Embudo Station – Embudo, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Few things in life are as romantic as dining on the banks of the slowly trickling, mocha-colored Rio Grande on a crisp early autumn night with only a hint of moonlight to illuminate your partner’s visage–unless maybe it’s dining by that same river as it rages murkily, carrying off the Sangre De Cristo’s winter ablutions during its spring runoff. Located 25 miles south of Taos and 41 miles north of Santa Fe on Highway 68, the Embudo Station offers patio dining with unforgettable vistas and memorable meals.

The Embudo Station is steeped in history, having served as a narrow gauge railroad station for the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad (affectionately called the “Chile Line”) from the 1887 until 1941 when it was abandoned. In 1983, the Embudo Station was purchased by Preston and Sandy Cox, tax accountants who left Santa Fe’s rat race for the peaceful village life of Embudo. After spending two years renovating the rundown property, the Coxes launched a sprawling complex that includes a restaurant, brewery, smokehouse, rafting company, a smoked goods mail-order catalogue company, an arts and crafts store, and an overnight cabin.

The old station house was converted into a brewery in which more than 20 different ales are brewed (including green and red chile ales). The aromatic fragrances emanating from the smokehouse form a two-part harmony with nature’s own aromas, particularly in the early winter when fireplaces and stoves are ablaze with woods from the local forests. At the Embudo Station, the smokehouse specialties include ham, sausage and ribs, all of which are available on the menu. If you love barbecue, your best bet is the combination platter which features meaty pork ribs, spicy sausage and ham along with coleslaw and black beans. The meats retain a smoky taste despite being slathered with a tangy barbecue sauce.

The eclectic menu ranges from barbecue to steaks, grilled chicken, New Mexican entrees and several vegetarian choices. One of the house specialties is roasted rainbow trout (locally caught) roasted on a cedar plank which Preston prepared for Food Network luminary Bobby Flay. Recently (in 2005) reintroduced into the menu is the Embudo Station’s version of a green chile cheeseburger, a juicy quarter pound plus beef patty garnished with roasted green chile with a bite. It’s an excellent burger and is accompanied by sweet potato fries that might be the best of their genre in Northern New Mexico.

The New Mexico state legislature, which is criminally indecisive on “trivial” matters such as enacting tough DUI penalties but acts quickly on more “essential” matters such as designating a state cookie (the biscochito) and official state question (red or green) has surprisingly not designated chips and salsa as the official state snack. If it did, the Embudo Station’s version might make a good poster child. Served with yellow and blue corn tortilla chips, the salsa features chunky red tomatoes decorated with cilantro.

The Embudo Station also provides more than perfunctory choices for vegetarians. Both the red and green chile are vegetarian and make their presence felt on excellent New Mexican entrees such as the wild mushroom enchiladas with asadero cheese, black beans and choice of chiles. It truly is a vegetarian delight. Salad choices include an outstanding tomato salad with house-made mozzarella cheese, greens and a tangy vinaigrette dressing.

Dessert choices include key lime pie, a tart taste treat not that common in New Mexico restaurants. A molten chocolate individual cake with whipped cream cures all for chocoholic diners.

Embudo Station
PO Box 154
Embudo, New Mexico

LATEST VISIT: 25 September 2005
COST: $$
BEST BET: Combination Barbecue Platter; Green Chile Cheeseburger; Sweet Potato Fries; Key lime pie

Gypsy 360 Cafe & Espresso Bar – Arroyo Seco, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Gypsy 360

Gypsy 360 in picturesque Arroyo Seco, New Mexico

Whether bathed by the sunshine of a dazzling daytime sun or illuminated by the shimmering glow of a starry moonlit night, the 360 degree views from the village of Arroyo Seco are enticing enough to convince any weary sojourner, wandering vagabond or peripatetic gypsy to end their nomadic ways and settle down.

Your vantage points to the immediate north and distant south include sacred snow capped Tiwa mountains reaching majestically for New Mexico’s incomparable cobalt skies. Verdant fields present a dramatic east facing panorama while prominent vast expanses of stark terrain seem to go on forever on your western perspective. It’s truly an idyllic setting for a gastronomic paradise in which creative ingredients play a mellifluous tune on your taste buds.

The menu is worldly sophistication and eclectic with several Asiatic appetizers and entrees holding court. We tried several of them and came away impressed. Thai beef lettuce wraps featuring grilled and marinated beef sautéed with red onion nested in cool lettuce leafs are garnished with cilantro and peanuts then served with a Vietnamese sweet and sour dipping sauce. They are messy but magnificent.

Nowadays it seems every restaurant serves sushi (usually of inferior quality) and Gypsy 360 is no exception, but the difference being Gypsy 360 does it very well. A spicy tuna roll masterfully crafted with fresh ahi tuna, jalapeno, pickled burdock root, scallion and secret sauce tasted as if it had been made by a trained sushi chef.

Thai green curry is burnished with rich and herbaceous coconut milk curry laden with pork, tomatoes and spinach over basmati rice. It was as fiery as any curry you’ll find at any Duke City Thai restaurant, but my preference would be for sticky white rice, not basmati.

A wonderful alternative to Pan Asian cuisine is the “Superior Burger” which truly earns its sobriquet. It is easily one of the top five or six burgers in New Mexico and a burger for which you need several napkins, so succulent is it. This carnivores’ classic is a half-pound black angus burger dressed with a thick and lightly grilled onion slice, crisp bacon and jack cheese on a grilled bun with piquant chipotle mayo. It is possible to improve on superiority by asking for green chile and substituting jack cheese with a sharp blue cheese. Your breath may reek afterwards, but your taste buds and stomach will thank you.

