ON THE SANTA FE TRAIL
That time between Christmas break and the New Year return to work has always been one of my least favourite times of the year. I hate being idle at any time and now, when the rest of the world seemingly comes to a standstill, e-mails dry up and people leave their desks unattended for nearly two weeks, it is all too easy to believe that things will never return to normal.
Add to this the insecurities of being self employed and it is only a matter of days before I start to worry about never working again. It’s very silly, of course. I mean at the very least a stud muffin like me could always earn a decent crust shaking my tail out on the streets. But I really do look forward to the return to a normal routine in January and to discovering what adventures it might bring with it for the New Year.
To try and distract me during the break, Sybil has instigated a new family tradition in the form of a post Christmas road trip. In 2009, we spent a few days in Las Vegas. This year, we both decided to go even further a field with a round trip of nearly 2500 miles to Santa Fe in the heart of New Mexico.
It’s certainly not a journey for the faint of back. The drive to our stopping point for the night required us to be on the road by 6am and the best part of thirteen hours behind the wheel before we reached our motel in Albuquerque. Two hours more on the freeway the next morning saw us reach our destination city just in time for lunch.
New Mexico, as the name suggests was an extension of the Mexican territories until 1846 when it was ceded to the United States. It was far enough away from Mexico City that it began to develop its own unique culture and with that a cuisine that drew not only from its Mexican roots but also from local Native American tribes and also from settlers from other US states. While New Mexican food has many similarities with traditional Mexican, there are regional differences. Not least because the New Mexico green chile, the state’s biggest crop, is to be found in just about everything.
Our first sampling came at local favourite, Adelita’s restaurant about ten minutes drive from our hotel. It came in the form of an order of “Tacos De Tripa” tortilla filled with strips of tripe, deep fried until crunchy and served with a hot red salsa and a fresh pico de gallo. Similar tacos had been my favourite breakfast during my time in Guadalajara and, after applying a few drops of lime juice, one bite transported me back to one of my best bites of Eat My Globe. While I polished off my plate, Sybil tore into an unfeasibly large Burrito Carne Adobado, a tortilla stuffed with pork marinated in red chile, vinegar and oregano. The food was freshly prepared and excellent. It was also cheap and served in portions large enough to send us back to the hotel for a brief nap before we headed out again to explore what Santa Fe had to offer.
While Sybil had been in charge of the hotels and directions, I had been placed in charge of the eating end of things. I had neglected to book somewhere in advance for our first night in the city, so we were lucky that one of my choices, The Inn of The Anasazi, was able to accommodate us at short notice for supper.
I know that American’s like their restaurants to be quite dark compared to those in Europe and that is normally fine, if not particularly blogger friendly. The dining room at The Inn, however, takes things to a whole ‘nother level. The room was so dark, in fact that we had to request a flashlight from the waiter to actually read the menu. We also asked that he leave it with us so I could take some pictures. From the look on his face it was not the first time he had heard either request.
All a bit silly and unnecessary as the cooking at The Inn is, on the whole, excellent and does not need to hide its light. The chef is actually British, not that you could tell it from the menu which contains all the pre-requisite ingredients for any American Menu. Sybil had a salad while I began with one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, a duck mole enchilada. The tortilla casing was tough and slightly leathery, making me think that they had been prepared earlier in the day. However, the filling was terrific and the smoky mole sauce worth the price of admission on its own. Main courses were well executed and particular mention has to go out to the braised pork dish of Syb’s which you can just about make out in the rather artfully shadowed photograph.
I had a bit of a hangover the next morning. Hardly surprising as I had downed a bath tub sized Martini before supper and the best part of a well priced bottle of Spanish red with my meal. I was therefore not entirely against the idea when Sybil demanded breakfast within about twenty paces of having left our hotel. Fortunately, we were just passing a small French bistro & bakery called Clafoutis, which was already filled with locals supping coffee and eating the house made croissants. Breakfast shouldn’t be terribly hard but is so often a disappointment, but not at Clafoutis, where they managed to serve up a perfect Croque Madame, superb hot chocolate and fresh orange juice without any great drama. Perfect for soaking up the excesses of the night before and to fuel us for a day wandering around this rather attractive city.
I am often told that I am unsympathetic to the problems restaurants face when serving customers. It may well be true. While they are taking my cash in return for a service, any problems they have are not my concern. That being said, I am not entirely heartless and, when the owner of Max’s restaurant in the Guadalupe district of the city told us that they were running late with our reservation, it was obvious that people were still lingering long after their meals, knowing that work did not summon them in the morning. It also helped my good temper that she also dealt with the situation in a perfect and professional way, taking us into the neighbouring bar, setting up a tab and then coming to collect us when she had finally managed to free up our table. Other restaurants could and should take note.
Once we sat down, however, I could see why tables had not been turning as she might have hoped. It was because the service was, quite frankly, a bit hopeless. Not unfriendly, just woefully inefficient and sloppy leaving us sitting for a further twenty minutes until we received our menus and had our order taken. The kitchen was obviously struggling too and food emerged from the kitchen at a glacial pace that would need a calendar rather than a clock. When the food did arrive, it was universally excellent and showed that if Max’s could get its FOH act together, it has the potential to go from being a good restaurant to a potentially great one.
An amuse of parsnip soup with roasted hazelnuts and melting dark chocolate was far better than I anticipated and a starter of two hour egg with creamy polenta showed that the chef, one Mark Connell, really knows what he is about. Fantastic main courses reinforced the impression, although for once, pork came out in second place in the “thumbs up” stakes. My tasting of suckling pig was delicious if slightly routine, but Sybil’s boneless stuffed quail was arguably the best dish of the whole trip and made sure that we were four for four in our dining choices for this road trip.
There was another horribly early start the next morning. Ever the organiser, Sybil had realised that the 1-40 freeway would be closed by snows about halfway along our journey back home. We decided to head south and pick up the 1-10 near Las Cruces which gave us the chance to pass through the wonderfully named town of “Truth or Consequences” and to stop off at another well recommended restaurant for lunch.
El Comedor in Las Cruces was an amiable place to have our last meal in New Mexico and provided a tasty if slightly unattractive sampling plate of New Mexican specialities including delicious chiles rellenos (stuffed chillies) Flauta (thin deep fried taco) potato stuffed gordita and, of course, lots of green chile sauce. It was the perfect end to another memorable trip in my newly adopted homeland and enough to fill us up for the journey to our overnight stay in Phoenix.
2010 was the best year of my life and I am already looking forward to fining out what 2011 has in store for me. I know one thing however and that is that Sybil and I are going to start planning our next post Christmas road trip very soon.
HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE