Gil's Thrilling (And Filling) Blog

Follow the Culinary Ruminations of New Mexico's Sesquipedalian Sybarite. 875 Restaurant Reviews, More Than 7000 Visitor Comments…And Counting!

Eloisa – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Eloisa Restaurant in Santa Fe’s Drury Plaza Hotel

Expansive views bathed in salubrious, sun-kissed air punctuated by languid breezes. Cerulean skies graduating in depth and brilliance the higher they climb above the horizon. Surreal topography of unnaturally contorted, dappled sandstone formations and juniper laden foothills. Lush, well-tended gardens blessed with an abundance of vegetables, herbs, flowers and shrubs. Such was the idyll Georgia O’Keefe called home.

On Sunday, July 19th, 2015, another transcendent artist–one whose medium is food and whose canvas is the palate—spent the day at the home of the legendary doyenne of American painting. He went there to pick apricots from the Abiquiu property on which she had lovingly doted. It wasn’t John Rivera Sedlar’s first visit. Much of the chef’s upbringing and many of his happiest memories were at his family’s ranch in Abiquiu, not too far from where O’Keefe had lived and where she had painted the stunning macro perspectives of floral sensuality which captivated the world.

Chef John Rivera Sedlar

Chef Sedlar’s aunt, Jerry Newsom, was Georgia O’Keefe’s personal chef for more than a decade, but it was under the nurturing influence of his grandmother Eloisa Martinez Rivera that his interest in cooking was kindled. Not only did she teach him how to prepare traditional New Mexican staples such as posole, sopaipillas and enchiladas, she instilled in him, a spirit of generosity through her alacritous example of feeding the familial multitudes who often gathered at the family ranch for celebrations.

Had Chef Sedlar’s formative development been limited to familial learnings, he might have pursued the culinary culture of New Mexico exclusively, however, he culled a wider expanse of culinary appreciation from living in Spain and France where the Air Force had stationed his father.  When his father retired, Eloisa got the precocious then-fourteen-year-old a job in the hotel kitchen of La Fonda in Santa Fe’s famous Plaza. Not long thereafter, he took a job at the Bull Ring. Even back then, Santa Fe’s restaurants weren’t formulaic and predictable. Because the restaurants in which he worked while still in high school featured haute cuisine on one side of the menu and “Spanish” (traditional New Mexican) food on the other, he quickly added French cuisine to his repertoire.  

A magnificent exhibition kitchen

From Santa Fe, he moved to Los Angeles where, at age 23, he apprenticed under the legendary Jean Bertranou at L’Ermitage.  At L’Ermitage he mastered classic techniques while continuing to evolve his own approach to cooking. By 1980, Chef Sedlar was ready to strike out as a restaurant owner, partnering with Santa Fe native Estevan Garcia to launch Saint Estéphe in Manhattan Beach. Initially offering nouvelle French cuisine, the restaurant evolved to become one of the Los Angeles area’s first fine-dining Southwestern restaurants.

Modern Southwest cuisine as it was executed at Saint Estéphe was such a breath-of-fresh-air concept that Bon Apetit magazine named the pioneering establishment “among the very best in California, or even the west.” In the kitchen Chef Sedlar employed fusion techniques, especially of French and New Mexican ingredients, long before the term “fusion” came into vogue.  At the heart of his culinary pairings were the ingredients on which he had been weaned in New Mexico, ingredients he wisely embraced and lovingly shared with his guests.

Tortillas Florales with Indian Butter

Had he remained in New Mexico, it’s conceivable that the driven chef would have achieved significant acclaim, but it would likely have been the “big fish in a small pond” type of recognition. Instead, he plied his craft in the megalopolis of Los Angeles where diners (and the peripatetic media) tend to be more persnickety and less forgiving. To survive that scrutiny, you’ve got to be good. To stand out and excel in that limelight for forty years, you’ve got to be great. Chef Sedlar’s “big fish in a big pond” greatness placed him in rarefied company, a pantheon of culinary luminescence.

From a culinary perspective, Chef Sedlar’s accomplishments are almost Jeffersonian in their breadth and impact. No less than Gourmet Magazine named him “the father of modern Southwest cuisine.” He was the youngest chef ever to receive the Silver Spoon Award from Food Arts Magazine. In 2011, Esquire Magazine named him “Chef of the Year” and listed Rivera, his restaurant at the time, among the nation’s “Best New Restaurants” for 2011. He was recognized in the Cook’s Magazine feature “Top 50 Who’s Who of Cooking in America” and has been nominated for the prestigious James Beard Award as Best Chef of the Pacific. Chef Sedlar is the author of several cookbooks and “The Tamale Poster” which still adorns the walls of many restaurants. You may even have seen him on season three of the Top Chef Masters series.

Piquillos Rellenos

One of the Land of Enchantment’s most alluring qualities is how it draws its sons and daughters back home. It’s a pull we can’t resist. After more than forty years in the fast-paced fishbowl that is Los Angeles, Chef Sedlar, too, felt the compelling need to return home. Still too vibrant and energetic to retire, he sold Rivera, his wildly successful Los Angeles restaurant in the shadow of the star-studded Staples Center and signed on to helm the restaurant operation at the Drury Plaza Hotel in Santa Fe. Fittingly, he chose to name his restaurant Eloisa after the grandmother who set him on the path of his passion.

Perhaps no word in the vernacular of Spanish Northern New Mexico evokes such veneration, reverence (and, for those of us who have lost these heaven-sent treasures, a melancholy ache not even time can erase) as “abuelita” or grandmother. Though Eloisa is named specifically for Chef Sedlar’s own grandmother, his restaurant celebrates all Southwestern women—the madres, tias and hermanas—whom he contends “have always formed the foundation of New Mexico’s culinary heritage.”

Duck Enfrijolada

Few grandmothers have had the luxury of such a regally appointed kitchen as the immaculately gleaming kitchen which graces Eloisa. It’s twice the size of the kitchen at Rivera, Chef Sedlar’s last restaurant in Los Angeles. You’ll want to be seated in close proximity so you can lustily ogle the transformation of down-to-earth New Mexican ingredients into exotic creations which both honor and elevate the Land of Enchantment’s culinary traditions. Watching the kitchen staff assiduously go about their prep work with the efficiency and synchronicity of drone bees is almost mesmerizing.

Eloisa’s commodious dining room seats 120 guests inside and weather-permitting, another 65 guests on the patio. The west-facing restaurant is airy and bright, features which inspire Chef Sedlar. The adjoining bar is a sommelier’s dream with an enviable wine list. Walls are festooned with 25 framed photographs on loan from Tamal, the first museum dedicated solely to the celebration of Latin culture as viewed through the lens of food. Tamal is yet another of Chef Sedlar’s dreams reaching fruition, and like a new father, he proudly pointed out photos depicting among other foods and cooking implements: huitlacoche in macro, a molcajete (pestle) and tejolote (mortar) used for grinding ingredients and tortillas adorned with floral designs.

Frito Pie

While impressive under picture frame glass, Tortillas Florales (floral tortillas) will take your breath away when you peel back the hot kitchen towel and release steam redolent with corn. The impact is akin to finding a fossilized fern on the hills backdropping Abiquiu. Pressed into tender comal-cooked disks are fresh and dried edible flowers and herbs. As striking as they are visually, these tortillas are meant to be a holistically sensual experience. Shut your eyes and let your nostrils and taste buds imbibe aromas and flavors which will impress themselves on your senses. Feel the delicate texture of the flowers on the tortilla. Available for both lunch and dinner, the Tortillas Florales are served with a side of “Indian Butter” which is essentially an unctuous, addictive guacamole.

From an esthetic point of view, it may not be possible to top the Tortillas Florales, but edible art is plated with every order. We likened the Piquillos Rellenos to a beautiful sanguine heart. Piquillo, a Spanish term for “little beak” is meant to describe the shape of the pepper, not any generalized level of piquancy. Piquillo peppers are richly flavored with sweet-spicy notes that are enhanced through the roasting process. At Eloisa, the piquillos are roasted then stuffed with Gruyere, chorizo and golden raisins, ingredients which play off one another in a concordant symphony of flavors.

