Posted 13 October 2003 - 02:37 PM
Diary of a Cooking School Student
Foodblog: 34 Hungry College Girls
Foodblog: Expecting a Future Culinary Student
Lots of Everything
Posted 13 October 2003 - 03:00 PM
People who live in New Mexico are very passionate about their local cuisine, which they call "Mexican food" (I can't tell you how many times I'd talk to people who vacationed in Mexico who'd come back and say "the food was interesting, but it wasn't Mexican"). Essentially, New Mexican food as it is most commonly presented is typified by three dishes and two sauces: enchiladas (really the only authentic dish), tacos (always hard-shell), and burritos (a California import, I think). The sauces are either green (from the unripe Anaheim chile) or red (from the ripe, dried Anaheim chile). Sides are refried pinto beans and "Spanish" rice. Nowadays you can find posole as a side, which I think is a great improvement on the rice.
I was the only restaurant critic in the state for most of the time I was there and I cannot count the number of times I've eaten these dishes. The surprising thing is how different they can be (and how delicious). I still get very powerful cravings for it. When I go back (which I do once a year or so ... my wife and I both have families there), I immediately order a green chile cheese enchilada, flat, blue corn with an overeasy egg on top. I then repeat the prescription as often as possible for as long as I'm there. Sometimes I'll eat red, particularly in winter.
If you know Albuquerque, my favorite places, then and now, are Monroes (I used to eat there when it was a converted gas station just north of Old Town, run by old man Monroe), and Garcia's Mexican Kitchen. Andy Garcia is one of the city's true treasures.
Other than that, food was pretty skimpy, though there was a very good wine store (the Quarters, run by my good buddy Ken Shoemaker). And at one time there was a very good French restaurant with the horrible name Le Gourmet. I don't remember the name of hte chef, but that was one of the first "wow!" places.
Funny story (and true): One of the very first places I ever ate that completely blew my mind was the French pastry shop in the basement of the La Fonda hotel in Santa Fe. Really great buttery pastries, nothing fancy. Years after I had become friends with Michel Richard, we were talking at lunch and he said "well, I remember when I was in Santa Fe" ... and I said "What? When were you in Santa Fe? What did you do there." Well, you guessed it.
I'm not sure New Mexican food has really evolved. In fact, I'd say one of its charms is that it hasn't. The biggest change, of course, has been the coming and going of "Santa Fe Cuisine" which has about as much in common with anything real as those stupid statues of coyotes wearing kerchiefs (uh, sorry if I offend). Santa Fe Cuisine as the world knows it is actually much closer to the Caribbean than the Sangre de Cristos. Chipotles, cilantro, black beans ... none of those things had ever been seen in New Mexico before that.