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The Pink Adobe – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The world famous Pink Adobe

Santa Fe's world famous Pink Adobe

Culinary historians credit the advent of the modern Santa Fe fine dining scene to a painter who moved to Santa Fe shortly after World War II to join the burgeoning art community. Having to support herself and a young daughter, Rosalea Murphy turned to something else at which she excelled–the culinary arts.  As with most rags to riches success stories, Rosalea did not immediately set the Santa Fe dining scene on its ear, but then this wasn’t the “City Different” now widely recognized as a tourist Mecca.  Good things take time.  Great things take longer.

When she first launched the restaurant she christened the Pink Adobe after the hue of its facade, her humble menu consisted solely of French onion soup and apple pie.  As her business grew, so did her menu.  She added “Pink Dobeburgers” to the menu and sold them for twenty-five cents each.  Chicken enchiladas followed suit, the first of several New Mexican specialties she would add to the menu.  Eventually her Pink Adobe became the first restaurant in Santa Fe to serve seafood, then a novelty in what was, in her words, “a lazy, sleepy town.”

By the 21st century, the ambitious menu featured variety unlike no other in Santa Fe with steak, seafood, New Mexican specialties, Creole and French dishes and much more.  The Pink Adobe was the place to be seen, one of the city’s most popular dining destinations for both locals and tourists alike.  Commenting once to Katharine Kagel of another iconic Santa Fe restaurant Cafe Pasqual, Rosalea described business conditions during a recession: “Well, we’re not turning away as many customers as we normally do.”

Steak Dunigan, the signature entree on the menu

Steak Dunigan, the signature entree on the menu

Across the courtyard from Santa Fe’s oldest family run restaurant, Rosalea launched the Dragon Room Lounge which remains one of Santa Fe’s most popular bars as well as being named one of the top 19 bars in the world by International Newsweek. The dimly lit Dragon Room is best seen in daylight when you can better appreciate the elm trees growing straight through the ceiling and the tangle of gnarled Medusa-like vines that creep and crawl along the walls and ceilings.  You’ll also want to take in the colorful and eclectic art and nurturing fireplaces in the small dining rooms adjacent to the bar

Still going strong after more than six and a half decades, the Pink Adobe has experienced its share of changes over the years.  One of the most noticeable was the mandated color change that belies the restaurant’s name.  No longer pink, Rosalea’s baby is today a shade of sandstone.  Roselea lobbied Santa Fe’s Historical Design Review board to restore the restaurant to its original pinkish hue, but the board steadfastly refused because “pink is not an earth tone” (the board was obviously comprised of “grey scale visually referenced persons” or persons who have never visited the Abiquiu area or paid rapt attention to a New Mexico sunset).

The biggest change since the Pink Adobe began serving Santa Fe in 1944 is that Rosalea is no longer with us.  After she passed away in 2000 her family ran the restaurant until 2007, when the restaurant and bar were bought by Dave and Christie Garrett of the Garrett Hotel Group which also owned the Inn of Five Graces, one of Santa Fe’s most highly regarded hotels.  Nay-sayers often it just wasn’t the same without Rosalea Murphy, the grand dame of one of Santa Fe’s most famous restaurants and progenitor of the city’s culinary revolution.  That was true on many fronts.  The changes (including tampering with a perfect apple pie recipe) made by the new owners weren’t well received and by November, 2010, the Pink Adobe’s door closed.  On December 17th, Priscilla Hoback (daughter of Rosalea), her son Joe and his wife Jennifer reopened the restaurant.  Now that it’s back in family hands, the continuity of excellence is back.

Fried Chicken at the Pink Adobe

Fried Chicken at the Pink Adobe

The Pink, as it is affectionally known by locals,  is located in the center of the historic Barrio de Analco, across the street from the San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in the United States.  It’s just two blocks south of the Plaza.  The Barrio, a modest enclave dating back to the 1620s, is at the confluence of Old Santa Fe Trail and East DeVargas Street.  “Analco” translates to “the other side of the water,” appropriate considering the area is south of the Santa Fe River.  It is one of Santa Fe’s oldest neighborhoods.

The 400-year old building which houses the Pink Adobe predates the Dragon Room by about a century.  In centuries past, it housed military barracks with 36-inch walls and six fireplaces.  Diners can have the best of both worlds at the bar: either the Pink Adobe’s dinner menu or a unique and highly regarded bar menu.  The Dragon Room also has several accommodating little dining rooms which are perfect for Sunday lunch gatherings.  My first visit to the Pink Adobe and the Dragon Room since Rosalea’s family sold the restaurant was for such an occasion, my mom’s thirty-ninth birthday.

