Sunday, December 17, 2017

Santa Fe round-up — some things never change

Some Recent Restaurant Experiences
Hello there, my people! Last week I had a great visit to my old stomping grounds — Santa Fe, New Mexico. With the help of a large calendar, a pencil, a good eraser, Monica's patience, and my GPS, I managed to see around 15 amazing friends and eat way too much food. Thanks to everyone who fit me in their schedule and treated me to meals all over town! I thought it would be nice to do some mini restaurant reviews of some old favorites, updates on some new hot spots, and some general comments about the Santa Fe food scene, because that's why you love me!

Breakfast at Clafoutis

I love the huge new location in the once-dismal space that housed Body, a restaurant that depressed me with their bland cuisine and anemic waitstaff. The cafe was buzzing with activity and French energy. Who doesn't love a melodic "bon jour!" when you enter the room? I had a perfectly cooked omelette with ham and Gruyere, served with a croissant which pulled apart in a spiral of buttery goodness, as it should. Yes, I forgot about the nothing-stays-hot-for-long-at-high-altitude thing, so my tea was lukewarm, but not their fault. My lovely companion DK also treated me to a bag full of excellent French pastries to take back home to my hosts.

Lunch at Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen

I had eaten at this super-healthy, well-designed cafe before and found it to be okay, not great. While we were there, a group of smiling monks, draped in orange robes, came in and everyone got super excited (so I crossed that classic Santa Fe experience off my list). I am really not a fan of their operating structure: stand in line to order; try to find a clean table; then wait for your food which is brought by a food runner. Why can't that same person take my order?

Anyway, my lovely friend suggested I try the Paleo wrap so I rolled my eyes, then ordered it. When it arrived it was a beautiful bright green wrap filled with turkey, sweet potato, some greens, and frankly it was just delicious. This dish is really all about the wrap which was moist, slightly spongy, and a bit elastic (so it rolled beautifully). I complemented the owner and asked her how they made the wrap and she said spinach, arrowroot, and egg. Amazing! This is my next challenge to figure out how to make these and then to experiment with using other vegetables.

Dinner at Elōisa

This was a new, high-end dining experience for me. I had heard so much great buzz about this place. A high-visibility makeover of an old hospital into a posh hotel with a name chef, how could this be bad? Well first of all, when I entered the mostly empty room (granted, it was a cold Tuesday night in December) the first thing I noticed was the cans of soda and pre-made sandwiches and salads in a grab-n-go case by the door. Yes, it is in a hotel and they need to service the guests, but there is certainly a nicer way to present these items. It looked like an upscale 7-Eleven.

The room was cold, not just in temperature but design. The fork was ridiculous. The artwork was weird. My dining companion was mesmerized — and not in a good way — by a video piece with a slithering snake moving around in the brush. They sat us right next to the open kitchen which gave me a view of the back of a Robot Coupe mixer, a KitchenAid mixer, and a bowl of flour. Not exactly fascinating! Frankly, it still felt like the laundry room it once was.

The menu is small with some interesting-sounding items such as the Tortillas Florales, house-made corn tortillas with flowers in them, served with avocado butter. Wondered how amazing this would be so we ordered them — they were tortillas with guacamole. That's all. We also ordered the Turkey Albondigas with Pipian Sauce. They were so overcooked, hard, and dry we could barely chew them. But by far the entrées were the worst. My partner ordered the blue corn-crusted Pecos River Trout, and when they brought it to the table we both laughed at the presentation, it was the opposite of appetizing. I ordered the Elōisa Burger — when you are trying to get a handle on the competency of the kitchen, go for basics (like testing ice cream by ordering vanilla). Ordered my meat medium-rare, came out medium-well. Bacon was hard, maybe old, not crisp. Cheese and chile were okay, but the bun was thoughtless, and I think the potato chips came out of a bag. Not the least bit impressive. We skipped dessert and went home. When I told my hosts about the less-than-wonderful food they were surprised — they'd had good experiences there, on weekends. They agreed that the head celebrity chef was probably not supervising the kitchen on a Tuesday night, this could explain it.


Lunch at Pyramid Cafe

When I lived in Santa Fe, this place was almost always empty. It's still mostly empty, but that made it a nice quiet place to meet a friend with hearing difficulties. Food was okay. My chicken lemon soup with rice was 75% rice and not hot but still tasty. My dining companions enjoyed their choices and I had a good greek salad — how can you go wrong? Baklava was the star of this meal, although I question the addition of chocolate sauce.

Lunch at Vinaigrette

This was always one of my favorite spots in town. I love a well-prepared salad. As usual, service was slow and inattentive. The menu seems to stay the same over time, but if it works go with it. I ordered a salad with arugula, roast beets, goat cheese, and pistachio. When it arrived it was overdressed, there were no nuts, hardly any goat cheese, and the beets were overcooked (they reminded me of the ones you buy at the grocery store) and sliced thin on top of the salad. My partner enjoyed her chopped salad. Just felt a little like tired kitchen food to me, which does happen.

Shake Foundation parking lot experience

As anyone who has tried to park at Vinaigrette knows, the lot is a nightmare, even with the addition of those extra spaces around Modern General. So I headed next door to the large, empty lot surrounding Shake Foundation — Brian Knox's Shake Shack rip off. My thinking was buy something from them and that would justify me parking there. Wrong again! I went up to their window and for $3.75 purchased a cup of salted-caramel ice cream which was so artificial-tasting and low-quality I took one bite and threw it away. I then headed towards Vinaigrette, at which point one of the workers came out and yelled to me "I will have your car towed away immediately if you leave it here!" I said I just made a purchase and your lot is empty, can I pay you to park here, and she said "no." As I pulled out of their empty lot I saw another car doing the same thing, we rolled down our windows and she said "They are so mean here, I will never patronize them again." I agree.

Lunch at Milad Persian Bistro

This is a new restaurant (they opened in November 2016) located next to El Farol on Canyon Road. My friend and I met there on a cold winter day and their wood-burning stove would not light so it was nippy inside. That being said, our adorable waiter was charming and we enjoyed a very interesting and tasty meal. I had spicy carrot falafel and beet falafel which were both really good. They make their own pita bread which is admirable, but was unfortunately a bit bland and undercooked. My companion had a rice and chicken dish which was delicious. I also enjoyed an eggplant stew with a perfectly poached egg on top. I liked that they had items on the menu I had never had before, and it was very reasonably priced.

coffee and tea at Counter culture cafe

A Santa Fe institution. Yes, my tea got lukewarm in seconds. Yes, it was packed with locals. Yes, the parking lot is a nightmare. But it was nice to see the old hippies still making it work.

The problem with restaurants in Santa Fe

I get it — I lived it for 12 years. It's impossible to keep up standards with the crew going AWOL every other day. The Monday/Tuesday crew is not as good as the Friday/Saturday crew. Good ingredients are consistently hard to get. Dishwashers get bumped up to cooks, then to head chefs, out of desperation because they are hard-working and show up. Primadonna chefs get tired, bored, and burnt-out on a regular basis. And finally you still can't get a decent bagel — some things never change.

Home-cooked meals

The best part, thanks to Jen, Mary, Gabriella, and Monica. Wow, can my friends cook! Thanks to everyone who cared for me, cooked for me, and made me special tea to help with my congestion. There is nothing more wonderful then sharing a meal with dear friends, and for this I am forever grateful.

Thanks Santa Fe, see you later!

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