Sunday, April 22, 2012

El Ferol -- Santa Fe, NM

We felt it would have been a wasted trip not to visit the Canyon Road art galleries while in Santa Fe. Among the galleries sits a wonderful restaurant called El Ferol, at 808 Canyon Road (, 505-983-9912). While we strolled through the artwork, we kept our eyes out for this place, as we had it on good authority that they served great tapas, and since we knew we'd have a large dinner later, that was just what we wanted. We found it at the opposite end of Canyon Road from where we started, which was perfect.

We arrived there just after noon and tables were plentiful. There are not a lot of people out art gazing mid-day, in the middle of the week during the off season, forunately for us. Felicia , our server, brought us a generous basket of bread, and took our drink order as we settled into the tapas menu. All tapas are $7.75 each or 5 for $38. We knew we couldn't hold five so we decided on three to nosh on. We ordered Ceviche De Atun, Puerco Asado, and Roasted Red Bell Pepper with feta cheese.

As we waited on our choices we nibbled on the bread. Each table is set with small plates, a bottle of olive oil and a pepper grinder. We poured olive oil onto plates, ground some fresh pepper into it and thoroughly enjoyed this firm and chewy country style bread.

First to arrive was the Ceviche De Atun which is described as "mango citrus cured seafood." There was a lot of flavor in this little bowl of scallops, shrimp and fish marinating in mango, lime and jalapenos, garnished with cilantro and avocado. So beautiful and fresh, we dug right in and it was half gone before we thought to take a picture. My apologies.

Then the Puerco Asado, pork tenderloin with figs, port and Idiazabal cheese, and the Roasted Red Peppers with feta arrived. The Asada was so rich and savory and communed well with the sweetness of the figs. The cheese was its crowning glory, hard and slightly sharp. The red peppers, I thought, also worked well as a side to the pork. Rob was not so fond of the peppers and feta, but he is not fond of anything that has any real tang to it. That worked in my favor.

We enjoyed our time at El Ferol and will visit again if we find ourselves in Santa Fe. They serve tapas, lunch, and dinner. You may dine inside or out, and they have live entertainment in the evenings (Wednesday thru Sunday). It's a little pricey, as are all of the restaurants in the area, but in the art district the food is expected to rise above the normal restaurant fare and what we had at El Farol certainly does.

Tune-up Cafe -- Santa Fe, NM

Tune-Up Cafe
Tune-up Cafe, ( at 1115 Hickox St. (505-982-7060) restored our faith in the Food Network program, Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. That is, once we found it! The building was not marked by address or name. We drove by it twice and seeing that it was the only restaurant on the block, decided it must be the place. Then we had to find a place to park. Drive-by number three.

Once parked, we walked the short distance to the restaurant and found it packed. It's a tiny place with as many tables squeezed in as possible, one long narrow table in the entry and a wood counter along the front windows. There were no tables available, so after ordering at the register, we sat at the counter along the windows where childrens books sat in the pockets that are formed in the places where the windows dipped down behind the counter. So, I was entertained while waiting for my food!

Basic Breakfast
Oh yeah, the food! You order and pay for your food at the register and peruse the menus while waiting in line. Rob, wanted a basic breakfast so he ordered the Basic Breakfast, which includes 2 eggs, homefries, toast or tortilla ($6.50) he added a side of bacon ($2) and green salsa on the side. I couldn't make up my mind, so I asked the girl behind the counter for a suggestion. First she suggested the Chile Relleno, but my stomach wasn't ready for that so early in the morning. Then she said that I should go with the Huevos El Salvadorenos ($8.25). Scrambled eggs with scallions and tomatoes, with refried beans, pan-fried bananas, crema and Alicia's corn tortilla. So, I did.

Huevos El Salvadorenos
We waited about ten minutes for our food, which we didn't mind because the place was fairly busy and I had the books to read. When our food did arrive it was freshly made -- no sitting around waiting for someone to get it to the table. It was hot and it was good! Rob's eggs were cooked the way he likes them and the potatoes were nicely seasoned. The salsa was mild, and we were thankful that they provided enough for both of us. My eggs were yummy! The scallion and tomatoes were mixed in at the last couple of moments before the eggs were set, so they still had a fresh taste to them. Now, I've never had pan-fried bananas and I don't know if I would ever have thought to pair them with scrambled eggs and refried beans, but this combination was amazing, especially when you add in the crema! The bananas were carmelized on the edges and added a sweetness to the meal that rounded it out nicely.

