Los Mayas – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Los Mayas in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Los Mayas in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Diego de Landa Calderón, the former Bishop of Yucatán, is a dichotomous figure in the history of the new world.  On one hand, he is recognized as an invaluable source of information on pre-Columbian Mayan civilizations, but on the other, he was directly responsible for destroying much of that civilization’s history, literature and traditions.

Given the responsibility of converting the indigenous Maya to Roman Catholicism, he instituted an Inquisition that ultimately ended with the notorious auto de fé, a ritual of public penance for condemned heretics.  Mayas who continued to practice “idol worship” after having been “converted” to Catholicism were the recipients of this torturous rite.  During one ceremony, he also burned more than 5,000 Maya cult images and a significant number of Maya codices which would have filled in many blanks as to Maya history and culture.

Los Mayas on a balmy summer day

Los Mayas on a balmy summer day

In 1566 upon his return to Spain, Landa authored a book in which he catalogued the Maya language, culture, religion and system of writing.  From his writings, we now know just how much the ancient Maya diet contributed to our own modern foodstuffs.  While some of the foods of the Maya (and frankly of their modern-day descendants) are unfamiliar to many Americans, other foods are commonplace at the supermarket.  These include tomatoes, sweet potatoes, avocados and guavas as well as such familiar and treasured New Mexican foods and seasonings as chili peppers, chocolate and vanilla beans.

Fish and fowl were also a significant portion of the Maya diet.  Landa’s writings tell us the Maya was a considerate hunter, killing only what he needed from among the plentiful deer herds, wild turkeys, wild boar, rabbits and even iguana and armadillo.  Beekeeping and the production of honey were important staples of Mesoamerican life.

Salsa and chips

Salsa and chips

Among the Maya staples, both as a food and in cultural and ritual ceremony, was maize which was used to construct tortillas and tamales.  Just imagine, the Maya had all the ingredients needed to craft some of New Mexico’s favorite dishes.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, the foods of the Maya and their descendants can still be obtained at a restaurant named for this great civilization.  Los Mayas restaurant on Water Street honors the culture and traditions of the Maya people in a modern venue renown for its lively and spirited ambiance and excellent Mexican and New Mexican food.  Los Mayas is located within the walls of an adobe home built in 1929 by Don Timoteo and Dona Sofia Cordova.  Within easy walking distance of the historic Santa Fe Plaza, it is a popular dining destination where customers can relax to the melodic stylings of musicians descended from the great Maya.

From the gated Taos blue entrance a red brick path will take you either to the restaurant’s spacious front dining room or the covered patio, a popular summertime favorite.  The mauve-hued walls of the front dining room are festooned with eclectic and colorful art depicting life in Mexico while the tiled floors give it a majestic feel.  This dining room is a cozy, comfortable setting designed to enhance your dining experience.  There are two additional indoor dining rooms in which fires crackle in winter from stylish fireplaces.

You’ll gain entrance to the patio through an arched passage at the end of the brick path.  On a busy night, the length and breadth of the pathway might just be wall-to-wall people as hungry throngs queue up to dine.  Coyote walls backdrop much of the patio which provides roofing, shelter and shade to diners.  In the summer, a place at the patio beats the artifice of air-conditioned indoor climate.  The restaurant’s sound system pipes the music emanating from the stage enhances the intimate ambiance.

Service is first-rate.  Peripatetic owner Fernando Antillas is an outgoing sort, back-slapping gentlemen diners and hugging the women.  He is as friendly and engaging as any restauteur and is equally at home speaking English as he is his native Spanish.

Chiles Rellenos en Nogada

Chiles Rellenos en Nogada

Not only is the spirit of Old Mexico present in the restaurant, so are many of its diverse cuisine offerings.  The menu is actually a compendium of New Mexican and Mexican recipes, particularly from the central state of Puebla.  There are also significant Oaxacan influences in evidence on that varied and interesting menu.  It’s unlike the menu you’ll find at most Mexican restauants in the Land of Enchantment.

Within minutes after you’re seated, a bowl of rich, red salsa and a basket of crisp, fresh chips are delivered to your table.  The salsa has the flavor of fire-roasted tomatoes, garlic, Mexican oregano and fiery chili peppers for that essential incendiary touch.  It rates about medium on the piquancy scale though many tourists would argue that it’s got the potency of a flame-thrower.

Ribeye with a chile relleno

Ribeye with a chile relleno

One of the dishes for which the state of Puebla is best known is a restaurant specialty.  That would be Chiles Rellenos en Nogada, traditionally a Christmas dish which Santa Feans can enjoy year-round.  It’s an interesting dish whose component ingredients vary depending on who prepares it.

Los Mayas rendition starts off with a poblano pepper engorged with ground beef, chopped fruit and walnuts covered in a rich, sweet sauce made from molasses, cream and just a whisper of brandy.  For contrast, it is sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.  The restaurant offers this decadent treat as an appetizer, its most expensive.  It’s an appetizer we first shared at Los Mayas with new friends Sue and Skip Munoz during our inaugural visit and it’s an appetizer we’ll always order.  It’s one of the very best renditions of this Pueblan dishes we’ve ever had.

Pork Carnitas

The menu categorizes entrees into three categories: Northern New Mexican, Old Mexico and Seafood/Vegetarian.  It’s an ambitious menu with something for every discerning diner.  The New Mexican cuisine is purported to be “Santa Fe style,” an audacious claim we last saw at a New Mexican restaurant in Springerville, Arizona.  This menu includes such traditional northern New Mexican favorites as calabasitas, blue corn enchiladas and stuffed sopaipillas.

Old Mexico offerings come from recipes which have been in the Antillas family for three generations, but some of whose genesis is contemporaneous with the Maya for whom the restaurant is named.  Most entrees are accompanied with mashed pinto beans topped with melted cheese and rice sculpted into a round mound of flavor.

Flan

One of the Old Mexico menu favorites is the Filete de Res (pictured above), a ten-ounce charcoal-grilled ribeye served with one chile relleno.  The steak is about half an inch thick, but every bit of that is flavor-rich, imbued with just a hint of charcoal smokiness.  It is as tender as my heart with nary any excess fat or sinew.  The chile relleno proves an interesting contrast to the dessert-sweet Chile Relleno en Nogada.  With piquancy just above that of a bell pepper, it relies on the cheese with which it is engorged and the tomato chile sauce which tops it for flavor.  They do their jobs well, buoying the pepper flavor of the poblano perfectly.