Eloiza’s Bizcochitos

Chef Sedlar was happy I had ordered the Duck Enfrijolada, explaining that just as “enchilada” denotes corn tortillas covered with chile, “enfrijolada” means the corn tortillas are covered in beans. As with all New Mexican frijole fanatics, he understands the subtleties and nuances of beans grown in Estancia, Espanola, Moriarty and other bean-producing communities throughout the Land of Enchantment. After one bite of my entrée, I could have sworn these beans came from Heaven. Blue corn tortillas are the canvas for a masterpiece showcasing duck confit, radicchio, crema and a New Mexico cabernet chile sauce all covered in beans. These ingredients coalesce into a sum even more delicious than its parts.

At first, the notion of a Frito pie at an upscale Southwestern restaurant seemed almost incongruous, like stick figures at the Louvre. We quickly surmised that under Chef Sedlar’s deft hands, this would be no ordinary Frito pie—and it wasn’t. The only Fritos to actually grace this entrée were on the labels of the bag in which it was served. Instead, the bag was engorged with housemade corn chips with a textural semblance to wontons and a pronounced corn flavor. These chips share space on the bag with chile verde chicken, red onion, cilantro and shaved Cotija cheese. My Kim called it the best Frito pie she’s ever had and as proof, offered me only one swoon-worthy bite.

Caramel Brioche

Among the many favorite dishes Chef Sedlar learned to prepare from his beloved Grandma Eloisa are bizcochitos, the first cookie in the fruited plain to be recognized as an official state cookie (House Bill 406, 1989). For a cookie to earn such a distinction, you know it’s got to be good. Eloisa’s traditional anise-laced cookies exemplify everything that’s beloved and wonderful about bizcochitos, then they’re taken to rarefied air with the pairing of popcorn ice cream. Yes, popcorn ice cream, a feat of molecular gastronomy wizardry that pairs salty-savory and sweet-creamy flavor profiles to titillate your taste buds.

Popcorn ice cream also elevates a caramel brioche that by itself is merely outstanding. The top layer of the brioche is caramelized in a crème Brulee fashion. Puncture that sugary brown sheet and you’re rewarded with a custardy, eggy bread akin to a moist, rich bread pudding. Spoon on a bit of the popcorn ice cream and taste bud delirium might ensue. Then for even more sheer contrast, pair the brioche with the musky, tangy Abiquiu apricot half. This dish is as much an adventure in flavor discernment—so many complementary contrasts–as it is a spoil yourself indulgence.

In purposely timing our inaugural visit for lunch on a Saturday, we entertained faint hopes of getting to meet the great chef, if only to express our gratitude for his return to New Mexico.  When we did espy him, my first words were “you’ve broken a lot of hearts in Los Angeles,” recounting my dear friend Sandy Driscoll’s love for all of Chef Sedlar’s restaurants.  It’s easy to see why he was so beloved in Los Angeles.  He’s as kind, gracious, and accommodating a host as his reputation foretold, even introducing us to his proud mother Rose.   I now hope to introduce all of my friends to his phenomenal restaurant.

Eloisa
228 East Palace Avenue
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 982-0883
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 25 July 2015
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: N/R
COST: $$$ – $$$$
BEST BET: Caramel Brioche with Popcorn Ice Cream, Bizcochitos, Frito Pie, Duck Enfrijolada, Tortillas Florales, Piquillos Rellenos

Click to add a blog post for Eloisa on Zomato

Kathy’s Carry-Out – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Kathy's on Isleta Boulevard

Kathy’s on Isleta Boulevard

In 2001, the Alibi staff declared Kathy’s Carry-Out the “best hamburger in the Duke City.” Surely, nay-sayers retorted, this had to be a mistake. How, after all, they reasoned, could a ramshackle garage sized building with a kitschy purple facade and garish orange trim possibly compete with the flamboyant chains and their glitz and glamor or even with the anointed local purveyors in the more well-beaten, well-eaten paths throughout the city?   Kathy’s Carry-Out lived up to its name, emphasis on the “carry-out” portion of its name.  Carry-Out was the only option available for the phalanx of diners eager to bite into those bodacious burgers.

