful a restaurant as you’ll find in Northern New Mexico.  Its marquee is that of a huarache-shod, mustachioed skeletal figure attired in a Mexican sombrero and serape.  In his left hand, he holds a bottle of hot sauce with the label “Taos.”  His bony right hand holds a skillet with a single flaming red chile, which does not–as some might surmise–denote the manner of his demise.

A meal at Orlando's is colorful and delicious

In the summer there’s no better venue than Orlando’s outdoors.

The skeletal figure has returned to this world for El Dia De Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.  During this Mexican holiday, the profusion of skeletons of all sizes performing day-to-day activities signifies the return to this world of the dead who remain who they were when they lived, doing what they did.  For example, the skeletal figure on the marquee, would have been a Mexican cook in life.  Therefore in death, he remains a Mexican cook.  The marquee is typical of the fun and folly which emanates at every turn at Orlando’s.

Orlando’s is colorful all year round, but certainly more-so in the summer when nature lends a hand and Orlando’s is backdropped by incomparable cobalt blue skies graduating in depth of color the higher above the horizon you look.  Climbing toward the sky are deciduous trees in various verdant hues complemented by multicolored hollyhocks.  Large polychromatic umbrellas shade the metal grate tables in which diners enjoy an al-fresco repast with dishes even more colorful than the umbrellas.  On some winter days, weather permitting, Orlando’s fires up a raised fire pit outdoors for patrons who might have to wait for a seat.

Orlando's is one colorful restaurant

Orlando’s is one colorful restaurant

The restaurant itself is relatively small (perhaps 20 tables), essentially a cramped main dining room with what appears to be an adjourning closed-in patio.  Red ristras hang from the east-facing window while on the west-facing window sit glasses and candles adorned with the skeletal image on the marquee.  One wall includes more than two dozen framed “People’s Choice” awards celebrating the esteem in which Taos County residents hold Orlando’s.  A wooden statue of San Pasqual, the patron saint of kitchens, sits on a shelf above the wait staff’s counter where affable owner Orlando Ortega oversees the operation when he’s not glad-handing with customers.  Desserts are on display under glass in a unique glass cabinet.

Progressive Spanish (unlike any New Mexican music I’ve ever heard) is continuously piped in through speakers strategically placed throughout the restaurant. As colorful and interesting as the interior restaurant is, weather permitting, you absolutely have to dine out-of-doors under one of the restaurant’s colorful umbrellas where the shade will shield you from the heat of the day while allowing you to bask under the most gloriously blue skies anywhere.

Red, yellow and blue corn tortillas with salsa at Orlando's

Red, yellow and blue corn tortillas with salsa at Orlando’s

Shortly after menus are brought to your table, your dining experience begins in a colorful and delicious manner. Orlando’s salsa, served with red, yellow and blue corn tortilla chips may be the most piquant item Orlando serves. It is also one of the most beautiful salsas you’ll ever see at any restaurant. Rich red tomatoes, pearlescent onions and verdant cilantro decorate the salsa dish. For a mere pittance more, order the trio of salsa, chips and guacamole and your table will be graced with an edible and mouth-watering table decoration.

The salsa and chips are no longer complimentary.  In fact, at $3.50 an order, they’re the least expensive appetizer on the menu, but well worth the price.  Other appetizers include nachos (with or without beef), papas Y chile (a bowl of beer-battered French fries smothered with red chile, green chile or chile caribe topped with Jack and Cheddar cheese and tomatoes) and a quesadilla.  Save for the salsa and chips, the appetizers are priced comparably to entrees.

Shrimp is one of the most popular ingredients on the menu, found in three entrees.  Baja style fish tacos filled with deep-fried cod provide another seafood option.  Some of the very best entrees on the menu can certainly be considered unique, not your standard New Mexican fare.  Bobby Flay happened upon one such entree–Orlando’s grilled carne adovada.

Los Colores (Three rolled blue corn enchiladas, one chicken with green chile, one beef with red chile, and one cheese with chile caribe.  Served with beans and posole.

Los Colores (Three rolled blue corn enchiladas, one chicken with green chile, one beef with red chile, and one cheese with chile caribe. Served with beans and posole.

Orlando’s carne adovada plate features three grilled, quarter-inch thick marinated pork medallions topped with chile caribe and served with mouth-watering posole, pinto beans and a tortilla. What makes the carne adovada unconventional is that it isn’t shredded (desebrada) as it is in most New Mexican restaurants. What makes it special is the chile caribe, a chile preparation style practiced for hundreds of years in Northern New Mexico.

The carne adovada has a smoky grilled taste inherited after only two minutes per side on a pre-heated grill.  On high, the pork medallions cook quickly and remain moist.  Chile caribe is a concentrated chile made from dried red chile pods, blended and processed to a smooth consistency.  It’s a staple in Northern New Mexican homes and some restaurants, but perhaps nowhere as thoroughly integrated into the menu as at Orlando’s.  During his visit, Bobby Flay learned and published on Food TV’s Web site, Orlando Ortega’s secrets for some of the best (albeit unconventional) carne adovada in New Mexico.

Grilled Carne Adovada - three grilled marinated pork medallions topped with chile caribe.  Served with beans, posole and a flour tortilla.

Grilled Carne Adovada – three grilled marinated pork medallions topped with chile caribe. Served with beans, posole and a flour tortilla.

Even though Orlando’s chile caribe isn’t necessarily overly piquant, the menu does disavow responsibility for chile which might be too hot (a necessary warning for tourists (and my sister in Phoenix) who can’t stomach anything more piquant than Chef Boyardee tomato sauce). If anything, the chile caribe might be too good. It is highly flavorful, mildly piquant and absolutely delicious–a concentration of the wonderful flavors we love in chile.

The carne adovada plate is served with pinto beans and posole, both of which are quie good (even though the posole has more than a hint of cumin).  If I have one complaint about these terrific standards, it’s that we weren’t provided with a spoon.  A fork just doesn’t cut it when you want to consume the bean “juice” and you’ll want to finish off every trace of these perfectly prepared whole pintos.  Both beans and posole are also lightly salted, a real plus considering other restaurants’ beans and posole could stand some desalinization.

To blue corn tacos stuffed with shredded beef topped with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and red onions with a bowl of salsa

Two blue corn tacos stuffed with shredded beef topped with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and red onions with a bowl of salsa

Rarely, if ever do I compliment the traditional garnish which decorates many New Mexican platters, but Orlando’s tomato and lettuce garnish warrants accolades. The tomatoes are at the peak of their edible lives, a rich red color that complements the shredded lettuce which also seems to be preternaturally green.  This garnish is not of the “molting” variety some restaurants shamefully present to their diners.

There’s a reason “Los Colores” (the colors) is Orlando’s most popular entree.  This entree–comprised of three rolled blue corn enchiladas: one chicken with green chile,one beef with red chile and one cheese with chile caribe–is absolutely terrific, among the very best enchiladas you’ll find anywhere.  Invariably the three chiles end up mixing with each other, but that’s not a bad thing since they’re all quite good, albeit only just above mild on a piquancy scale.

Buffalo enchiladas on blue corn tortillas covered with chile caribe and served with beans and posole.

The beef in the beef enchilada is shredded, not ground beef as Taco Bell caliber restaurants use.  The ground beef is marinated and well-seasoned so that its deliciousness is independent of the red chile atop it.  That red chile is a dark red, characteristic of excellent chile which hasn’t been adulterated by a profusion of corn starch or other thickening agents.  It’s a pure, delicious and wonderful chile, the way it should be prepared.

The green chile is perhaps the least piquant of the three, but it has a sweet, smoky flavor you’ll enjoy greatly.  The chicken is shredded and moist, mostly white meat.  The blue corn tortillas are a welcome treat and they’re perfectly prepared–easy to cut into with your fork and not greasy in the least.  I’ve had this entree in each of our three visits to Orlando’s and have yet to remember to ask for a fried egg atop, so mesmerized have I been by the vibrant colors and even more exciting flavors of an excellent enchiladas entree.