Another entree from the Old Mexico section of the menu is among the very best of its genre we’ve had at any restaurant in New Mexico.  That would be the pork carnitas, shredded pork marinated overnight.  Tender is a vast understatement for the well-seasoned pork served in a cast iron skillet with green onions and roasted red peppers.  This very flavorful entree is served with flour tortillas which you can use as “Mexican spoons” or to craft delicious pork tacos.  The sizzling cast iron pan includes enough pork for left-overs, and if possible, the subtly delicious flavors are even deeper and more wonderful the following day.

For dessert, you’ve got to have Los Mayas specialty, flan topped with a housemade whipped cream on a pool of caramel sauce.  The caramel sauce has none of the cloying qualities of the caramel you might heap on ice cream.  It’s an adult, semi-sweet caramel that complements the flan like a marriage made in heaven.   The flan itself is dense and decadent yet remarkably light like custard and as delicious as any flan you’ll find anywhere in the state.

Los Mayas is a long-time Santa Fe favorite for good reason, but thanks in large part to its proximity to the Plaza, it’s frequented by wandering tourists who may not understand the queuing protocol or what to order.  What they do understand is that the aromas emanating from its kitchen are irresistable and like a siren’s song, they’ve got to respond to their call.

Los Mayas
409 West Water Street
Santa Fe, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 30 August 2008
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 21
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Chile Relleno en Nogada, Salsa and Chips, Carnitas

Los Dos Molinos – Springerville, Arizona

Los Dos Molinos in Springerville, Arizona

Los Dos Molinos in Springerville, Arizona

Just how hot is the chile at Los Dos Molinos? The New York Times suggests you “travel with a fire extinguisher” and that “everything, with the exception of the margaritas, is incendiary.” New York magazine raves that “Not since Drew flashed Dave has Manhattan witnessed a hotter display than the one at Los Dos Molinos.” The Arizona Central dining guide asks “can you take the heat,” calling Los Dos Molinos “the lodestone for leather tongues.”

Now these are all unimpeachable sources with impeccable credibility (at least when it comes to restaurants), but the source that got my attention quickest was a Garfield comic strip in which the irascible cat is challenged to a hot pepper eating contest by Jon, Garfield’s long-suffering human companion. In the first panel, Jon pops a jalapeno pepper into his mouth without breaking a sweat. Garfield follows with a cayenne pepper which Jon then one-ups with a Habanero which draws more than a bead of sweat. Not to be outdone, Garfield tosses a “Los Dos Molinos Death Pepper” into his mouth. The pepper is so incendiary that in dragon fashion, he shoots a massive fireball out of his mouth, scorching Jon in the process. Holding an empty cup of water, Garfield concedes, “you win.” Jon, charred and still smoldering responds, “then why am I not happy.”

The hellish pepper which proved the undoing of Garfield was actually a Peruvian Death Pepper, a mythical pepper said to be close to 15 million Scoville units in terms of heat. So, the Garfield comic strip which hangs throughout the Los Dos Molinos restaurant may have been altered, but to many diners, the sentiment aptly describes their dining experience at this legendary New Mexican restaurant.

The two chile grinders for which the restaurant is named

The two chile grinders for which the restaurant is named

Ironically, there are no Los Dos Molinos restaurants within the Land of Enchantment, the closest of the five restaurant branches being in Springerville, Arizona, about a dozen miles inside the state line. There are also three Molinos restaurants in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, including one in the former mansion of Tom Mix, the cowboy star of the 1920s and 30s. A fifth restaurant is located in Metropolis itself where Los Dos Molinos has taken New York City by storm.

Our inaugural visit was to the Springerville restaurant where it all started nearly a quarter century ago when Victoria Chavez launched the family’s flagship restaurant. When considering what to name the restaurant, Victoria and her husband Eddie decided to name it for two old chile grinders given to them by their respective grandmothers. Those “molinos” (grinders) are still on display on a shelf near the entrance to the restaurant. Perhaps a glass encased shrine would have been more appropriate.

The visual bombardment at Los Dos Molinos is nearly overwhelming. There is something to see everywhere you turn including pinatas on the ceiling, flashing neon signage, old farm implements, diamondback rattlesnakes mounted on flatboard and even faux swordfish (the type you see at many mariscos restaurants). Framed and unframed newspaper clippings are strewn throughout the walls with the aforementioned Garfield comic strip even taped to some banco style seats.

The colorful walls at Los Dos Molinos

The colorful walls at Los Dos Molinos

Los Dos Molinos, at least the Springerville branch, does not accept credit cards or out-of-state checks (not even from New Mexico). Fortunately, two ATMs are within easy walking distance of the restaurant. The little ambulation to the ATM built up our appetite for what promised to be an exciting dining experience on what we’d read is “Santa Fe style” New Mexican cooking.

It’s been my woeful experience that–with very few exceptions–restaurants outside the Land of Enchantment which purport to serve “New Mexican food” generally present an shameful facsimile. One exception if Richardson’s Cuisine of New Mexico in Phoenix. Could lightning possibly strike twice? Could there actually be two excellent, or at the very least “passable,” New Mexican restaurants in Arizona? There were two indications that we might be in for a let-down.

The first was the unmistakable olfactory attacking aroma of cumin in the air. You’re probably thinking, “there he goes again on his I hate cumin soapbox.” As documented several times on this blog, cumin has no place in New Mexican cuisine, especially on chile which needs absolutely no amelioration, especially from such an offensive, odoriferous spice.

The second sign we might be disappointed was in the spelling “chili” throughout the restaurant’s menu. To many purists like me, that spelling is a cardinal sin, an insult, an indication of inauthenticity. Los Dos Molinos Web site advises, “When you read our menu and see the word “chili” keep in mind we use New Mexico Chilis and this means “Hot” with the best flavor this side of the Rio Grande.” The truth is, when traditionalists like me see chili, one thing comes to mind automatically–the aberration served in Texas (generally with ground beef, chili powder, often with tomatoes and kidney beans and usually with cumin).

Salsa and chips

Salsa and chips

The salsa, both a red chile version and one made with green chile, is redolent with cumin, so much so that what would otherwise have been very good salsa lost all of its appeal to us. Our waitress warned us that the red salsa was hotter than the green salsa, but the green chile was hotter than the red chile on the restaurant’s entrees. The degree of piquancy was probably on the level of the salsa at Sadie’s Dining Room in Albuquerque, a salsa many people find plenty hot. The big difference is that Sadie’s doesn’t allow cumin anywhere near its salsa (or chile for that matter). At least the chips were good–low in salt, crispy and fresh.

Fortunately there was no cumin whatsoever in an appetizer called a Cheese Crisp which might be an Arizona invention because it’s not something I’ve ever seen in any restaurant in New Mexico. My familiarity with it comes exclusively from devouring all of Seth Chadwick’s reviews on his phenomenal Feasting in Phoenix blog. Seth is very much of an authority on cheese crisps and is able to discern even subtle differences between cheese crisps at the restaurants in which he orders this appetizer.

