In 1989, the tarantula hawk wasp was designated the official state insect of New Mexico, joining the roadrunner (state bird), whiptail lizard (state reptile), spadefoot (state amphibian), Sandia Hairstreak (state butterfly), Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout (state fish) and the black bear (state animal) as official symbols of our great state. Ostensibly the state legislature put aside partisan politics and selected these symbols after carefully weighing all options. A case could certainly have been made for the dragonfly to represent New Mexico.
Not only is the dragonfly a ubiquitous presence–flitting fluidly and gracefully like tiny fairies attired in wardrobes of many colors–they are omnipresent in local lore and legend. In The Boy Who Made Dragonfly A Zuni Myth retold by New Mexico’s eminent author Tony Hillerman, the dragonfly represents a messenger between children and the gods. The Zuni consider the dragonfly a shamanistic creature with supernatural powers while to the Navajo, the dragonfly represents pure water.
Anyone who’s ever observed these multi-colored frequent fliers as they perform such spectacular aerial feats as loop-the-loops and flying backwards can’t help but be held spellbound by their grace and beauty. It’s no wonder so many birdwatchers have become dragonfly watchers that dragonflies have come to be known as “the birders’ insect.” Spellbound is a good term for describing the Dragonfly Cafe And Bakery in Taos about which Larry McGoldrick, the professor with the perspicacious palate advises, “don’t even think about eating breakfast/brunch anywhere else.”
The Dragonfly Cafe and Bakery was founded in 1998 by Karen Todd, a transplanted Chicagoan with decades of experience in restaurants and bakeries. A world traveler and culinary student, Karen is intimately acquainted with the cuisine of many cultures, influences of which are apparent in her restaurant’s eclectic menu. On Monday nights, the Dragonfly offers an East Indian menu while on Wednesdays, tapas and wine flights are featured fare. She calls her delightful slice of gustatory heaven a “European-style cafe and bakery.” That’s especially accurate in that the Dragonfly is the type of community gathering place in which friends congregate for good food, good conversation and good times. In the winter they cozy up next to the adobe fireplace in the front dining room and in the summer, they enjoy the verdant flora, bubbling fountains and occasional dragonfly in the courtyard.
The Dragonfly prides itself in using the highest quality ingredients–procured locally and grown organically when available–and hormone- and antibiotic-free dairy and non-cured meats. Seasonal produce is picked fresh from the chef’s garden or is produced by small, local growers. In the off-season, produce is preserved and pickled for year-round use. Included among the restaurant’s diverse staples are kimchee, smoked fish, mushrooms, eggplant, corned beef buffalo and an award-winning granola. The Dragonfly has a full-service coffee bar with an assortment of gourmet Mighty Leaf teas, organic soy milk and house-made chai tea.
As with other Taos restaurants, the Bohemian spirit is alive and well at the Dragonfly, a cafe which is both homey and unconventional. It’s relaxed and informal with a “laissez faire” element that appeals to the counter-culturalist remnants of the 60s but won’t turn off the corporate suits–or my old-fashioned 82-year-young mom who managed to find something to love amidst a menu she found a bit strange. Most will enjoy the colorful confines of the 1920s bungalow style adobe which originally served as a family home complete with gardens, livestock and an orchard on the back of the property.
In May, 2002, it wasn’t the Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery’s culinary diversity which was on display, but its mastery of Southwest-inspired dishes. The event was the Food Network’s Food Nation program hosted by chef glitterati Bobby Flay who was in town to celebrate northern New Mexico culture. Chef-owner Karen Dodd feted the superstar chef with an hors d’oeuvres menu which included such savory starters as tiny calabacitas cups bulging with green chile and roasted red peppers; fresh yellow corn and oregano goat cheese and red chile mousse daubed on garlic crostini; lamb and green onion brochettes partnered to a red chile yogurt dipping sauce and smoked trout dotted with watercress and aïoli on white corn tortillas. Sumptuous sweets included cornmeal-piñon-orange shortbread; red chile-infused chocolate truffles; and apricot brown butter bars. Flay was effusive in his appreciation.
