It was like a bad dream. Less than 48 hours had passed since my return from the glorious Southwest of these here United States, Santa Fe to be exact, and I had already met up with friends twice at places that pass for Tex-Mex/Mexican restaurants in New York City -- at their behest, of course. I guess it's summer and people want margaritas -- I can't really think of a better excuse.
For example, to your left is a sopaipilla. Perhaps you knew that already, in which case this paragraph is for the uninitiated. At many, many restaurants in the Southwest, these puffy, flaky, crunch, doughy pillows of fried bread are brought to your table along with your entree. Tortillas are good with chile; so is cornbread. But a piping hot sopaipilla elevates your bowl of red or green to a whole new level.
Trust me, there weren't any of those babies at Mary Ann's (shudder) on Monday afternoon, or at the (hah!) Santa Fe Grill in Park Slope on Tuesday night. To be fair, it wasn't anyone's fault, really. My teaching partner suggested that we meet at the Upper East Side Mary Ann's for our planning meeting. This suggestion was really in order to make it convenient for me, since I live only 12 blocks away. It was pouring down rain, so after our meeting I ordered some take-out and brought it home to G. We agreed that oatmeal has more zip than Mary Ann's enchiladas. The next night some girlfriends suggested the Santa Fe Grill for our Brooklyn drinks date, and I just didn't have it in me to come up with an alternative. So I quietly went along with the cruel irony of it all. I did have a slightly better quesadilla there at the Grill, but anyone who has had recent contact with actual salsa and real green and red Chimayo chiles would simply sneer.
I'm having a bit of trouble wiping a tiny, microscopic sneer off my face as I write this; maybe what all our mothers said was true, and my face has frozen this way. Doesn't really matter about the sneer, as long as my mouth still opens so that when I go BACK to New Mexico later this summer, with G in tow, I can shovel in as much food from the Plaza Restaurant as humanly possible. The Plaza, a humble dineresque venue right on the central plaza in Santa Fe, serves marvelous food at (surprise!) diner prices.
Carefully peruse the picture to your right. I know it looks sort of like a big mess, but it's actually only part of the wonderful plato combinación that I consumed on one of my days in the actual town of Santa Fe. Most of the time I was at a lovely resort/retreat/conference center about 25 miles from Santa Fe, where the food was delicious -- much of it organically grown on the premises. It was a bit spa-like and austere, which was fine. The only problem was that there was nothing even vaguely Southwestern about the soy-glazed salmon, quinoa-millet pilaf and sauteed vegetables that we ate with some frequency over the week-long stay. I managed to wangle my way into Santa Fe 3 times (I was like a kid at camp, begging to go to town) and I ate at the Plaza twice. I stumbled upon them my first time in town and suddenly remembered that I'd read a glowing review in Roadfood, so my choice for lunch was set. Now I absolutely crave their food, but I'm back in NY, where people seem determined to subject me to the likes of some kind of nasty faux texxy or mexxy or who knows what, but nothing good.
Back to my plato combinación. On that fateful first day in town, I had a challenging morning of shopping from the independent vendors on the Plaza (spending wa-a-a-a-ay too much money on quite a few items of very beautiful jewelry that would cost the earth here in Gotham but were very reasonable in Santa Fe). I was in need of fuel. After all, I still had more shopping to do: blue cornmeal and chilies and cooking ingredients as well as other little souvenirs. So I ordered this meal, which was comprised of what you see in the second photo (perfect chicken enchilada in green chile, cracklingly crunchy chile relleno filled with hot molten cheese, yummy rice and beans and salad garnish); what you see above left: a carnitas taco with two sauces; and the heavenly sopaipilla at the top. It was all wonderful, and I took plenty of leftovers back to the compound (I mean the resort) with me.
Oh, and when it came to deciding upon what to drink, I took a leaf out of Heidi's book. A while ago in her beautiful blog 101 cookbooks, Heidi mentioned iced tea made of jamaica (aka hibiscus) flowers. So when I saw "Jamaica-lemonade cooler" on the menu at the Plaza, I knew just how I would cool down. What a treat.
I have no recipes for you yet, but I did bring back lots of ingredients. Whatever I come up with, it can't possibly taste as good as the bright hot dry weather, the endless sky, the mesas, and the dramatic scrim of the Sangre de Cristo moutains. Santa Fe, I miss you already, and I'm coming back...