Frozen Avocado Pie, a fabulous dessert!

Frozen Avocado Pie, a fabulous dessert!

The shredded beef on the enchiladas is so good, you’ll want more of it.  Sate your fix with a couple of a la carte blue corn tacos which are overstuffed with shredded beef then topped with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and red onions accompanied by a bowl of salsa.  These tacos are the antithesis of every greasy, ground beef taco you’ve ever had with a profusion of freshness and moistness you’ll enjoy.

Several dessert options are available (if you somehow have room), including biscochitos, the official state cookie of New Mexico. In keeping with its convention-defying nature, Orlando’s serves a dark- or white-chocolate dipped biscochito. The dark chocolate and the anise/cinnamon cookie go very well together.

An even more unconventional dessert is Orlando’s frozen avocado pie.  My Filipino friend Fred Guzman has long told me of the delicious dessert potential of avocados and I’ve long enjoyed avocado shakes at Vietnamese restaurants, but an avocado pie is something my well-practiced palate had heretofore not tried.  It had me at first bite.  Not quite frozen as its name implies, the Graham cracker crusted pie is imbued with the taste complements of fresh avocado and lime.  This pie is not quite as lip-puckering as key lime pie or as rich as guacamole, but seems to inherit the best qualities of both.  This is a must have dessert!

Orlando’s also serves an all-natural root beer bottled in Carrizozo, New Mexico called “Way 2 Cool Root Beer.” Like the restaurant, the root beer is too cool.

Orlando’s Northern New Mexican Cafe
1114 Paseo del Pueblo Norte
Taos, NM
(575) 751-1450
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 15 August 2012
COST: $$
BEST BET: Tres Colores Enchiladas, Grilled Carne Adobada, Shredded Beef Tacos, Frozen Avocado Pie, Biscochitos, Salsa and Chips

Orlando's New Mexican Cafe on Urbanspoon

Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery – Taos, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery in Taos, New Mexico

In 1989, the tarantula hawk wasp was designated the official state insect of New Mexico, joining the roadrunner (state bird), whiptail lizard (state reptile),  spadefoot (state amphibian), Sandia Hairstreak (state butterfly),  Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout (state fish) and the black bear (state animal) as official symbols of our great state.  Ostensibly the state legislature put aside partisan politics and selected these symbols after carefully weighing all options.  A case could certainly have been made for the dragonfly to represent New Mexico.

 Not only is the dragonfly a ubiquitous presence–flitting fluidly and gracefully like tiny fairies attired in wardrobes of many colors–they are omnipresent in local lore and legend.  In The Boy Who Made Dragonfly A Zuni Myth retold by New Mexico’s eminent author Tony Hillerman, the dragonfly represents a messenger between children and the gods.  The Zuni consider the dragonfly a shamanistic creature with supernatural powers while to the Navajo, the dragonfly represents pure water.

The front dining room at Dragonfly

Anyone who’s ever observed these multi-colored frequent fliers as they perform such spectacular aerial feats as loop-the-loops and flying backwards can’t help but be held spellbound by their grace and beauty.  It’s no wonder so many birdwatchers have  become dragonfly watchers that dragonflies have come to be known as “the birders’ insect.”  Spellbound is a good term for describing the Dragonfly Cafe And Bakery in Taos about which Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate advises, “don’t even think about eating breakfast/brunch anywhere else.”

The Dragonfly Cafe and Bakery was founded in 1998 by Karen Todd, a transplanted Chicagoan with decades of experience in restaurants and bakeries.  A world traveler and culinary student, Karen is intimately acquainted with the cuisine of many cultures, influences of which are apparent in her restaurant’s eclectic menu.  On Monday nights, the Dragonfly offers an East Indian menu while on Wednesdays, tapas and wine flights are featured fare. She calls her delightful slice of gustatory heaven a “European-style cafe and bakery.”   That’s especially accurate in that the Dragonfly is the type of community gathering place in which friends congregate for good food, good conversation and good times.  In the winter they cozy up next to the adobe fireplace in the front dining room and in the summer, they enjoy the verdant flora, bubbling fountains and occasional dragonfly in the courtyard.

