My friend Schuyler jokes that because the diet of my formative years was mostly beans, chile and tortillas as well as chile, tortillas and beans, I’ve developed an insatiable curiosity and appetite for anything that isn’t beans, chile and tortillas (although I still love those). “No one else,” he claims “is equally enthusiastic about bacon-infused decadence one day as he is the healthy paleo foods the next. Schuyler calls me “the anti-Mikey” (the little boy in the Life cereal commercials who hated everything, except of course, Life cereal). He argues that I like everything.
In his eyes it doesn’t count that I loath, abhor and detest cumin when it desecrates the purity of New Mexico’s sacrosanct chile because I love cumin on Indian and Thai food. I remind him of my profound dislike for tea either as a cold or hot beverage and his retort is a reminder about how much I love the tea leaves smoked duck at Budai Gourmet Chinese. If you’re getting the impression that arguing with Schuyler is a no-win proposition or exercise in one-upmanship, you’re probably wondering why we’ve been friends for more than three decades.
The great philosopher Plutarch probably explains it best: “I don’t need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod.” Schuyler has at times been my conscience, the angel on my shoulder who’s kept me from trouble. At other times, he’s been the devil on the other shoulder, the mischievous miscreant who’s wanted me to live it up. It’s been a reciprocal arrangement in which I’ve played the very same roles for him. We don’t agree on everything, but over the years have mastered the fine art of compromise (Congress could learn a thing or a million), especially when it comes to food.
When my Kim and I visit a new restaurant, I often ask myself “what would Schuyler think,” the byproduct of having shared so many meals when we were both single. Though he’s the proverbial big city sophisticate to my backwater country hick, he’s a far less adventurous diner, preferring a few tried-and-true favorites. To him, my anti-chain stance shows a bit of close-mindedness, a term I throw right back at him when he refuses to try something as marginally adventurous as kimchi. Like me, Schuyler has an irreverent (okay, wicked) sense of humor though unlike me, he’s boisterous and somewhat raffish.
In this review, I’m going to channel my inner Schuyler and attempt to answer the deeply philosophical question “what would Schuyler say” about the dishes my Kim and I enjoyed at Sweetwater, a restaurant he’d never try on his own. It’s a vast understatement to say Sweetwater is not his type of restaurant. The terms “fresh, natural foods and international cuisines,” “responsibly produced seasonal ingredients,” and “vegetarian, vegan, paleo and gluten-free dishes” don’t resonate with him. Nor is he impressed by the many awards Sweetwater has earned over the years.
“Sambal? Why would someone with less rhythm than any white man who ever lived order a Sambal Burger?” No, Sky, sambal is a sauce made of chiles and used in several Asian cuisines. You’re thinking about samba, the Brazilian dance. More than any item on the brunch menu, Sweetwater’s Sambal Burger (organic grasped beef with sambal aioli, caramelized onion and cucumbers served on a gluten free bun with spring mixed greens) called to me, the promise of a burger with real kick. “You mean like you’d get from a green chile cheeseburger.” Not quite. Sambal is not only made with great Indonesian chiles with a jalapeno-like potency, but with just a bit of vinegar for a flavor burst green chile doesn’t have. Sweetwater’s burger, while quite good and obviously made with high-quality beef, just didn’t have enough sambal for me, but then pain is a flavor for me.
“The only thing that belongs on toast is lots of butter and jelly! That red cabbage smells funny.” Sky, you obviously haven’t been reading my posts about the popularity and tremendous diversity of avocado toast…and kimchi does not smell funny. It’s fermented in brine with ingredients such as garlic, scallions, and ground pepper. It’s got just enough heat to be a perfect foil for the buttery richness of avocado. Sweetwater’s chefs have hit on something great here with their avocado toast and kimchi. I’m almost glad you won’t even try it because that means more for me.
“Mmmm, bacon! Now you’re talking.” Not just bacon, Sky. This is Beeler’s Bacon! It’s uncured which means it’s not made with any of those chemicals that make bacon so unhealthy. There are no added sodium nitrites or phosphates. It’s hickory-smoked, gluten-free and hand-rubbed with black pepper. Sweetwater doesn’t scrimp on its bacon portions either. “I can almost taste the double bacon cheeseburger now.”
“Spelt? Does that mean the chef was clumsy? It’s “spelt” which is spelled “s-p-e-l-t” not spilled which is spelled s-p-i-l-l-e-d. Oh, never mind! Spelt is a type of grain closely related to wheat and it’s good for you. Sweetwater’s smelt is fresh ground and organic. I guarantee you won’t be able to tell much difference from a textural perspective between Sweetwater’s orange cardamom smelt pancakes and the Bisquick pancakes you make at home. Sadly, we didn’t discern much cardamom or orange. The one difference-maker was the real syrup which is oh so much better and healthier than corn syrup.
“Where’s the cheese?” You’ve got a point there, Sky. Cheese does make everything else taste better, but Sweetwater’s turkey tortilla soup (turkey, tomato, black beans, corn and cream, topped with avocado and tortilla chips) is a real stand-out even without cheese. This is the quintessential turkey tortilla soup and it’s served hot, not warm. Every element on this soup blends perfectly with every other element. It’s thicker than most tortilla soups you’ll find in New Mexico and the chips are whole, not crumbled onto the soup. There’s turkey in almost every bite. It’s a soul-warming, comforting bowl of deliciousness.
Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen may not be Schuyler’s cup of tea (he’d prefer keg of beer), but it’s one of Santa Fe’s favorite restaurants according to virtually every source you’ll find.
Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen
1512 Pacheco Street, Building B
Santa Fe, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT:7 April 2019
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET:Turkey Tortilla Soup, Avocado Toast with Kimchi, Orange Cardamom Smelt Pancakes, Beeler’s Bacon, Sambal Burger