We really enjoyed Tune-Up Cafe and would definitely recommend it. There are more tables on a small patio area where we would have sat, had the temperature been a little higher. I just wish we had had more time to go back to try out their lunch menu. After watching the clip from Diners, Drive-In's, and Dives on their website, I'm looking forward to the next time we are in Santa Fe.

Zia Diner -- Santa Fe, NM

Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives has been in Santa Fe, NM so many times that we felt we had to try a couple of the establishments that they visited. Our first was Zia Diner ( at 326 S. Guadalupe Street (505-988-7008). It looked a bit more upscale than you would expect. I would not describe it as a diner, drive-in or a dive.  It was a beautiful day and we opted to sit out on the patio.
Buffalo Burger

Fallan, our waitress, was prompt and helpful. Since it was lunch time, we decided to go for burgers. I ordered the Buffalo Burger ($12.95) and Rob ordered the Grilled Chicken Sandwich ($10.75). Both are served on a Brioche bun with carmelized onions, chipotle mayo and sweet potato fries. Fallan asked me how I wanted the burger cooked. I don't know anything about how buffalo is best cooked, so I asked her to advise me. She asked how I liked my steaks and guided me to go a little more rare on the buffalo. We settled on Medium rare -- pink middle.

Grilled Chicken Sandwich
The plates arrived and the food smelled wonderful. The sandwiches are served open faced with lettuce and tomato so you can build your own as you like it. I kept adding more chipotle mayo to mine, I just could not get enough of it. It was flavorful without having too much bite. Rob and I built our burgers and cut them in half, trading a half with each other. The buffalo was good, but overcooked. It was not pink in the middle, which left it a little dry. As far as flavor is concerned it didn't taste much different than a pretty decent hamburger. Rob did not agree with me on this point. He liked it. In my opinion, the chicken was better. It was cooked nicely, remaining moist. The real show stealer was the sweet potato fries. They were slim cut, but not so small that you lose the flavor. Fried perfectly, so that they were crunchy and non-greasy. They were beautiful.

We liked Zia, though I left wondering why it deserved to be on a national food show. Maybe it was an off day, maybe I didn't choose the best dish. Would I eat there again? I probably would, it was nice, the food was good, the prices affordable, but I doubt I'd do the Buffalo Burger again.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Cafe Pasqual's -- Santa Fe, NM

Cafe Pasquals
This was the place I was most looking forward to visiting when we hit Santa Fe. We ate at Pasquals (, located a couple of blocks off of the Plaza, the last time we were in Santa Fe, about twelve years ago. It's a small place with about ten tables, that seat two to four, and one large community table in the middle of the restaurant that seats, I believe, eight. They serve only organic foods in this festive place, that has just celebrated its 33 year in business. During the peak tourist season you could wait an hour or two for a seat, which should give you some idea of the quality of their food.

We have only had breakfast at Pasquals, and had it twice this trip. Mayte waited on us the first visit. She was very friendly and helpful. This first visit was more relaxed and we had no wait time since it was in the middle of the week. Rob ordered the Breakfast Quesadilla which is scrambled eggs, guacamole, and Monterrey Jack cheese wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla and grilled. It is served with a Red Chile Salsa ($9). He added the Applewood -- Smoked Bacon ($4). I ordered the Huevos Rancheros ($13). This is what I'd had before and loved. It was served in a shallow bowl this time, rather than a plate. I thought the plate was a better presentation, but it's the flavor that matters. It features two eggs over easy served over black beans resting on a blue corn tortilla and melted Jack with choice of sauces. I, of course, went with "Christmas." How else are you going to know which sauce is the best?
Huevos Rancheros

My dish, although not as pretty as the last time I'd had it, was just as good as I remembered. The various textures involved, corn tortilla, cheese, beans, egg, and flavors come together in a very harmonious way. The sauces are like icing on the cake. Neither too hot, but both equally good! Rob's quesadilla, though, was even better. He had had enough of spicy chili dishes, by this time, and wanted something simple but not bland. This was the perfect balance for his desire. I would have never thought that guacamole and eggs would be so wonderful together, but it was like the perfect little breakfast. The salsa is served on the side, so you can control how much you want, if any. The whole wheat tortilla is light and crispy and the cheese nice and stringy.

Breakfast Quesadilla
The quesadilla was so good that, on our second visit, I ordered it. Rob ordered the Two Large Eggs Any Style ($8). It comes with home fries, english muffin or whole wheat flax toast. He went with the toast and a side of the bacon and a little strawberry jelly. His eggs were cooked properly and he really liked that the home fries were made with red skinned potatoes. I also need to mention that the coffee at Pasquals is really great.

This second trip was on Friday, so there were  more people roaming the Plaza area. We had to wait about ten minutes for a table, although we had the option of being seated right away at the community table. This being our last day in Santa Fe, we opted to wait. As we were waiting two more parties came in behind us. It was fairly early, so I'm sure it was a busy day at Pasquals.

You've probably guessed that Pasquals is a place we would recommend and you'd be right. Just know that there is always the possibility that you may have a wait, and in peak season, that wait could be a while.

Really Great Coffee

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Las Cosas Cooking School - Santa Fe, NM

Chef Johnny Vee and Students
This was the clincher for taking our 20th Anniversary vacation in New Mexico. Rob came across a Groupon for a Culinary Vacation package at a very affordable price that included a Flavors of New Mexico Cooking Class and Gourmet Meal, lodging and a walking food tour of Santa Fe (which you'll read about soon). We found the place as soon as we arrived in Santa Fe, so that we would know just where to go at class time. I can't say I was disappointed, but maybe a little surprised that the cooking school is in the back corner of the cookware and gadget shop, Las Cosas, located in the DeVargas Mall. I was a little afraid that it would not be as great as my imagination had dreamed. I need not have worried!

We arrived for class not exactly knowing what to expect. Being the first ones there, we tried to figure which seats around the kitchen counter would be the best and chose the corner. As it turned out, seating wasn't important because after a short lecture by Chef Johnny Vee on New Mexico chilies and cuisine, and an overview of what we'd be cooking, all of the chairs were pushed back against the wall and the cooking commenced.

Chile con Queso and  Green Chili Enchiladas filling in the works
Chef Johnny Vee was our host. He, at one time, hosted a cooking show, and now gives classes on a variety of cuisines at the Las Cosas Cooking School. This class menu: Homemade Corn Tortillas, Chile Con Queso, Great Guacamole, Salsa Roja (red salsa), Tomatillo Salsa, Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas, Grilled Eggplant Adovado, Sopaipillas, and for dessert Chocolate Peanut Tacos. There were eleven of us taking the class, so we were split up into groups of two to three for each recipe. Each recipe had all of its ingredients premeasured on a tray. Each group picked up its tray and went to work on their respective recipes. Rob and I were teamed up with another woman, Diana, and we worked on Sopaipillas and the Chocolate Peanut Tacos.
Frying Sopaipillas

During the process of cooking, Chef Johnny Vee would periodically get everyone's attention to show us the important points of each group's recipe. He is a very good at what he does. He was able to keep up with what each group was doing and still make sure that everyone understood how to make each dish, even though we were working on different dishes. As we worked, we found that, in our group, we had to let the sopaipilla dough rest and ice cream for the tacos set up, so we had a little down time, which we spent helping other groups. I'm thinking we were in the best group because the other groups didn't have that kind of opportunity.

As the salsas, guacamole and queso were finished, we helped ourselves to a bowl of tortilla chips and dug in. So delicious! The queso was so much better than the old standby Velveeta/Rotel mixture that we're so accustomed to. The Chile Con Queso recipe required 16 ingredients, one of which was tequila. Only two tablespoons, but we learned that it helps keep the emulsion of ingredients from separating from the fats. The salsas were mild and flavorful with instructions as to what chilies to use to bump up the heat.
Grilled Eggplant Adovado

According to Chef Johnny, in traditional New Mexico cooking, enchiladas are stacked rather than rolled. Maybe that's why when we've had enchiladas here that were rolled, they were specified as such on the menu. We watched as Chef assemble the first enchilada then turned the process over to the enchilada group. The Grilled Adovado group's dish came out first and we got to sample that with some of the homemade tortillas. Wow! And I'm not fond of eggplant! I think, though, when I try this recipe at home I'll do it with pork. Chef said we'd just have to cook it longer.