Ensconced in an Isleta Boulevard neighborhood seemingly zoned as much for more residential than commercial purposes, Kathy’s Carry-Out certainly wouldn’t win any awards for esthetics and it probably violated every feng shui principle for harmony, not that hungry diners noticed.  Savvy burger aficionados from the South Valley frequented Kathy’s for its wonderful New Mexican cuisine and a burger so good it’d convert staunch vegans.  It took one visit to convince us you can’t judge a burger by the dilapidated facade of its place of origin. Kathy’s did serve one of, if not THE best burger in town.

The original Kathy's Carryout on Isleta Boulevard

The original Kathy’s Carryout on Isleta Boulevard

It’ll take one visit to this South Valley neighborhood to gain an appreciation for a neighborhood unabashedly bedecked in an ultraviolet spectrum of colors.  It’s part of the charm about this area that I love  It’s also the utter charm of holding on to a rural neighborliness amidst an urban sprawl sometimes lacking the spirit of community lived daily in the Isleta area.  This is a neighborhood which defies the abobe-hued homogeneity which has claimed so much of the city.  It’s a neighborhood which dares to be different, to express its individuality.

And when color isn’t what your eyes are drawn to, it might be a marvel of architectural ingenuity such as the single-wide trailer which sits on top of a stucco building to the immediate north of Kathy’s Carryout.  It’s a tribute to this area that the zoning Nazis haven’t come down on such inventive architectural expression. Or, your eyes might be trained to the skies because of an inordinate number of pigeons fortunate enough to call this neighborhood home.

A large Kathy Burger

In 2007, the dwarfish ugly duckling which served nonpareil New Mexican food and life-changing burgers was transmogrified into a spectacular swan with a broad wingspan. The charmingly garish exterior facade of its first location and its anti-esthetic curb appeal were gone as were any claims to “Albuquerque’s best burger served here.”  That honor didn’t go very far; it now belongs to the restaurant next door.

Kathy’s Carryout left that utterly charming old edifice and moved next door to a beautiful restaurant with seating for dozens of diners. “Carry-Out” now applies to the drive-up window, not to the way diners used to order and take away their orders.  In Kathy’s Carryout of old, separate windows were used for placing and picking up orders. You had to feel sorry for the cramped quarters in which Kathy and her staff filled orders; there wasn’t much room to move and the heat of the stoves seemed stifling.

Rolled tacos and hot sauce

Rolled tacos and hot sauce

The old location had a couple of picnic tables where you could sit and wait, but most patrons seemed to either wait by the pick-up window or taxed their cars’ air conditioners while waiting in relative comfort within the confines of cars of all makes and models. Most were packed with hungry family members waiting for a designated parent to return with a bagful of deliciousness.What they waiting for is not only one of the very best green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico (ergo, the universe), but excellent take-out Mexican and New   Mexican food. Waiting indoors is much better!

Kathy’s new digs are completely antithetical to its predecessor. It’s almost antiseptic in appearance with pristine denim colored walls, sixteen-inch tiled floors and comfortable seating.  No one is happier to be in the new restaurant than the staff and cooks who love the large kitchen in which they can ply their skills in climate-controlled comfort.  The larger kitchen also means an expanded menu which now includes burritos, tacos, enchiladas burgers, stuffed sopaipillas and much more. Daily specials are offered every day of the week.

Chips and guacamole

Chips and guacamole

27 July 2015: The most popular item on the menu is probably still the green chile cheeseburger extraordinaire called the Kathy Burger (formerly known as the Cuca Burger), a double-meat masterpiece that will kick sand on the so-called Big Mac and other chain claimants to size.  With two behemoth hand-formed patties prepared to medium-well, Kathy Burger and its tongue-tingling green chile, onions, lettuce, bacon and cheese is a phenom. It takes two hands to handle this leviathan, five napkins to wipe yourself off while consuming it and phenomenal willpower not to order another one, great as it is. With red chile, the Kathy Burger is not quite as incendiary but might even taste better.