First and foremost, service was absolutely impeccable.  Our waiter was accommodating and friendly, a perfect host determined to ensure mom’s special day was memorable and enjoyable.  His knowledge of the menu was encyclopedic, but it was his sense of humor that was most endearing.  Alas, service was THE highlight of our meal!

Chicken Enchiladas

Chicken Enchiladas

Most of us ordered the Steak Dunigan, for years the house specialty at the Pink Adobe.  Named after one of Rosalea’s friends who asked for a steak smothered in green chile and mushrooms, it has been on the menu for at least four decades.  It’s a charred New York Strip with mushrooms, green chile, sauteed vegetables and choice of potato.  It used to be better.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not a bad steak.  It’s just not the steak that earned a reputation as one of Santa Fe’s best.  Though prepared to my exacting specifications (medium, salt, pepper and garlic on both sides), it was uncharacteristically tough with more sinew and fat than a great steak should have.  Everyone who had this steak had a similar experience. In a May, 2011 episode of the Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” program, Santa Fe native turned chef Rahm Fama, host of the network’s Meat and Potatoes show, declared the Steak Dunigan “better than mine.” Surely he experienced the steak when it was prepared by Rosalea’s family.

Another dish for which the Pink Adobe has long been known–and based on its exorbitant price ($28 for dinner), obviously thinks very highly of–is Southern Fried Chicken.  Southern fried chicken is a rarity in Santa Fe restaurants, but something we enjoyed on many a Sunday while living in Mississippi.  As they say in the Deep South, “you have to go a far piece to get better fried chicken than the South.”  The Pink Adobe doesn’t go far enough.  To be clear, it’s several orders of magnitude better than anything you’ll find at the Colonel’s, but for the same price you could feed an army at KFC.  Served with a hush puppy (almost as big s the fried chicken), mashed potatoes, gravy and coleslaw, we might have liked it much better at a more reasonable price.

Chicken Enchiladas were the very first New Mexican entree at the Pink Adobe.  Served with sour cream cheese, green chile and a flour tortilla, it’s an entree long esteemed even by hard-liners.  It, too, has seen better days.  Looking at the picture above, it even looks dry, but not as dry as it tasted.  Worse, the enchiladas are served with black beans, a favorite at Santa Fe based New Mexican restaurants, but something many native New Mexicans disdain with the foods we grew up eating.  The chile was so unstimulating that not even my Phoenix transplanted sister found it piquant (she thinks bell peppers are too hot).

The Pink Adobe's famous apple pie

The Pink Adobe's famous apple pie

It wouldn’t be a visit to the Pink Adobe without a slice of Rosalea’s famous homemade French apple pie which many regard as the best you’ll ever eat.  Over a million apple pies have been made at the Pink since 1944.  Served piping hot and smothered in a delicious rum hard sauce and vanilla ice cream, its recipe has been shared for years in the Pink Adobe cookbook though we’ve never been able to make it quite as well.  This French apple pie, along with Rosalea’s French onion soup, are what started The Pink on its ascension into greatness. 

Even long-established restaurants with reputations bordering on legendary such as Pink Adobe have an occasional “off” day.  The test of true greatness is whether such days are few and far in between.  I’m inclined to believe we hit The Pink on a bad day and that we’ll be rewarded with a Rosalea quality meal during our next visit.

The Pink Adobe
406 Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, New Mexico
505) 983-7712
LATEST VISIT: 6 December 2009
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 17
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Steak Dunigan, Chicken Enchiladas, Fried Chicken, Rosalea’s Legendary French Apple Pie

Pink Adobe on Urbanspoon

Cafe Pasqual’s – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Cafe Pasqual

Cafe Pasqual, a Santa Fe Institution

Pasqual Baylon’s devotion to the Mass and the Holy Eucharist was so fervent that when assigned kitchen duty, angels had to stir the pots to keep them from burning.  It’s ironic therefore that San Pasqual is the recognized patron saint of Mexican and New Mexican kitchens, a beloved saint whose smiling countenance in the form of various art forms graces many a kitchen, including Katharine Kagel’s kitchen in the world famous Cafe Pasqual, one of Santa Fe’s most popular restaurants.

Cafe Pasqual is a very small cafe with seating for only 50 patrons sitting in very close quarters. Prospective diners place their names on a waiting list then typically wait half an hour or more to be seated, usually longer if they want a “private” table (where you’re still elbow-to-elbow with your neighbors). Quicker seating is usually available if you’re willing to share space in the large community table where you can break bread with diners from all walks of life.