By the time everyone had tried the adovado the enchiladas were ready. Oh my goodness! The chicken had been cooked before the class in chicken stock. Our teammate, Diana, shredded the bird during some of our down time and the shredded chicken was then reheated in the Green Chili Sauce. All of this is layered between the Homemade Corn Tortillas and cheese. Unbelievably good!
The Spread sans the Enchiladas and Dessert
Then it was time for dessert. Our team had filled store bought taco shells with vanilla ice cream,dragged the edges of the shells through melted chocolate, then dredged them in chopped roasted peanuts. Yeah, when those babies came out of the freezer everyone who said, "I don't think I can eat a whole one," somehow managed. Chef Johnny showed us how to decorate the plate with chocolate syrup and present the taco with flair.

This class was so much fun and I would do another, even at full price, which generally runs about $80 per person. A bargain for learning new skills, not to mention the confidence you gain from actually making the meal yourself with a master chef at your side. As I mentioned earlier, we did this class on a Groupon, but classes are ongoing and can be booked through Epitourean, Edible Destinations! (, For more information on Chef Johnny Vee, his cookbook (which we now own) and the cooking classes at Las Cosas Cooking School visit

Atrisco Cafe & Bar - Santa Fe, NM

After arriving in Santa Fe we thought we'd see where our cooking class was located and stumbled onto the Atrisco Cafe & Bar. It's located in the DeVargas Mall on Peralta St., just inside the entrance. It's a small but lively place serving up New Mexican dishes. The staff seems to take care of each other's tables, so we weren't sure who our actual server was.

We both ordered the Lite Plate which is described as including one rolled chicken enchilada, rice, beans, posole and a choice of sauce. Well, of course, we both ordered "Christmas" since every place has their own sauce recipes. The plates arrived and I was surprised to see hominy on the plate. Evidently, hominy is considered posole, at least in this establishment. I thought posole was more of a soup/stew that often contains hominy, so I looked it up in the dictionary and found I was right. I love when that happens!

Lite Plate
Anyway, the flavors were all there, and it seems that sopaipillas (that's how it's spelled here) are to New Mexico cuisine like flour tortillas are to Tex-Mex -- served with every dish. Both sauces were pretty high on the heat scale and we were not warned about it. Even Rob commented that the heat was more than expected. He loved it, but recognized that most people might not. As a matter of fact, I asked about the heat factor when ordering and was told that the green sauce was hotter. Fortunately, we like heat, but this was almost too much. I don't normally suffer with stomach problems after eating spicy foods, but I carried this one with me for several hours.

We liked Atrisco and went back a couple days later for a glass of wine. The atmosphere is comfortable and colorful, the prices moderate, and the staff are friendly. The food was really good, but if you have a low tolerance for heat order carfully!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Cafe Abiquiu at Abiquiu Inn, Abiquiu, NM

This, and the next few reviews, will be a little shorter as Rob and I continue our New Mexico vacation, because there have just been so many places to try and I'm getting behind. But right now let's concentrate on Cafe Abiquiu. Abiquiu, NM is located about 40 miles northwest of Santa Fe and not very far from Medanales where we were staying when we tried this restaurant. It's right on US highway 84 and the Inn looks beautiful. The restaurant itself is nice, but rather non-descript. I did enjoy that it displays the work of local artists, and many who were very good, but we're here to talk food.

As we entered Cafe Abiquiu, we almost tripped over a table. What should have been a foyer area, in my opinion, held a table for six. No problem, though, we were ushered into another dining room and given a choice of tables since we were early. I was taken aback by our waitress who, I thought, looked a little disheveled in her oversized Cafe Abiquiu t-shirt. I expected a little more formal uniform for the waitstaff, but it's the food that counts. She took our drink orders and we looked the menu over while she tended to that.
Tamale Cake Napoleon

When she retuned, she suggested that we try the Tamale Cake Napoleon ($8). We don't normally do appetizers, but this one sounded intriguing. So, we ordered it. For our entree, Rob went with the Chipotle Honey Glazed Salmon ($18) and I went with the Blue Corn Fried Rainbow Trout ($17).

Black Bean Soup
The Tamale Cake Napoleon is sweet corn cakes stacked with avacado, pico de gallo and roasted red pepper sauce. It was amazing! The pan-fried corn cakes were just a little sweet, almost a cross between polenta and cornbread with a few whole kernels of corn inside, layered with the smooth mashed avacado --YUM! We tried to savor it, but it was gone before we knew it. We, also, both opted for the soup over a salad. It was a wonderful Black Bean Soup with just a little chipotle. Very nice.
Chipotle Honey Glazed Salmon

Rob's salmon was described as "pan seared New Mexico pistachio crusted North Atlantic salmon filet." It was tasty, but I expected the chipotle honey glaze to have more of a kick. What impressed me were the potaoes; sliced thin with just a hint of rosemary. His plate also included roasted asparagus which was in great need of seasoning.