The daily menu may not be quite as Southwest-centric, but it is no less exciting. On the date of our inaugural visit, the lunch menu was wonderfully multifarious, a deliciously diverse melange of Korean, Greek, New Mexican, Moroccan and Cajun dishes. The dinner menu we perused is even more exciting, not a carbon copy of the lunch menu albeit with higher prices and slightly bigger portions. The breakfast and brunch menus are highly regarded by my friend Larry McGoldrick whose recommendation you can trust.
Because our inaugural visit was on a blustery winter day, a comforting bowl of soup was in order. The soup of the day was a kale and potato soup, a variation on the traditional Portuguese caldo verde. Our server apprised us that the soup was spicy in a manner reminiscent of garam masala, a spice blend that’s really the heart of many Indian dishes. A brimming bowl arrived at our table steaming hot with tangles of kale floating atop a fragrant vegetable broth redolent with a bouquet of exotic spices. The soup’s fragrance foretold the deliciousness of the heart-warming soup.
One of the most intriguing items on the menu was a unique interpretation of a dish which made my top ten list of dishes I had in 2011–bibimbap, a Korean dish which literally translates to “mixed meal” in part because it’s constructed from sundry items often already prepared. As with Korean bibimbap, Dragonfly’s version starts with a large bowl of brown rice at the bottom of the bowl. Atop the rice are sundry vegetables–zucchini, broccoli, julienned carrots, scallions and more as well as a generous dollop of pleasantly piquant garlic chili sauce. Two eggs prepared to your exacting specifications cover much of the dish. Mixing the melange is not only fun, but introduces all the elements to each other, forming a wondrous deliciousness in every bite. You can add chicken, tofu or steak to the bibimbap if you wish, but they’re wholly unnecessary.
Another well interpreted dish worthy of its Greek origin are gyros, marinated lamb nestled in a warm pita and served with tzatziki sauce, hummus, tomato, red onion, cucumber, feta cheese and olives. Unlike that served on gyros at many a Greek restaurant, the lamb is not shaved from a vertical spit nor is it an amalgam of lamb and beef. It’s wonderfully seasoned and marinated lamb reminiscent of the shawarma offered at the magnificent San Pedro Middle East Restaurant. The garlicky hummus and tzatziki are excellent as well.
Somewhat less exotic, but very good “mom” food is the organic chicken pot pie. Atop the crust is a dragonfly shaped cut-out also made of crust. Puncture the crust and you’re greeted with wisps of fragrant steam enticing you further. Fill your forks with a bit of crust and as creamy a pot pie concoction as you’ll find anywhere. It’s resplendent with vegetables and not just the conventional carrots and potatoes. Dragonfly’s pot pie includes sweet potatoes and other delicious surprises. The organic chicken is plentiful and it’s cut into bite-size pieces so you’re not left wondering where the poultry went.
Even if you’re left full from the generously portioned entrees, you’ve got to make room for one of the Dragonfly’s award-winning (“Best of Taos” in 2006, 2008 and 2009 according to the Taos News). The bakery goods are fresh, homemade, healthy and made in-house using local organic flour, sweet cream butter and natural sweeteners. No corn syrup or hydrogenated oils are used. Your server will bring by a platter brimming with some of the bakery treasures: fruit galettes, tarts, brownies, cookies, chocolate eclairs, cheesecakes, bread pudding, coconut macaroons and truffles. Deciding what to have is nearly as challenging as some of the Taos Ski Valley’s exhilarating runs.
One of the most exciting is a white chocolate and cherry bread pudding, the best I’ve had in Taos county other than my mom’s caprirotada. The warm gooeyness of the melting white chocolate, the tart-sweet cherries and the custard-like texture elevate this humble, moist dessert into an excellent rendition of my favorite dessert.
The Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery is right at home in an area replete with art galleries and Karen Todd is every bit the artist as are the much celebrated Taos art colony denizens. Instead of a gallery, she creates her art in the kitchen. Her restaurant and bakery are not to be missed.
Dragonfly Cafe & Bakery
402 Paseo Del Pueblo Norte
Taos, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 29 December 2011
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Bibimbop, Lamb Gyros, Organic Chicken Pot Pie, Macaroon, Cherry & White Chocolate Bread Pudding, Dulce de Leche Tart