A cheese crisp bears some similarity to a quesadilla, save for the fact that it’s not layered and the tortilla is crispy. It’s simply a crispy tortilla topped with melted cheese, a sort of tortilla pizza you might call it. Seth proclaims Los Dos Molinos version of a cheese crisp as “excellent” and as is often the case, I’m inclined to agree with my sage colleague.

Cheese Crisp

Cheese Crisp

The cheese crisp was served in a round baking tin. Both yellow and white cheeses were used and they were melted all the way through–thankfully not to the point at which they were too oily. We would have loved to partake of salsa with this appetizer, but why ruin a good thing.

Despite our experience with the cumin-laden salsa, I still ordered Los Dos Molinos beef enchiladas “Christmas style” crowned with a fried egg over medium. Fingers crossed, I hoped the salsa was an anomoly and that the chile truly was, as advertised “Santa Fe” style. Alas, my optimism was short-lived.

The enchilada plate was beautiful to look at, a colorful plate nearly completely covered with some of my favorite things, including beans and Spanish rice. Wafting toward my nostrils like the malodorous stench of unwashed feet was that dreaded demon-spawn spice, cumin. It even permeated the rice, a poor innocent victim like us.

The shredded beef nestled comfortably within the confines of corn tortillas was wonderful, so tender it pulled apart easily with just a fork. The fried egg was done to perfection, slightly crispy but puncture that yolk and yellow goodness runs out. The beans were studded with whole pintos and were delicious.

Enchiladas

Enchiladas

The red and green chile reeked of cumin, but I tried gamely to put a dent on the generous portion, all the while knowing that I’d pay for it later with an aftertaste that just doesn’t leave easily. I would normally rather swim the piranha infested waters of the Amazon than to ingest chile bespoiled with cumin, but the only way to write an honest appraisal is to suffer for my art. Let’s just say I won’t suffer a second time at Los Dos Molinos.

Having learned from the salsa, my Kim wisely chose a combination platter, asking for the chile on the side. The “safest” item on the patter was a shredded beef taco in which tender tendrils of delicate beef were undefiled by cumin. The taco, replete with beef, lettuce and tomatoes was delicious, a star. There was just too much cumin on the tamale to enjoy it.

Combination Platter

Combination Platter

As is always the case when cumin crosses our lips, we scoured the menu for something to obfuscate the offending aftertaste. Dessert offerings included something called a “burro” which appeared to be an apple filled pastry shell topped with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with powdered sugar and chocolate. We devoured the burro, relishing every morsel of food that didn’t include cumin. In truth, this was the highlight of our meal at Los Dos Molinos, but might not have been such a big hit with us had we the restaurant fulfilled even a modicum of our expectations.

Dessert burrito

Dessert burrito

There are some who will consider this review heretical, a sacrilege against a beloved institution. Connoisseurs of cumin may question my palate and that’s perfectly fine. This review is, after all, my opinion and yours may differ, even greatly. I would invite the nay-sayers to visit Mary & Tito’s in Albuquerque for a taste of chile the way it’s supposed to be done–pure and unadulterated bliss.

Los Dos Molinos
East Main Street
Springerville, Arizona
(928) 333-4846
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 23 August 2008
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 14
COST: $$
BEST BET: Dessert

The Hamilton Chop House – Durango, Colorado (CLOSED)

The Hamilton Chop House

The Hamilton Chop House

The Land of Enchantment with its 121,356 square miles of deserts, mesas, rivers, mountains, forests, cities and villages is the fifth largest state in the country.  In 2007, Albuquerque’s KOAT television station began a recurring series in which the station treated its viewers to an aerial perspective of many of the communities in its viewing area.  That unique bird’s eye view perspective was captured from Sky 7, the station’s news helicopter.

In 2008, the station expanded its coverage, sending news anchor and New Mexico native Royale Dá skyward once again to show viewers the challenges faced by the communities featured on the series and how they are dealing with those challenges.  Royale was joined by city leaders from throughout the viewing area who boarded Sky 7 to share what makes their communities so special.

One of the few cities visited in 2008 outside of New Mexico’s borders was Durango, Colorado, long a part of KOAT’s viewing area.  During the aerial tour of the city, Durango’s Director of Planning and Community Development Greg Hoch indicated that Durango actually has more restaurants per capita than the city of San Francisco.

With a population of nearly 750,000 people, the city of San Francisco numbers just about 2,700 restaurants within its boundaries, giving it a per capita density of 279 people per restaurant.  The City by the Bay is a formidable restaurant city indeed.  Sheer numbers, however, do not make a city a good dining destination.  San Francisco has earned its reputation as an epicenter for epicurean excellence not because of its overwhelming number of restaurants, but because many of those restaurants are of exceedingly high quality.

Durango counts some 15,000 residents within its boundaries and is not as well known as a great restaurant city as it is a town in which beer is literally woven into its cultural and social fabric.  The city’s four breweries produce more than 15,000 barrels of beer annually, just over one barrel or 31 gallons per man, woman and child resident.  The city of Durango truly appreciates great craft beer.

In past visits to Durango I left with the impression that the city has a number of “good” to “very good restaurants” and certainly appreciated the fact that there are so many of them from which to choose.  Good to very good restaurants do not, however, make it a great restaurant town.  Neither does the sheer number of restaurants.

The interior of Hamilton's Chop House

The interior of Hamilton's Chop House

During a visit in August, 2008, we confirmed that Durango is indeed a good to very good restaurant town, but it has one outstanding restaurant gem in its midst.  It was a discovery as exciting to this humble gastronome as discovering gold and silver ore in the nearby mountains was to intrepid prospectors more than a century ago.

That restaurant is the extraordinary Hamilton Chop House, a tenant of the Glacier Club at Tamarron Resort’s Sundowner Lodge about twenty miles north of Durango.  The distance separating this fabulous restaurant from dining establishments within the Durango city limits seems symbolic of the distance in quality between the Hamilton Chop House and every other restaurant in the area.  At the risk of hyperbole, it is probably the best steak house in which we’ve dined over the past fifteen years–and we’ve frequented the Chicago Chop House, regarded in many circles as the best independent steak restaurant in America.

The drive to the restaurant is spectacular as is the restaurant’s setting.  Nestled among towering oak, ponderosa and pine trees, the Hamilton Chop House is blessed with panoramic views of the nearby mountains.  It is also adjacent to a 27-hole golf course.  The ebony night skies are blanketed with a canopy of stars while the daytime’s cobalt skies seem to graduate in depth of color as your eyes climb skyward.

