Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Mexico Cuisine

I traveled to New Mexico back in November to work on election protection. I decided to take the train because I really like traveling by train, I don't like to fly, and it was too far to drive by myself. By taking the train, most of the trip was overnight and it took about as long as it would take me to drive. Instead of a hotel, I had a roomette. And I could eat without stopping for an hour.

Food on the Southwest Chief is not the culinary experience I remember from either the Broadway Limited (Chicago to New York) or the Southern Crescent (Washington, D.C. to New Orleans--but I got off at Atlanta.) Those trips were 20 or more years ago, and things have changed. My meals were included in the fare going to New Mexico. They were extra on the way back, when I didn't take a roomette.

While service was generally pleasant, and the company fascinating (because you are seated with strangers), the food was pretty disappointing. Microwave was the heating method of choice and the fish dishes suffered for it. They did make excellent brewed iced tea, however.

In New Mexico, there were two places on my must-eat list: Tomasita's and The Shed, both located in Santa Fe. My friend and hostess Melinda introduced me to the latter, but Parris McBride took me to Tomasitas on my very first trip to Santa Fe and she joined the two of us for dinner there the night before the election.

Tomasita's makes the best sopapillas ever, eaten with a drizzle of honey to cut the hot of the Christmas (red and green) chile I had with my entree. The only restaurant I've had them at outside of New Mexico was a New Mexico-style hole-in-the-wall in Vienna, Virginia, the name of which escapes me now (although it may have had a woman's posessive name and was located near--but on the opposite side--of Magruders on the main drag through town.) Tomasita's was the first place friends took me to when I visited New Mexico on my way to Los Angeles almost 20 years ago, and it's the place we all go to at least once when I visit. I only regret that I was driving the night we went this time, and had to get up before the crack of dawn to get to my assignment at the San Filipe Pueblo, so I couldn't have a margarita with dinner. Next time.

The other must-eat is in the heart of Santa Fe, The Shed. It is located about half a block off the Plaza, tucked in behind an adorable Christmas store, and usually has lines of people snaked out the door.
The restaurant is noted for its brightly colored interior and its red chile.
I had the posole, on the left, and Melinda had the corn chowder, on the right. Both were delicious.
Last year, I made posole from leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Traditionally, it is made from pork. Melinda gave me a lecture on the proper way to prepare the hominy, which I will need to review before making posole again. Here's a link to the Rachael Ray turkey version of posole I used. Posole is traditionally served on New Year's day.

One of the problems with Santa Fe in the winter is that many of the restaurants are closed on Sunday. That's rather strange to anyone coming from Los Angeles, but it meant we didn't have much of a choice for dinner the night I arrived. I took Melinda out to an Italian place she recommended, but I think we were both disappointed with dinner. Perhaps the regular chef was off that night.

I had one other must-do while in Santa Fe, and that was to visit the Nambe outlet. There are now two, one near the Plaza and one on a street with a number of art galleries. My Nambe collection started with a wedding gift from Parris and George R.R. Martin and Melinda has given me several pieces as well. I've added to it by haunting flea markets, where pieces go for a fraction of their retail prices.

I found a wonderful 5 quart single-handled bowl, asymetrical, as is often the case, at the down-town outlet and it makes a great centerpiece as well as a serving bowl which keeps things warm for a long time. I could spend a fortune in the Nambe store, so I was thrilled with this piece I found on the discontinued shelf. Packing for the return trip was a little tricky, but I got it into my checked bag and it arrived without damage. I may have Melinda pick up another piece I saw and bring it out to me when she drives out next month. I wonder if one would have difficulty getting Nambe on a plane in carry-on. You could do a lot of damage if you hit someone in the head with a piece of it.

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