Located one block southwest of the plaza in the heart of downtown, the split-level dining room is one of the most colorful venues in the City Different with a festive ambience that includes multi-hued, hand-painted Mexican tiles and murals. The hurried (but never harried) wait staff somehow manages to navigate the cramped quarters without spilling food all over the floor. Sometimes attired in tee-shirts depicting the Virgen De Guadalupe, patron saint of the Americas, they remain accommodating and friendly despite having to keep a nearly frenetic pace.

The colorful interior at Cafe Pasqual

The colorful interior at Cafe Pasqual

In 1999, Cafe Pasqual was accorded the James Beard Foundation’s “America’s Classics Award,” an honor bestowed to only four recipients a year. This prestigious honor recognizes locally owned and operated restaurants in operation for ten years or more that are beloved in their communities for their unique food and ambiance and which exhibit timeless appeal. Proprietor and chef Kagel was also nominated that year as the Best Chef in the Southwest, not her only nomination for this honor.

Cafe Pasqual is indeed an American classic, celebrating for more than three decades, culinary traditions inspired by New Mexico, Old Mexico and Asia (especially Thailand) with a pronounced dedication to fresh, seasonal, organic and naturally raised foods. In 2003, writing for Epicurious.com, authors Jane and Michael Stern declared Cafe Pasqual one of America’s top ten restaurants for breakfast. The restaurant was also a perpetual mainstay on Chile Pepper magazine’s “best of zest” listing of the best in Southwest restaurants.

The bustling corner cafe in the ever-familiar pueblo style building first opened in 1979 and has experienced overflow crowds for years.  Katharine Kagel’s philosophy, one which has guided her restaurant for years is to “gather together the best possible staff and ingredients to synergize unforgettable flavors in the most interesting and inspired way, with an eye to healthful preparation methods.”  As with so many other excellent Santa Fe restaurants she has cultivated relationships with suppliers, the growers of native and exotic fruits and vegetables used in the restaurant.  It makes a difference!

Huevos Motulenos

Huevos Motulenos

All the visits to Cafe Pasqual chronicled on this blog have been on Sundays when brunch is the featured fare. If breakfast is the most important meal of the day then the best way to greet an enchanting Sunday morning is by starting off with Mexican hot chocolate at Cafe Pasqual. Served in a glass instead of a mug, it is garnished with freshly grated cinnamon and packs a distinct, rich taste with addictive properties. It is easily the best Mexican hot chocolate we’ve ever had.

What makes Mexican hot chocolate so vastly superior to the usual cocoa power mixture is the Mexican chocolate itself.  Cafe Pasqual uses one and a half ounces of Ibarra brand Mexican chocolate in each frothy glass.  It is so rich and flavorful that true chocoholics will never return to the inferior powdered variety.  You can purchase Ibarra brand chocolate at the restaurant, by the way.

I read somewhere that your brain is most productive in the morning, but trying to decide what to order from an array of sumptuous sounding brunch entrees is a dizzying challenge–you literally want to order one of each. The good thing is you can’t go wrong with whatever you order; it’s all wonderful.

MM PAPAS FRITAS – home fries with red chile, green chile, or tomatillo d’arbol salsa, scallions, melted jack cheese and sour cream with a tortilla

MM Papas Fritas – home fries with red chile, green chile, or tomatillo d’arbol salsa, scallions, melted jack cheese and sour cream with a tortilla

Take for example the Huevos Motuleños, eggs-over-easy on corn tortillas with black beans, sautéed bananas (the things simians like, not banana peppers), feta cheese, peas, salsa fresca and green chile or tomatillo d’arbol salsa. There’s a special treat in every bite as complementary and contrasting ingredients meld together wonderfully to compete subtly for the rapt attention of your taste buds.

While Huevos Motulenos may sound like a motley assortment of disparate (complementary if you have an imagination) ingredients, its genesis is the Yucatan peninsula in a village named Motul.  A similar breakfast entree going by the name Huevos Yucatecos is available at the Tecolote Cafe a couple of miles west of Cafe Pasqual.  Both versions are outstanding, an excellent way to start the day.  What makes this dish unique–what makes this dish–are the sauteed bananas.  You’ll marvel at the sweet and savory flavor combinations, even better the sweet and piquant flavor melding. 

In an August, 2011 episode of the Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” renown New York City chef Chris Santos declared Cafe Pasqual’s Huevos Barbacoa Con Chile D’Arbol the very best egg dish he’s ever eaten.  Chef Kagel’s eggstraordinary dish starts with corn tortillas which are then topped with refried beans, marinated beef cheeks pulled and shredded, eggs and the Chile D’Arbol garnished with cheese and cilantro.  Chef Santos declared the dish “amazing.”

