Based on interviews conducted with Hollywood luminaries who’ve starred in movies or television shows shot in New Mexico, you might think our state either doesn’t have a symbol of hospitality or that symbol is something as poorly representative of the Land of Enchantment as crack (Josh Brolin), tire stores (Jonathan Banks), shirtless drivers (Seth McFarlane), Walmart (Jessica Alba) or loudness (Tommy Lee Jones). With all the tax breaks and enticements afforded film production companies, shouldn’t its most visible beneficiaries at least have something nice to say about New Mexico?
While New Mexico doesn’t have an official (as in legislatively decreed) symbol of hospitality, most of us recognize a ristra hanging on a doorway as an invitation to visitors, ergo a symbol of hospitality. It’s as much a symbol of hospitality as the pineapple is in Hawaii and the fleur de lis is in Louisiana. Moreover, the ristra has come to represent the state of New Mexico, maybe not quite as much as the Zia sun, but to a large extent.
In Spanish, “ristra” actually means string. “Chile ristra” then translates into “a string of chiles.” While the chile ristra has utilitarian roots (chiles being strung together by their stems and hung on walls to dry in the sun), it’s possible decorative ristras fashioned from ceramic, fabric, plastic, and plaster mold are almost as common as actual chile ristras. Traditionalists appreciate the decorative qualities of the chile ristra, but ultimately will use them as they’ve been used for generations–for cooking and eating.
Because of the esteem with which the chile ristra is held throughout New Mexico, the expectations for a restaurant calling itself Las Ristras are high. That name brings with it the promise of hospitality and good food showcasing chile. Las Ristras opened its doors in August, 2015 at the site which scant weeks earlier was home to The Spot. The restaurant is the brainchild of Corrales resident Ginger Hunter, a fourth generation Corralenia who in 2015 was awarded a Civic Recognition Award in recognition of “acts of compassion and kindness.” Doesn’t that just bode of hospitality?
Las Ristras is a rather capacious restaurant with good spacing between tables. With upscale touches, it bears little resemblance to other New Mexican restaurants, but its soundtrack is true Northern New Mexico. That means the Purple Haze (Felix and Milford Salazar), Sparx and other Norteño favorites. My friend Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate gives it the “McGoldrick stamp of approval: “What I like about Las Ristras is that it is not a clone of the many dozens of cookie-cutter NM restaurants. The food is homemade and I feel like I’m eating (and conversing) in Ginger’s kitchen. This is simple food lovingly prepared.”
As always, Larry’s assessment is spot-on. From the ambiance on down to the menu and service, this is not your stereotypical New Mexican restaurant (if there is such a thing). The menu, for example, offers such heretofore unseen appetizers as cheese sticks with red chile marinara and an Indian enchilada. Entrees include many New Mexican standards such as tamales, chiles rellenos, carne adovada and tacos, but you’ll also find “from the grill selections” such as a 14-ounce ribeye with green chile cream sauce, red chile ribs and green chile meatloaf. Entrees in which ground beef is used are seasoned with cumin.
The green chile meatloaf is deeply infused with plenty of pleasantly piquant green chile. It’s also topped generously with a green chile sauce that runs over the sides. Alas, it’s served on a sizzling cast iron plate (the type often used for fajitas) which has a desiccating effect on what might otherwise have been a moist and juicy meatloaf. Grilled entrees are served with your choice of two sides: mashed potatoes, daily vegetable or wild rice. In the spirit of hospitality, your server will bring you papitas instead of mashed potatoes if you so desire. Desire it! These papitas are killer.
If more traditional New Mexican entrees are more your speed, both Larry and my Kim will vouch for the chiles rellenos. Perhaps because of the lateness of the chile season, one of the two rellenos on the plate was a roasted red chile which has a wholly different flavor profile than roasted green. Roasted red chile tends to be a bit sweeter with a more earthy depth of flavor. The cheese with which the rellenos are stuffed seems to retain molten qualities longer than the cheese used on other rellenos (where the cheese become stringy). in any case, these are very good rellenos with a crispy, flavorful crust sheathing the chiles.
You won’t find your abuelita’s desserts on the menu, but you will find avant-garde versions of desserts you thought you knew. Instead of the de rigueur New Mexico dessert offering of sopaipillas with honey, Las Ristras offers a “Sopaipilla Delight,” a flattened sopaipilla drizzled with honey and topped with your favorite flavor of ice cream (provided it’s vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cookies and cream or mint-chocolate chip) and chocolate sauce. There’s a lot going on with this dessert and it’s all good.
More traditional is a bowl of ice cream (your favorite flavor) flanked by four biscochitos. It’s a surprisingly good combination best eaten as a combination instead of serially. The biscochitos are redolent with cinnamon and anise, as hospitable a pairing as you’ll find on any cookie. They’re crisp. flaky and light with the memorable qualities for which the biscochito was named New Mexico’s official state cookie.
Perhaps if the over-indulged ingenues who make great sport of besmirching the Land of Enchantment visited Las Ristras in Corrales and experienced true New Mexico hospitality, they’d think twice about bad-mouthing our state. You can’t bad-mouth something when your mouth is so full of good things.
Los Ristras Restaurant
4940 Corrales Road, N.E., Suite 400
Corrales, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 19 September 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Green Chile Meatloaf, Chiles Rellenos, Sopaipilla Delight, Biscochitos with Ice Cream