Descend a flight of stairs to the restaurant’s large living room and you might just be met at the bottom by the restaurant’s entrepreneurial owner Tom Hamilton, a whirling dervish of perpetual motion who pulls simultaneous duty as greeter, busser, waiter and genial host as well as occasional chef.  Tom is involved in all aspects of his restaurant’s operation, having crafted all the innovative recipes that enrapt diners who frequent his fabulous restaurant.

The Hamilton Chop House is the veteran restauteur’s latest restaurant venture, an evolution over time from his Cafe Cascade, a restaurant named one of Colorado’s three best restaurants in 1990 by a Denver Post restaurant critic.  Two years after closing Cafe Cascade Tom opened The Hamilton Chop House which he moved to its current site in 2005 after the Tamarron Resort made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Five Spice Quail

Five Spice Quail

Chop House is a bit of a misnomer in that the restaurant is so much more than an upscale steak house.  Everything–from the imaginitive sauces to the flavorful stocks and decadent desserts–is made on the premises.  Tom prides himself on purchasing beef and seafood of the very highest quality.  The restaurant’s price point is surprisingly reasonable considering the quality.  We’re talking about hand-selected prime and certified Black Angus steaks and chops properly aged to provide superior quality.  Seafood is flown in twice weekly from a supplier who also provisions the very best restaurants in Vail and Aspen, the resort Meccas of the super-wealthy.

About sixty percent of any given night’s orders come from the nightly specials sheet which features fresh seafood and some of the creative appetizers and entrees from which the restaurant established its reputation.  Tom Hamilton takes food seriously!  His executive chef of six years is New Orleans native Chris Martin who shares Tom’s passion for providing a memorable dining experience with outstanding cuisine.

While not effusively oppulent, the Hamilton Chop House has a decidedly comfortable western and slightly masculine feel to it.  A chandelier crafted from antlers lights up the front dining room which also houses the restaurant’s bar (the restaurant has a reputation for one of the best and most sophisticated wine lists in Colorado.)  Large framed Ansel Adams photographs festoon a stucco wall prefacing the pristinely polished stucco half-wall dividing the front dining room from the main dining room.  An imposing rock fireplace stands ready for those cold Colorado winter nights.

Framed watercolor paintings by the late Lenore Hamilton, Tom’s mother, adorn the main dining room.  The paintings are a mix of beautiful, florid landscapes and vegetables such as mushrooms and red and green vegetables, some of which have unintentionally erotic qualities similar to Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings of flowers.  Of course, men would find erotic qualities in Rorschach’s ink blots.  My Kim didn’t see anything erotic in the restaurant (save for the steak on her plate).

Shrimp wrapped in bacon

Shrimp wrapped in bacon

In addition to prime beef and fresh seafood, the menu boasts an intriguing array of wild game including elk loin, kangaroo medallions, ostrich fillet and a mixed game grill.  Seafood entrees include lobster with drawn butter, fresh scallops and a pound of Alaskan King Crab, all at ridiculously inexpensive rates that will have you doing a double-take.  The restaurant aims to please and will craft a surf-and-turf combination to your liking.

Steaks are prepared to your exacting specifications, using well-practiced techniques of char-broiling or seasoning and pan-searing, your choice.  Steaks, chops and seafood dinners include the Chop House’s homemade, freshly baked bread and your choice of garlic mashed potatoes, French fries, baked potato, rice pilaf or vegetable of the day.

An impressive array of sauces is also available for your dining pleasure, not that the steaks and chops need any amelioration whatsoever.  The four sauces offered are a Bordelaise, Creamy Au Poivre, Mushroom Bordelaise and Four-Peppercorn.  Each ostensibly offers unique flavor combinations that imbue beef with adventures in flavor.

Oysters Rockefeller served on a bed of sea salt

Oysters Rockefeller served on a bed of sea salt

Although the standard menu offers a strikingly inviting assortment of appetizers, be sure to closely study the appetizers on the specials sheet.  This is where Tom Hamilton’s creativity is best on display.  He has a gift for inventiveness, transforming appetizers the type of which we thought we had previously experienced into uniquely flavorful preprandial delights.  These appetizers will whet your appetite and appease all ten-thousand of your taste buds with deep and lively flavors.

If the appetizers from the specials (appropriately) sheet had been the extent of our inaugural meal at the Hamilton Chop House, it would still have been a fabulous meal.  Fortunately, those appetizers were just the start of an adventure in delightful tastes.

Make your first appetizer (you’ll want several) the Five Spice Quail,  six unbelievable tender and meaty quail marinated in sherry with garlic, salt, pepper and five spice.  The Chinese believe five spice embodies each of the five tastes in Chinese cooking–sweet, bitter, sour, salty and savory–but only when used correctly and in proper proportion, a balancing of yin and yang in food.  Tom Hamilton knows his five spice, applying it in just the right proportions to bring out the tastes I would not have imagined from quail.  Most quail tends to be on the desiccated and tough with a gamey blandness that’s hard to explain.

There is nothing foul about the Chop House’s fowl.  Lightly battered and deep fried to a golden consistency, each meaty morsel (and there were s a lot of them for such a relatively small bird) was tender and absolutely delicious in its own right…so good you wouldn’t want to add anything to it.  That is until you taste the absolutely phenomenal sauce provided with this appetizer.  The basis for the sauce is a variety of flavor-rich ingredients such as fresh ginger, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar and chile.  Somehow the sauce seems to appeal to all five senses, too.  The only fair way to determine whether the quail are better by themselves or with the sauce is to request two orders, one sans sauce.

Spinach the way you've never had it

Spinach the way you've never had it

The second in our triumvirate of taste bud tantalizing appetizers was the Chipotle Shrimp, four oxymoronic jumbo shrimp engorged with cream cheese, green onion and chipotle chiles in a sauce of garlic-lime Beurre Blanc, an ultra-rich, buttery sauce.  There is a lot going on in this appetizer and all of it good.  It’s a coalescence of flavors that brings out the best of each component.  The shrimp seem sweeter, the cheese sharper, the chipotles smokier.  Wow!  This is one for the ages.

A trioka of fantastic appetizers wouldn’t be complete without the Chop House’s Oysters Rockefeller, a dish renown for its richness.  Most Oysters Rockefeller I’ve had are reminiscent of Stovetop stuffing on a half-shell in comparison, even those I consumed by the boatload in New Orleans.  Perhaps that’s because the Chop House lets the oysters shine instead of blending them in a mishmash of ingredients (especially Hollandaise sauce) that obfuscates their flavor.  Oysters Rockefeller that taste like oysters, imagine that.  Imagine six oysters on the half shell nestled on a bed of sea salt with two lemon wedges destined for your table.  What you can’t imagine is just how good they are.