A steaming bowl of kale and potato soup

The Dragonfly prides itself in using the highest quality ingredients–procured locally and grown organically when available–and hormone- and antibiotic-free dairy and non-cured meats.  Seasonal produce is picked fresh from the chef’s garden or is produced by small, local growers.  In the off-season, produce is preserved and pickled for year-round use.  Included among the restaurant’s diverse staples are kimchee, smoked fish, mushrooms, eggplant, corned beef buffalo and an award-winning granola.  The Dragonfly has a full-service coffee bar with an assortment of gourmet Mighty Leaf teas, organic soy milk and house-made chai tea. 

As with other Taos restaurants, the Bohemian spirit is alive and well at the Dragonfly, a cafe which is both homey and unconventional.  It’s relaxed and informal with a “laissez faire” element that appeals to the counter-culturalist remnants of the 60s but won’t turn off the corporate suits–or my old-fashioned 82-year-young mom who managed to find something to love amidst a menu she found a bit strange.  Most will enjoy the colorful confines of the 1920s bungalow style adobe which originally served as a family home complete with gardens, livestock and an orchard on the back of the property.  

Bibimbop: Two eggs over easy with brown rice, vegetables, kim chee, scallions and garlic chili sauce

In May, 2002, it wasn’t the Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery’s culinary diversity which was on display, but its mastery of Southwest-inspired dishes.  The event was the Food Network’s Food Nation program hosted by chef glitterati Bobby Flay who was in town to celebrate northern New Mexico culture.   Chef-owner Karen Dodd feted the superstar chef with an hors d’oeuvres menu which included such savory starters as tiny calabacitas cups bulging with green chile and roasted red peppers; fresh yellow corn and oregano goat cheese and red chile mousse daubed on garlic crostini; lamb and green onion brochettes partnered to a red chile yogurt dipping sauce and smoked trout dotted with watercress and aïoli on white corn tortillas.  Sumptuous sweets included cornmeal-piñon-orange shortbread; red chile-infused chocolate truffles; and apricot brown butter bars. Flay was effusive in his appreciation.

The daily menu may not be quite as Southwest-centric, but it is no less exciting.  On the date of our inaugural visit, the lunch menu was wonderfully multifarious, a deliciously diverse melange of Korean, Greek, New Mexican, Moroccan and Cajun dishes.  The dinner menu we perused is even more exciting, not a carbon copy of the lunch menu albeit with higher prices and slightly bigger portions.  The breakfast and brunch menus are highly regarded by my friend Larry McGoldrick whose recommendation you can trust.

Gyros: Marinated lamb with tzatziki sauce, hummus, tomato, red onion, cucumber, olives, feta and pita bread

Because our inaugural visit was on a blustery winter day, a comforting bowl of soup was in order.  The soup of the day was a kale and potato soup, a variation on the traditional Portuguese caldo verde.  Our server apprised us that the soup was spicy in a manner reminiscent of garam masala, a spice blend that’s really the heart of many Indian dishes.  A brimming bowl arrived at our table steaming hot with tangles of kale floating atop a fragrant vegetable broth redolent with a bouquet of exotic spices.  The soup’s fragrance foretold the deliciousness of the heart-warming soup.

One of the most intriguing items on the menu was a unique interpretation of a dish which made my top ten list of dishes I had in 2011–bibimbap, a Korean dish which literally translates to “mixed meal” in part because it’s constructed from sundry items often already prepared. As with Korean bibimbap, Dragonfly’s version starts with a large bowl of brown rice at the bottom of the bowl.  Atop the rice are sundry vegetables–zucchini, broccoli, julienned carrots, scallions and more as well as a generous dollop of pleasantly piquant garlic chili sauce.  Two eggs prepared to your exacting specifications cover much of the dish.  Mixing the melange is not only fun, but introduces all the elements to each other, forming a wondrous deliciousness in every bite.  You can add chicken, tofu or steak to the bibimbap if you wish, but they’re wholly unnecessary.