Blue Corn Fried Rainbow Trout
My trout had what seems to be the most important thing, according to the celebrity chefs, a crispy skin. If you are a fan of the Food Network show Chopped, you know that crispy skin on fish is a must and is not always an easy thing to accomplish, so I must give the chef points for that, and the blue corn crust was interesting, but I can't say that it had a lot of flavor. My plate also included mashed potatoes with scallions which I liked very much and the roasted asparagus which was in great need of seasoning.

All in all, the meal was good, but not as good as it could have been. The appetizer was absolutely the best part of the meal and may have set the bar a little high for the entree. Would I recommend Cafe Abiquiu? Yes, but with reservations. No pun intended.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

El Farolito - El Rito, NM

Off of US Highway 84 about 12 miles down NM554 is a charming little place – emphasis on little – called El Farolito.  It’s on the right, and don’t blink as you drive through El Rito because you’ll miss it. Park where you can, and enter this little hole in the wall place, with room enough for only six tables.  It boasts of being the four time Chili Champion of the Santa Fe Chili Championship and displays the ribbons to prove it.
Andrea, our waitress and daughter-in-law to the owners, greeted us as we entered, delivered menus and had our drink order before we were seated. The menu was much more extensive than one would imagine. Rob ordered #4 Combination Plate with a beef enchilada, taco, rice and beans, and two sopapillas. I ordered the Chili Relleno which also comes with rice and beans and two sopapillas. Andrea informed me that it is the best Chili Relleno anywhere.  We mentioned to Andrea that we were from South Texas and were familiar with the cuisine. Having once had some amazing Chile Relleno in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I doubted her, but reserved judgement . As we each ordered, we got the classic question: “Red, green or Christmas?”  Now, for those who don’t know,” Red” and “Green” are your sauce choices with “Christmas” being some of each. We both went with “Christmas.”
Our plates arrived shortly and we were told that they were very hot. We did not need to be told, as the refried beans were still bubbling when Andrea set my plate in front of me.  After blowing excessively on the food gracing our forks, and trying to keep the molten cheese from sliding off, we had our first bites. All doubts evaporated with the steam from our plates. Rob exclaimed that the bite he’d just taken was of the “best enchilada he’d ever eaten.” I thought he might be exaggerating a bit so I reached out my fork and tried a bite. No exaggeration. The beef was so flavorful, but not greasy, cheddar cheese dripping off of the fork and the sauces – wow!.  My Chili Relleno was stuffed with just enough white cheese and topped with cheddar. So good! It truly was the best I’d had, hands down. But let’s not forget the rest of the meal. The rice had just enough tomato with a hint of smokiness and the beans were creamy and covered in cheese. The star of the meal, though, may have been the sopapillas. So soft and pillowy with just a little crunch as you bite into them. Of course, we filled them with honey – really great honey – and ate them along with our meal sopping up the sauce from our plates. Oh, yes, the sauces! The green, made from, well, green chilies, is thin with chunks of pork. It makes you wait a tick before the heat fills your mouth. It’s not a lot of heat, just enough to make you notice. The red is thicker, vegetarian and hits you in the back of the throat to get your attention. Delicious!
As we were about halfway through our meals, a couple of gentlemen were leaving and ask where in South Texas we were from. As we chatted, they bragged on all of the food served at El Farolito. According to them the best burgers were also found there, and the tamales were amazing. As one who makes tamales, I had to know just how amazing, so I asked Andrea to bring me one “green.” I was almost through my meal when it arrived covered in cheese and green sauce. I slipped the edge of my fork through the masa and found that the filling was not as I expected. It was not ground up with various fillers, but filled with shredded pork, seasoned to perfection. The masa, only a thin encasement, melted in my mouth. I think I may be moving soon!
If ever you find yourself in New Mexico, in or northwest of Santa Fe (about an hour drive), make it a point to find El Farolito. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside is some of the best cuisine we’ve ever had, and this is just the first meal we’ve had on our New Mexico vacation. I may be ruined for any other Southwest or Mexican food restaurant.