Grilled shrimp and mussels with Brussel Sprouts

Grilled shrimp and mussels with Brussel Sprouts

A lighter appetizer, one invented by Tom and which has caught on like wildfire in Durango, is spinach the way you’ve probably never envisioned it.  It’s deep-fried spinach with a light, crinkly texture on top of which is sprinkled Regianno parmesan. The deep-frying eliminates none of the spinach’s acerbic taste, but it somehow seems more palatable, even quite good.

Another aspect of our dining experience we appreciated was the wait staff which is personable and professional, especially adept at pacing your meal for optimum enjoyment.  The serving pace they set allows you to fully enjoy an appetizer before the next course (or second appetizer) is brought to your table.  There’s no competition among flavor contrasts here.  Ask for Sean, as knowledgeable and attentive a waiter as you could ask for.

In my inadequate for the task verbiage, I’ve hopefully conveyed that the Hamilton Chop House is nonpariel when it comes to appetizers.  It also measures up quite well when it comes to spectacular entrees.

Even if your appetizer melange includes shrimp, you might still want to try the grilled shrimp and scallops entree that features three of each oversized shrimp and scallops grilled to perfection.  Both are imbued with a faint smokiness and lay on a rich sauce of Saffron Beurre Blanc.  In taste and texture, both the shrimp and scallops are absolutely flawless.

While it seems that shrimp have become strictly a vehicle for cocktail sauce, these are shrimp you’ll want to linger, make that luxuriate in tasting.  It’s shrimp the way it’s supposed to taste, shrimp that snap when you bite into them the way they’re supposed to when fresh.  The scallops are similarly wonderful with a slight firmness instead of the usual pillowy texture that seems to turn off some people.  In terms of taste, think ethereal–very light and slightly sweet, but with enough flavor to let you know they come from the sea.

New York strip with a Bordelaise Gorgonzola sauce

New York strip with a Bordelaise Gorgonzola sauce

Carnivorous cravings will easily be sated with any one of the steak offerings, but for maximizing flavor discernment, go for the New York strip with a Bordelaise sauce (made with red wine, shallots and veal stock) with gorgonzola gently folded into it.  This is an entree I’ve seen several restaurants attempt to execute correctly, but when all is said and done, it is the chef who should be executed–usually for not being able to meld seemingly disparate tastes into edibility.  Although Bordelaise and especially gorgonzola can overpower a cut of beef, Tom Hamilton has perfected yet another culinary challenge.

Not only are the flavors complementary, but they don’t detract from the “sweetness” of the beef in the least.  It might help that the cut of beef is absolutely flawless–nary a sign of sinew or fat anywhere.  This New York strip is so tender you could cut it with a butter knife.  It is also grilled to perfection, again simply by char-broiling at the right temperature for the right amount of time.  You’d think that little secret would have gotten around by now.

It will probably come as no surprise to you that the Hamilton Chop House has also mastered desserts and in true fashion, they are superb.  They are artistically crafted by Sherrie Martin and are a feast for your eyes as well as for your mouth.  If you somehow manage to save room for it, the desserts are homemade daily and are just beckoning for you to try them.  One such example is the bread pudding which is light, moist and decadent, the three essential elements of outstanding bread pudding. This is one of the best!

Fabulous bread pudding at the Hamilton Chop House

The Hamilton Chop House and its affable and accomplished owner Tom Hamilton managed to make a huge fan out of me after only one visit, but it’s a visit we hope to repeat soon and often.  As a result of that one visit, I “downgraded” other steak restaurants I had thought to be very good–which brings me back to a point I made earlier about restaurant towns, a point that applies to restaurants as well.  That is, there are good to very good steak restaurants, but only a very select few outstanding ones.  The Hamilton Chop House is one of these.

THE HAMILTON CHOP HOUSE
40290 Highway 550
Durango, Colorado
LATEST VISIT: 21 August 2008
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 27
COST: $$$$
BEST BET: Chipotle Shrimp, Oysters Rockefeller, Five Spice Quail, Grilled Shrimp and Scallops, New York Strip with Bordelaise and Gorgonzola, Bread Pudding

Michael’s Kitchen – Taos, New Mexico

Michael's Kitchen in Taos

Michael's Kitchen in Taos

Murphy’s Law postulates that “if anything can go wrong, it will.” This rather pessimistic and oft-quoted expression has become a catch-all when everything seems to go askew. Murphy’s Law is blamed when you’re in the slowest line at a grocery store behind people who can’t find their checkbooks. It’s the reason the toast you accidentally drop off the table lands butter side down. It’s why the loudest and rudest people always sit in front of you at a movie theater.

Murphy’s Law is also the reason the restaurant you brag most about will invariably have an “off night” on the day people you most want to impress visit. It never fails! This immutable law works like compound interest. The more you brag about a restaurant, the worse it will be for your guests.

My brother George whose opinion on everything I value had told me for years that Michael’s Kitchen was one of the best restaurants in northern New Mexico. He appreciated its portion size, value and the quality of its New Mexican food (which the menu listed as “Spanish”).

One of the most unique telephone booths in the Land of Enchantment

One of the most unique telephone booths in the Land of Enchantment

Our inaugural visit was compounded by mistakes. Going out on a rainy July night in 2003 when the Taos fiestas were going full bore (in every sense of that word) meant nearly an hour’s drive to go six congested miles (thank you, Mr. Murphy). We then had to wait a seemingly interminable amount of time to be seated.

When our entrees finally arrived, two of them were sent back because they were nearly as cold as the falling rain. Our bedgraggled waitress “nuked” those entrees and everything on the plate on which they were delivered (including orange slices and tomatoes). The nuking transformed George’s Taos shrimp entree into a gooey, rubbery amalgam. To chronicle everything else that went wrong would be to give Murphy a lot of credit. Sure he’d like it, but that would just give him impetus to do it again.

I normally wouldn’t return to a restaurant in which our dining experience was so nightmarish, but Michael’s Kitchen is one of my brother’s favorites and that’s a good enough endorsement for me to try it again. That second visit transpired during breakfast on August 21st, 2008, but this time Mr. Murphy didn’t join us at the table.

Michael's bakery is one of the best in town

Michael's bakery is one of the best in town

The restaurant, open daily from 7AM through 8:30PM, is usually packed at all hours, an indication that Taos county diners consider this a favorite dining destination. In the winter, patrons waiting to be seated will appreciate the enclosed entrance’s east-facing windows which bring in plenty of sunshine and a bit of heat to keep them from the elements.

The walls at Michael’s Kitchen are adorned with “best in Taos county” framed certificates in virtually every conceivable category: breakfast, bakery, burgers, chile, etcetera. Step inside and your first glance will be of a pastry case replete with breads, cakes, donuts, pies, cinnamon rolls and pastries of all types sure to please discerning diners.