Organic Chicken Pot Pie

Another well interpreted dish worthy of its Greek origin are gyros, marinated lamb nestled in a warm pita and served with tzatziki sauce, hummus, tomato, red onion, cucumber, feta cheese and olives.  Unlike that served on gyros at many a Greek restaurant, the lamb is not shaved from a vertical spit nor is it an amalgam of lamb and beef.  It’s wonderfully seasoned and marinated lamb reminiscent of the shawarma offered at the magnificent San Pedro Middle East Restaurant.  The garlicky hummus and tzatziki are excellent as well.

Somewhat less exotic, but very good “mom” food is the organic chicken pot pie.  Atop the crust is a dragonfly shaped cut-out also made of crust.  Puncture the crust and you’re greeted with wisps of fragrant steam enticing you further.  Fill your forks with a bit of crust and as creamy a pot pie concoction as you’ll find anywhere.  It’s resplendent with vegetables and not just the conventional carrots and potatoes.  Dragonfly’s pot pie includes sweet potatoes and other delicious surprises.  The organic chicken is plentiful and it’s cut into bite-size pieces so you’re not left wondering where the poultry went.

The dessert platter, a bevy of bakery deliciousness

Even if you’re left full from the generously portioned entrees, you’ve got to make room for one of the Dragonfly’s award-winning (“Best of Taos” in 2006, 2008 and 2009 according to the Taos News).  The bakery goods are fresh, homemade, healthy and made in-house using local organic flour, sweet cream butter and natural sweeteners.  No corn syrup or hydrogenated oils are used.  Your server will bring by a platter brimming with some of the bakery treasures: fruit galettes, tarts, brownies, cookies, chocolate eclairs, cheesecakes, bread pudding, coconut macaroons and truffles. Deciding what to have is nearly as challenging as some of the Taos Ski Valley’s exhilarating runs.

One of the most exciting is a white chocolate and cherry bread pudding, the best I’ve had in Taos county other than my mom’s caprirotada.  The warm gooeyness of the melting white chocolate, the tart-sweet cherries and the custard-like texture elevate this humble, moist dessert into an excellent rendition of my favorite dessert.  

The Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery is right at home in an area replete with art galleries and Karen Todd is every bit the artist as are  the much celebrated Taos art colony denizens.  Instead of a gallery, she creates her art in the kitchen.  Her restaurant and bakery are not to be missed.

Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery
402 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte
Taos, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 29 December 2011
COST: $$
BEST BET: Bibimbop, Lamb Gyros, Organic Chicken Pot Pie, Macaroon, Cherry & White Chocolate Bread Pudding, Dulce de Leche Tart

Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery on Urbanspoon

Graham’s Grille by Lesley B. Fay – Taos, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Graham’s Grill by Lesley B. Fay, just north of the famous Taos Plaza

While it may be true that you only have one chance to make a good first impression, history has shown that bad first impressions can be overcome.  Further,  given a second chance, someone making a bad first impression may go on to  make a lasting positive impression.   In 1988, a charismatic  young governor was widely jeered during the Democratic National Convention, his first national stage.  After an uninspiring 32-minute-long opening night address, political pundits predicted the demise of the man heretofore considered a rising star in the party.  Four years later Bill Clinton was elected the 42nd President of the United States.

Feedback to a surprising number of my reviews has a palpable tone of negativity–sometimes even anger–based on a first and only visit to a restaurant which made a bad first impression.  Diners should expect, perhaps even demand, tasty food, reasonable portions,  good service and fair value for their hard-earned dollars.  It’s our prerogative not to return to restaurants which don’t meet those expectations, however, before making a hasty judgment, consider that the restaurant may have had an uncharacteristically bad hair day. That’s especially true if that restaurant has been widely recognized by trusted sources as a high-quality, high-performing paragon of deliciousness.

