“Come on, you know you want it!” Television commercials, movies and especially cartoons frequently depict temptation as a battle being waged by two miniature versions of the person being tempted. Faced with a crisis of conscience–doing the right or the wrong thing–a devil-self (complete with horns and a pitchfork) suddenly pops up on the left (or sinister) shoulder and an angel-self on the right. Quite naturally, the devil-self prods and prompts for the person to do the wrong thing while the beatific angel-self implores the person to resist temptation.
When waging an internal conflict as to whether or not I should have some unhealthy dessert, a greasy burger or another slice of pizza, my muse, angel and conscience is often Kate Manchester, the brilliant and beautiful publisher of Edible Santa Fe. For more than five years, Kate has been educating the readers of her fabulous publication about the virtues of actually paying attention to how and where our food is raised, processed and how it arrives at their tables. In the process she’s introduced us to such concepts as “locavorism,” “sustainable,” “slow foods” and “organic.”
With my benevolent angel over my right shoulder during times of caloric trial, I’m prompted to ask “what would Kate eat.” The answer, of course, is invariably the most healthful, responsibly grown and sustainable foods possible–and usually grown in the local area as well. Alas, more often than one should ever admit, my malevolent devil-self wins over and I succumb to tasty temptation. The consequences are an ideal weight–for a man nine-feet, six-inches tall.
Experience has taught me that my Kate angel should be listened to more often. The benefits are not only more healthful, they tend to be more delicious. In the June, 2011 edition of New Mexico Magazine she introduced readers to the lamb burrito from the Atrisco Cafe & Bar, a restaurant with a vast network of local sources who provide its organic produce and meats. The lamb burrito was a New Mexico Magazine “Best Eats” choice in the category of “best use of local, seasonal ingredients.”
Though not exclusively a restaurant-focused magazine, Edible Santa Fe frequently celebrates restaurants who abide by the ideals and standards represented by the magazine. Its Eat Local Guide lists only restaurants who emphasize the use of local, seasonal ingredients and who are committed to “real food.” Peruse the list and you’ll find some of the best and most highly regarded restaurants in New Mexico.
So, just what is real food? You could say it’s synonymous with “local,” “slow,” “green” or “fair,” but that wouldn’t do it justice. Real food is a holistic term which coalesces the many diverse ideas people have about a values-based food economy–the seed to plate food system which recognizes the fundamental value of human dignity and health, social justice, environmental sustainability and animal welfare. Real food is a concept which recognizes the need to change our fundamentally flawed food system, understanding that the business-as-usual approach by big government and business is wreaking havoc with the health of our bodies, our communities and the Earth.
If the aforementioned description of “real food” calls to mind some boring salad, read it again. Real food isn’t a vegan or vegetarian concept. In fact, beef, lamb, pork and fish are all part and parcel of the real food concept. The difference has to do with how they are raised, processed and how they arrive at our tables. Real food is not processed by some factory to be delivered in a hermetically sealed box or wrapping. It is not engineered in a lab nor puffed up by hormones. It is not aged or ripened with artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners. Obviously, it’s not practiced by drive-up fast food emporiums and their Styrofoam containers. Sounds pretty good to me!
Still not convinced? Two of Santa Fe’s most esteemed practitioners of real food concepts were among the top vote-getters in the 2011 Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail balloting. One of them was the previously mentioned Atrisco Cafe & Bar. The other is one of Kate Manchester’s favorite exemplars of real food. Not surprisingly it’s name is Real Food Nation. Rather than clumsily attempt to paraphrase what Real Food Nation is all about, I’ve borrowed the following paragraph directly from the restaurant’s Web site.
“Real Food Nation is committed to a sustainable business model and to providing our guests with the freshest and purest ingredients available. We change our menu often to use the best of the season and source the cleanest, sustainably raised meat, poultry and seafood possible. We support local farmers and ranchers as much as we can, with quality and taste being the deciding factor in what we use. We use organic flours from New Mexico & Colorado and organic grains and beans whenever possible. All breads are made in house. Our menu is determined by what is in season and what tastes best.”
Real Food Nation is located on the intersection of Old Las Vegas Highway with US Highway 285, just east of the world-famous Bobcat Bite. It’s housed in a venue which was once a gas station, the first or the last one in or out of Santa Fe depending on which direction you were headed. To your left as you walk in, you’ll find an array of glass cases displaying attractive pastries, breads and more. The menu is scrawled on slate boards. If you’re still a skeptic about real food, your first inclination might be “this is real food?” For the most part, the menu is replete with such favorites as breakfast burritos, burgers, meatloaf and more. Vegan and vegetarian options abound as do sandwiches,soups, salads and a quiche of the day.
Real Food Nation does not offer tableside ordering service nor will you be escorted to your table by a host. Instead you place your orders at a counter as you would at a commissary and you’ll find your own table. A large table in the room at which you place your order will provision you with the agave nectar, sugar, cream, napkins and silverware you’ll need for your meal. Once you’re at your table in one of the dining rooms, the wait staff will take excellent care of you by delivering your meal promptly and refills as you need them.
An acre of land behind the restaurant provides Real Food Nation with salad ingredients of unimpeachable quality and freshness. The greens and vegetables are grown using biodynamic principles and irrigated, to the extent possible, with captured rainwater. The results are absolutely delicious. The best way to experience this freshness is with an assorted three salad plate. The triumvirate of terrific salads my Kim and I shared were an Organic Colorado Quinoa salad (with edamame, scallion and cilantro dressed with a sesame tamari dressing), Organic Roasted Beets (with a sherry orange vinaigrette) and a Cucumber Salad (red onion, cilantro and mint dressed with a ginger-sweet chile dressing). The only way this entree could have been improved is had we ordered a six salad plate. Every salad is absolutely delicious and impeccably fresh. Served on the same large plate, they will ultimately coalesce, but the resultant ingredient blend is just as delicious as each salad is separately.
If you’re not in a green chile cheeseburger mood (rare though that may be), Real Food Nation has a burger unlike any you’ll find at most restaurants. It’s a local lamb burger made with Merguez spices and served with fries. Merguez are Algerian and Tunisian sausages made with lamb then spiced with harissa (a hot chile sauce), cilantro and a spice blend from which I was able to discern caraway and cumin. The flavors are quite intense–not necessarily piquant, but well-spiced. The burger is topped with feta cheese and roasted red peppers which add fuel to an already fiery burger. This burger is not for everyone, but if you appreciate intense flavors, it will knock your socks off.
At the opposite spectrum, but no less delicious, is an entree of two eggs, home fries and heritage bacon. The eggs are sourced from Beneficial Farms, a local purveyor of chemical free, sustainable farming products. The differences are discernible and they’re delicious. The heritage bacon is terrific–crisp and definitely not cured using injected brine as the bacon tends to be at fast food restaurants. It’s bacon as it should be.
The cream of corn and poblano soup showcases a fine balance between the sweetness of fresh corn and the earthy, mildly spicy flavors of the roasted poblano, flavors which go very well together to provide a comforting warmth. While poblano doesn’t have the kick of other chiles, its flavor profile is no less savory and delicious.
In June, 2011, Real Food Nation launched its “supper club” concept, showcasing “farm fine dining” in an intimate setting–not hospitality, but house-pitality. The supper club features a seasonal Mediterranean-inspired menu and of course, sustainably raised and fished meats and seafood. Real Food Nation is real food and it’s really good! It’s a restaurant my Kate angel endorses and that also makes it very good for you.
Real Food Nation
624 Old Las Vegas Highway
Santa Fe, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 5 June 2011
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Three Salad Plate, Local Lamb Burger, Cream of Corn and Poblano Soup