Chips and salsa

Chips and salsa at Michael's Kitchen in Taos

In each of the two dining areas are old-fashioned pot-belly stoves, the type of which emblazon the shirts worn by the staff as well as the restaurant’s signage. One dining room includes the most unique telephone booth you’ll ever see. It’s a converted outhouse, the type of which is still in use in rural New Mexico. Try sneaking a picture of it and the good-natured staff may just make you sit on the one-seater with a roll of unraveled paper towels at your feet and a newspaper in your hands. It’s not a picture I’ll be posting on this blog.

The menu is very eclectic, offering everything from sandwiches and burgers at launch to New York steak and plantation fried chicken for dinner. Breakfast is served all day long. New Mexican entrees are available during all three meals.

Some of us native New Mexicans like having salsa for every meal. It’s just the way we roll. Michael’s Kitchen prepares a very nice salsa. It’s thick and chunky with a base reminiscent of tomato paste in its thickness. The piquant component comes from jalapenos, but this salsa also has plenty of red chile flavor. Oversized chips mean you might have to break them in two to scoop up nice portions of salsa.

Breakfast enchiladas served Christmas style

Breakfast enchiladas served Christmas style

As is often the case in New Mexican restaurants, the salsa is the most piquant item on Michael’s menu. A breakfast enchilada entree served Christmas style could use a bit more heat–the piquant kind, not the temperature kind. This sizeable entree of corn tortillas filled with scrambled eggs and smothered with your choice of chile is very good, but if, like me, the best part of waking up is hot chile in your breakfast, Michael’s chile just doesn’t cut it. It’s a flavorful chile (no cumin, but in terms of piquancy, it’s been “anglicized” a bit.

Accompanying this breakfast enchilada are pinto beans and your choice of Spanish rice or hashed browns, neither of which are particularly remarkable. The behemoth below, on the other hand, is an eye-opener. At first glance, it looks like a small loaf of bread, but it’s all sopaipilla, albeit just a bit more dense than most. Michael’s Kitchen serves real honey instead of the honey-flavored syrup other restaurants use. In fact, the restaurant sells three different types of homemade honey produced locally.

Sopaipilla at Michael's Kitchen

Sopaipilla at Michael's Kitchen

If you want an “Anglo” (with absolutely no disrespect intended) breakfast, you can always have pork chops and eggs, an order of which includes a short-stack (three) of pancakes. Being a Chicago native, this is my Kim’s favorite breakfast, one she enjoyed immensely at Michael’s. So, if you think I complained a lot about the “gringo” chile on my New Mexican entree, you can imagine how much I wanted to immerse her pork chops in a bit of potent chile.

Pork chops and eggs

Pork chops and eggs

The only thing to which I wouldn’t introduce chile are Michael’s pastries which earn the many accolades they have received over the years.

Michael’s Kitchen
304 N. Pueblo Road
Taos, NM
758-4178
LATEST VISIT: 21 August 2008
# OF VISITS: 2
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Éclairs, French Donuts, Apple Fritters, Breakfast Enchiladas, Salsa and Chips

The Trading Post Cafe – Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico

The Trading Post Cafe in Ranchos de Taos

The Trading Post Cafe in Ranchos de Taos

There’s an old Lebanese proverb that says, “some men build a wine cellar after only finding one grape.” That proverb aptly describes the many rags to riches success stories among Lebanese immigrants to the Land of Enchantment, primarily to our state’s northern villages. Some of the state’s most prominent names in business–Maloof, Bellamah, Hanosh and Sahd–embody the spirit of that proverb.

The progenitors of many of New Mexico’s Lebanese immigrants left Lebanon during the repressive Ottoman Empire, the main exodus occurring in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Escaping persecution and poverty, some arrived with nothing but aspirations, dreams and hopes. The frontier territory of New Mexico was replete with opportunity (and the prospect of freedom) for them.

Like their Phoenician forefathers had done, many of them began as door-to-door peddlers, many eventually launching trading posts or general stores in the small villages in which they settled. The “Arabes” as they are sometimes still called by Hispanics were hard workers, shrewd businessmen, community-minded and family-oriented. They fit right in with the tight-knit Hispanic communities which shared similar values.

Abdo Sahd, the family patriarch for one of Taos county‘s most prominent families, arrived in Las Vegas from Lebanon in 1889. His sons would go on to establish general stores in Taos, Ranchos de Taos and Penasco. One of them, George Sahd, at the precocious age of only 16, established the Ranchos Trading Post just north of the world famous Saint Francis de Assisi Church in Ranchos de Taos. He operated the Trading Post until his retirement in 1981. It was the largest general store in the county until Wal-Mart opened.

The front dining room at the Trading Post Cafe

The front dining room at the Trading Post Cafe

The Ranchos Trading Post was the heart of the community, an active social and business center where every local resident came for their staples and some of life’s little indulgences. The Trading Post was comprised of a soda and lunch fountain, clothing and drug store, canned and fresh foods area, butcher shop, building supplies and liquor store.

Today, a portion of the Ranchos Trading Post survives as the “Trading Post Cafe.” Vestiges of the past are still very much in evidence. The distressed oak floors of the cafe show the timeworn impact of commerce being conducted for several decades. Three spacious dining rooms showcase different local artists and art styles.

The front room, which you enter through a screen door in summer, includes only a few tables, but a long counter where you can sit and watch the chef at his craft in his open air kitchen. That’s where many people sit, an indication that the feeling of community once experienced at the Ranchos Trading Post is still desired. This dining room has a unique kiva style fireplace.

Seating is on surprisingly comfortable wrought iron furniture. The seats are cushioned for comfort. Before your server even begins describing the daily specials, a wrought iron basket with warm, crusty bread is delivered to your table. Each table includes decanters of olive oil and Balsamic vinegar you can mix on a bowl for dipping the bread.

The menu is truly eclectic: seafood, salads, steaks and pork chops, pasta dishes, poultry and soup. There is no distinction on the menu between appetizers and entrees, perhaps because the portion sizes of what would be appetizers at other restaurants are entree sized at the Trading Post Cafe.

Antipasto Freddi

Antipasto Freddi

One example is the Antipasto Freddi, a swimming pool sized bowl in which grilled vegetables are surrounded by mixed greens. The vegetables are stacked in layers as if meticulously prepared on timbale, a mold that is higher than it is wide and has sloping sides. Vegetables featured include zucchini, tomatoes, green and red pepper, mushrooms and julienned carrots, but surprisingly no grilled onions.

The other surprising aspect of this dish is that it is served cold, not room-temperature cool, but slightly cold. The vegetables aren’t grilled long enough to imbue them with the smokiness we appreciate from grilling. They’re also very, very lightly seasoned (barely a hint of salt, pepper and garlic) and just lightly drizzled with olive oil. The vegetables are fresh, crisp and delicious, but won’t exactly “wow” you with flavor. In fact, you might even describe this as a dull entree.