The larger of two dining rooms at Graham’s Grill

Our inaugural visit to Graham’s Grille by Lesley Fay was more a case of high expectations not being met than it was the restaurant having a bad day.  It seems every national and local source to visit Graham’s Grille–from Bon Appetit Magazine to the Taos Newhas touted it as THE place to dine in Taos.  In 2010, Graham’s Grill garnered “best restaurant” (for the third year in a row) and “best ambiance” accolades in the Taos News‘ annual “best of Taos” balloting with chef-owner Lesley Fay earning “best chef” honors.  In 2010, Graham’s Grille also  earned Wine Spectator’s award of excellence as well as a “diner’s choice” award from Open Table.  It’s understandable that most visitors come to Graham’s Grille with high expectations.

To be clear, our inaugural visit was far from a disappointment. It just didn’t “wow” us to the extent that a restaurant with its sterling pedigree should have been expected to wow us.  Some of that might be attributable to the fact that we visited during brunch, not dinner when Graham’s Grille is reputed to shine brightest, but there were other factors contributing to the lack of the wow effect.

Mexican XXX Chocolate: Ibarra Chocolate, Kahlana, Agave Wine, Whipped Cream and Cinnamon

It’s easy to see why Graham’s Grille is so popular.  As we passed the uncovered patio and approached the stairs, the host greeted us with not just a cordial welcome and smile, but by introducing himself and offering a firm handshake.  He escorted us past the open kitchen into a long and narrow dining room that includes an attractive bar area, a showcase for the Fays who, prior to moving to Taos, worked in winery businesses for more than a decade.  Lesley, in fact, created private label food lines for many of Napa Valley and Sonoma’s famous wineries.

Graham’s Grille has a uniquely Taos vibe.  Though considered a fine dining establishment, it has a casual, almost laissez-faire feel without being “out there” Bohemian yet it’s also cosmopolitan in an understated sort of way.  During brunch, the entire wait staff and even Lesley herself, are nattily attired in balloon pants, some sporting the type of psychedelic color and design schemes found on the hippie buses which traversed the highways and byways of Taos county.   It’s hard to believe the restaurant occupies the former digs of J. C. Penney’s downtown store.

Buttermilk Biscuits with homemade strawberry jam and orange marmalade

A quick perusal of the menu reflects the peripatetic chef’s varied culinary influences. The “California” influence is apparent in the freshness of the ingredients and the abundance of vegetables.  Other menu items pay tribute to Lesley’s travels to the Middle East, Mexico, Cyprus and of course, her move to New Mexico.  Playfully, she even names menu items for previous tenants at the location.  There’s the El Miramon Combination Plate named for a bar at the location in the 1910s.  Then there’s the J.C. Penney Burrito.

Ever the unrelenting purist, I’m not sure what would influence (possess) anyone, much less a heralded chef,  to use  the accursed demon spice cumin on dishes in which the star of the flavor profile should be New Mexico’s incomparable red and green chile, but Graham’s Grille uses it copiously (perhaps the California influence).  As a result of the cumin contaminant, the multi-page menu becomes  a bit more limited for those of us who will never go over to the dark side.  In addition to the New Mexican dishes, cumin slithers onto other items we might otherwise have enjoyed–including the vaunted El Pequeño baked macaroni and Cheddar cheese with mild green chile and hickory smoked bacon.

Winter Spinach, Goat Cheese, Julienned Carrots and Strawberries

Perusing the menu is like reading a fine novel you don’t want to put down.  It’s a voluminous compendium of  interesting and ostensibly delicious items.  Audaciously, page one of the menu is dedicated to desserts and dessert beverages, obviously in deference to American writer Ernestine Ulmer who wrote, “Life is uncertain…Eat dessert first.”  Alas, not all the desserts are available during  brunch, that leisurely weekend repast which makes you feel you’re getting away with something…as if you’re defying your mom’s mandate not to have dessert before the main entree.

The brunch menu is replete with tempting sweet treats such as vanilla orange French toast with fresh strawberries and blue corn blueberry pancakes as well as fresh French donuts and a basket of buttermilk biscuits with homemade jam.  We opted for the latter two.  Having lived in the Deep South for eight years, we grow lascivious at the mere thought of  melt-in-your mouth, tender and flaky  buttermilk biscuits.  Alas, the biscuits at Graham’s Grille were neither tender nor flaky.  Expatriated Southerners would probably compare them to hardtack.  Both the orange marmalade and the strawberry jam are more than a bit on the sweet side and neither showcases the flavor of the fruits ostensibly used in their creation as does the miraculously good orange marmalade at Gutiz.

Peter’s Bigger Boy: Angus Burger with Grilled Green Chile, Cheddar and Swiss, Frizzled Onions and Bacon (served with Cajun fries)

The menu describes the fresh French donuts as having “5 spice cinnamon sugar,” but neither five spice nor cinnamon sugar were in evidence on our taste buds. That’s a pity because either would have enlivened the otherwise bland donuts. Powdery white confectioner’s sugar is fine on beignets, those small, square puffs of fried doughy deliciousness, but it didn’t do much for the French donuts which in addition to being bland, were slightly on the tough side.

Our disappointment with the buttermilk biscuits and French donuts were tempered somewhat by the Mexican XXX Hot Chocolate (Ibarra chocolate, Kahlana, agave wine, whipped cream and cinnamon), a Mexican hot chocolate with a kick.  It’s one of the very best hot chocolates we’ve ever had, a rich and flavorful elixir with a lively flavor.  It’s not a teetotaler’s cup of tea, but it’s perfectly fine for someone who indulges ever so infrequently on adult beverages.

Passion Fruit Barbecue Sauce Sandwich, Homemade Pickle and Cajun Fries

Our third strike–a salad composed of winter spinach, goat cheese, julienned carrots and strawberries–can be attributed to the bane of my culinary existence, the demon spawned spice cumin. Both the salad dressing and the walnuts normally found on this salad included cumin, a revelation made upon the salad’s delivery. While the blue cheese dressing was good, the vinaigrette with which this salad is normally served was more tailored for the flavor profile we wanted. On the positive side, the salad ingredients were fresh and delicious.

“Graham’s Famous Burgers” are available for both lunch and dinner.  Save for the lamb burger, they are served with Lesley’s “special burger sauce,” a tasty amalgam of mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup and are served on a housemade bun.  On each burger plate is tomato, lettuce, sliced onion and a housemade dill pickle.  Peter’s Big Boy, an eight-ounce angus burger with green chile, Cheddar and Swiss cheeses, frizzled onions and bacon is a very good burger, a burger worthy of consideration for inclusion on the New Mexico Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail.  The angus beef is hand-formed and prepared to your exacting specifications.  What the green chile lacks in piquancy, it more than makes up for in roasted flavor perfection.  The frizzled onions, a tangle of deep-fried onion strips, are piled on.  Burgers are served with your choice of Cajun fries, New Mexican slaw, house greens, Caesar salad or soup (hopefully not the cumin cursed posole).

Fresh French Donuts with Five Spice Cinnamon Sugar

Barbecue aficionados might be drawn in by a tempting sandwich offering showcasing a passion fruit barbecue sauce on a generous mound of pulled pork. Alas, the passion fruit is wholly understated lacking the sweet richness and aromatic flavor that titillates the taste buds.  The pork is tender and delicious, but would have been something special had the passion fruit flavor come across more prominently.

On the whole, our inaugural visit to Graham’s Grille had some hits and it had some misses, but what it didn’t have was that “wow” factor we crave from the vaunted restaurants anointed as something special.  Lack of wow factor not withstanding, we look forward to future visits when we hope to discover for ourselves why Graham’s Grill is widely recognized as the very best in Taos.

Graham’s Grill by Lesley B. Fay

106 Paseo del Pueblo Norte
Taos, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 26 March 2011
# of VISITS: 1
COST: $$ – $$$
BEST BET: Peter’s Bigger Boy, Passion Fruit Barbecue Sandwich, Mexican XXX Chocolate

Graham's Grille on Urbanspoon