The breakfast quesadilla is a similarly eye-opening, mouth-watering morning delicacy. A griddled spelt (a type of wheat) flour tortilla envelops jack cheese, guacamole, scrambled eggs and salsa fresca, ingredients joined together in perfect harmony to make early morning love to your mouth. At Cafe Pasqual, eggs are invariably prepared to perfection. It’s an art form not all restaurants have mastered.

Pecan-Coffee Tart with Apricot Compote and Chantilly Cream

Pecan-Coffee Tart with Apricot Compote and Chantilly Cream

Cafe Pasqual is renown for its breakfast and brunch entrees.  Using real eggs, real butter and real potatoes, it relies on nothing commercial or frozen.  Everything is absolutely fresh.  The sausage and chorizo is made on the premises as is the bread for the fabulous toast and sandwiches.  Breakfast is served all day long in the tradition of fine cafes throughout the world.  Breakfast lovers love this practice though it does challenge the kitchen to manage two divergent menus at once.  Cafe Pasqual has been doing it so long, they excel at it.

In cafes throughout France, we enjoyed fried potatoes for breakfast and have been dismayed when restaurants serve out-of-the-bag hashed browns that sometimes look and taste like fried rubber bands.  Cafe Pasqual specializes in fried potatoes, offering a brunch entree called MM Papas Fritas, home fries with red chile, green chile or tomatillo d’arbol salsa, scallions, melted Jack cheese and sour cream with a corn or flour tortilla.  Ask for a couple of eggs on top of this concoction and you’ll have a New Mexico take on something we loved in cafes throughout France.

A grilled free-range chicken breast sandwich is yet another lively, titivated marriage of fresh ingredients that combine wonderfully to tantalize your taste buds. Homemade toasted green chile corn bread is the canvas on which marvelously mellow Manchego cheese; sweet, caramelized onions and roasted jalapeños form a preternaturally wonderful breakfast sandwich in which sweet, savory and piquant flavors are in seemingly equal proportion to one another.

Toasted Pinon Ice Cream with Caramel Sauce

Toasted Pinon Ice Cream with Caramel Sauce

Every table includes orange and raspberry marmalade, both of which epitomize the highest standards of their respective genres. Naturally you’ll have to order the restaurant’s freshly baked and intoxicatingly aromatic bread to take advantage of those fruity bread spreads.

The breakfast and brunch menus include several sweet-tooth sating entrees.  You can also satisfy your sweet tooth with one of the restaurant’s fabulous desserts.  Desserts change daily, but they’re all so good think of it as an excuse to try something other than the one you fall most in love with.  For me, it’s the pecan-coffee tart with apricot compote and Chantilly cream.  It’s akin to a richer, more flavorful, more adult-like and not as sweet pecan pie.

My consolation prize when the pecan-coffee tart isn’t available is the toasted piñon ice cream with caramel sauce.  Being the restaurant’s best-selling and most requested dessert, the toasted piñon ice cream has made it onto the daily menu.  You won’t find this ice cream at any grocery store.  It’s made on the premises and it’s fabulous.  Not even the bone-chilling cold of the ice cream can obfuscate the wonderful woodsy taste of piñon, the little nut New Mexicans love like no other.

Cafe Pasqual is so good we’ve theorized that the patron saint of New Mexico’s kitchens himself is crafting the wondrous kitchen concoctions. Its wondrous food will make a morning person out of anyone.

Cafe Pasqual’s
121 Don Gaspar
Santa Fe, NM
983-9340
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 8 November 2009
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 24
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Salmon Burrito, Mexican Hot Chocolate, Huevos Motulenos, MM Papas Fritas, Pecan-Coffee Tart with Apricot Compote and Chantilly Cream, Pinon Ice Cream with Caramel Sauce, Toast with Jam

Cafe Pasqual's on Urbanspoon

Five & Dime General Store – Santa Fe, New Mexico

The famous Five & Dine General Store on the Santa Fe Plaza

The famous Five & Dine General Store on the Santa Fe Plaza

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

In its place stands the Five & Dime General Store which retains much of the charm that made Woolworth’s a throwback to better times.  Best of all, the Five & Dime retained the lunch counter in which the Frito Pie was invented nearly 50 years ago. Few, if any, do it better. The Frito Pie is served the old fashioned way, in an open bag of Fritos smothered with meaty red chile and shredded cheese.

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

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

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

Five & Dime General Store
58 E. San Francisco
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 992-1800
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 3 August 2003
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Frito Pie

Five and Dime on Urbanspoon