24 July 2015: Terrific tacos are an excellent alternative to the Kathy Burger. The rolled tacos (order them with guacamole instead of salsa) are cigar-shaped, deep-fried corn tortilla treasures stuffed with a chile emboldened ground beef. Only in the city of Espanola, New Mexico will you find better rolled tacos than at Kathy’s. The guacamole, by the way, can be purchased by the pint (pictured below). It’s good guacamole, buttery and creamy in texture and delicious in flavor.

Bean Burrito with Red and Green Chile

24 July 2015: Several burrito options are also available and they’re not your run-of-the-mill burritos. The carne adovada burrito, for example, comes with fried potatoes and a fried egg. It’s absolutely delicious with red chile blessed pork chunks as tender as Mother Theresa’s heart.  Now, if you really love burritos, but you like bargains even more, you can have both by visiting Kathy’s on Fridays when the daily special is three bean burritos for an inflation-beating cost just barely over five dollars.  The burritos are engorged with frijoles so good you’ll be reminded why pinto beans are, along with chile, New Mexico’s official state vegetable.  The accommodating staff will indulge you with both red and green chile if you ask.  While both exemplars of deliciousness and piquancy, the green gets my nod, but just barely.  

27 July 2015: The term “cheap eats” sometimes has connotations not of inexpensive fare, but of rock-bottom quality.  At Kathy’s cheap eats represents excellent fare at very reasonable prices.  If the exorbitant price of tacos has you wondering if restaurateurs believe taco shells are fashioned from spun gold, you may experience a bit of sticker shock at the low, low, low price of a la carte tacos at Kathy’s.  Nestled within hard-shelled repositories of deliciousness are beans, ground beef, lettuce and cheese with salsa on the side.  These tacos are terrific, a reminder that tacos shouldn’t cost as much as your mortgage to be great.

Tacos

The Alibi was right about Kathy’s Carry-Out so many years ago.  So are the hundreds of discerning Duke City burgerphiles and aficionados of New Mexican food who frequent it!

Kathy’s
823 Isleta, S.W.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505) 873-3472
LATEST VISIT: 27 July 2015
# OF VISITS: 8
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Kathy Burger, Rolled Tacos, Bean Burritos, Carne Adovada Burrito, Beef Tacos

Click to add a blog post for Kathy's Carry-Out on Zomato

Friends of Gil Enjoy Sumptuous Repast At Luna Mansion in Los Lunas

The Lina Mansion in Los Lunas

Experience has shown that the Friends of Gil (FOG) are willing to go great distances for a diversity of excellent dining experiences.  In four previous excursions, FOG members have traveled to Rio Rancho for superb Italian fare at Joe’s Pasta House, enjoyed a sumptuous six-course repast at Budai Gourmet Chinese, partaken of magnificent Mexican food at El Norteno and converged on M’Tucci’s Kitchina for an evening good friends, good food and good laughs. 

Post brunch bliss at the Luna Mansion

On Sunday, July 19, 2015, FOG convened at the fabulous Luna Mansion Landmark Steakhouse in beautiful downtown Los Lunas for a delicious brunch.  The diverse group enjoyed such decadent deliciousness as lobster Benedict, eggs and hash browns, prime rib burrito, New York steak and Linguine with a Red Chile Cream Sauce.  Several of us enjoyed the Maytag Wedge.

Maytag Wedge

Author Jane Austen’s idea of good company was “the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.”  Snippets of conversation at our table centered around a variety of diverse topics ranging from politics to the Madonna song La Isla Bonita to the FOG’s favorite major league soccer player Omar Gonzalez (who bears an uncanny physical resemblance to FOGey Jim Millington).   Event organizer Bob of the Village People even gave a tour of the historical facility.