The most “lively” vegetable on the plate was roasted corn on the cob, also served cold. Each of two pieces of the corn was about an inch and a half long so just at about the time you’re starting to really enjoy it, it’s gone. No “wow” factor here either.

Seafood Psta

Seafood Pasta

That certainly isn’t the case for the Trading Post Cafe’s seafood pasta, one of the best of its genre I’ve had in New Mexico. Where probably seventy percent of the state’s restaurants which serve a seafood pasta embolden it with a spicy Fra Diavolo sauce which detracts from the sweet and briny flavor of the seafood, this Cafe uses a heavenly butter cream sauce with various Italian seasonings.

This is a much lighter cream sauce than Alfredo and infinitely less rich than Carbonara, but it’s equally effective and highly flavorful. It seems to bring out the most flavorful qualities of the seafood. The seafood itself is fresh and crisp. A boatload of mussels, scallops, shrimp and clams were as deliciously sweet as any seafood we’ve had in northern New Mexico.

Crispy Garlic Pork Chop

Crispy Garlic Pork Chop

At the opposite spectrum in terms of flavor is a crispy garlic pork chop. An entire bone-in, inch-thick pork chop is marinated in garlic and prepared to your exacting specifications. Alas, the accompanying garlic mashed potatoes have a much more discernable garlic flavor than the pork chop. The saving grace for this prodigious porcine portion is a fantastic salad of chopped beets and onions that absolutely explode with flavor. Rarely have we had beets with this much flavor. Alas, this is one of the chef’s secret recipes and the wait staff can’t tell you what gives it the uniquely wonderful flavor you’ll appreciate.

The Trading Post Cafe has an impressive array of desserts all made on the premises. If the coconut cream pie is any indication, the desserts are a worthy match for the entrees. In New Mexico, my standard bearer for coconut cream pie had been the Flying Star’s rendition, but the Trading Post’s version is far superior. It tastes like the most delicious chilled macaroon you’ll ever have with just the right amount of sweetness and plenty of flaky coconut.

Coconut Cream Pie

Coconut Cream Pie

On the night of our inaugural visit, the Trading Post Cafe was “hit and miss” on everything we ordered, but when it hit, deliciousness abounded.

The Trading Post Cafe
4179 State Road 68
Ranchos de Taos, NM
(575) 758-5089
LATEST VISIT: 20 August 2008
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 22
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Coconut Cream Pie, Seafood Pasta

Landmark Grill – Las Vegas, New Mexico

The famous Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico

The famous Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico

Historian Ralph Emerson Twitchell once wrote, “Without exception there was no town which harbored a more disreputable gang of desperadoes and outlaws than did Las Vegas.” At one time, Las Vegas was considered virtually lawless, a shameless denizen of murderers, thieves, swindlers, prostitutes and others of ill repute.

If you’re thinking I’m describing the formative days in which Las Vegas, Nevada was run by the Mafia, you would be understandably mistaken. The Las Vegas which earned an unparalleled reputation for lawlessness and corruption is Las Vegas, New Mexico, which is today a peaceful little city on the eastern fringes of the Sangre de Cristos, a city of 14,000 citizens which predates its Nevada counterpart by seventy years.

Founded in 1835, the “other” Las Vegas as it is often called bears no resemblance to its namesake. Most questionable dealings today occur in the political arena and not in the streets. Las Vegas, New Mexico is now known for its gentility, culture and history, although the city is more apt to celebrate its 900 structures on the National Registry of Historic Places than it is the killings that occurred on the street following the arrival of the railroad.

The Landmark Grill inside the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico

The Landmark Grill inside the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico

One of the city’s most genteel structures is the Plaza Hotel. Presiding on the southwest corner of the Spanish Colonial plaza, the Hotel was built in 1892 and was dubbed “The Belle of the Southwest.” The Plaza Hotel was the site of the first reunion of Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders in 1899. It has had cameo appearances in dozens of western and cowboy movies filmed in the Las Vegas area, most recently featured in No Country For Old Men, the 2007 Academy Award winning movie.

The Plaza Hotel takes pride in providing modern amenities in a 19th century Victorian ambiance. Wireless high-speed Internet access, cable television with premium channels and elevators may seem out of place in elegant surroundings, but travelers and visitors apparently need to stay connected even more than they need to recapture the simplicity of a bygone era.

The Landmark Grill is the hotel’s signature restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week in a tasteful Victorian dining room specializing in charcoal-broiled steaks and chops, New Mexican entrees, sandwiches and salads…even the occasional alligator. It is a popular dining destination for tourists and a special occasion restaurant for locals who appreciate the surprisingly good value for the quality.

East facing windows provide a wonderful panoramic view of the venerable plaza and its enormous gazebo in which public events are often staged. Service at the Landmark Grill is impeccable–on-the-spot and accommodating without hovering around you.

 

Red, yellow and blue corn chips with salsa

Red, yellow and blue corn chips with salsa

Our favorite time to visit is during Sunday brunch, served from 10AM to 2PM. The brunch menu includes all the traditional brunch offerings, many with special twists that make them just a cut above.

One such example is a malted waffle, a plate-sized waffle topped with homemade whipped cream and raspberry sauce. If it’s been a while since you last indulged in a very good waffle, this is an excellent candidate. Wisps of steam waft toward your nostrils as you cut into the waffle, an olfactory invitation to a good morning repast.

Another excellent and not necessarily traditional brunch offering are migas, two scrambled eggs sauteed with corn tortilla strips, ham, onion, green chile, bell pepper, Cheddar cheese and hash browns. The Landmark Grill’s rendition puts a New Mexico spin on a brunch offering more frequently found in Texas than in the Land of Enchantment. The green chile makes these migas! It’s green chile with a piquant bite, the kind of green chile which reminds you why you fell in love with New Mexico’s official vegetable.

 

A New Mexican Combination Plate Served Christmas Style with a Fried Egg

A New Mexican Combination Plate Served Christmas Style with a Fried Egg

 

The green chile is the star of the restaurant’s signature Blue Corn Enchiladas, two rolled enchiladas made with Cheddar cheese and your choice of beef, chicken or sour cream and red or green chile. Have this entree “Christmas style” so you can sample both the red and the green, but it’s the green you’ll appreciate most. This entree is served with Spanish rice and pinto beans practically covered in melted Cheddar cheese.

The restaurant’s salsa and chips are also quite good. The salsa is emboldened with jalapenos, but it is the “just right” amount of cilantro that gives it a pleasantly taste bud tantalizing flavor. Red, yellow and blue corn tortilla chips have two special touches. They are imbued with cayenne pepper and seasoned with sea salt. These chips are perfectly sized for mouth-sized scoops of salsa.