If you’re not in the mood for a burger, an excellent sandwich board is available. Gypsy 360’s version of the Cuban sandwich is called the Havana Hero, a sandwich for which you’d swim the Caribbean. It’s a humongous pressed French roll generously endowed with roasted pork loin, black forest ham, jack cheese, mashed black beans and avocado.

Antecedents for an outstanding meal should include salsa fresca and tostaditas. This jalapeno salsa packs a punch with fresh ingredients that include cilantro, garlic, tomatoes and lime juice. It is a premier salsa, one of the best in Northern New Mexico. Another wonderful appetizer choice is the hummus plate which includes a munificent scoop of ceci bean hummus, olives and a piquant salsa verde with warm, flat pita bread. The garlic laden hummus is more than noteworthy.

By itself, the incomparable vistas make it worth a visit to Gypsy 360. When you visit northern New Mexico on a clement spring or even early fall day, you might be surprised at how thirsty you quickly become. A perfect cure is the Gypsy 360’s lemonade, which ranks with Gabriel’s as perhaps the best in the state.

Gypsy 360 Cafe
480 State Road 150
Arroyo Seco, NM

LATEST VISIT: 5 September 2005
COST: $$
BEST BET: Superior Burger, Green Pork Curry

Señor Lucky’s – Santa Fe, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Senor Lucky’s closed in February 2006.

A thriving gambling hall, bordello and saloon once occupied the space in which Señor Lucky’s is now situated. It was operated by 19th-century matriarch, Gertrudes Barcelo (better known as Doña Tules) who entertained guests with dances, drink and cards, amassing a fortune as one of Santa Fe’s most infamous and enterprising citizens. Historians believe she collaborated with the U.S. Army, loaning money to its officers money so they could pay the American soldiers occupying Santa Fe around the time of the American takeover. Local lore also indicates she not only got paid back by the government, but also got back most of her original loan via the gambling losses of soldiers who frequented her popular establishment.

Doña Tules has long since passed away, but her establishment has continued to thrive, albeit not as a sala of questionable repute. It has served as a formal restaurant since 1961 when the Victorian stylings of The Palace began showcasing one of the city’s most leisurely and romantic ambiences, one that hearkened back to a San Francisco restaurant of 100 years ago. Replete with starched linen tablecloths, dim lighting, fresh flowers and a sophisticated menu, it was also a popular restaurant for “power” dining and was frequented by government movers and shakers.

In 2005, the venerable Palace was transformed from an elegant, upscale dining establishment into a western themed restaurant called Señor Lucky’s. Gone is the garish wallpaper of the bordello it once was and in its place are several cliché western photographic murals. A multi-colored chandelier fashioned from glassware provides an interesting eye-catcher while a spacious patio gives diners the option of imbibing fresh mountain air as they dine.

The restaurant’s management triumvirate includes chef nonpareil Eric DiStefano and Cliff Skoglund of Geronimo fame.

DiStefano has crafted an imaginative menu replete with high-end comfort food of a sophisticated southwest western bent skewed toward less affluent patrons than would frequent the stunning but expensive Geronimo.

Several starters options decorate the menu with promises of enticing tastes. The New Mexican tortilla chips with pico de gallo, Yucatan tomatillo and roasted red pepper salsas are an excellent precursor to a memorable meal. Blue corn and yellow corn tortilla chips scoop up some of the most flavorful (albeit only mildly piquant) salsas in town. With sweet, salty, piquant and noticeably fresh tastes, the chunky roasted red pepper salsa may be the standout from among three wonderful salsas. It compares favorably to the fire roasted salsa at the Coyote Cafe, a salsa I consider one of the best in the state.

Señor Lucky’s Mac and Cheese,” an adult version of the popular comfort food may be the best of its genre you’ll ever have. Kraft dinner it certainly is not! Creamy green chile cheese rigatoni noodles are adorned with grilled peppers, freshly grated Parmesan cheese and what appears to be several kinds of Cheddar cheese of varying sharpness. The blending of flavors is sensational.

You might not be quite as enamored of the grilled lime and garlic marinated flank steak basted with honey and chipotle. The prevalent taste is honey sweetness with any of the lime’s tartness or the chipotle’s heat being subjugated by an all too sweet honey taste. The steak itself was tender and grilled to perfection. It is accompanied by a sweet corn and grilled onion salad whose prevalent taste is freshness. It is absolutely delicious.

If our inaugural visit is any indication, many diners opt for a side of the rustic russet “boardwalk” fries with malt vinegar and sea salt. It’s easy to see why. Instead of the crispy, cardboard rigid fried potatoes commonly served at restaurants, these russets resembled the wonderful semi-flaccid “chips” served with fish throughout Great Britain. They were even served in a conical shaped paper wrapper. As we did during our years in England, we drenched these chips in malt vinegar and reminisced about our days in the mother country.

Not surprisingly, the dessert options are tempting enough to elicit effusive salivation. One of the more intriguing choices is Lucky’s roasted banana split with banana ice cream, tequila chocolate sauce and fresh mango, an option offering contrasting and conflicting tastes which work surprisingly well together. This was a dessert of genius inspiration, as refreshing a taste treat as you can find in Santa Fe.

Señor Lucky’s
142 West Palace
Santa Fe, NM
LATEST VISIT: 4 September 2005
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Mac and Cheese; Rustic Russet “Boardwalk” Fries