In addition to New Mexican entrees, the lunch menu includes a variety of salads, burgers, pasta dishes and even a quiche of the day. Some of the sandwiches are named for local celebrities, such as “Big Nose Kate,” the girlfriend of the notorious gunfighter Doc Holliday.

 

Patty melt with onion rings

Patty melt with onion rings

 

If the unnamed patty melt is any indication, you probably won’t go wrong with a sandwich. The patty melt is a half-pound of ground beef grilled to order and smothered with melted Swiss and grilled onion on rye. If, like me, you’ve ever lamented the fact that most patty melts in New Mexico tend to be made of desiccated beef and sawdust flour rye, you’ll love the Landmark Grill’s version. It’s fresh and juicy, replete with flavor. Every bite is an experience in enjoyment as this simple sandwich is just made perfectly.

Las Vegas, New Mexico may be the antithesis of Las Vegas, Nevada, but that’s just one reason you should visit. The Landmark Grill is another.

Landmark Grill
230 Plaza
Las Vegas, NM
(505) 425-3591
LATEST VISIT: 20 August 2008
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 18
COST: $$
BEST BET: Breakfast Burrito, French Toast, Blue Corn Enchilada, Patty Melt

Fox and Hound Pub & Grille – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Fox and Hound

The Fox and Hound

English Parliamentarian and writer Samuel Pepys described the pub as “the heart of England and the church as its soul.” As England has become a more sectarian nation, the pub has essentially supplanted the church as the focal point of the community. Today there are nearly 58,000 pubs in the United Kingdom with almost every village and city in England having at least one.

Unlike American bars, saloons, taverns and inns which tend to have very pedestrian and forgettable names, English pubs tend to be unique and memorable. The reason, according to one urban myth, is so pub patrons can know where to direct the taxi cab after throwing down too many a pint.

Whatever the reason, no sojourn across the English countryside would be complete without the entertaining travel game of finding the most unique pub name. More often than not you’ll espy pubs named after common objects (such as “The Plough”) and animals (The Swan being very popular), but every once in a while you’ll see a pub whose name defies explanation.

Not even in English legend and fable have such creatures as the Red Stag, Green Dragon or Flying Hippopotamus existed, so you have to surmise that they were named for the figments of an inebriated state. Among the most unique pub names documented are The Bucket of Blood, The Cock and Bottle and The Leg of Mutton and Cauliflower.

Among the most common pub names in England is the Fox and Hound. When we lived in England, we came across seemingly dozens of pubs by that rather unimaginative name.

Salsa, chips and con queso

Salsa, chips and con queso

None, as far as we know, are affiliated with the inauthentic and overstated American corporate concept version of a British pub. Managed by the Fox and Hound Restaurant Group, there are currently more than 50 Fox and Hound restaurants across America.

The corporate cabal obviously goes for a masculine ambience that features dark wood accents, subdued lighting, polished brass, hunter green and burgundy walls along with embroidered chairs and booths. The restaurant is divided into three large rooms, the central focal point being the bar. Two side rooms are partitioned from the bar by etched glass. The side rooms are where you will find the billiard tables.

Televisions are strategically positioned throughout the restaurant, most tuned to ESPN or other sports channels. You might not, however, be able to hear the game of the week over the noisy din of the music being piped in through the sound system or from the patrons as they root, root, root for the old ball game.

Bona fide Anglophiles, we’ve never felt “magically transported” to jolly old England during any of our visits to the Fox and Hound, but it does give us an opportunity to recount our many wonderful pub experiences at our former home. That includes comparing our favorite “pub grub” with the menu offerings at this Americanized pub.

Half rack of ribs with baked beans

Half rack of ribs with baked beans

Blistered onion salsa and chips is something we never had at any pub in England. The salsa isn’t especially piquant and has a slightly sweet and smoky taste that (forgive the blasphemy) reminds me (vaguely) of the salsa served at the Coyote Cafe’s Rooftop Cantina. The “rainbow” (yellow and red) chips served with the salsa are light and crispy, but substantial enough to scoop out generous amounts of salsa. I’m surprised at how much I actually like the salsa. It’s better than what you might find in half the New Mexican restaurants in town.

For a pittance you can also order a ramekin of con queso. It’s actually flecked by piquant bits of jalapeno and isn’t runny and creamy like inferior con queso tends to be. Finish it quickly or it will coagulate once it cools off a bit.

Another Fox and Hound offering that has surprisingly captured my fancy are the baby back ribs which are available in either the “real hungry” (full rack) or “hungry” (half rack) portion size. The baby back ribs are seasoned with 12 spices and slow cooked over hickory long enough for the meat to fall off the bones. The meat is tangy, tender and delicious–as good, dare I admit, as the ribs at many a barbecue restaurant in town. The sauce is practically lacquered onto the ribs, but it’s a nice blend of sweet and savory. Sides of baked beans and coleslaw are also barbecue restaurant worthy.

Pot Roast Sliders with French Fries

Pot Roast Sliders with French Fries

If you’re in the mood for something less messy, try one of the Fox and Hound’s specialty sandwiches. The Campfire Pot Roast Sliders are an excellent option. The menu describes the three sliders as “slow-cooked boneless beef short ribs served on toasted potato buns with sauteed onions, fried onion straws and a 30-spice barbecue sauce.” The beef is as tender as a mother’s love for her first born while the crispy onion straws serve as a perfect foil and complement. The barbecue sauce is applied lightly enough to serve as a flavor ameliorant and not strong enough to dominate the sandwich.

Most sandwich offerings are served with Texas fries, about which the nicest thing I can say is they should be sent back to the Lone Star state. They’re typical of most Texas fries–bland and boring.

Peanut butter ice cream cake

Peanut butter ice cream cake

Dessert options include an excellent peanut butter ice cream cake drizzled with powdered sugar and dripping with melted chocolate. It’s easily big enough to share though it may start a tiff at the table as you vie for the pie crust which I believe is embedded with pieces of Reeses peanut butter candy. The cake is served cold, but not so much so that you can’t cut into it with your spoon. It’s a terrific dessert.

The Fox and Hound may not remind us of any of the wonderful pubs we frequented during our years in England, but it serves surprisingly good barbecue for a chain and it’s got that peanut butter ice cream cake that’s to dine for.

Fox and Hound
4301 The Lane @ 25, N.E.
Albuquerque, NM
344-9430

LATEST VISIT: 4 August 2008
# OF VISITS: 4
RATING: 16
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chips & Dip, The Ultimate Cheeseburger, Hungry Slab Baby Back Ribs, Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cake, Pot Roast Sliders